General Bike Theory/Purchasing Questions

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I am curious as to the following:

1. Which is the stronger argument: I want to buy a stock bike (Commando) with very low mileage in terrific shape,

or;

2. I want to buy a higher mileage bike (Commando) but one that has been lovingly maintained and or restored.

I know the final answer is "It depends....", but here's the dilemma. A lot of bikes for sale generally fall into the above two categories (with lots of gray area in between). For example, I've located a bike locally that has under 8000 miles on it (genuine, apparently), but has been ridden very little the last ten years. Still starts and runs great. Then there are bikes that have been restored/rebuilt, etc., etc., but are higher mileage. I'm wondering what kind of damage relative inactivity can do, in other words. If the guy just took this low mileage bike out and ran it three times a year, for example, just what does that imply?

3. If bike #1 and bike #2 (see above) are the same price, which one do you buy?

I've got a couple newer bikes in the garage, but am new to the older stuff. And I'm obsessed currently with obtaining a Norton.

Thanks for any help/suggestions.

kevin
 
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... a stock bike (Commando) with very low mileage in terrific shape, or
... a higher mileage bike (Commando) but one that has been lovingly maintained and or restored.....
If bike #1 and bike #2 (see above) are the same price, which one do you buy?

Kevin,

I'd most likely go for #2 if the owner could prove he's not the 10th or 20th owner and that he REALLY has always correctly maintained the bike profoundly...... "Chrome won't bring you home" ... and there's a lot of people out there who "improve" their bikes with catastrophic results.
So any such deal is IMHO mainly a matter of trustworthyness - regarding the current owner and the shape the bike is in.
Another question ist if your "obession" includes your readiness / willingness to get involved in the maintenance of archaic m/c technology - which requires at least a couple of special tools, some spares, a workshop manual, some bucks and TIME to get familiar with maintenance / repair priocedures for keeping the bike on the street.
Needless to mention that there are (unpleasant) surprises lurking everywhere, and from what you write I am taking you are looking for a troble-free runner that does not require a complete disassembly and rebuild.
Does the bike you located locally fall into category #1 or #2 ....? If it runs properly and just requires "cosmetics", it might not be a bad deal - vice versa would be much worse.
However, after ten years - spent mostly in a garage on the centre stand, the isolastic rubbers are most likely in a terrible shape, and the tires might be hardened almost to full petrification. Rock the swingarm laterally - if it yields unduly the isolastics are most likely worn out, and if you here a "clacking" sound while moving it sideways the swingarm bearings and/or the spindle might be also worn out. Check for engine oil leaks and chassis rust, also on the chrome rims and the zinc-plated spokes. Take a test ride to find out wether the bike behaves abnormally or not - engine misfiring or stalling, chassis weaving, wobbling, etc. Just as you'd proceed if you were buying any other bike.

I am afraid I cannot give you any satisfacory answers. Later Commandoes - particularly 850 Mk.III types -are certainly preferable due to adjustable (vernier) isolastics, more rigid through-bolt cylinder barrels, lower compression ratio and better crankshaft bearings - and not to forget left-side gearshift levers.

To see and read something about Commando restoration you may go to http://www.wecal.de/INDEX.HTM and then click on "Restoration". The story therein is more entertaining than educating, but it might give you a fair overview of what you might encounter after having acquired the object of your desire .... er, "obsession". If it lasts, it's not merely an "obession", its an "infection" ... :lol:
I have restored 3 Commandoes from 1985 to 2002, given it up for a while but will be pickuíng up my next one in February...... :D
 
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Brittwin--

Thanks for the thorough response. A lot of the difficulty, of course, is my inexperience with older machines. And your noting the trustworthiness of the selling is right on. Especially when we are talking a 30 plus year old bike.

I am just about to begin my first restoration on another bike (a stock '74 Ducati 750 GT), but, knowing this will not happen over night, I want the Commmando to be in 'decent' shape. I don't have time to restore two bikes at once. I do, however, understand the time involved, the possible cost, the possibility that I may end up with a bike that needs more work than I expected, and am currently reading anything I can get my hands on in getting myself up to speed on Nortons. I know I have a TON to learn, but am really enjoying the process thus far.

Your notes on what to test for on the bike are very helpful.

