Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heart over head

The folks over at Motorcycle Picture of the Day posted this photo of a stunning early-70’s vintage Norton Commando. And my heart rate jumped about 20 beats per second.
Norton Commando
As I have posted previously, I have had a long and somewhat conflicted love affair with Nortons, having acquired my first one in the late 70’s and disposed of my last one in 2001, owning 5 or 6 of the beasts during that time.
Nortons always struck me as purpose built sculptures, designed to evoke the baser instincts, and like moth to flame I would succumb, drawn by the sheer muscularity of that power plant and the raw beauty of the machine itself.
But truth be told, they made better sculptures than daily riders. They were temperamental  machines, prone to shake parts loose at the most inopportune time and the Lucas “Prince of Darkness” electrics virtually guaranteed at least one ride home in the dark every few weeks. With no electric start and a compression ration of 10:1 or so, kicking one to life often resulted in a sweat-soaked start to a ride, and possibly a bruised shin or worse (I once actually drove my knee into my chin as a result of a particularly nasty kickback). And while the isolastic suspension kept the engine vibrations from rattling your fillings loose, it did nothing to prevent the exhaust system from periodically heading south, or the kickstart lever falling off. In fact, nearly every ride ended with a must-do maintenance list of several items needing tightening, repair, or replacement. And duct tape became your best friend.
But as my German father-in-law used to say, “Too soon old, too late smart”, and still, every time I see one of these classics the urge strikes again to own one. Then the head wakes up and says, “Are you nuts?” and reality takes over.

8 comments:

  1. I have a similar yen for old Moto Guzzis, and the drawbacks are the same - great-looking bikes, wonderful to ride, a gamble to own. The only solution is to have one as a Sunday toy. I'd love to own a classic as my only bike and accept the maintenance and headaches that go with it, like some people do pilgrimages on their knees as an act of faith, but realistically you need a boring, reliable bike for everyday. Doesn't stop us dreaming, though. Nice pic.

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  2. Did you know they are bringing the new Nortons over next year?

    Norton Roars Back Into the US

    Norton Motorcycles

    I am a little too young (as a rider anyway) to have ridden or owned a Norton and I would be really interested in what you as a former rider and owner think of the new ones.

    Happy New Year!

    -Buddha
    Backroads Buddha

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  3. Richard - The old Guzzis are pretty classy too. Every so often I'll see a picture of one that's been fully restored and think, "I could get to really like this". Probably a good thing I never owned one. :)

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  4. Buddha - I've been somewhat intentionally ignoring the news, although I did post on it back here when I first found out - http://ontwowheels-eh.blogspot.com/2009/06/norton-commando-961-se.html.

    It's a beautiful looking machine and I hope they can make a go of it. Be nice to see them back on the road.

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  5. Norton and Triumph do that to me, too, since I also have a soft spot for vintage bikes. But as Richard pointed out, you need a reliable one not only for daily riding but also to keep your sanity.

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  6. I seem to have the best position here. Ian's Guzzi is now 15 years old now and the dealer from whom it was bought still says it is the best they ever sold.
    At the Thundersprint meeting earlier this year we managed to see the new Norton, and believe me it DOES look good! It was ridden by Steve Parish for the race but we were unable to see it in action.

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  7. Beautiful photo Canajun.

    One of my neighbours(in his late 50's) still has the Commando Fastback which he bought in 1970. It's in concours condition but he only undertakes shortish journeys for the very reasons you state!

    He also has an 850 racing Commando which is Norton in name only - aftermarket crankcases, crank, rods, pistons etc etc, simply to guarantee that he has a largely trouble-free season!

    Happy dreams of ownwership and Happy New Year!

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  8. Sonja - Sanity is overrated.... :)

    Bikerted - It's treading dangerously, I know, but as soon as I hear of one in a showroom I'm going to have to go, "just for a look". Of course I'll have to sneak out of the house first as the spousal unit will surely kibosh any overt attempt to check one out.

    Geoff - Thanks. Your friend seems to have found the solution.

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