I consider my knowledge of motorcycle trials to be quite good, having been around in the sport for many years, but when it comes to the Norton trials machines it is very limited to say the least. I knew they came from the once mighty motorcycle industry in Great Britain and that a trials model, the 500T, was produced during the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. The late great Geoff Duke had ridden them in trials and when I had seen pictures of them they appeared, to be brutally honest, a big lump of a machine. This Norton trials project we are looking at here in this test had been conceived a couple of years ago with the partnership of Andrew Bingley and Edward Dobson. It all looked very promising with an engine from Pushrod Performance and a modified frame from Paul Jackson. Would it be any good — boy did I get a suprise!
…us mere mortals would struggle to build a machine of this quality…
It had sat for a while in Edward’s workshop which has every conceivable machine and bit of kit in it with little bits being done, such as fork yokes — Dobson Manufactured — swinging arm modifications and foot rest hangers etc., being fitted. It was in late 2014 that the project really took off when Edward’s entry for the 2015 Pre-65 Scottish was accepted and he was informed that he was at the sharp end of the reserve list. This is where us mere mortals would struggle to build a machine of this quality but not only are Edward and Andrew excellent engineers they have a well-equipped workshop to play in with CNC machines, laser cutting equipment, presses, welders etc. It is a fact that if anyone building a Pre-65 motorcycle has not got access to this kind of equipment and the skill to use it, the cost of some of the machines you see today would be astronomical.
Here We Go
In early 2015 they set off building in earnest to have the machine ready for the Pre-65 trial. The modifications and changes were soon under way. The front wheel was a genuine Norton hub laced on to an alloy rim. The rear wheel had a wide Whitton Hub laced onto an alloy rim. The front forks are Norton road holders with Marzocchi Internals fitted — these were the forks that were fitted to the Triumph Twin I rode in Scotland at the Pre-65 in 2012. The clutch basket and pulleys were machined from Billet alloy by Edward; the clutch is a diaphragm type from a Manx Norton.
The Magneto was manufactured by BTH. The gearbox was an AMC one.
The wheel spindles and fork yokes were machined from Billet aluminium. The exhaust system and air box were both hand fabricated to fit. The aluminium fuel tank was hand beaten and shaped to compliment the style of the machine. The neat little seat was fabricated by Andrew. The laser cutting machine produced the footrest brackets, brake pedal and engine plates whilst the rear mudguard stays were ‘milled’ on a CNC machine. Edward’s son, Dan, was drafted in to make all the feature parts with the CNC machine — these young urn’s and computers! He is also a master with the welder, as all the welding on the exhaust and air box shows.
Falcon alloy shocks were fitted to look after the rear suspension and just to finish it off and keep the weight to a minimum; all the nuts and bolts have been machined from titanium!
As the photographs show they have produced what can only be described as a stunning trials machine which is very light with everything tucked out of the way and functional.
The machine was finished in time for one run out at the Yorkshire Classic’s Litton trial before Scotland and any teething problems were corrected following this.
The machine had just come through the Pre-65 Scottish trial unscathed before it was handed over to Classic Trial Magazine to test.
We converged on our test ground on a sunny morning in the Lake District and ‘Rappers’ took some still shots of a stunning machine with an equally stunning back drop.
“Let’s fire her up?” Easier said than done! No wonder these old machines are fitted with decompressors as there is no way you could turn the engine over without one. Andrew ‘Bing’ Bingley has the knack so he fired her up for me.
What a beautiful noise, burbling and chuffing away at tick over then full snorting snarl when the throttle is applied — Ace!
Pull the clutch in with one finger and off we go. The clutch works exactly the same as a modern Gas Gas diaphragm clutch so you could ride it like a modern machine using the clutch if you wanted but I found that the soft torque of the engine encouraged you to let the clutch out and forget about it ‘old school’ style.
What hit me straight away was the riding position, it was superb, very modern, and after I had pushed the handlebars forward a bit I could have been riding any modern machine. With the handlebars forward it steered very well with little or no front end wash out on tight turns and also the position helped me to pick the front wheel up and place it exactly where I wanted it when riding a hazard.
The suspension worked well, the front forks should have as I spent hours setting them up for the Triumph. The power in bottom gear was very smooth and linear and pulled from nothing as all big singles seem to but first gear seemed slightly too low for me; you seemed to run out of power/ speed too quickly. Second gear was a different story but the power was still pretty smooth low down but it came in with a ‘bang’ in the mid-range, so much so that I found myself pointing it at bigger and bigger rock slabs until it was me that that lost my nerve and not the machine.
The brakes were the only down point but I know it is a machine that is still being refined and I am sure that a set of oversize shoes and a lathe will cure that problem.
It was impossible to ride this Norton without a big grin on your face and I felt very fortunate to have tried this machine out and I am convinced that in the right hands it is capable of winning any trial. Any preconceived ideas of Norton’s being big, heavy uncompetitive lumps are well wide of the mark where this machine is concerned.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a fantastic trials motorcycle and a credit to all those who have worked on it but what would it be worth in today’s market? And how much would it cost ‘Joe Blogs’ to build one of these bikes in his garage getting parts made at his local machine shop — a few ‘Bob’ I reckon.
As the photographs show they have produced what can only be described as a stunning trials machine.
In early 2015 they set off building in earnest to have the machine ready for the Pre-65 trial.
The modifications and changes were soon under way.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a fantastic trials motorcycle and a credit to all those who have worked on it. It was impossible to ride this Norton without a big grin on your face.
The Norton in Pre-65 SSDT action 2015