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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Norton

Same Year Same Direction?

Classic Velocity


Quite by accident rather than design, the garage had two examples of transportation on two wheels side by side. It provided an excellent opportunity to study two very different approaches to the European motorcycle market in the same year. That year was 1956. Yes 1956, when the Suez crisis in Egypt had the world stage, a gallon of gas in the USA cost 22 cents, while petrol was rationed in Britain, and Elvis broke onto the scene on the Ed Sullivan show, while Castro starts the Cuban Revolution, racial unrest spans the US, Real Madrid wins the first European Cup, Kruschev denounces Stalin, the 1st motorcycle rode over 200 mph (Wilhelm Herz-210 mph/338 kph) is against this rich backdrop that motorcyclists receive the BMW R26, and the Norton Dominator 99.

I know, I know, a single and a twin, chalk and cheese, apples and orangutans. True, but they are at once a contrast and a similarity in approaches beyond the obvious, so stick with us on this. Truth be told, both bikes are evolutions. The Norton is a displacement bump and the legendary introduction of the featherbed frame (see who framed Norton). The BMW is the a continuation of the singles produced since prewar times with some key improvements.


A very good review of the R26 was done by Motor Cyclist at the time and is reproduced on the Benchmarks Motorworks site.   It points out the first similarity, they were both "high performance" versions of a pre-existing machine. For a single, the 247cc R26 produced 15HP, and delivered a tested top speed of 73MPH against a listed top speed of 79MPH. This was significantly improved over the previous R25, and a sidecar was an option chosen by quite a few buyers. As for the Dominator, there are multiple books on the model, and an overview by Classic British Motorcycles. The upgraded 600cc engine produced 31HP, and was good for just over the magical ton of 100MPH. Both had finned cylinders and heads to help with cooling.

The R26 was a completely revised frame with a rear swing arm, Earle's fork, and an enclosed drive shaft. This dramatically improved handling both for competition and for more utilitarian sidecar duty. The Norton was also revolutionized by a new chassis. Mounting all of the Dominator components in the featherbed frame became the basis for almost 2 decades of competitive performance. The Roadholder telescopic forks became a further marketing focus, making the Norton "Unapproachable". The Earle's forks on the BMW were well regarded for stability and sidecar work.


The gauges are mounted in the headlight nacelle on both machines. both have an all-in-one speedometer, odometer, with the Norton adding a trip meter. The Norton also boasts an ammeter, Neither headlight was very good unless the machine was running at full charge from the Dynamo. Neither had turn signals, although both could.  The R26 tank is classic BMW black and pinstripe, with a lockable storage compartment on top. The Norton tank is one of the most beautiful to adorn a production motorcycle (in our humble opinion) with its' silver and chrome scheme. Fuel flows from the tank to a single Amal carb for the Norton, and a single Bing for the BMW. Both come equipped with an air pump. 


Of course, there are many contrasts. Propulsion is the aforementioned shaft for the R26, and chain for the Norton.  The Dominator has a well padded seat with good room for a passenger. The BMW has a single Pagusa seat that is spring-mounted to further help with suspension. Although the BMW frame was new, it was still a plunger type frame compared to the state of the art featherbed. The Norton has their traditional oil tank arrangement, while the BMW has their traditional wet sump arrangement. Right side  kick starter and foot shift on the Dommie, versus left side for both on the Beemer. Bosch versus Lucas for electrics, and rod-operated rear brakes on the R26 versus cable on the Dominator. The Norton front brakes are noticeably larger, and were mentioned in reviews as being very good stoppers. The German was relatively simple and oil tight, while the Norton had bevel drives and leaked from the primary case even when new!

Both machines included large helpings of their company's heritage and signature approaches.  Both were introduced as higher performance upgrades of prior models, and both introduced suspension/handling improvements. However, you could clearly see how BMW was sticking to more conservative evolution, while the Norton was breaking new ground. BMW was working on practical transportation that could be transformed for competition versus Norton who continued to capitalize on a competition heritage to "Race on Sunday and sell on Monday".


Official Start

Classic Velocity


This winter was not bad. Besides a few periods of super cold, we managed to slip in rides here and there. They were short, but they were rides. However, it was winter, and there is a psychology to when the riding season begins. Riding friends have points of demarcation, like the first time you don't turn on the heated grips, or the date of the Equinox, or as soon as the salt is washed away. 

