vincent werent the first to call their bike a black shadow!


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The Henderson Black Shadow

When the old Bike or Car bug hits you it can be scary. While it might seem a little tame and at a slower pace compared with some interests and hobbies its scary because it suddenly opens up the history books. There's literally thousands of makes and models that are all of a sudden in front of you. There's a lot to learn as we all know; and a lot to choose from and that's when it can get scary.
As a busy single Lad in my early Twenties I was full of energy and enthusiasm and there was a lot to pick and choose from; patience was essential. One of the old guys I worked with showed me a photograph of an old Henderson Four, when it was new in my home town of Wanganui and I was hooked; steering lock, headstock and barrel; all four of them.
Once out hunting the responses were interesting to say the least. I was in my dealing with folks a lot older than myself at the time and I guess like a lot of dreamers I got treated like one! There were a few audible laughs at my requests too; these were obviously going to push me in one of two directions, away with my tail between my legs or more determined. I got thinking that if most people are going to give up before they even start then there should be almost a shortage of potential people that would make the effort to take one on, and therefore less people wanting bits. In short I figured that while the American Four market might be highly desirable; it was also very specialised and that could hold the pricing thing back a little, for incomplete projects that may never be finished; by the pessimistic.
Some fairly straight-forward research soon told me that Hendersons were the most common of the Ameriacn Fours and indeed while not easy to come across there was a realistic path in New Zealand to satisfy my lust.
This theory, in the late eighties, was right on the nail and once I’d made up my mind and set my sights on getting a bike it was just weeks till I was off to Auckland to look at a Henderson for sale. The price was less than I expected although I still had to borrow some gold off my Mum, “But don’t tell your Father” she said. I returned home empty handed. The bike was way beyond my capabilities of the time, cut up crankcases, no tin-ware and loads of bits just non-existent. The price wasn’t cheap either for what it was; the bike sat there for nearly a decade till it sold too! Given the rarity of these bikes it was hard to turn away from it but I later found that some of those people watching my search saw that while I was keen I was not a fool. These people then turned to me with support and some of my enthusiasm must have brushed off on to them as well!
Soon after a 1924 1300cc Sidevalve Model K Henderson came my way, via a deceased estate and so my love for these machines had turned to the hardware stage. The bike was about 70% complete and a large proportion of it was in need of a lot of work, but the ball was rolling. In sniffing around for bits I got a call from a Gentleman with a complete older restoration including a sidecar, and it was available. Well I took a realistic look at my own Henderson and the older restoration and decided that time, money and my skills favoured the “new” bike.
Money. Ouch, now there’s a word that often rears its ugly head. To make way for the new bike; the old one had to go: soon. I placed an ad in Saturdays NZ Herald, to reply on Sunday (to sort the men a little from the tire kickers) and the calls came in. One nice old fellow by the nane of Len rang from Waihi, “I don’t want to buy your bike but I would like help to identify the one I’ve got.” As you can imagine I was keen for all the talk I could get so we chatted. The bike, he told me, was too good to scratch paint off the frame looking for numbers and I soon could tell him that it was made in 1918 and was an earlier IOE ( Inlet over Exhaust) model. This got my blood running as I must admit to having a fondness to the earlier, sleeker, yet much more fragile IOEs as opposed to the mechanically sounderand bulkier Sidevalvers.
I asked what the story was with the bike and was told that they had buried the owner just two days prior and that He was sorting out the estate on behalf of the family. All that chasing bikes throughout the country and one falls in front of me like that! I went out on a limb and asked if I could possibly own this bike as it was still a Henderson like my other, but the two were a world apart in reality. I also kind of liked the earlier bikes more for their smaller, older nature too. It wasn’t too long before I was heading home with the Waihi machine, a fitting mate for the K model already tucked away in my shed.
While setting my sights on a Henderson like the old Wanganui bike had come to fruition there was another huge bonus tacked on. Since seeing an old Harley and Sidecar at the 1983 Cold Kiwi (one of New Zealands largest and most famous Motorcycle Rallies) in unrestored condition and comparing it with a restored one i thought that while a lot of painstaking work had gone into restoring one of them; the other just oozed character. Truth is i'd never entertained the thought of linking my Henderson quest with my appreciation for unrestored 'original' bikes together. That is until it happened.
The bike carried plates from the 1936-37 registration year and had quite likely been laid up since then and came from a shed that was full of bikes but very few were complete. The more common the bike in the shed, the less of it was there indicating a useful wrecking source over the years. Fortunately the rarity of the Hendersons had meant that while the engine was dismantled for repair many years ago and most of the internals had dissapeared but with the exception of the chain guard all the Henderson cycle-parts we present. There were no extras, lights, horn or speedo either.
Because most of the motor wasn’t there, and I had no guarantees that it would resurface elsewhere in the sheds I set too looking for some goodies. Henderson motor parts are either relatively easy to find and real cheap; or damn near impossible to get – and not cheap. The motors were often used for other tasks and the gearboxes chopped off, forward of the flywheel parts are easy, behind the flywheel are harder of course.There weren’t too many different Engines styles made, four all up, and as a rule the earlier and the much later bikes are almost non-existant, the bits that are around will nearly always fit one of my two bikes if you get my drift. Extras became a different story however. Fitted often at the retailing dealer they were common to most models while chasing and getting genuine Henderson parts I didn't find too hard ; speedo, lights and horn were a different story. To this day i still haven't found the 'right' horn that I picture with the bike...

