TOM GARNER

1973 NOR­TON 850 COM­MANDO

Classic Bike (UK) - - WEST KENT RUN -

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

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