In these parts, an unmistakable official launch of the riding season is the Gathering of the Nortons event at Washington Crossing. Organized by the Delaware Valley Norton Riders (DVNR), it is certainly the premiere gathering of the Norton marque in the area and has been featured here before (see the Gathering of the Clans or Gathering 2015). It is always great to see multiple variations of vintage Nortons rumble in. Commandos are always most plentiful, but this is also the place to see Dominators, JPNs, ES2s, Atlases, and more. 


But this event has grown to become much more than just a Norton event. It is a British bike event, to the extent that this year a regional Triumph dealer showed up with the new Thruxtons on display. This show is more about vintage iron though. Old Triumphs, Velocettes, BSAs, Matchlesses, and such formed the core of a large show field. 

Surrounding the core is a crazy wonderland of hundreds of machines from all over the world. A Bultaco circled the field early in the day before the crowds gathered leaving a light mist of two stroke haze hovering above. The first sighting on the road of a Ducati 900e Desmodue, a hot rod Honda CBX, a distinctive blue BMW K1, a Super Cycle, a pristine Suzuki Water Buffalo, a Benelli Cobra, and on and on.  Forget Mods vs Rockers, we had Sears vs Wards with an Interstate and a Riverside in attendance ! BMWs peppered the field with the Red Toaster, the two-tone R1150RS, the aforementioned K1, a few /2s, and an orange RT to name a few. As usual, this event exceeded expectations with the unveiling of winter projects, and the return of nice specimens from the region under their own steam. At the Moto Equinox, trailers are not welcome.

Gathering 2015

Classic Velocity


The riding season in the northern climes begins in the spring. However, in the mid-Atlantic region, it officially starts with events. Events like The Gathering of the Nortons. This is no small gathering of a few Norton devotees. It is an event covered here before (see Gathering 2012 or Gathering of the Clans) that routinely draws over 70 Nortons and 900 bikes overall, and which is well managed by the Delaware Valley Norton Riders. Vintage bikes enjoy a reserved field. It is several hundred wildly varied machines from all kinds of Marques. A neck-swiveling vintage sensory overload. This year brought excellent weather and afforded a fantastic ride along the Delaware river. The Norton liked the empty if winter-ravaged river road. 


The event is always a chance to reconnect with friends not seen since before the tundra froze over. It is also a coming out party for many a winter project. A maiden voyage for any number of garage projects. Some of the results are spectacular. Others are just pleased to make it to the event. All contributed not just to one of the first vintage events of the year, but one of the best.

Norton Gathering 2015 Full Photo Album


Morrie's Place

Classic Velocity


There are fewer and fewer shops like Morrie's. It is a place full of old motorcycles. By choice. It is a place where they work on old motorcycles almost exclusively. By choice. It is strange that it is housed in a modern building rather than someplace old with character. From the outside, you would expect the latest from Japan and Europe. 

inside it might be sometime in the late 1970s. The showroom was full. Machines for sale included gems from the sixties and seventies. Morrie's has a lot of British bikes, but they also have a good sampling of others. A lovely Benelli Sei, for example, and a Ducati Monza 250. A nice Excelsior Henderson 4 was wedged in a row of machines. There is a healthy sampling of BMWs as well. A few slash 2s and a slash 5. The majority of the bikes though are British. BSAs and Nortons abound, but are joined by machines from AJS, Velocette, and Triumph. A nice Metisse occupied a place of prominence in a showroom window. There are very few restored machines present in the showroom. Most are well-patinaed drip-pan-needing but sound mechanical motorcycles offered at reasonable prices. 

Favorite machines include a lovely Rickman Triumph, a Velocette MSS. The one we would have ridden home though was a beautiful Norton ES2. Talking with Morrie himself was interesting. Here is a guy that just loves the old machines and has decided to try to make a living selling and servicing them. During our visit, customers were there from nearby Chicago, and far away Iowa. Both offered unsolicited testament to the quality of work and the great customer service. There are not a lot of shops like Morrie's around, but the few that remain should have our deepest gratitude if not patronage. 


Sammy Miller Museum

Classic Velocity



On previous occasions, we have commented on the tendency to locate impressive museums in nondescript industrial warehouses (see hidden treasures).  In the UK, the equivalent is a nondescript country road in the middle of nowhere. In this case, the middle of the New Forest in southwest England. There, near the town of New Milton, you will find the Sammy Miller Museum. Sammy Miller is a famed British motorcycle racer on dirt tracks, grass tracks, trials, and road racing ! Something that would never be possible today. He also started a successful business producing racing parts bearing his name. For his efforts, he is an AMA Hall of Famer, and has been awarded an MBE.