The 'restoration' plan was set with parts coming from all over our country, Germany, Tasmania, Sweden and the United States to complete the bike.
I having a preference to original unrestored bikes and saw the potential in rebuilding it as such, but it was going to take a bit. Its one thing after all being able to re-manufacture any thing to better than new specifications, but to repair bits and rust them up to match existing hardware takes a different set of skills and i found was an art in itself. To this end I spent several months with metals dosed in various types of “corrosion encouraging substances”, such as yoghurt, lemon juice etc to sort out the best 'forgery' technique to use.
When outwork was being done there was always the thought in the back of the mind that the tradesman may decide to “give it a bit of a clean-up” while working on it. This fear turned into reality when I got the Magneto rebuilt, much to my dissapointment. For each outwork job I clearly explained my requirements and added lables to some of them specifically stating not to clean anything that doesn’t need to for mechanical reasons- in this case my desires were largely ignored.
Steve Raffills took care of the mechanicals while George Calder made the pistons and Dion Coleman the line boring. Steve fashioned new conrods and I found it almost a crime to hide them inside the engine they were so nice, the valves and guides were all worked over but enough cam followers were on hand to provide a set that needed little more than bolting on.
Five or so years after I first bought the bike she fired up and ran beautifully. The original fuel tank was susbstited with a remote one as i wasn't sure the old one could be used safely. Eventuallly my skills and confidence let me sort out the old one to a safe standard. Extras were pieced together with the Corbin speedo assembly coming from nine different sources and the light system using parts from the remains of seven. A tally has been kept on the parts sourced with the exception of a wingnut for the toolbox no nuts or bolts have been included, Fifty-Two different machines eventually donated parts to get it to where you see it today! Not all Hendersons by any means though.
While at the Palmerston North swapmeet one fine day I spied a mudguard from a distance. We all know that sometimes spotting parts is almost an instinct and this is how it caught my eye. Racing over to the trailer I tried to pick it up to find it was bolted to a sidecar chassis; made in the Henderson/Excelsior factory. Naturally I bought it. While unloading it i asked the owner what was fitted to the chassis “an old box used to be on it” he replied. Nothing else was said about the box. Keen as mustard I went to see a builder mate of mine,Mel Hollier also an old bike enthusiast and we discussed the task of making a utility box to look like it had always been part of the 'outfit'. My skills ageing the metal components would have to be extended to finding and ageing wood it would appear...
Just a few days later he rang and told me to bring a trailer over; and there it was, a box that was both original and the perfect style for me. Where the 'fruit' did he find it I asked? It turned out that he was mates with the guy who sold me the chassis and they got talking about it after my visit, “while you're here can you give me a lift with the old box onto the trailer so i can take it to the tip!”. Incredible in this day and age I thought.
Fittings were made, gearing changed and its great for piling in the camping gear and the girlfriend and heading off into the hills.
The result of the whole bike and sidecar visually is nothing short of deeply satisfying, and mechanically it has proved pretty well faultless to add to the pleasure as well, although and old crack in one of the frame tubes hidden up inside a casting let go one day which caused a bit of a scare.... I've racked up about 7000kms in both Solo and Sidecar modes including several Cold Kiwi's and the 'Coast to Coast' from Himitangi to Herbertville among 500 odd modern bikes once too which was a bit of fun.
Invariably the most common question is “when are you going to restore it” . Once people are made aware of the reasons to retain the unrestored condition the majority can see that way of thinking; there are however a few that don't- very few at that.
As for the title 'Henderson Black Shadow', I took her to a rally in the Hawkes Bay a while back and there was a strong light at ground level. With a bit of shuffling the bike around there was a great looking shadow cast on the adjacent wall. I didn't have my own photographic gear with me so I enlisted the help of a well known photographer who i knew was there, Chris Morris, to take this shot-with a time exposure to suit. 'The Henderson Black Shadow'.
While having a few beers I couldn't resist encouraging several other people to get their Cameras out too. It only occurred to them when they got their films developed that when you take a photo of a Shadow with a flash the flash will win; all you'll get is a nice photo of a wall!


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