FROM THE FRONT
Ihad a dream. That’s always good opening line for a short story – or even a speech! Anyway, this is a short tale about a motorcycling dream. The dream started off like this… I’ve long been a considerable fan of Nortons – although not of the famous featherbed variety, unusually. I’ve always enjoyed the non-featherbed singles and twins, the 750 hybrids, Commandos – even the lightweights! And I have ridden more miles aboard rotary Nortons than aboard any other British bikes: when production ceased I was seriously unhappy.
The great 1990s sillinesses followed, with obviously daft ideas like the V8 and the like polluting the great name of Norton. And then, much later, friends in the USA sent me details of a new Norton, an air-cooled parallel twin labelled up as a Commando. It looked awesome. An American Norton? Why not? If it’s OK to build Harley-Davidsons in India and Triumphs in Thailand, then why not Nortons in America? Especially as the quality appeared to be high.
Then that project collapsed. Again, I was disappointed.
Then that project reappeared, this time in the UK, where a serious businessman had reacquired the Norton name and announced plans to build them in the UK. Based on the US machines, these were every bit as interesting to me – more so, because they were to be built in Derbyshire. This is good.
However, as I have a reasonable experience of business and can do sums, I could not see how a tiny company could build affordable bikes by hand then sell them at both a price affordable by humans and at a profit. At the time it was a popular topic of conversation among my pals and I remarked that if they ever did get one into production I would buy one. They did … and I did. It is a remarkable and remarkably interesting machine.
The bike arrived in the late summer of 2010 and was everything it claimed to be. It’s fast, it steers flawlessly, it has excellent brakes and looks truly brilliant. Every time I looked at it I experienced a warm glow of two-wheeled happiness. Every time I rode it I struggled with it. The miles continued to clock up on the old rotary Commander – an excellent touring bike. Also on the Mk3 Commando – excellent for everything bar motorways. And on the unfaired rotary too, which is in fact just excellent – and suits the way I ride. Almost every day there was an excuse not to ride the 961 Commando. And eventually I wrapped it up, oiled it to stop the salt getting to it and rode other bikes.
And finally, after 7 years and less than 700 miles, it’s gone. There’s nothing wrong with the bikes, but I do not ride the way they do, so… So why does it feel like an odd personal failure? Back, then, to less sporting machines!