What started as a small collection of his own former racing bikes, developed into a much larger world class collection of machines that is among the most impressive that I have seen.  There are over 350 motorcycles in the collection, and although they span the globe, the vast majority are British. They also span over 90 years beginning with the early 1900s, but the vast majority are from 1910 to 1970. There are several broad distinguishing features in this museum. The first is the number of extremely rare machines. There is a surprising number where the placard reads "The only one known to exist", or "One of two existing. The other is in the factory museum".  These are marques I was never even aware of, much less seen. It is a reminder that there were hundreds of British manufacturers that were around for a few years, but did not make it. The innovative (if ultimately impractical) ideas for valve actuation, levers and controls, engine layouts, etc are fascinating. The second unique facet is the presence of a disassembled engine right below or next to the assembled motorcycle. It is incredible to see thimble-sized pistons, and attempts at overhead cams, going back well before they were in routine production. It is also incredible that the museum could find a second engine for 100 year old machines where only 30 were made in the first place!


The motorcycles themselves are obviously the stars of the show. The staff suggested a route through the museum, and we followed it. You don't get 10 feet before you are stopped in front of a  1902 Bouton engine, a Clamil sprung wheel hub from the early 1960s, and a cutaway of a BMW R engine and a K engine. If you get beyond that, you can view several great examples of Ariels, includinng a Golden Arrow. There is also a magnificent 1929 Scott Pullin, which was probably my favorite motorcycle in the museum for its styling. Off to the side on the first floor, there are several rooms dedicated to a theme or a few marques. One contains a number of Vincents. Most think of Vincent as a producer of high end sporting machines, but the 1953 Vincent Firefly on display was a 50cc two stroke moped which cruised along at 20 mph! For someone with a minimal knowledge of British bikes, it seems like there are inumerable marques that I was encountering for the first time, or had only seen mentioned in books. NUT (Newcastle Upon Tyne), Rex Acme, Haythorn, Ratier, etc.

Other special rooms include the Norton room, a tribute in examples, to the rich storied history of the marque. My favorite in there was the F 350 racer with oil in frame, which was unfortunately never raced. However, many examples from military machines to a rotary were on display. It was easily the best quality display of Nortons that I have seen. Sammy Miller was a racer, and the racing room was as impressive as his racing records. Win after win, after win on many different machines. Highlights once again include a 1954 BMW RS54 Rennsport, and a NSU Sportmax (see Of silver dolphins and blue whales). Regular readers will know that when we encounter a place as rich as this museum, describing it in detail in words is not adequate. Even pointing out the highlights leads to an impossible mission, as there are too many notable items to fit within our typical format. To give you some indication, the museum publishes a book which captures a good chunk of the collection. Even so, you would need to experience the museum to get a good sense of how superbly they have fit that many rare and special motorcycles, and memorabilia into a compact space. Brilliant.


The Gathering of the Clans

Classic Velocity


This year once again, the date for the annual gathering of the Nortons was moved back such that it was not the first big motorcycle event in these parts. That mattered little, as it is still the best early season event, and one of the best of the entire year. A combination of factors make it so. First of all, it is an early outing following the great winter hibernation in these northern climes. Like Bears awakening with a ravenous appetite, the first meal tastes awfully good, and you want to eat your fill.

Second, there is good riding immediately surrounding the venue. East into western New Jersey, North into northern Bucks county, and west into western Bucks county, all present some great B and C roads. Even if there was no event, you would still have hours of great riding. You can add to that the historic attraction of Washington's Crossing, and the cool artist colony towns of New Hope and Lambertville straddling the Delaware river. Not a bad use of a Sunday.


Third, you can reunite with the clan. This event really brings out the brigades and the armadas and the gaggles and the broods of vintage bike devotees. If you love your Laverdas, or you adore your Agustas, or you are thrilled with your Thruxtons, or you urinate on your Urals (sorry), or you are bonkers for BMWs, or you are amorous with your Ascots, then this is the event to gather a few like-minded individuals and show everyone else the depths of your depravity, uuhhhhmm I mean love. This is also the event to unveil your winter's work, or to show this summer's project (which will turn into next winter's work). See the slideshow below or click here for more pictures.

