29 Aug 2011

My Norton Commando and its modifications

This story goes back to my New Year's bike resolution, which has finally come into being, thanks to the excellent work of Frank Chatokhine.

See here the original article and the bike as it used to be:

And here is what she looks like now.

I've actually had the bike for a month now, but have only just got around to taking a few pictures of it. Also I was a bit pissed off as the thing wouldn't start after I had ridden it some 500 kms to get where I spend the summer. As I came closer and closer, I noticed that it was not idling any more and was getting much harder to kick start. There was also quite a bit of backfiring going on from the left cylinder. One theory about the orgin of this, thanks to some welcome help and advice from fellow members of the French Norton owners club who live near Lectoure, is that this could be due to my using too much additive with the unleaded petrol. Frank Chatokhine says no though. An English mechanic I met at the Coyote days on the Nogaro circuit thought it might have something to do with the electronic igintion getting out of phase. The charge lamp on the headlight stays alight all the time when the bike is runnig, which doesn't seem quite normal Anyway I do occasionally manage to get it to run, so it may just be me and my starting procedure. I don't remember this being a problem before however. Investigation is under way, but the bike sure looks good!

The bars are lower and narrower than those originally fitted to this bike. I did not go for clip-ons as I have maybe passed the boy-racer days. Seat is a Corbin, very nicely made in the USA. I purchased it in the UK. It is firm but good on a long ride. If I had to modify it, it would be to take a little more of the padding out just below the thighs, as with the rearsets fitted it rubs a bit there.

Wheel rims are Akront alloys and have been respoked. Front brake is a Norvil. It stops the bike pretty well, unlike the original effort. Twists the fork a bit if you squeeze too hard. Fitting this also meant that the old mudguard had to be replaces by a slenderer effort that is attached to the forks directly, as on a Manx. A Norvil master cylinder has also been fitted as well as suitable brake lines.

A close look under the tank (Roadster model, in metal and nicely painted with proper striping, not the transfer stuff), will just about reveal Boyer electronic ignition that has replaced the coils and points. The picture below shows this better, and the old clumpy brackets have gone too.

The frame was been painted grey when I previously owned this bike, some 7 years ago. I like it like that so left it alone. Same for the black mudguards, even if the front one is new. The side panels were repainted to match the tank.

Petrol taps and lines are new of course, but I also had the old big air filter and its casing removed, which meant relocating the ignition. The filters on the original twins Amals are K&N and are a tight fit but it works and lightens up the side, as you can see from the shot below, which also shows the Norvil rear-sets that have been fitted.

This has meant simply reversing the gear shift lever, which is fine as it avoids all the linkages otherwise implied and also means that the shift pattern is now 1 down and 3 up as on a modern bike (with fewer gears of course). Less re-adaptation time when you change bikes can be a safety factor! Getting your boot around the kick-start to change up involves a slightly curious piece of leg gymnastics though.

On the left hand side you can also see the way the ignition switch has been repositioned on a made-up bracket. The rear drum brake has not been modified and is still pretty useless.

Other mods? An anti-return thingmy on the oil tank to avoid the oil going down into the crank case when the bike sits for some weeks. And the original rear light, which is boxy and ugly, was changed for an item from a Triumph (I believe a T120), which looks much neater.

So there it is...


  1. What a wonderful ride ! Now you must be the happiest Norton owner in France.
    Just another thing to put on your todo list : get a Gopro and make us an action video !

  2. I would be if the thing was easier to start. I have to take it back to Doctor Frank I think. But I will take your advice and get a Gopro. My Ducati-riding mate Greg had one and shot some stuff in Lozère in January. Impressive machine, when it works. How come we missed each other at Coyote on Sunday?

  3. That should read July for the Lozère film which I put up on this blog. Apoligies

  4. Hi David
    is your electronic ignition a Boyer or a pazon?
    if Boyer it need always a 12.7v charge if Pazon only 8v are required... that means if your charge circuit doesn't work well, you loose pregessively your battery charge and kicking become harder and misfiring begins like a poor mixture . So test your charge with the anmeter (engine running and revving you must read 13.8v if not: you don't charge enough.
    The original arlternator is a 180w, I never run with headlight all day long, if you want you can put a 250w alternator

  5. Mmm, that looks intersting Vincent, and you describe the symptoms exactly. I did effectively ride the bike all day (well, for over 500 kms in the day in one go) whilst running the headlight and, yes, it has a Boyer ignition. The bike is currently back with Frank Chatokhine and I will mention this to him. Thank you.