You write, "I am afraid I cannot give you any satisfacory answers. Later Commandoes - particularly 850 Mk.III types -are certainly preferable due to adjustable (vernier) isolastics, more rigid through-bolt cylinder barrels, lower compression ratio and better crankshaft bearings - and not to forget left-side gearshift levers."

I'd be curious as to what you think of this article. I happened across it the other day and found it rather interesting. The guy has some rather strong opinions on the 1975 Norton.... Here's the link:

http://tinyurl.com/y5nsal

Again, thanks for your help. I'll definitely be checking in on the 'restoration' link you included with your post.

Best--

kevin
 

L.A.B.

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Kevin,

I cannot really add much to brittwin's comments but each machine really needs to be judged individually, and if a high mileage machine has been well maintained then there's no reason why it shouldn't be every bit as good a deal as a low mileage machine that has been stored and (possibly?) been neglected.

You don't give any clue to which years or models these two machines could be (750? 850?), but the later models did benefit from certain improvements like stronger crankcases, gearbox cases and barrels, more secure swinging-arm spindle location -just to name a few, (there were many) and it is still possible to continue improving them (making the 850 MkIII electric starter work reliably being an example).

The late models possibly got a bit slower due to noise emission regulations and an increase in weight from the starter motor, drive assembly and larger battery on MkIII etc. but the 850s can make more relaxed tourers than the 750 models, but can be a matter of choice?

The left-foot gearchange (required due to 1975 US legislation) fitted to the MkIII isn't as sweet as the right-footers but isn't 'bad' although general wear of the cross-shaft parts can make it worse, and more people are used to a left-foot (up for up) change these days, although some people seem to have no trouble swapping between that and the earlier right-foot (down for up) change lever.
 
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kevster™ said:
Brittwin--

I'd be curious as to what you think of this article. I happened across it the other day and found it rather interesting. The guy has some rather strong opinions on the 1975 Norton.... Here's the link:

http://tinyurl.com/y5nsal

kevin

That article is harsh!! I have heard similar comments about conversion of the AMC gearbox to left shift but have never ridden a MkIII so cannot comment directly. I have a MIIa and the gearbox is really slick. Some people find it cumbersome (and also potentially dangerous) to have multiple bikes with left and right shift so you might want to consider that. All my bikes are right shift and I have gotten used to it. The article says that the brakes are crappy but aren't almost all brake on vintage bikes pretty crappy? A lot of Commando components can be improved on like the front brake so don't let that worry you!

I agree with the previous post that whatever bike you buy, it is going to be 30 plus years old and in need of some attention. So I think that in order to own and ride a Norton, you need to be prepared to do some maintenance or pay somebody to do it for you. That is, if you can find someone who knows how to work on them. Good luck with your purchase!

Tobin
 
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L.A.B, Tpeever--

Thanks. Your input is a huge help right now.

The bike near me is a '74 Highrider (I'm in Pittsburgh). Looks dumb (apologies to those who like the aesthetic), but can be converted to a solid Roadster. It's a clean, rather unmolested example. The problem is that it's not (super) cheap, and I can't afford to pay for something that's stock merely because it's stock.

I love the idea of a 750, preferably a Combat engine (10:1), as I want this bike as an 'about town' bike - Superblends and all. I've got a couple runners, I want a sprinter with bad-ass 70s attitude. Haven't located it, not even close.

I found the '75 Norton article harsh as well. Very much so. I referenced it because in so many ways it seemed hugely dimunuitive but also, at the same time, some rather stark - and possibly true- assertions. I'm still, after researching the past couple months, rather baffled about the true differences (other than the #s) between 750s and 850s. The purists seem to think the 850s were merely a flawed concession to the Japanese invasion. I personally like the idea of a lighter bike with the lower cc's but as good or better as the heavier models....

Also, your point about 850's ability to be improved upon, yes, but does not the same hold true for the earlier models? I ask only because I don't truly don't know. The shift thing. Okay. The critics do make sense to me here. If you are altering a right-side shifter to satisfy American tastes on the fly, then it only makes (possible) sense that it may not work as well as a bike that was intended to be a left-hand shift in the first place. Again, I'm only going on 'fancy book learning' here.

I hope I'm not coming off in any way as contentious. I'm just trying to find my way to the right bike. You guys are helping me get there.