Fourth, you can shop. This is not a swap meet, so it is a great place to look for a fully assembled running motorcycle. Chances are, you can also see a few other examples for reference as well. It is an informed marketplace as well. Chances are, there is a guru somewhere nearby to educate you on the finer points of the potential purchase, or to whisper "Run, Forest, run away...".

Which brings us to the final reason. The event itself. Hosted by the Delaware Valley Norton Riders, another attendance record was broken with somewhere north of 900 motorcycles showing up, with around 75 Nortons !! That may be close to every running Norton within a few hundred miles ;-) There were only a handful of trailers, and they were for non-street-legal race bikes, like the lovely red Vincent. You can stroll around for hours hearing comments like "I had one of those" or "what a beautiful example..." or "why would you do that to a...." or "that's my old..." or "I want to party with this guy..." My most frequent comment was "I want one of those..."

Roadside Tales #17

Classic Velocity


Harry (name changed to protect the guilty) studied his reflection in the deep black paint of the Norton's gas tank, as if it would tell him exactly how to proceed. Surprisingly, it just stared back at him with an expression identical to his own.

"What do you think?" He asked me for the third time in 20 minutes.

"Same as I told you 10 minutes ago, the bike is pristine, it has a great set of records, and is worth the asking price. This is what all of the magazines and buyers guides tell you to do, purchase somebody else's meticulous work at a heavily discounted price."

This was as good an example for the price as he or anybody was likely to find. It had been restored with OEM or high-quality reproduction parts, and looked like a new bike. There was also a restored Triumph Bonneville in the garage, along with a sidecar still in pieces. The guy obviously knew his way around a British bike, and had meticulous record-keeping. He was selling because he found a Triumph TR3 that he was going to purchase and restore, so that he could have an all-Triumph garage. It seems that Norton never made a four wheeled conveyance.

"But you don't think I should buy this Norton right?" Harry seemed determined to repeat the conversation that we had driving over.


"You asked for my opinion, and I gave it to you. It's your call now" Harry was a Honda man. He owned a lovely CB450 black bomber,a CB750, a CB360, and a new CB1100XX Blackbird. They were all black, either from the factory, or following a high quality color change. Every now and then he convinced himself that he wanted to own something else, like the R60/5 BMW that he ended up hating, or the Kawasaki H1 that he ended up hating. We met when he was engaged in his BMW diversion and we became friends, mostly because we had a wide ranging interest in lots of motorcycles, but gravitated toward one brand for inexplicable reasons.

"I'm gonna pass on it" Harry nodded his head in reinforcement and sounded resolute.

"Ok, tell him no thanks, and I'll be in the truck" I walked briskly toward the truck without even a glance back.


Harry, of course, was not at all resolute. Every fiber in his being was telling him that he needed that Norton Commando. He had thought about it for days, he had read a borrowed book, he had poked around on the (then primitive) Internet, and he had talked to 4 or 5 people including me about Norton ownership. He had whipped himself into a virtual frenzy, and this was not the ending that he had in mind. Been there, done that.

"Ok, let's boogie" Harry returned to the truck, stuck the key in the ignition, put the column shifter in drive, and headed for the highway. I was surprised. I was certain that he would have sheepishly returned to the truck to tell me we needed to load the Norton. After 30 minutes when I thought we were a safe distance, I asked him the question.

"So what convinced you not to take the plunge?"

"Everyone that knows me, including you, asked me why I would want to go look at anything other than a Honda. Everyone said it wouldn't last. Everyone said I would hate a British bike after having Japanese bikes. Everyone is probably right" Harry didn't sound particularly happy about everyone being right.

I was in no position to judge, as I had purchased my first Norton in a fit of passion that was accompanied by twisted but unassailable logic. The look of a well sorted proper British standard is still magnetic.

"You know, you could buy three CB550s for the price of that bike, and two of them would be running" It was the best I could come up with. Besides, it was true.

"Or about seven Honda 50s. I could have a whole Armada of them" Harry smiled.

"Or about 15 Trail 70s" I added. We chuckled, and completed the long drive home equating the Norton to all manner of things like some kind of demented currency exchange.


Late the next day, the phone rang, and it was Harry.

"I just got back from picking up the Norton and I thought I would call to let you say whatever you have to say by phone. I'm calling Ted next, and then everyone else who told me not to do this" Harry had a large amount of "tone" in his voice.

"I thought everyone was right?"

