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Motorcycle Classics Jan Feb


									                                                  1873 850

                                                   NEW 861

                                                  Vol. 7 No.3· $6.99
                                                                     o 2>


                                                   Claimed power 53hp @ 6,200rpm,
 my articles down the years, he's an avowed                        48ft/1b torque @ 5,OOOrpm      - but I didn't believe her l " admits Naka
 fan of Her Majesty's bike engineering, who                        (at gearbox)                   with a rueful smile. "I said she must be
 owned a succession of British bikes back                                                         mistaken, because nobody would offer
 home in Tokyo before moving to Britain                 Top speed 122mph (period test)            such a modern classic for sale in this way
    These began with a humble 250cc BSA               Engine type 829cc air-cooled OHV            But she insisted she recognized the bike
 C15, and went on to include a BSA 441                             parallel twin                  correctly, and it was as much because she
 Victor, a 1962 Triumph 650cc TR6 that               Transmission 4-speed                         wanted to prove this that we got in the car'
 was the last of the pre-unit models, and a                                                       and went to look at it. It turned out she was
                                                           Weight 4151b (dry)
 delightful British cafe racer consisting of a                                                    right all along, and I bought it on the spot
 700cc Rickman eight-valve Triumph engine                     MPG 45-55                           and rode it home. The only thing wrong
 in a Norton Featherbed frame. That was                 Price then $1,879                         with it was that the carbs were way out
 before he settled in Britain and bought                                                          and it wouldn't tick over, but after I rebal­
 an early 1995 Speed Triple to live in the                                                        anced them it ran perfectly I did 300 miles
 garage alongside the Morris Minor Traveller woody station wagon           on it that summer before deciding to rebuild the engine myself
 he's been tending to for the past decade. So Naka knows his               that winter - there was no history, so [ wanted to be sure of the
 British bikes - and so does his wife, Kyoko, who goes one better          condition before putting serious miles on it."
 than her Saab-steering husband by driVing one of the very last               Naka's Norton is a Commando 850 Roadster showing a
 of the original Minis, a I ,275cc model built in 2000. And it was         believed genuine 26,000 miles on the clock; it's completely
 from this car that she spied the bike which later became Naka's           original apart from the Interstate side covers. It exited Norton's
 Norton, standing on a village green 10 minutes from their house           Andover factory in 1973, the first year for the bored out 829cc
 with a For Sale sign leaning against the front wheel                      version of Norton's overhead valve 745cc parallel twin. Apart
                                                                           from also being the year in which Peter Williams scored Norton's
 Naka'§ Nllrtlln                                                           most famous race victory with the Commando engine, winning
    "This was in June 2008, and Kyoko came home and said she'd             the Isle of Man TT on the JPN Monocoque (see Motorcllcle Classics,
 seen this Norton Commando offered for sale in the next viliage            luly/August 20 I0), 1973 was also when Norton production finally

i!6   MOTORCYCLE CLASSICS          January/February 2012
stabilized after early teething troubles,                                                               On the road: Something old ...
and the significant demand for the bikes        Claimed power 180hP @ 6,500rpm, 66ft/1b torque             First came my chance to set the stan­
- especially in the us. where astute                           @ 5,200rpm (at crankshaft)
                                                                                                        dard by riding Naka's period Commando
marketing, including the legendary                                                                      850. Simply climbing aboard the old
~orton Girls ad campaign, had helped
                                                     Top 5peed 130mph (test)                            Norton provided the first contrast. for
make the bike a hit - ,began being                 Engine type 961cc air/oil·cooled Of-jV parallel twin although both bikes supposedly share
met Sadly, it was also the year that the          Transmission 5·speed                                  the same claimed 32-inch seat height.
BSNTriumph group imploded, and the                                                                      the 850 immediately feels even taller
                                                        Weight 4141b (dry)
Meriden factory sit-in started - both                                                                   - a fact remarked on by testers at the
events that would later have severe con­                  MPG 40·50 (est.)                              time Closer investigation reveals it's
sequences for Norton.                                Price now £12,745 ($20,112 as of 11/18/2011)       actually a couple inches higher than
   Naka carried out a complete top end                                                                  that, meaning you feel quite perched on
overhaul, replacing the pistons, valves                                                                 top of what is however a much slimmer,
and springs, and also checked over the gearbox. Since then,                  svelter package than the modern 961 - strange, because there's
he's covered 2,000 trouble-free miles to prove he's just as good             lots of room to have made it lower
a mechanic as a photographer, before giving me the keys to the                  The tall seat height also makes firing up the 850 very much an
bike in exchange for the ones for the modern Commando 961 I'd                acquired skill, because the only way you can get good purchase
borrowed from the new Norton Motorcycles...                                  on the kick starter is with the bike on the center stand; if you
   This was the first of several Euro 3~compliant new Comm~ndos              try starting off the stand, it turns into a bit of a balancing act.
I've ridden, a key homologation hurdle Norton achieved earlier               However, Naka has it well carbed, so once you do get a decent
last summer, making it now feasible to sell the model in Europe              swing the engine usually starts second kick before settling to
and as a 49-state model in the us. To indulge in a bit of trumpet­           a vibratory 1,200rpm idle. It smoothes out noticeably above
:Jlowing, in 2010 1 broke Buell's AMA Speed Record for 1,000cc               2,000 revs, however, as Norton's famous Isolastic rubbEn mounts
Dushrod production bikes on the Bonneville Salt Flats aboard an              start to do their thing, and in the 2,500-4,000rpm sweet spot it's
earlier version of the Commando 961.                                         practically silky by period standards, but with a delightfully rorty