Best--

kevin
 
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kevster™ said:
A lot of the difficulty, of course, is my inexperience with older machines....
That sound quite ambitious ...... :lol:

kevster™ said:
I am just about to begin my first restoration on another bike (a stock '74 Ducati 750 GT), but, knowing this will not happen over night, I want the Commmando to be in 'decent' shape.
Sounds like a good plan, but you should be aware that even riding a Commando which is in 'good shape' requires a lot more attention and care than riding any other, more 'modern' bike. Plus non-metric tools as well as some special ones.

kevster™ said:
...I am currently reading anything I can get my hands on in getting myself up to speed on Nortons. I know I have a TON to learn, but am really enjoying the process thus far.
Reading is a good start ..... but working on a Commando is a different expericence - to say the least. It is NOT a Ducati, Moto Guzzi or Beemer, and you might end up loving or hating it. Just bear in mind these two possibilities .... :)

kevster™ said:
I'd be curious as to what you think of this article. I happened across it the other day and found it rather interesting. The guy has some rather strong opinions on the 1975 Norton.... Here's the link:
http://tinyurl.com/y5nsal
Well, the author of this gossip-report type article is spot-on ..... if you accept his perspective, which is that of a remarkably passion-free motorcyclist who simply makes quite general 'bike comparisons' ...... but if you don't, you might find he's dead-wrong, since he' not doing the bike any justice. Here my comments:

"Often bike models at the end of their production life are excellent machines representing the pinnacle of that design's development and refinement. However, none of that logic applies to the Norton Commando."
Well, the last Commandoes were 'refined' to the max that was possible in these days - and there was no radical re-design intended. They can be capricious, demanding 'divas' at times - with lots of 'character'. Once you are willing to accept and to understand this, and if you treat them right they'll reward you not only with timeless elegance and beauty, but also with the feel of riding a 'real' motorcycle. They're not simple means of two-wheeled transport, they're 'time machines'. But the latter impression might only be a severe attack of nostalgia under which old farts like me suffer every now and then .... :lol:

"As with the gearbox, the Commando Interstate made an impressive leap backwards with its horrid brakes, which were abysmal and required a lot of effort at the lever."
That can't be more wrong. The left-side gearshift conversion introduces more lever play, the action per se remains slick and smooth. And with S/S-steel braided brake hoses, the rigid and heavy Lockheed calipers bite the cast-iron discs with vigour, these brakes are top-notch!

"The isolastic rubber engine mountings do prevent the vibration reaching the rider, but the motor was now so heavily muffled and dull that it became a soulless lump. Imagine an interview with a particularly pedantic IRS official when you have failed to file your tax return on time: that's about the excitement level."
100% false. An 850 Mk.III Commando engine is 'beefy' torque-wise, sounds throaty, and provides the loveliest engine sound one can imagine. Cruising at 66 mph and 3,200 RPM, it's deep aero-engine drone is a phenomenal pleasure, and the bike's chassis handles quite well. Revving her up to the usable limit (at 6,500 RPM) results is an wonderful forward thrust in any gear, which is by no means "soulless", and it never behaves or sounds 'dull' or 'heavily muffled'.

"To round off the package, the switchgear and ancillary fittings look so cheap and nasty - and the Commando was neither of these."
Well, 'beauty lies in the eye of the beholder'. There's nothing wrong with the switchgear and the fittings, they are functional and free of any so called 'modern', but irrelevant gimmicks.

"Today, Commandos can be made into truly brilliant bikes. But the way to go is not a standard MkIII but to seek the help of Norton Guru Les Emery who will build a bike which is everything that a Commando should be."
Yes, this is true to a certain degree - but even newly-built 'Norvil' Commandoes with lots of improved / reinforced parts still incorporate the basic flaws of an archaic (1948) design that forms the basis of all British Twins - the Triumph 'Speed Twin'(mid- thirties), a vibration-prone, long-stroke, 360° parallel array OHV engine w/o a crankshaft centre bearing, originally developed with a maximum of 500cc in mind. Taking this into account, the much 'overbored' 823cc Commando twin engine performs remarkably well ....!
I've bought a number of 'Norvil' parts from Les Emery ('Fair Spares') throughout the years and I can assure you he and his staff are a competent bunch who know what they are doing. However, he can't do any 'miracles' to this archaic technology, so that even a 'new' Norvil Commando or a Norvil-restored one will only run trouble-free for many years if you treat it as such... :)

