Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

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Nov 27, 2007

I am in the process of buying a Commando and have been looking at early roadsters as I prefer their raw look to the more civilised appearance of the later models. I do however question how wise that would be considering everybody telling me that the '74-'75 850 is the one to go for and that the front drum brakes on the earlier models is a waste of time.

The bikes I am looking at all have electronic ignition, mkIII isolastics and belt primary drive, so my main concern is the brakes. Are they really that bad? Does it help with a stiffening plate from f.ex. Norvil?

As comparison I am today riding Guzzis from the 70s with excellent brakes and a RE Bullett and a BMW R60/5 with drum brakes that are nearly OK.

Grateful for any comments

The double-leading shoe type front brake with good quality shoes and a clean drum will stop you reasonably well for "spirited" road use.
I've never ridden a front drum brake Commando, but if you get a disc brake version I highly recommend considering getting the master cylinder re-sleeved to a smaller diameter. I think that stock is 15mm and I was able to get a re-sleeve to 12.5mm. This gives better mechanical advantage which requires less pressure to stop, plus you get better feel. I'd also recommend Ferodo Platinum pads if you can get them for the stock caliper (I use these on a Lockheed racing caliper and they are a good compound for the street).
With all the goodies, right compound turned to the radius of the drum the reinforcement kit an extra strong outer cable you will have a brake that will astound you when riding out by yourself. But the first time you do that third real fast stop riding with your friends that have disk brakes you will then know that a disk is needed for riding with the others that have them.
My experience tells me that a well set up (and probably modified) disc system will ultimately work better than a well set up standard drum, however when you buy an old Norton chances are that neither of these two systems will be in optimum condition or adjustment. Given that you should expect to do at least some work on the brakes then I would agree with grandpaul that a well-sorted drum brake is adequate for road use.
Hi Shelby,
In my opinion a well set up Norton TLS is better than the Standard Disc setup.However there are various disc upgrades & if you were to use your bike on the track all the time a disc set up would be superior.
I prefer the older look of a drum so thats why on my Norvil Rep I fitted a Grimeca type magnesium conversion to the stock Commando wheel.
I had this done by Dave Degens of DRESDA fame a few years ago.The shoes are much wider than stock giving you more braking power.It required a fair bit of machining & I had to skim off the original anchor point on the fork leg & a much heavy type brake cable is fitted.
I think its looks suit the bike & it works too. :D (see pics below).
Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

If you are really not bothered about originality then you could go for a conical wheel & big TLS set up as per Triumph/BSA which I have on my Metisse. This one stops on a sixpence :) (see pics below)
Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

Drum brake Commandos - do they brake?

All the best whatever you decide Hursty.
I repositioned one of your photos, as two were showing side-by side, which made the page rather w i d e. - L.A.B. (moderator)
Without ant doubt the stiffening kit works, and it makes the drum a better stopper than a standard disc. I'd say that the stiffening kit is the best money I have spent on my bike (and God knows I've spent enough!)

To get the best out of it the cable needs to be in tip-top condition, and I dismantle my front hub twice a year to grease those moving parts which need to be greased, it's amazing how much it benefits from the attention.

I'd reccomend that you go for the drum, set it up as best as it can be set up, and then judge it's performance against your riding style...what is ok for one rider might be suicide for another if you know what I mean.

If a properly set up drum doesn't come up to your expectations then buy a disc kit and sell the drum on, there is no shortage of buyers for a Commando front drum, and I'm sure that the rest of the bike will more than meet your expectations.
Nice bikes, Hursty. I have been thinking about a Rickman Metisse frame for a long time for a spare engine and gearbox that I have lying around. I have also admired the Degens modification on the standard drum since I saw one at his place a few years ago, it's cheaper than the trick 4LS brakes that are available but is still quite a pricey modification. I have noted that a Triumph 8" 2LS backing plate and shoes will fit a Norton hub without huge modification and this also has wider shoes and more friction material along it's length. The Triumph parts are readily available at autojumbles and the like and as 'cheap as chips'. I have all the parts but have yet to get around to doing the modification, since the bike it will adorn is currently residing in boxes under the stairs.
Hong Kong

Cheers L.A.B.

I am new to posting photo's.

dave M How is HK ? I lived in Happy Valley for 1 year & Kowloon Tong for 2 years in the 70's.
I never saw any Commando's though :)
Hursty, HK is marvelous, I came as a child with my parents in 1960, so perhaps I'm biased. There are still quite a number of British bikes here, with a fairly healthy classic scene for both cars and bikes. I'm surprised that you didn't see any Commandos in the 70s, they were popular sports bikes and my best friend came second on one in the 1973 Macau Grand Prix production race. I still see one or two on the road and recently met a wonderful old Chinese guy who has owned his bike for over 30 years, with a Robinson 4LS front brake fitted, so the Norton brake debate continues even in our neck of the woods.
Feel free to e-mail me at <chiuchowgum@hotmail.com> if I can answer any HK-related questions, as it seems somewhat unfair to hijack a drum-brake topic to discuss 'inscrutable Asia'.
Thanks for all the replies - I guess I will go for the drum brake version. For serious fast riding I always have my tuned Guzzi LM1 which has marvellous brakes. I have just always lusted for a paralell twin and beeing a jerk who buys cars and bikes after how good the engine sounds, I guess the Commando is the best sounding paralell twin out there.

I also like the fact that the roadsters have this wild early seventies look compared to the Triumphs at the time which seemed to be stuck more in the fifties design (which is very good looking - I just feel to young to ride it beeing an early seventies model myself).

@hursty: Those are very good looking bikes. I especially like the Norvil replica - was your bike featured in Classic Bike/CBG/RealClassics or some other magazine recently?

Front fender

Nothing to do with drum brakes (although my project is drums front and rear, front being a Suzuki 4LS from a GT750 and rear is from a Ducati GT750).

Where did you get that front fender? it looks real good, I notice from the pics you used a plate to mount the fender and attach the brake torque link, was that really necessary?

Hi Jean,
The 'fender' is a stock Norvil item avilable from RGM, Mick Hemmings or maybe more local to you in black, yellow or white.
On a stock bike you just have to drill four holes & maybe reinforce behind the mounting bolts with metal strips.
On my bike as I had to remove the original torque anchor point for the Grimeca conversion the plate you mention was supplied with the conversion as an alternative anchor point & new mounting for the 'fender'.
It all works great :D
Regards Hursty.
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