       Yes, they're both parallel
        twins, but that's where
          the similarity between
            the 850 Commando
         (left) and the new 961
                Commando end.

  exhaust note from the twin
  peashooter mufflers. Perhaps
  more to the point. it sounds
  as it ought to, emitting the
  distinctive flat but potent blat
  of a two-up 360-degree parallel twin.                                  excelled at down the ages
     The older Norton's four-speed, right-foot, one-up gear change          However, two things let the Commando 850 down, even by the
  is positive and quite light. with a pointer on the shift lever and a   standards of the era; its brakes and rear suspension Compared
  marker cast into the gear case cover in case you get lost' Though      to the highly effective twin Brembo cast-iron discs on the 75055
  first gear is very low, there's an even gap between all four ratios,   Ducati I bought new the year after this Norton was built, the
  but really the bottom three gears are just a staging post for get­     Commando's single 10.7-inch steel disc with single-piston cali­
  ting to fourth, because the engine is so incredibly torquey you        per is so underwhelming as to be pathetic. with a response so
  really don't need to work the transmission - the Norton pulls          wooden it gives trees a bad name, requiring you to squeeze very
  easily and with determination out of a turn from as low as 2,000       hard indeed to get any stopping at all, and then only grudgingly
  rpm, its light 415-pound dry weight playing a part in the spritely,    Considering the caliper carries the Norton Lockheed emblem,
  satisfying acceleration.                                               that's unforgiveable, because Lockheed made the calipers on
     The jerky action of the Chronometric Smiths speedo that             my Ducati, so they certainly had the technology back then. It
  Naka's fitted - just 'cos he likes the way it looks - is matched       wouldn't even be so bad if Norton had fitted twin discs, but
  by an original tachometer, and apart from the tall seat the riding     presumably they were worried about unsprung weight and the
  position is quite nice, with the pulled-back handlebar delivering      effect.of a second disc on the steering. OK, my Ducati handled
  a sporty but semi-upright stance. The footrests aren't so high as      like a truck in comparison to the sweet-steering Commando, but
  to be cramped, just enough to avoid grounding with the skinny          there's no point going fast unless you can also stop when you
   ]9-inch 110/90 Avon Roadrunner rubber, which helps the Norton         need to, and it's just as well that the Norton's single-leading-shoe
  steer very precisely, maxing out the original Commando's bend­         rear drum has quite a lot of bite. It's needed.
  swinging potential This is a bike that's really at home flicking          While the Roadholder forks do their usual fine job - by period
  from side to side along a winding country lane, the slim build,        standards - of contributing to the Commando frame's good
  light weight and fine steering of that distinctive lsolastic frame     steering, the Girling rear shocks on Naka's Norton are much
  with its massive top tube (strange they didn't use that as an          less capable, with stiff, unresponsive and primitive action by the
  oil tank, as others did) combining to produce a fine example of        standards of the Ohlins multi-adjustable duo on the modern
  the black art of frame-building that British tube-benders have         Commando These eat up road rash as if it didn't exist, whereas
                                                                                               on the older bike the oversprung Girlings'
                                                                                               lack of compliance means that even moder­
                                                                                               ate bumps produce a washboard effect that
                                                                                               had me stopping to check that something
                                                                                               hadn't broken. I guess brakes and suspen­
                                                                                               sion are the two segments in motorcycle
                                                                                               design that have most progressed over the
                                                                                               past 40 years