My 1st Commando's configuration (after restoration):
1976 850 Mk.III Electrict Start
Engine:
- totally standard except new UPN main bearings
- oil pump refurbished (wet sumping)
- non-return valve fitted in crankcase breather hose
Carburetters:
- twin AMAL 932, facory setting, needle in 3rd groove from bottom
- roughness & burrs on bodies and slides removed w/fine emery cloth
E-Start:
- starter and starter gear completely removed
Primary drive:
- 'Norvil' 40 mm belt drive kit installed, w/light 'surflex' friction discs
- Primary chain case dry & ventilated
- (huge circular cutout of inner chaincase, enabling removal w/o taking clutch off gearbox mainshaft)
Ignition:
- Lucas 'Rita' (faulty old Boyer discarded)
Electrical:
- simplified, homemade wiring harness, all connectors soldered (!)
- warning light 'assimilator' discarded, ammeter installed
- faulty old 2-Phase alternator replaced with 3-Phase/180W alternator
- homemade rectifier array, Zener diodes discarded
- faulty left-hand switch cluster discarded, replaced with Yamaha part
- faulty 2MC capacitor (parallel to battery) discarded
- H4 ( halogen) headlamp reflector installed in headlamp
- ignition switch replaced with Honda-type (perfect fit)
- tiny m/c battery installed
- faulty horn replaced by small twin horns
- horns, lights & ignition switched via relays
Chassis:
- wheel bearings and rear wheel sprocket bearing replaced
- rear whell cush drive rubbers replaced
- 19" WM2 valanced AKRONT rim front + 100/90/19 Michelin tire
- 18" WM3 valanced AKRONT rim rear + 120/90/18 Michelin tire
- brake hydraulics (calipers & master cylinder) refurbished
- front brake hose replaced w/braided one (S/S)
- sintered brake pads fitted
Ancillaries / Cycle Parts:
- faulty speedo drive & cable replaced
- faulty tach cable replaced, surrounding hose added (approx. 5" from bottom)
- leaky interstate tank repaired (studs broken away, silver soldered)
- tank and side covers painted

The bike's dry weight was then at 185 kgs .....

I've ridden this bike over 38,000 mls within 6 years w/o any problems or roadside breakdowns. After that time and trouble-free mileage, a valve guide seal (rubber cap) had come loose and began to pump oil into the valve guide, which necessitated the removal of the head, a 3 hours' work. True, with the Commando I could NEVER compete with any modern crotch-rockets performance-wise, but going through narrow twisties they usually couldn't filter me out of their rearview mirrors either. On longer Pan-European trips I sensibly kept revs limited up to 4,500 RPM, but even some occasional (but rare) 100-mile trips at consistently 5,500 RPM didn't do her any harm.

Yo can see more pix of this Commando at http://wecal.de/INDEX.HTM when you click on the "I.O.M. 1989" TT gallery.... :wink:
 
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kevster™ said:
L.A.B, Tpeever--

I love the idea of a 750, preferably a Combat engine (10:1), as I want this bike as an 'about town' bike - Superblends and all. I've got a couple runners, I want a sprinter with bad-ass 70s attitude. Haven't located it, not even close.

I found the '75 Norton article harsh as well. Very much so. I referenced it because in so many ways it seemed hugely dimunuitive but also, at the same time, some rather stark - and possibly true- assertions. I'm still, after researching the past couple months, rather baffled about the true differences (other than the #s) between 750s and 850s. The purists seem to think the 850s were merely a flawed concession to the Japanese invasion. I personally like the idea of a lighter bike with the lower cc's but as good or better as the heavier models....

Also, your point about 850's ability to be improved upon, yes, but does not the same hold true for the earlier models? I ask only because I don't truly don't know. The shift thing. Okay. The critics do make sense to me here. If you are altering a right-side shifter to satisfy American tastes on the fly, then it only makes (possible) sense that it may not work as well as a bike that was intended to be a left-hand shift in the first place. Again, I'm only going on 'fancy book learning' here.

I hope I'm not coming off in any way as contentious. I'm just trying to find my way to the right bike. You guys are helping me get there.


