Friday, October 18, 2013

Bite the bullet.

A Norton Commando is a luxury. If you own one, you should consider yourself lucky: they are the swan song of classic British twins and one hell of a song it is too. They are also fiddly, complicated, temperamental primadonnas that need therapy as much as they need maintenance. Say what you will, they are high maintenance.
But despite all the idiosyncrasies and the sheer amount of labour that goes into making parts fit together, despite the unnecessary complication of what could otherwise be simple maintenance tasks, we love them. The grunt, the torque, the sublime handling, the speed... wow.
A Norton Commando shouldn't just be looked after, it should be cherished. Kept clean. In tip-top condition. All things that mine isn't.
Mine has been in its current state of disrepair (see below...) ever since I finally confronted the fact that it is unusable.

I then chose to forget about it in favour of the Rising Star and other bikes, and only swapped the handlebars so I could give my clip-ons to Witold who needed to replace his.
Last year, I had already hinted at why it is unusable, though in addition to the ergonomics, there is also a big problem with the cylinder head, which has had the inlet tracts enlarged and altered in their curvature, in a silly and frankly pointless pursuit of more power. Sure, some people might enjoy that, and yes, it goes like stink once you're all the way up the rev counter, but before you can even get there, the plugs foul up and you're dead in the water. Besides, save for a racetrack, you simply cannot unleash all that high-revs power on the streets. In real world conditions you'll be reveling in the low-end torque, which is more than an Atlas V rocket at takeoff. The ability to accelerate through the gears smoothly is where the real fun is, and it is something that comes only from a well sorted standard head, coupled with a pair of MkI Amal Concentrics (30 or 32). Nothing else will do.
So, in order to turn this into the great motorcycle I know it can be, the plan is to take off the cylinder head and replace it with a standard one, which I was able to acquire some time ago: Apollo inspects it before I can proceed...

"You're gonna need some valves dude."

In addition to the head, I also want to replace the cylinder barrel, in favour of this little beauty:

It's an aluminium 750 barrel made by Steve Maney, a re-interpretation of the famous Dunstall type of the 70s.
I'll expand on the reasons behind the barrel in an entire page dedicated to the Fastback once it's actually back on the road.

Right then.

Gather ye rosebuds balls. Time to bite the bullet and get this done.
That said, before you even think about reaching for the spanners, here's the single most important thing about undertaking a fairly major operation such as what I am attempting: caeteris paribus, your workbench is what can make the difference between a well executed job, and a mess.
Two things specifically you simply cannot bypass: you need to work in as clean and well-lit an environment as possible.
Seems obvious, right? But you probably don't have to think very hard to remember some dodgy mechanic you once saw working out of a grimy pigsty, like an ogre in a dungeon.
Now think of those surgically clean, flood-lit rooms where they shoot engineering tutorials or train factory mechanics: where would you rather work? 'nuff said.
My workbench is thoroughly clean, there is not a spec of dirt, no oil & swarf film, no cigarette butts/ash... you could eat off this thing.

I have two powerful neon tubes overhead, and a selection of inspection lights that I can direct (and hold) where I need.
Next, there are soft clean rags and a whole box of latex gloves. No glove no love man...
Ok, enough faffing around.
I've decided to at least try to do this without pulling the entire engine. It should be glaringly obvious why: it's much less work. Yes, there isn't a lot of room. Also, since the new cylinder barrel is not standard, I have no idea if it will fit with the bottom end in the frame. But I can always pull the engine later if I really can't manage. With patience, concentration and care, I might be able to make it, who knows! And if I do, it'll have saved me taking apart the entire primary chaincase (with its three retaining bolts threaded directly and stomach-churningly into the crankcase) as well as the clutch.


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