"Everyone doesn't know best, that is just herd mentality BS. Besides, you know what Bill Cosby said? He said I don't know the key to success, but I know the key to failure is trying to please everybody else" the tone now had a tinge of anger around the edges and he was quoting a comedian, which is always a danger sign, so I decided to back off.

"Good for you Harry, are we gonna see this beauty at the breakfast ride next weekend?"

"You bet"

And we did. It was the subject of many ooohhs and aaaahhs and admiring nods of approval. It sounded great and seemed to run great. Then at the rest stop on the ride, Harry spent 5 minutes kicking the thing over before it started. A few of us stayed behind to make sure he would not be stranded. Been there, done that. Later, after a short highway stint, Harry nearly took out two other bikes when he shifted instead of hitting the back brake, due to the controls being reversed.

No one is quite sure when, but sometime during the next month, the bike was quietly sold.

Many years later I went on to own not one, but two Nortons.

Norton Gathering 2012

Classic Velocity


This winter has been unusually mild in the northeast, so there has been a fair amount of riding so far this year already. This has robbed the annual Gathering of Nortons of its status as the first riding event of the spring. It has not robbed it of the status as one of the biggest gatherings of vintage bikes in the region all year. As such, it is eagerly awaited and enthusiastically attended. This year I traveled down to the event with fellow vintage bike asylum inmate, Todd Trumbore and a few buddies.

We had a nice jaunt through some Bucks county roads before making our way to the venue. Machines from everywhere converge on Washington Crossing State Park in PA for gawking and bench racing and bench touring and bench talking and bench concoursing. This year, the threat of rain early may have trimmed the early crowd, but things grew rapidly as midday approached. I bumped into many people not seen since the fall or even longer. New machines had been added to stables, and old machines were present with new owners. I finally met Bob Lonergan who has organized the last several Vintage displays at the BMWMOA Rallies. I have seen his good work in Oregon and Tenessee and Pennsylvania, but it turns out that he lives only a few miles away.

Photo Apr 15, 11 28 43 AM.jpg

We have covered this event before (see Gathering 2010 and Season Opener), and it remains a favorite. Even digital cameras can run out of disk capturing all of the interesting bikes in attendance. After a few hundred bikes, the parking lot becomes overrun and a few hundred more machines park in the grass and on the surrounding park roads. CLubs and groups come and go, so you need to make many laps of the place to take it all in. Even with plenty of riding early this year, the even somehow still signals the official beginning of the riding season in these parts.

There is a lot more that could be said about this event, but pictures do it better.

Season Opener

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In this neck of the woods, winter cannot leave soon enough. It has a habit in many years of throwing some kind of last gasp in April, making it a very unpredictable month. While many of us have been able to sneak out a few times inbetween snow storms, the riding has been scarce. Riding a vintage bike was even scarcer. However, no matter what the winter has been like, everyone looks forward to the “season opener”. The event that causes everyone to brave roads still strewn with gravel and dotted with the craters that we call potholes. To brave the fickle weather patterns of April for a chance to fire up old faithful or trot out the completed winter project. That event around here is the Gathering of Nortons which takes place in Washington Crossing, PA (yes GW slept here) on the banks of the Delaware river.


Although we have to thank the Delaware Valley Norton Riders for the event (as I do every year), and they turn out in impressive numbers with their machines, it has grown into an all-marque gathering of vintage iron. I discovered this event years ago when I was a paid up member and Norton owner. That is no longer the case, but at least once a year, I look at the beautiful examples and almost long for the days of shifting with the wrong foot. Delightful Dominators and elegant ES2s and commanding Commandos were all clustered into a feast. I am not sure why all Nortons look like the perfectly proportioned standard to me, but they do. In case the Nortons are not enough for the anglophiliac, you can cast your gaze upon the voluptuous Velocette with its aquatic exhaust, or one of several Vincents in attendance. British, but less exotic you say ? Well how about Triumphs of all stripes. Bonnevilles, T110/120s, Tridents, and a lovely TRW. Or perhaps something from the good folks at Birmingham Small Arms. They offered a few Lightnings, and a Thunderbolt, down in number this year but then again I was not there for the entire day. I have figured out that I do not so much lust for a BSA, as I lust for a chrome tank with that bejeweled red emblem on it. If only they were cheap enough to be garage art... And speaking of english jewels, what could be more British than a Royal Enfield made in India with no British parts ? What what.