Best--

kevin

Are the 750's that much lighter than the 850's? I never thought there was much difference. My impression is that the actual number of improvements/changes made to Commandos over the years was pretty modest. As someone else mentioned, the basic design for the Commando was 30 years old before they started building them. But, contrary to the article you posted, that is precisely why many of us love these bikes!! All Commandos can be improved upon and you will get plenty of suggestions from members on this list as well as other places on what to do to make these bikes more reliable etc. once you get one. Also depends on how "stock" you want to keep the bike, how much you want to spend and all of that. Good luck!
 

L.A.B.

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kevster™ said:
Also, your point about 850's ability to be improved upon, yes, but does not the same hold true for the earlier models?


Yes certainly, I didn't mean to imply otherwise, I'm sorry if I gave that impression.
----------------------------
tpeever said:
Are the 750's that much lighter than the 850's? I never thought there was much difference.

I've seen various amounts published stating the electric start adds anywhere between 30 - 60 lbs more weight, although when my own 850 MkIII was required to be weighed this year for its first computerised MOT (UK) inspection it didn't appear to be much heavier than the published weight of the non-electric start models (perhaps the tester's scales weren't correctly calibrated??).

tpeever said:
My impression is that the actual number of improvements/changes made to Commandos over the years was pretty modest.

There certainly were quite a number of 'improvements' made during Commando production, although of course all manufacturers do that, and at least with the Commandos these changes are well documented, and were at least done to try to make a better product.
 

Ron L

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Kevster,

There are a lot of cosmetic restorations out there. These look to be in very good shape, but those familiar with Nortons know what to look for.

After over 30 years with these bikes, I would not buy one if I wasn't ready to strip it down and rebuild it unless I knew the owner very well. Those may be harsh words, but you need to be mentally and financially ready. These are 30-35 year old machines that rarely were treated with kid gloves.

Brittwin has some sage advice (welcome to the forum!), and I agree with most of what he says. However, I would not quite agree you can call the Norton disc "top notch". For the era yes, but not compared to today.

I own a MkIII 850, a MkII 850, a MkV 750, and a '68 Fastback. There were a lot of improvements through the years in engineering for reliability. Unfortunately, performance did suffer and weight increased. You can build an 850 to run with (and away from) the Combat 750. I know because my MkIII 850 is easily the quickest Norton in the shop and will give my Ducati 900 SS (bevel) a good run. Doing this, however, you lose some driveability and reliability.

My point is, decide what type of Norton you want. You say you want a sprinter with a bad-ass attitude, then I suggest you look for not a 100% stock bike, but a solid basis for a project. Plan on rebuilding the engine and transmission, make the improvements that have been mentioned on this forum and tailor the looks to your own taste. These bikes are rather simple designs compared to some other bikes. You will be confident in knowing the bike is sound and can enjoy the ride.
 
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I think that Ron is correct when he says that you should probably reckon on a full strip-down. When a Commando is running well, the last thing that one thinks of doing is selling it.

If you just want to plod around on a standard bike doing a couple of thousand miles per year then you can find examples which will probably give you ten years or more without major problems but if you want to experience a Commando at its best then it needs well setting up.

There is nothing wrong with the Mk111 gearchange other than that it's "up for up" and a bit long-travel. It does however have a neutral light operated by a stud on the camplate and if the switch is badly adjusted it provides a sort of "non-detent " which makes neutral finding difficult. If you've ever ridden a 1970s Honda then you'll know what a notchy clunky gearchange really is.

I seem to remember Frank Melling used to write for "Motorcycle Mechanics" in the 1970s. He was always singing the praises of Japanese trail bikes. John Robinson used to get all the proper bikes to test. I suspect that the article was something of an "advertising feature" in its original form. Don't forget as well that the 70s was an era when most bikes became slower, heavier and quieter. Try comparing the Kawasaki Z1 with the Z1000 or early CB750s with an F2.

There is no doubt that the Commando in 850 form is a stronger base and most racers will go for maximum capacity. That said, there is something special about the bore and stroke relationship on the 750s which really epitomises that long-stroke motor feel.

My final thought is that if you can build a reliable bevel Ducati motor then the Commando shouldn't present too many problems. :)
 
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Brittwin, tpeever, L.A.B., Ron L, 79x100--

What a great group(!).... I REALLY appreciate the input from all you guys. Brittwin, I got on your website, great stuff. You've really been living what you talk about here.

