Nor­ton 500

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: Nick Shield • Pic­tures: Mike Rap­ley

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.

Stun­ning

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.

It’s Good

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

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