If you were not a great fan of the products of old blighty, all was not lost. Plenty of motociclo Italiano were present as well. They included a nice MV Agusta America, a pair of beautiful Moto Guzzi Eldorados, and a nicely done bugeyed Laverda 750. Not to be outdone, the land of the rising sun featured a Honda VFR400 in Rothmans livery, and a Suzuki RG500 Gamma in Walter Wolf livery. Very nice examples. They were joined by the dirt track styled Yamaha mentioned in the Winter Break post, and many small bore Hondas including a perfectly restored 305. Of course, BMWs were sprinkled throughout with K75s, /5s and just a couple of /2s this year. A cool Ural with sidecar sat off to one side, but drew an admiring crowd, as did a very nice Indian. Beyond the main showfield are an increasingly large number of bikes of all stripes and years. Harleys and modern sportbikes and more BMWs and Ducatis. They were not vintage for the most part, but their owners may have something that they are planning to bring next year, or perhaps they just agree that this is the best reason to get out and start riding again. Spring is sprung.


People Power

Classic Velocity


At a recent gathering of vintage iron faithful at a British car event, I was a guest of a guest. The participant was Jeff, and he invited Ed, who said something like “But I don't have a british car.” Jeff said, don't worry, there is a small section for non-british cars. Ed then extended the invitation to me and I said “But I don't have a british car.” Ed said, don't worry, Jeff said there is a small section for non-british cars. The last time I attempted to get a non-british car into a british show area, a guy with a heavy yorkshire accent threatened to install Lucas electrics in my Karmann Ghia. I backed off immediately, and parked a mile and a half away.


The day of the event turned out to be a beautiful early fall day, and I decided to take the Porsche because it had practically no exercise all year

due to a glowing alternator light

. I fully charged the batteries, and decided that they could withstand a couple of starts even if charging was not taking place. Once I arrived at the venue, I spotted what was a fairly small gathering on the edge of a food festival. I slowed, and saw no non-british cars and the folks close to the entrance were not exactly waving me in. I decided to park nearby. I sauntered back to the festival and lo and behold, several of the

Rocking Chair Motors

faithful were in attendance. Jeff had his marvelous Jaguar SSK on hand in the show and his Opel Commodore in the small non-british corner that I had missed on the way in. Bill had both of his Volvo PV544s to round out the infidels.


The cars on hand were a nice sampling of british iron including TRs, and TVRs, a Bentley and a Bugeye, a few nice jags, MGs of all stripes, and even a quartet of british motorcycles including  what appeared to be a nice unrestored Bonneville. It did not take long to take in all of the cars, but on this day it was not really about the cars and bikes. I had a great conversation with the owner of one of the Triumph motorcycles. It turns out that we were both at the

Norton Gathering

for the past few years and were both there with Nortons 5 years ago but somehow never met. We described our bikes and there was instant recognition, but as people we had no recollection of each other. We even had pictures of each others bikes from that meet. We laughed about the whole thing because it was pretty common to know vehicles but not names.


Two guys were sitting beside a Lotus Esprit and we began chatting. He was recommending a Jaguar XJ6 from the nineties as a first car for a teenager. It was a non-traditional choice, but he somehow made a convincing argument. We went on to talk about the appeal of English Ford saloons and coupes from the 1960s, and in particular the Lotus twin cam Escort. We were joined by the owner of the beautiful Bentley, and the discussion went to racing and the Isle of Man.Wonderful stuff. Back at the non-British enclave, Rocking Chair member Tom and I spoke about BMW motorcycles, and Italian sports cars that do not begin with "F" or "L". Ed showed up with his BMW 2002, and we all spoke about them for a few minutes. Jeff and I joked about test runs of rebuilt or repaired cars that ended in a call to your wife/girlfriend for rescue. His wife laughed as she thought she was the only one called upon as tow truck. Bill went over his love affair with the PV544s and his Jekyll and Hyde pair at the event. 

Time disappeared and conversations had to draw to a close. They could easily have continued until, oh, say, Wednesday of the next week. Once again, I was late getting back from an event, and in this case, I did not even have a car or motorcycle in it. 