Before I go on, a quick question: What if a bike does not have matching #s but was made with genuine Norton parts. I suspect it drops the resale value a little, but would there be other issues? For example, what if the bike is made with a '73 engine, a '70 transmission, and a '71 frame. I've actually come across this set-up in my bike search.

Brittwin writes: ".... but you should be aware that even riding a Commando which is in 'good shape' requires a lot more attention and care than riding any other, more 'modern' bike. Plus non-metric tools as well as some special ones."

Got your point. I've been reading that bit of advice quite regularly. And I will need to invest in some tools, for sure.

"Reading is a good start ..... but working on a Commando is a different expericence - to say the least. It is NOT a Ducati, Moto Guzzi or Beemer, and you might end up loving or hating it. Just bear in mind these two possibilities ...."

Understood. I won't really know until I actually own one and begin riding it and working on it. That's another reason why I don't want to over-pay for a bike if I can help it.... in case I just don't take to it. ( I currently own a Kawasaki W650, which is, of course, a modern retro parallel twin).

Regarding the article, I posted with the hopes that it would get a good arse-kicking, which you gave it. I appreciated the time you took to address some of its key arguments.

That's a very impressive build sheet for your '76 Commando. Can't imagine the hours that must have took, let alone the expense. Again, thanks for listing all that. Very helpful indeed.

I wrote earlier, "Also, your point about 850's ability to be improved upon, yes, but does not the same hold true for the earlier models?" and L.A.B. responded, "Yes certainly, I didn't mean to imply otherwise, I'm sorry if I gave that impression."

No worries. I was just curious if perhaps there was a larger support/vendor network for the 850s.

Ron L writes, "After over 30 years with these bikes, I would not buy one if I wasn't ready to strip it down and rebuild it unless I knew the owner very well. Those may be harsh words, but you need to be mentally and financially ready."

Would you recommend then not spending a lot on the bike and opting for something in need of restoration? Or are you merely suggesting that in the school of hard knocks, no matter what you pay for the bike, it may, in the end, need to be stripped down and rebuilt.

"My point is, decide what type of Norton you want. You say you want a sprinter with a bad-ass attitude, then I suggest you look for not a 100% stock bike, but a solid basis for a project. Plan on rebuilding the engine and transmission, make the improvements that have been mentioned on this forum and tailor the looks to your own taste."

Makes a lot of sense. I'm still weighing out the 750 versus 850 question, and it's worth noting that both bikes can more or less be the type of bike I want it to be. I'm not that much of a racer, either way.... if I was, I'd be into the modern stuff. In a Classic Bike Magazine article a few years ago on the Commando (Les Emery is quoted throughout), the author states: "The Commando in its final 850 MKIII form for 1975 was a sturdy beast although somewhat strangled by US emissions legislation, and 60 lbs heavier than the originals partly due to its inefficient electric foot. So it was less fun on the road." He goes on to write, "The 750 versus 850 question is also a matter of taste. In standard form with restrictive airbox and silencers there is no real performance advantage to the bigger engine, which passes low rev vibration to the rider and is not as crisp as the smaller power unit, though with Peashooters fitted it is significantly more torquey." It's actually a nice article (written by Steve Wilson. I've scanned it if anybody would be interested in receiving it via e-mail (resolution isn't great but it's readable). Just let me know.

79x100 writes, "If you just want to plod around on a standard bike doing a couple of thousand miles per year then you can find examples which will probably give you ten years or more without major problems but if you want to experience a Commando at its best then it needs well setting up."

I'll definitely be riding the bike. Every other day at least. And I live two minutes from some wonderful twisty roads that are just screaming for a Norton. So the bike will get used, for sure.

"Don't forget as well that the 70s was an era when most bikes became slower, heavier and quieter. Try comparing the Kawasaki Z1 with the Z1000 or early CB750s with an F2."

Good point.

"There is no doubt that the Commando in 850 form is a stronger base and most racers will go for maximum capacity. That said, there is something special about the bore and stroke relationship on the 750s which really epitomises that long-stroke motor feel."

Wish I could get on about four or five of each type and ride them for an hour each. But that isn't going to happen(!). I'll just keep looking for the proper set-up and price and go from there. In the end, I'm sure it will prove a huge learning experience (already has).... just trying to go about it as best I can at this point.

