Black Lightning – The Rollie Free Story

Can a single image influence a 35-minute-long film? Yes, if the image in question is that of the iconic Roland ‘Rollie’ Free aboard John Edgar’s stripped-down Vincent at Bonneville.

While just about anyone with an interest in motorcycles (let alone classic bikes) will know the picture, not many of them will have seen the video footage that accompanies it, and this short film is your chance.

With narrative supplied by experts and people who were there at the time (Rollie himself passed away in 1984), it follows the progress of Rollie’s sporting build-up to his speed attempts, from working at a motorcycle dealer to racing boardtracks in the Twenties, and racing Indians at venues such as Daytona.

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There’s some vocal recordings of Rollie himself, explaining the reasoning behind riding only Indians before the Vincent, and how he met John Edgar, how Edgar in turn met Phil Vincent and Phil Irving, and how the Black Shadow became the Black Lightning (the ‘fastest Vincent of them all’) that Rollie is famous for riding.

There’s some superb period footage, which rather surprisingly includes the Isle of Man TT although the commentary about Daytona, laid over footage of Douglas harbour, is an annoying error!

But while the film is only just over half an hour in length, it’s well worth watching, for any classic motorcycle fan or landspeed record enthusiast.

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Currently, the only way to view it is online, via the video-streaming website, Vimeo – search online at – with monthly subscription charges starting at £6.

Read more News and Features in the January 2019 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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