A Gathering of Nortons 2010

Classic Velocity


About 7 years ago, I owned a Norton and became aware of an annual meeting of Nortons not too far away in Washington Crossing, PA. The Gathering takes place in April and is dubbed as the "season opener". Over the years it has grown into an event that attracts hundreds of interesting machines of all types. Although the official start time is 10am, there is a steady stream of bikes coming and going starting after 9am and continuing throughout the event. With great scenic river roads and country backroads nearby, it has become a favorite destination for people who just like old iron. Weather is unpredictable, but this year was sunny and clear but cold. There was a high in the mid 50s, but in the nicely shaded Washington Crossing State Park, it probably didn't get there untill late afternoon.


This is an event for the Norton faithful, so we have to begin there. My friend Rich came along. I met him at his house along the way, and as he worked in vain to kick his 750 Commando into life, I was reminded of one of the reasons that Norton ownership is an acquired taste. I reminded him that Norton spelled backwards is NotRun if they had not mispelled it. He gave me the finger. I motioned for him to continue kicking. Exhausted, he decided to ride his Triumph Bonneville which started on the first kick. I rode my R1100S BCR which always starts and kicks butt. I'm not sure how many Nortons showed up this year, but I stopped counting at 27. Very cool Commandos were a dime a dozen, but they were accompanied by Atlases, Dominators, and an ES2. Then there were a couple of Tritons, and a chopper. The only thing missing was a new 961 incarnation. I had hoped to see one in the flesh. If this was just a Norton show it would have been worth the trip. But that's what you'd expect from the host marque, right ?


Tritons naturally segue to Triumphs, and there were more present than any other marque. Old Bonnevilles, new Bonnevilles and inbetween Bonnevilles were sprinkled liberally everywhere. And then there were the newer Triumphs including Tigers and Sprints and some Thruxtons and a couple of nice Speed Triples (a bike on my desirables short list). A well worn Tribsa was in the outer parking area, which provides a segue to the BSAs. These bikes look great to me in all forms, and the Gathering had a healthy contingent. Favorites were a beautiful Rocket3, a Victor, and a military single. Cool stuff. But cooler still were 4 Vincents on hand. When last did you see 4 Vincents ridden to an event ?Vincents are like great paintings for me, and I always need time to fully appreciate all of the details. I can almost see why some of these bikes end up in living rooms. Almost. If this was just a Brit Bike show, it would have been worth the trip.


But wait, there's more...When it comes to proudly exposing your jugs to the elements (gratuitous titillation), two marques have carried the torch since before WWII. BMW and Moto Guzzi. The Guzzi clan was present with a few V variants and a nice California. Several R1100S BCRs were on hand as well as some GSs, RSs, some R75/5s, and a nice R50 with sidecar. I intended to track down owners, but ran out of time as usual. Partially because fellow car/bike guy Bill Foster showed up with his R65LS. Seeing an LS out and about is a pretty rare thing, and his bike is beautifully done in silver. If this was just a BMW/Guzzi show it would have been worth the trip.


And if you order now we will throw in......A very nice Benelli 250 2C, a number of Honda 200s, 350s, 550s, 750s, and a Transalp, a few early Kawasaki Ninjas, A Suzuki GS500, A Yamaha 400 2 stroke, A Desmosedici, an MV Agusta F4 Senna, a stunning Ducati 1198S, and a herd of Harleys. I'm sure I missed a few.

As far as I know, every bike present was ridden to the event. Not a trailer in sight. If this was just a gathering of a a few cool bikes, it would have been worth the trip. But its not. Its simply one of the coolest gatherings of old iron anywhere, and its timing after the winter hibernation is perfect. For this we need to thank the DVNR.

Who Framed Norton?

Classic Velocity


Norton is in stiff competition with Indian for the brand that has died and been resuscitated most often. While they are both back among the living, I give Norton the edge in the life expectancy sweepstakes this time. Part of it is sentimental. I've owned two Nortons and want to see the marque play on and perhaps work its' magic on a new generation. Up until the early 70s, they were great looking bikes (IMHO), and they were reasonably fast as well. Despite reversed foot controls, oil leaks, and lucas electrics, you loved them anyway because, once on the boil, they were the match of anything in their time. And then there was the history. First TT winner, dominant racing force for years in the early part (perhaps the first half) of the 20th century, the "unapproachable" Norton lived up to its slogan.  The history includes a Lotus-like partnership with John Player to produce the John Player Norton (JPN), unheard of at the time in motorcycle circles. In the halcyon days of the mid sixties to the mid seventies, Norton helped define the Cafe Racer era. The Atlas and Dominator were prime candidates for conversion, and the Manx was the blueprint. Norton later went on to produce the first production rotary-engined bike, and a host of prototypes and  demonstration models for a variety of new company owners as their fortunes ebbed and flowed.