                                                                                              ... and something new
                                                                                                Fast forward 40 years and here's its modern
                                                                                             counterpart, with exactly the same overall
                                                                                             architecture but nearly twice as much power,
                                                                                             producing a genuine 80hp at the crank at
                                                                                             6,500rpm (our box-stock Bonneville-run bike
                                                                                             was massaged by tuner Matt Capri to pro­
                                                                                             duce 838hp at 7,800rpm at the rear wheel, ,In
                                                                                             street legal form') compared to the 850's 53hp
                                                                                             at 6,200rpm at the gearbox Norton claimed
                                                                                             60hp, but it was always derided as "catalogue
                                                                                             horsepower" Surprisingly, the 415-pound dry
                                                                                             weight for the two bikes is identical, but the
                                                                                             modern 961 scores on torque, with a claimed
                                                                                             66ft/lb on tap at 5,200rpm, compared to the
                                                                                             850's 48ft/lb at 5,000rpm, denoting com­
                                                                                             parable delivery curves for both power and
  Photographer Kyoichi Nakamura and his lovely 1973 Norton Commando 850.                     torque, just with more of everything
  Kyoichi's photographs have graced the pages of Motorcycle Classics for years.                 Crank the powerful starter motor and the

i!!B    MOTORCYCLE CLASSICS         January/February 2012
 961 cc overhead valve engine rumbles immediately into life, set­         when you feel like it, not because you must The most notable
 tling to a throbbing 1,300rpm idle via the 2-into-l-into-2 exhaust       improvement on this new Euro 3 Commando is the vastly
 Yet it sounds like a Ducati, not a traditional British twin, thanks to   improved gear change, thanks to the linkage that Norton has now
 the 270-degree crank Kenny Dreer changed to in order to tame the         fitted to resolve the problems I've been complaining of for almost
 vibrations he encountered from the original two-up engine, even          two years, where in the absence of a linkage you ended up apply­
 with a counter balancer. It turned but the supplier he sourced the       ing pressure along the shaft of the direct-action lever when you
 balance shaft from had made it wrongly, but by that time he'd            wanted to shift up Job done Now they can focus on fixing the
 re-phased the crankshaft. His involvement ended, and the whole           side stand, which needs to be shorter and more accessible.
 project eventually ended up 7,000 miles away in Britain, where               The handling has always been a strong point of the Commando
 Garner and his engineers simply copied what they'd received              961, which just ltke its skinnier but more upright older counter­
 in adapting the Dreer design to series production Hence the              part steers faultlessly, tipping easily and controllably into a turn
 Bolognese exhaust note - which sounds good, just not like a              on the brakes. without falling into the apex when you let them
 Norton 'really should, as exemplified by Naka's period 850               off The new Norton feels light and agile, yet stable and forgiving,
    This Euro 3 version of the engine seemed to have the same             a confidence-inspiring motorcycle that you soon learn to trust
 great torque the 961 engines have always had But with the                completely over a variety of surfaces - hitting a bump cranked
 revised mapping for cleaner emissions, it also delivers a more           hard over in a 60mph downhill fourth-gear sweeper doesn't
 linear power delivery up to the 8,000rpm limiter - it doesn't run        unsettle it at all The 6hlins suspension just shrugs off bumps,
 out of breath up high like the older bike does, it just keeps on         and the Norton holds its line well, due in large part to the low
 pulling almost to redline.                                               center of gravity achieved by the dry-sump engine being placed
    This was the first engine I'd ridden built by Norton them­            low in the frame. And the Brembo twin-disc brake package pro­
 selves - previous bikes had engines assembled outside by                 vides controllable, effective stopping power with just the right
 Menard, before Garner built a new engine assembly area to                degree of sensitivity from the radially-mounted calipers
 bring it in-house - and it vibrated more than I remembered,
 especially above 5,000rpm, though not enough to be discon­               In thE! E!nd ...
 certing or annoying, and there's still the same great punch in               Retro is cool right now- but only when done right Fortunately,
 the gears. Low down fuelling is good, when you're just crawling          the Norton Commando 961 is the two-wheeled equivalent of
 along in a line of traffic, but spot a gap and gas it up hard and        todays acclaimed Mini or indeed even the new Fiat 500, rather
 the Norton catapults you forward in a totally addictive way,             than a similarly born-again VW Beetle Unlike the later, it's not a
 thanks to its meaty torque It pulls hard from barely off idle,           design rip-off employing a modern platform to present a pastiche
 then strongly from 2,000rpm upwards This is a very friendly              of period styling, which is not at all what it's dressed up to be
 and usable engine, with 4,000 revs the gateway to more serious           It's a properly re-engineered, successful re-interpretation - both
 urge From there to 6,500rpm, where you can feel the engine               functionally pleasing and fashionably stylish - of a classic-era
 peak out. is the happy zone. As with the older bike, there's no          design icon, as represented by Nakamura's 850 Now that the
 point in rewing it near the eight grand rev limiter; just surf that      British government has unlocked the funds necessary to get
 power curve, and ride the waves of torque.                               production going properly, let's hope today's new Norton sells a
    This five-speed engine doesn't need a sixth ratio, because it         fraction as well as the born-again Mini Cooper has done - and
 has such a wide spread of torque and power you can change gear           continues to do. Me

30    MOTORCYCLE CLASSICS           January/February 2012

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