“I miss my pals,” Big Sid Biberman would say later in life as he reflected on the many friendships forged during his long journey as a motorcyclist and fettler of engines. Big Sid was indeed big. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, he always stood out in a crowd. “I was always handicapped by my size; I had to learn to make things go faster,” he said. Thus began his long obsession with and love of motorcycles. An early experience on a hopped up Salsbury Scooter resulted in an encounter with the law. One day while uncrating motorcycles for a local dealer, Sid discovered what was to become his ultimate motorcycle love, a red Vincent Touring Rapide, one of 117 ever built. He had never ridden anything like it and immediately began to tweak it to make it go faster.
Military duty called and Sid was dispatched overseas. While on leave, he visited the Vincent-HRD works in Stevenage, England. It was here that he met and talked with company founder Phillip Vincent and saw the only Vincent-HRD works racer, a motorcycle nicknamed Gunga Din. “I opened its gas cap and whiffs of methanol came out,” he recalled. Sid encountered Gunga Din again in 2009 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. At the Vincent Works he bought genuine Black Lightning parts; such were the dreams of a serviceman separated from his motorcycle. Upon return from military service, he found that his red Rapide had practically been destroyed by former “friends.” With tears of anger in his eyes, he pushed his wounded bike home and resolved to build the ultimate machine. His greatest joy was when his redone Rapide trounced these same tormenters on the track. “I was too heavy to ride so I had to get a rider,” he said. Although as you can see from the embedded video, he spent plenty of time in the saddle.
Sid vs GG (an audio/video excerpt from “Big Sid’s Vincati”)
As a young man, he trained to be a butcher in his father’s shop, but left this work and opened Big Sid’s Motorcycles in Norfolk, Virginia. He sold mopeds and did engine preparation on Vincents and multi-cylinder Japanese bikes built for drag racing. Accessory and used motorcycle sales helped round out the business, a business you had to love because there was no money in it.
Sid later moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where his son Matthew and family lived. Soon after the move, Sid suffered a massive heart attack. As he lay in the hospital he confided to Matthew that he found little reason to live. Like many father/son relationships, there had been strife in the past. Suddenly, his son challenged him, saying, “If you live, we’ll build a Vincati.” A Vincati is built by shoehorning a Vincent V-Twin into an early ’70s Ducati twin frame. Sid rallied to the challenge and built the bike, and a much stronger father/son relationship. It was later chronicled in the 2009 book, “Big Sid’s Vincati” by Matthew Biberman. Sid and Matthew built two other motorcycles, both of which set records at the SCTA Bonneville and ECTA Maxton Mile.
Sid was active until the end. He was not only fascinated by things mechanical, but also loved the arts, and was a true Renaissance man, equally at home reading Shakespeare and listening to opera or getting his hands greasy. Fortunately, he was also a writer and a photographer. Over the years he wrote numerous articles for the Vincent Owner’s Club, of which he was an Honorary Member. These stories were compiled in his book, “Vincents with Big Sid,” published in 1998.
Alas, not even the biggest hearted people can survive all heart attacks. This past June, he suffered another massive heart attack and slipped away the next day.
He is now missed by his pals.
Somer Hooker is the chief judge for the Celebration of the Motorcycle in Del Mar, California, and the Quail Motorcycle Gathering Carmel, California. He also is a field judge for the Pebble Beach Concours and the Louisville Concours in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a prolific motorcycle writer as well as a private consultant and broker of vintage motorcycles, and is on the board of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
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