1973 NORTON 850 COMMANDO
If I’m honest, much as I really liked the Sunbeam, the experience was marred by my struggling to start it. We thought it was technique, because Rick usually got it going – maybe I’ve developed a twin-cylinder leg from my Commando – but toward the end of the run the Sunbeam started misfiring and Rick later found the points gap had closed up so that can’t have helped.
I go to a few rallies on the Commando and compared to those, I expected that camping at the West Kent would be a bit tame – but I was made to feel really welcome, crashing the party with Rick’s friends. There was plenty of beer and bike talk with like-minded people, plus loads of interesting machines to look at, and I really appreciated the way Nick Cleaver didn’t hesitate to let me loose round the campsite on his 1930 Triumph NSD.
Apart from the starting issue, the big Sunbeam made a lot of sense. You can’t really compare it with the Commando – funnily enough, it put me in mind of an old article I read saying the same about a Commando and a Z900. I found the Sunbeam surprisingly capable; it’s comfortable, it’s fascinating watching the girder forks bob up and down and it has a very different way of delivering power to the Norton. It’s very deliberate in its advance, you might say – there’s no powerband, but you can feel the power building strongly when you open up. The handling takes some getting used to – you really have to steer it around bends, although Rick says this is because his bike has sidecar-trail fork links. I didn’t find the hand change a big problem, but I did occasionally stall the bike by grabbing the decompressor instead of the clutch – which was annoying, given the starting problem...
I can imagine getting a pre-war bike one day; having ridden one, the appeal is pretty obvious, especially for an event like this, where the Commando would have been over the top. I’ll certainly book in for next year – Rick says I can borrow something again, but maybe my project Velocette will be ready by then...
Compared to his Commando, the Sunbeam Tom borrowed was a different kettle of fish
Starting problems marred the experience