Although it isn’t a classic, the Sterling pays true homage to the past with its eccentric and unique design…



Feature by Brownie
Photos by Adam Bolton

It may not be a classic by the true sense of the word, but it sure will be one day.

Riding the Black Douglas Sterling is a unique and highly entertaining experience – and not quite what it seems. I’m sitting bolt upright, gripping a broad, pulled-back handlebar, and looking across an enormous, vintage style headlight and a long, narrow, flat-sided fuel tank with a steel frame tube running along its top.

As the rigid-framed Black Douglas cruises down a tree-lined road, I’m bouncing gently in its bicycle style saddle, enjoying the gentle performance of its single-cylinder engine, and the low chuffing sound of its exhaust pipe. The Sterling cuts through the traffic, frequently triggering smiles from pedestrians, cyclists and even car drivers as they catch sight of it.

Many of the sensations are familiar from when I rode a 1920s Douglas, some years ago, but this bike is distinctly different. That old Douglas required a run-and-bump to start it, and had a hand gear change and no clutch. By contrast, the Black Douglas started on the button, has a light clutch and a sweet-shifting five-speed gearbox, and is as easy to ride as just about any other modern commuter bike.

That’s because the Sterling is not some century-old vintage machine, but the debut model from The Black Douglas Motorcycles company of Italy based in Milan. Far from being a fragile piece of history best appreciated by elderly enthusiasts, the Sterling is a brand new motorcycle that combines its vintage look with rider-friendly simplicity of use.

That said, the Sterling’s make-up is far from straightforward. The Black Douglas company is owned by bike-crazy Italian entrepreneur Fabio Cardoni. But the Sterling was designed in the UK by Birmingham based custom builder Benny Thomas, best known for his Harley-Davidson engined Boneshaker choppers. And it is powered by a 230cc, single-cylinder engine from Zongshen of China; essentially a copy of Honda’s CG230 unit.