Again, a HUGE thanks to you all for taking the time to help out.

kevin
 
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Kevin:

Watch out for any of the early bikes with the twin leading shoe drum brake on the front. That was a real piece of junk. You could put enough force into the lever that the backplate started to distort, and the extra force didn't add to braking effort at all. I did an investigation into the problem using a special lacquer on the backplate that is desinged to show distortion. I think we could've fixed it with a minor redesign of the backplate, but it was a proprietary part from an Italian manufacturer who wasn't interested.

There were some crazy development efforts into a disc brake system, but they relied on a sliding disc and a fixed caliper. Thankfully, none of those made it into production. There was a very strong management reluctance to offsetting the wheel to make room for the caliper assembly, and nobody did a good sliding caliper set-up back then.

I left N-V in mid-1968, before the later 750's or the 850 came along, so my background on those is marginal.

The "electrically assisted starting system" was a joke. Lucas hadn't caught up with the much higher stregth magnets that were becoming available and the starter motor they came up with was a real wimp. I believe that one of the late-model large Honda starters will fit and give a strong spin that starts the engine reliably.

If I ever got back into bikes, I'd have a tough time with left-foot shifters. I'd probably modify a newer Commando to right-foot! Everything I ever rode was right foot and I only had one Triumph, which was their traditional right shift but up-for-up (it was a Twenty-One, with the "bathtub" rear fender/fairing).
 

MichaelB

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Commando ownership and bikes can be broken down into 3 areas.
750's, 850's and the Mark III 850. All can be good and horrible, sometimes simultaneously.
People sometimes get very defensive about their particular choice.
People that own several, many times own them across that spectrum.

All of them can be modified to suit a purpose.

Here is my take on them. This is strictly my opinion.

The 750's are more nimble, rev up quicker and are a little smoother.
The nimbleness comes from different frame geometry. The revs and smoothness come from a smaller, higher compression motor.

The 850's are a tad more stable, have more lower end torque, a little slower revving, shake a little more.

The Mark III's are heavier, more complex and in stock trim...less than stellar performers.
The left side shift does not shift as well as the right. It's not bad, but everything being equal, it's not as crisp. It has the pegs slightly more rear ward, which I like.

Now that I have offended some people, let me say this, I like em all and can live with any of them. They are just a little different.

My suggestion would be to buy the best one you can afford or find.
Any of them in good shape and well tuned are a lot of fun or miserable, sometimes simultaneously.




Welcome to the dark side...



72 Combat, monshock plus extras
73 Mark V 750
75 Kenny Dreer 880, ventilated crankcase
 

MichaelB

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BTW, I agree most everything in the article. But that is in stock trim.
 
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Frank--

Nice hearing from a guy from the ranks of Norton itself. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me on a few do's and don'ts regarding particular makes, as well as pointing out a bit of history as to why certain choices were made. I've read similar statements regarding the later electrical system (I think the article I linked here said much the same). Your Honda starter system application is something I will remember.

"I did an investigation into the problem using a special lacquer on the backplate that is desinged to show distortion. I think we could've fixed it with a minor redesign of the backplate, but it was a proprietary part from an Italian manufacturer who wasn't interested."

That's a nifty bit of history, Frank. Are you an engineer or chemist? Sounds like Norton Villiers had the right guy in place, but didn't listen to him. That would piss me off.

"I only had one Triumph, which was their traditional right shift but up-for-up (it was a Twenty-One, with the "bathtub" rear fender/fairing)".

Funny, that bike is still one of the more affordable ways to climb into the Triumph make, primarily because its styling was not fashionable with American buyers (rightly or wrongly). They are going up in value, though, and I suspect at the end of the day they'll be back in vogue.... if only for their oddness. Geez, I've seen the AMC Gremlin on blocks at a local car dealership here a while back. Talk about a shock to the system.

By the way, Anacortes, WA, is one of my favorite towns on the planet.

Great hearing from you Frank, and many thanks.

k.ster
 
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Mike--

A nice summary and some enlightened, brazen opinions. Just what I'm after. It kind of sums up what I'm seeing out there, actually. Your break-down into three groups is very helpful. Now, I'm going to truly show my ignorance. The MKIII.... is that not a later model 850? Actually, the whole MK thing has me a bit confused.... I've been on the Norvil site on how to identify one's bike, but for some reason my brain is still a bit confused o'er it all.

