Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Some maintenance and meditation.

I finally had a rare moment to go wrench on the Fastback; the list of things to do was, and remains, quite long but such is the reality of owning a classic bike: there's always stuff to do.
For the sake of clarity, it's not that "there's always stuff to do" because these bikes are unreliable, but because they are very... communicative. That is to say, it's very easy to become in tune with the machine and figure out the areas that can and should be improved. For example, my Commando wants a slightly looser Isolastic setting and possibly thinner oil in the front forks (the famous Roadholder!)

I was working on the clutch and front brake levers, and as I looked closely at all the non-standard parts a thought occurred and it was this:
When I think about it, I can't deny that my Norton is a bit of a bitza, there's no doubt about it.
We're not quite in ship-of-Theseus territory here, but getting close: while the frame left the factory together with the other parts listed below[*], pretty much everything else on the bike was replaced at one stage or another, which sounds like utter madness and was certainly not cheap.

Other Norton owners, however, may think this is totally normal. Some of the modifications I've made (alloy cylinder block, belt drive, aluminium rims and mudguard, rearsets), also made this about 10Kg lighter than a stock Commando. Not bad for an unintentional weight-loss program.

And the result is a great motorcycle that's cool like the other side of the pillow and fun to ride, and I don't really care that much that it is cobbled together as opposed to a pristine 100% original.

Out of the engine, all that's left of the original parts is the crankshaft, conrods, oil pump, (crankshaft pinion, intermediate and camshaft sprockets,) timing cover, rockers, pushrods and the outer primary cover. Everything else is new. Nuts huh?

The comforting thing to take away from this, especially for any would-be Norton owners who maybe have just the one project (therefore more justified in terms of expenditure) is that even a real basket case can yield a great bike.

But the important thing is, and I cannot overemphasize this, you need to get stuck in and get the f--- on with it, otherwise it'll be a long journey standing still.

Sure it will take time and money, but parts availability is probably the best of any vintage motorcycle, so you will be back on the road enjoying all that torque and that amazing sound.

After getting a few things done, I went for a short ride, though long enough to get the engine to temperature. Once back at the Monolith I quickly removed the tank and went about re-torquing the head and setting the valve clearance.  All is as it should, I'll keep an eye on this from time to time, but it seems ok now.

I've used the usual silicone sealant to prevent oil leaks/seepages, particularly at the rear of cylinder 2 where the oil return tunnel is, though I have a feeling that as long as you ride the bike like it's meant to be, that spot will always seep (I really can't call it a leak). And I'm not going to worry about it any more than I would worry about sweat on the back on a thoroughbred horse.

1971 original parts
clutch diaphragm spring
clutch centre
clutch pressure plate
clutch plain plates
outer primary cover
fork sliders and damper tubes
fuel tank
fastback tail
rear hub
oil tank
battery carrier
rear mudguard

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Spring cleaning.

More like end-of-spring by this point, oh well! Ok, let's get busy!
As you can see, the Fastback is on the lift and there's a lot to do.

I started by getting the wheels off so we can get new tires on. The Dunlop K81 (or TT100 if you prefer) it had on were well past their prime and lately I have been wondering if a different type of tire would make the bike ride better, especially when cornering. There isn't a huge range to choose from when it comes to 19″ but I remembered having Avon SuperVenom on the Interstate years ago and thinking they made that bike glide around corners very nicely; so I've chosen a set of Avon RoadRiders this time, as they're supposedly even stickier. Let's see, only one way to find out!

The quickly detachable type hub makes removing the rear wheel a breeze... in theory. In actual fact there is still a fair amount of effing and blinding as threads catch, room is limited, spacers get stuck or fall off never to be seen again... the usual stuff.
Still, it's not a bad set-up, and the idea of a rear axle in two parts is only terrifying at first, then you get used to the overall weirdness of a Commando, realize it's a kickass bike, and you just get on with it. Plus, it actually is convenient not to have to remove the chain and assorted brake parts on those (hopefully rare) occasions when the wheel has to come off.
We found a broken spoke, something that has happened a few times already on this bike and always on the rear wheel. It looks like the wheel might not have been laced properly to begin with, but it's also that the nipples don't seem to fit the rim all too well, and the spokes themselves are stainless steel; the consensus seems to be that although they do stay bright and shiny, they're perhaps too brittle compared to the more conventional zinc-plated iron spokes, and tend to snap. Really this happens because of the Norton's earth-shattering power and torque. Whatcha gonna do.

The new front tire is too wide to fit under the skimpy aluminum mudguard I have on the Commando, so I've had to fit an original steel item from an 850, at least temporarily while I figure out what to do with the other one (probably longer stays, although it could end up looking a bit goofy, we'll see).

I also took a look inside the clutch, which has covered very little mileage since the upgrade, and was in predictably excellent condition.

And here's a close-up of the DynoDave seal, honestly what a clever little thing this is!

There was definitely gearbox oil along the clutch pushrod, yet none past that seal.

I also got around to fitting the needle roller conversion by RGM, which I had lying around for ages; it's very cool, plenty of nice little bits for you to fit... but it's mostly for bragging rights, let's be honest.

There was also something wrong with the brake pedal bush, something else that had been on my "to do" list for years, and sorted out in a matter of minutes by uncle Fester and his matter-shaping magic; thanks bro, it's better than new now!

Yes, a hammer is never far when working on these bikes...

I fitted a tool tray from a late 850 that I'd had lying around for years and never used; the part number is 064173. It's not like this is going to hold all the tools and spares you'll need to carry along, but it sure is handy having another place to store a few small items (couple spark plugs, small wrenches) wrapped tight in a clean rag.

I was expecting to find the carburetters' float bowls and jets all gunked up and horrible, but to my surprise everything was bone dry, with only a few specs of impurities caught into the filters.
The needle on the number 2 carb was not working properly when opening the throttle, turned out to be just the retaining clip that wasn't on properly, not a big deal.

If the carburetters were alright, the electrics weren't: a first attempt at starting the engine after all this time (I'm ashamed to say it's been years) revealed no spark. A bit of CRC marine 6-66 on critical connections (ground/earth are so important!), a good clean to the Champion N7YC and all was working again.

Overall the bike doesn't seem to have suffered too badly from the long lay-up, and performed as expected on a short test ride.

Thursday, June 7, 2018


Witold powers the Norton out of the straightaway and sets up the line for the next corner.

The photo was taken by Gianluca using very high-speed cameras that are normally used to photograph celestial objects travelling at many thousands of miles per second (as is the case here).

The equipment was borrowed from the observatory visible in the top left-hand corner of the photo.