However, Norton's greatest product may not be a complete motorcycle, but a frame.  That frame would be the patented featherbed frame. It was produced in 1949 by Rex McCandless. The McCandless brothers built racing motorcycles in Ireland, and Norton wisely convinced Rex to work exclusively for Norton once they saw his work. He designed a new frame to replace the plunger frame which broke often in competition. It was a swingarm design with twin loops, which doesn't sound very exciting now, and neither loops nor a swingarm were new ideas. However, in 1949 the basic understanding of stresses on a frame which the McCandless brothers understood well from earlier work with Triumph and BSA, allowed Rex to put together a superior game-changing design.


The results were impressive. Nortons finished 1-2-3 in the Senior TT in 1950, and set new lap and race records with Geoff Duke aboard. Artie Bell also racked up some victories, Norton won the Daytona 200 (the premier US event at the time), and an era of sidecar domination for Norton began. TT racer Harold Daniell compared the new frame with the old and declared the new to be like "riding on a featherbed", hence the name. If the course or road had curves in it, the featherbed provided a significant advantage over the competition. The famous Norton Manx used a lightened featherbed to great advantage in the early 1950s. A wider version of the frame (dubbed the wideline) also made its way into the ES2 Dominator, and later narrower versions (dubbed slimline) made their way into the Atlas. Finally, the Isolastic frame introduced with the Commando in 1969 was really more of a featherbed with rubber bushings to reduce vibration.


However, the Norton featherbed was not just home to two decades of Norton engines. The company's featherbed frame was so well respected that racers and tuners soon began using it as the home for other engines. This gave rise to Tritons (Triumph engine), Norvins (Vincent engine), and others. It is not often that a However, the Norton featherbed was not just home to two decades of Norton engines. The company's featherbed frame was so well respected that racers and tuners soon began using it as the home for other engines. This gave rise to Tritons (Triumph engine), Norvins (Vincent engine), and others. It is not often that a motorcycle component other than the engine gets top billing. The Norton featherbed frame did just that, and remains a much sought after base for any number of projects today.  As for the newest iteration of Norton, I hope you find your featherbed.

Retrospective Recycling

Classic Velocity


The road to successful rebirth of once heralded motorcycle marques is strewn with the carcases of the fallen, and has relatively few spectacular winners. Indian, Benelli, Triumph, Bimota, come immediately to mind as does Norton. Many of those marques have been subject to multiple attempts at reincarnation. One can readily understand the logic. Why create a new brand and try to establish a track record, when there are dozens of great marques that are lying dormant. These old marques come complete with the warm glow of fond memories,

glory years of racing

, and

vintage celluloid footage

. The passionate among us will not let these marques rest in peace, and are able to convince businessmen, engineers, and venture capitalists to give it a go, again.


But this marque recycling is a tricky thing. Just like in the car world, you might be able to fund the mining of your past if you are a modern viable concern. Witness Ducati's classic series, and the Triumph Thruxton and Bonneville. You might also be able to develop and refine your roots while deviating little from an age old formula.


Witness all things Harley, and my beloved BMW R-bikes. However, this business of resuscitating dead and dormant brands is not so easy. Triumph is a noted success widely attributed to the business acumen of John Bloor. You obviously need more than a storied marque, or Norton would be another Ducati by now. Instead it has a great looking bike and yet another attempt to remain viable.

Having owned a couple of classic Nortons

, I hope they make it this time. Indian has a noted Marque rescuer at the helm in Stephen Julius, but capturing a piece of the american premium v-twin space takes lots of time and money. Just ask Victory.


So what's a would-be marque recycler to do? It seems to me that having to live up to the romanticized memory of some of us is a pretty high bar. Nobody wants to see a once lauded marque degraded by some legal/accounting dominated reinterpretation. I say that there are plenty of dead and dormant marques out there that have a history that no one remembers. You only have to visit a site like

Sheldon's European Motorcycle Universe

to realize that there are hundreds to choose from. Many of them can be yours for a bargain, have a cool retro logo, and you can still claim a lineage that goes back to say, a small village in Hungary circa 1921. Then just build a damn good motorcycle. After all, who among us wouldn't rush to own a new Dongo, Fopi, Hagg, Pouncy, or a Zig?