But.... and I know this is unrelated to our topic, I see you have a Kenny Dreer 1975 880. Would you care to extrapolate on what that bike is about/like, etc? I know I'm out of line here. I was looking after one of his newer bikes (didn't do the deposit thing, thankfully, but heck, I so wanted his new Co. to succeed).

Happy to hear you like the article, too :-o

kevin









MichaelB said:
Commando ownership and bikes can be broken down into 3 areas.
750's, 850's and the Mark III 850. All can be good and horrible, sometimes simultaneously.
People sometimes get very defensive about their particular choice.
People that own several, many times own them across that spectrum.

All of them can be modified to suit a purpose.

Here is my take on them. This is strictly my opinion.

The 750's are more nimble, rev up quicker and are a little smoother.
The nimbleness comes from different frame geometry. The revs and smoothness come from a smaller, higher compression motor.

The 850's are a tad more stable, have more lower end torque, a little slower revving, shake a little more.

The Mark III's are heavier, more complex and in stock trim...less than stellar performers.
The left side shift does not shift as well as the right. It's not bad, but everything being equal, it's not as crisp. It has the pegs slightly more rear ward, which I like.

Now that I have offended some people, let me say this, I like em all and can live with any of them. They are just a little different.

My suggestion would be to buy the best one you can afford or find.
Any of them in good shape and well tuned are a lot of fun or miserable, sometimes simultaneously.




Welcome to the dark side...



72 Combat, monshock plus extras
73 Mark V 750
75 Kenny Dreer 880, ventilated crankcase
 

MichaelB

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There were 5 versions of the 750 and 3 versions of the 850.
The 850 goes like this, 73 Mk I, 74 Mk II, 75 and beyond Mk III.
The Mark III is the E-start. Like the article said, they are basically 75's but they were produced all the way to 79.
I thought it interesting about all the post 75 being Silver Interstates and being offered only in Erope. That's why we don't see many over here.

The Combat is a Mk IV 750, the Mk V is the post Combat or 73 750 with the better bearings, stock cam and most of em have High compression heads.

Before Kenny started the 'New" Norton company, he was building, uh basically remanufacturing old Nortons with modern day stuff. He built approx. 43 of em before he started the new venture.
BTW, he refunded the deposits.
 
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Kev- Back to your original question, low or well maintained high mileage,etc.
Like you said, it depends. If you are going to leave it original, go for the low mileage example, and fix problems as they occur. If, however you are going to modify it(which it sounds like you are), go for the higher mileage model. It
likely already has some of the mods/improvements that you would otherwise have to do. But, like someone above wrote, it's hard to tell if those mods were done correctly, or horribly bodged, so be prepared to strip it down.This goes for the low mileage original as well.

I wouldn't buy that HiRider if it were me. After all, you are going to convert to Roadster specs. Those HiRiders are (thankfully!) rare, and should be left for someone who just has to have one.

750 or 850. I have one of each. A'71 Roadster, and a '73 850 Interstate. Both stock, except for a single Mikuni carb conversion on the 750. Not a hill of beans difference, really. The 750 is glass smooth once underway, while you can still feel the engine a bit on the 850. The 750 sort of "comes on the cam" about 4500 rpm, where the 850 power curve is flat as Kansas.

You said you like the idea of a 750. By all means go for it! Unless you plan to make extensive power mods that is. In that case, the 850 has a stonger bottom end, and through studs holding the top end together. Highly
modified 750s like to break at the cylinder mounting flange.

Electric starters? We don' need no stinkin' electric starters!

Left side shift? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that Duck a right side shift? I know the only Ducati I ever owned( a 450 bevel Desmo,wish I still had it!) was up for low, on the right.

Whatever, just get a Commando. You will never be sorry.


P.S. About power mods. That article you linked to is right about one thing.
That engine was originally designed as a mildly tuned 500. Over the years it was bored out, cammed out, and otherwise hopped up. The Commando as it came from the factory is already a hotrod,and is really kind of on the ragged edge between power, and reliability.Very many further modifications push it over that edge, so be prudent.
 

MichaelB

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CommandoRoadster said:
Kev- The Commando as it came from the factory is already a hotrod,and is really kind of on the ragged edge between power, and reliability.Very many further modifications push it over that edge, so be prudent.

Well said.
 
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