16 Apr 2011

My 14th bike will be a modified Norton Commando 850

Yes, the attentive reader will probably have not only noticed the future tense, but may also realise quite soon that this bike has already featured on these pages. It is in fact my 11th bike, recently re-purchased, but with quite a few modifications that are currently being carried out by Frank Chatokhine in his workshop near Chartres.

I spoke about this project in my New Year's bike resolution article :

Now here is a visual reminder of what the bike looked like just before I took it to the good doctor Chatokhine. Not bad, I know, but one is never satisfied!

The basic model is a Mk11A roadster, which I first had rebuilt many years ago. At this time I had the large Interstate tank fitted (as seen in this photo above).

I have yet to see the finished machine, for the very good reason that it doesn't yet fully exist, except in my mind and on the specification sheet that I worked out with the help and advice of Frank. So this is really just a good excuse to do a little advance drooling before this project finally materializes. I should add that I fully expect there to be an ongoing element to this project, with other modifications to come as I ride this machine in its new form and see what works best and what does not.

Let's have a look at what it might look like. None of these pictures are exactly right, as they are all of other bikes, but each of them contains some of the parts and aspects that will be included in my project.

For a start the large tank on my existing bike will go, not because I dislike it, but because it needs to go in order to fit the nicely shaped and finished (and far more confortable than the original sack of sludge and pebbles that was the Norton standard seat) American seat made by Corbin. The new tank will be a metal (I dislike fibreglass, especially for fuel tanks) Roadster model, as indeed this bike orginally carried. This is proven by the triangular side panels, as the true Interstate model has larger side panels. This means a paint job on both the tank and the side panels (black with gold striping for both). The picture above shows the general idea quite well, although my bike has a grey-painted frame and black mudguards (mods that date from the previous rebuild and that I have decided to keep for now). The wheels will be rebuilt on alloy rims, again as for the bike in this photograph and fitted with modern Avon tyres. I am not a purist and the Dunlop K81's date a bit in terms of performance.

Here is another modified Commando with a Corbin seat and black mudguards, although the paint job on the tank is different (and quite successful too). Mine will also stick to the "pea-shooter" silencers (not that silent really!) as shown on the first two pictures, and primary case will not be black either. 

Braking is one of the main weak points on the Commando in its original form, so the front disc will be changed for something similar to the one above, together with a different master cylinder and pipes. The fork will be overhauled but basically remain unchanged although I may add a brace as there will just be a single disc at the front.

Although I love the cast aluminium alloy pieces of the original footrest supports, the pegs are set too far forward so I am having Norvil rearsets fitted like on this machine. I am not going for clip-ons or dropped bars however as I feel a flat handlebar is more confortable. I had one on my first Commando (the Fastback model) and liked it. We shall just see how the riding position turns out and adjust if needed.

There will be a few other minor mechanical and electrical modifications, to improve some practical details, such as electronic ignition, a dry battery, an anti-return valve on the oil tank, and so on. I do not like the big, boxy air filter much so two smaller individual filters will be fitted to the Amal carbs, a bit like on the bike below. This will entail some modification of the battery tray that lies behind the filter. And the equally boxy Norton rear light will be changed for a smaller, sleeker model from a US Triumph. My bike has no indicators fitted, so we will leave it that way too. The rear view mirror will be compact and folding, fitted to the end of the bar. The general philosophy is to keep things simple. Maybe a single carburettor in the future?

Hopefully I will be able to show you the real thing in a month or two.

Footnote (a bit more than a couple of months later)
And here are some images of the finished machine....

Ride well!


  1. I look forward to seeing that !

  2. Jolly good idea to “shoe” your future beast with Avon tyres rather than Dunlop, as your first trip will be through Warwickshire and later on the day for paying a visit to William’s family in Stratford,you told me. Better do it on Avon’s. No indicators? Street legal?

  3. You are the bard's reincarnation, obviously. Indicators are not mandatory if they were not fitted originaly. We shall see, and anyway I do not ride much at night.

  4. Hurry up David!
    Try to be ready for June 9th, Franck C. can deliver you the bike in Toulouse, he will be with us...

  5. David
    the best improvment is the single carb! don't forget it.

  6. I am sure you are right about the single carb Vincent, but my budget means I have to go step by step.
    Frank has just told me that he hopes to have the bike readu for end of May. My problem with your June dates is that I have to be in Paris on June 10th to do a job for a client.

  7. I ordered a complete kit yesterday for a friend,
    best prices here:

  8. Thanks for the tip Vincent. I took a look and the price is certainly good ($330 + shipping). But it only mentions Mikuni single carb kits for the 750, and mine is an 850, for which it seems to offer just the twin carb kit. What's the story there? I won't hand the kit to Frank anyway as he says he won't touch Mikunis!