A vin­tage ad­ven­ture

Real Classic - - Norton Model 18 -

Just to prove that it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to go ad­ven­tur­ing on an an­cient old­ster, Norton en­thu­si­ast Ian Lo­ram took his 1920s flat-tank sin­gle on a grand tour last sum­mer. Start­ing at Land’s End, Ian and his sup­port crew cov­ered more than 1400 miles in a fort­night, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by other mem­bers of the Norton Own­ers’ Club on more mod­ern ma­chines as they trekked north to John O’ Groats on mi­nor roads.

The Norton was run­ning-in af­ter a re­bore. It had com­pleted its shake­down mileage and rapidly freed up as the miles rat­tled by. Un­der­tak­ing a long dis­tance trek on a 90 year-old mo­tor­cy­cle is quite dif­fer­ent to rid­ing a more re­cent clas­sic, as Ian ex­plains.

‘With no speedo on the old girl, you are never ex­actly sure if you are do­ing 45, 49 or even 50 be­cause of the dif­fer­ing road sur­faces. The vari­able sur­faces are chal­leng­ing; you dare not lose con­cen­tra­tion or a buck­led rim would re­sult, and this gets more dif­fi­cult when you’re con­tin­u­ally rid­ing for eight or nine hour a day.’

Even once the rid­ing was done for the day, Ian couldn’t

re­lax un­til he’d car­ried out all the rou­tine main­te­nance and checked for any prob­lems. Along the way, the rear mud­guard came loose, the carb nee­dle dropped and the oil filler cap jumped ship. A typ­i­cal fet­tling ses­sion in­volved greas­ing var­i­ous nip­ples, top­ping up the to­tal loss oil sys­tem with an­other half gal­lon, and ad­just­ing the pushrods. Some tasks needed a bit more at­ten­tion…

‘I had an is­sue with the clutch as it was slip­ping by the time I neared the top of some hills. At just af­ter 7am I was at the bike. To take the clutch cover apart, the ex­haust rose needs un­do­ing to move the ex­haust pipe. The tab hold­ing on the small dish cover needs straight­en­ing – and of course the tab broke off...

‘With the two en­gine breathers’ con­tents of oil mist be­ing di­rected onto the two chains, and the fact that I had not been heavy handed with the twist­grip, this was the first time on the trip I had needed to move the clutch and gear­box back. Even­tu­ally a large Ger­man ring span­ner sorted the prob­lem, and then the fi­nal drive chain needed ad­just­ing.’

Slow­ing down on a vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle is an­other ‘in­ter­est­ing’ ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘To shed speed, you throt­tle off with your right hand and ap­ply the front brake,’ ex­plains Ian. ‘How­ever that very same hand also needs to reach down to the long Sturmey-Archer gear lever, sit­u­ated on this bike be­tween your knee and foot. While do­ing this, you also need to pull in the clutch – how­ever that hand also needs to move the ig­ni­tion tim­ing lever to re­tard the en­gine… bear­ing in mind that you have no rev counter. Even when chang­ing down, the

gear se­lected is still driv­ing you for­ward. Now you un­der­stand why it would be good to be an oc­to­pus!’

On top of that, the Norton’s brakes aren’t ex­actly cut­ting edge. Although some cut’n’shut was re­quired, ‘the rear brake rod had to be ad­justed twice, and then needed a quar­ter inch cut­ting off to shorten it, due to the way it is con­fig­ured.’

Once Ian reached Scot­land there was no es­cap­ing some steep climbs and some scary de­scents in in­clement weather. ‘I was hold­ing back from the van fur­ther than be­fore, be­cause my nor­mally quite good brakes had be­come al­most in­ef­fec­tive due to the con­tin­ual heavy rain. I tried put­ting them on many times while rid­ing, in the hope that any mois­ture would be ex­pelled, but this seemed to have lit­tle ef­fect. At a cof­fee stop, I squirted a large amount of carb cleaner into the brake drums. Af­ter a few presses of the rear brake, this brake was as good as new. How­ever the front was still quite iffy. En­cour­aged by the rear brake’s ef­fec­tive­ness I gave the front one a re­ally good squirt.

‘Climb­ing the pass we ran into thick mist that en­veloped the top, but even­tu­ally reached the sum­mit and con­grat­u­lated each other. I de­cided that I would de­scend at a slow speed in a low gear. Af­ter about quar­ter of a mile down­wards, with the front brake con­stantly on, it came back to full func­tion so a rea­son­able speed could be achieved.’

He makes it sound easy – but we’re sure there were some heart-stop­ping mo­ments along the way. Ian was ac­com­pa­nied by NOC club­men Mal Childs and Paul Pat­tin­son, and Keith and Diana act­ing as back-up in a van, and they at­tracted at­ten­tion for the en­tire two weeks.

‘We got lots of thumbs up from the pub­lic,’ says Ian. ‘If only they knew where we were off to!’

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