Thursday, September 19, 2013

Witold's Commando, a retrospective.

Many years ago, while I was still living under the majesitc wintery cloak of England's glorious North, well before I met any of the dudes from my current rag-tag band of classic-bike-riding poets and pirates, my cousin came across an odd-looking Norton Commando while out in Trastevere. He took some photos with his cell phone and showed them to me. You have to understand, back then this would have been akin to Cassini-Huygens photographing the lakes of freaking Titan.
Add to it the fact that we didn't know who owned the bike, who had customised it... and then it was gone. It was all shrouded in mystery...

Fast forward to the day Witold was finally able to buy his first British motorcycle.
He had been hanging out with the local bike club (back in the days when I was still in it), coming to rallies and generally understanding what these things are all about. 
Now, dream as we might of a huge heated garage full of exotic machines, racing thoroughbreds on smartly lit rotating platforms and a Batsuit in the corner, the reality is that when the time comes to part with our cash, most of us can only go for ONE motorcycle. And though our early-man façade betrays little emotion, you'd be surprised what that ONE motorcycle can mean to us. Focusing on make, model and year is a prayer. The choice is the result of a long and strenuous battle between reason and desire, a rollercoaster of utmost confidence that you've made the right decision and pits of chilling realisation that you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. When all of that was over for Witold, he chose the Norton Commando.
Now to actually find one... long story short, the strangely metal-flaked café racer from Trastevere resurfaced one Thursday night. Another guy had bought it, but perhaps not being fully in tune with the machine, decided to sell it shortly after. Sometimes things just don't work out. Eventually, Witold tracked it down to another guy who often has bikes for sale and we went to see him. It was the first time we had actually taken a close look at it with no distractions. As usual, there were good news and bad news. The good news (communicated in the form of a subtle nod to Witold) was that the core of this machine was very sound. It started easily, with Norton's iconic snorting thunder. Oozing strength.
The bad news was that it was butt-ugly. I mean... just... ach...
He would have a lot to do to make it look good.
After about 100 yards Witold was totally hooked. He loved that thing, and I think it's fair to say that the sheer grunt and performance surprised him, and still surprise him to this day.
Over time, he gradually reshaped it into what you see today and he has done an excellent job.
This just below is the first stage, with the paint scheme, PR seat and side panels being the obvious difference. There were still some details that were slightly out of place, but it was a good starting point:

One of the biggest jobs he tackled, with some outside help, was a serious upgrade of his front end, specifically ditching the Yamaha drum brake (he was never too fond of that) in favour of a PR floating disc brake and wonderful AP Lockheed caliper and master cylinder. This required a special fork slider, from Andover, and a polishing job that left him looking like a TT racer from the 1920s.

That's an impressive looking front wheel, yo.
Hey wait a minute, those clip-ons look familiar...

He also had time for this neat upgrade to the rear brake plate. Hmm... monkey see monkey do, methinks...

Here's some more work in progress stuff:

Notice the orange moped on the right, a hardtail rear frame, barely sprung front wheel, weighing in at about as much as a laptop and with a "big bore" 65cc engine that makes it feel like you're going two hundred miles an hour. It's still pretty fast, like 45mph.

Really nice work on that primary cover there man.

I have to say those clip ons look much better on his Commando than they ever did on mine.
And below, you can see the mark 1 PR oil tank, with an additional filler neck and flip-cap.
That is an impressive looking front end. It will look even sleeker with a PR type front mudguard.

AP racing. No relation.

Here's the Norvil PR mudguard, nice:

One thing he discovered, in order to get his Norton to where it is now, is that every single little thing was a struggle: nothing fit quite right and almost everything required filing, drilling, welding, hammering and you-name-it in order to work. It's the one major flaw with these bikes, and unless you're soberly aware of the fact and you accept it, it can seriously detract from the enjoyment of fettling these old things.

With a special like this one, you can never truly say that it is "done". There might be a better way to mount a coil, or a tail light, or to reinforce the seat, or give the exhaust a neater bend... So we'll be seeing more of it, rest assured.
Well, good job my friend.


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