A vintage adventure
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!’