One Piece at a Time...

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Jan 20, 2005
I'm thinking of embarking on a long-term Commando project. I intend to acquire the necessary parts as time, money and inclination allow. I'd like to build it up from "scratch", but would consider starting from a rough complete bike or basket case.

I've got a little mechanical aptitude and have previously renovated a '71 BMW R75/5 and a '73 Honda CL450K5 Scrambler. I'm currently finishing up a '78 BMW R100s that I snatched from the jaws of death at a salvage yard and made into my daily rider. New Glasurit red smoke is the final step before spring.

No real vision yet for the Commando project which is why I've joined this forum. I've always wanted one and I'm drawn to the fastbacks but they're all bleeding gorgeous. I'm hoping to build a unique bike that typifies all of the good characteristics of the Commando. Numbers don't have to match.

First of all, which drivetrain should I center the project around? I intend to use the bike for spirited solo rides of short to medium distance and it must be utterly reliable with good parts availability. Electric start is not required. Secondly, how will drivetrain affect my frame choice?

Thanks for helping out a newbie.

Well there's a bunch of us right down in Flint Michigan and we can get ya started in any way you like. I would start a bitsa bike with a 72-74 frame and motor. Just because they are the most plentiful and will fit lots of body style options. Just be carful if your trying to save money doing this. About 12 years ago got a rolling basket for 150.00 And I quit counting after I hit 10,000. I loved doing it and spent about a 1000.00 a year on parts for five years before assembling it for a run. I quit counting the money because I change stuff every year on the bike updating and while your in there have become dirty words around me. Norbsa
I have almost finished an 850 building it completely from parts sourced. For me, it has been a good hobby. Owes me $6,800 AUS atm but will be up around $9,000 AUS when finished.

I just stacked all the parts away as I got them & then when I had most of the bits, Painted the frame, drop the gearbox & bottom end in, did the wheels & forks etc etc etc.

Bit by Bit & week by week, pretty soon you have a bike "hand made".

If you have the patience to do it that way, go for it.

And when I get some more elbow room ~ convince the other half that I need a second hobby ...

I am planning a Fastback.. a Trident Beauty Kit and a BSA A65L ..

A lot of time and patience.. and perseverance.. as Nortonfan says.. "week by week" inch by inch!

A good supplier..(My preferred was The norvil shop and Les Emery, till the Aust $ and UK pound fell out !) ~ also good advice ... and lots of study regarding techno problems and remedies is essential!

At least you can start with some great advice on web sites such as Jerry's, (this site) , which I did not have when I jumped into my 1973 850 back in 1993!
All my advice was gleaned from hard copy, phone calls and club correspondence like the great people at the Melbourne and Sydney NOC , in Australia.

Good luck !
one piece at a time

No illusions here about saving money... that's not the point. What's important here is that I complete the process on my terms and end up with a nice rideable bike that is truly my own.

Glad to hear from Flint. Ever get up to the Petoskey/Harbor Springs area? I could point you to some good rides.

Internet forums such as this one make many things possible. In 2001 I renovated an R75/5 from junk pile to reliable rider over the span of 6 months. My nearest BMW dealer and reputable mechanic is 200 miles away, not called upon unless machine work is needed. Given my limited expertise at the time it would not have been possible to renovate this 30+ year old German motorcycle from my rural Michigan locale in only 6 months without the internet. Email lists and forums put information and affordable parts that would have taken months to track down only 10 years ago right at our fingertips.

I had nothing to ride when I did the /5 so I had plenty of incentive to finish it quick. This Commando project will be deliberately slow. I'll likely use an 850 engine and will build up as much of that as I can. The suspension will be tuned for sporty solo riding, the engine will be tuned for torque and longevity. Cosmetically I may shoot for the early fastback look but with disc brakes. Parts will be mostly original Norton, no high-dollar unobtainium aftermarket stuff unless there is a compelling reason to invest (reliability). A Boyer ignition is likely in the works... I've used it on my Beemers and will not own an old bike without it.

My first purchase will probably be a frame/chassis. '72 to '74 aeems to be the most versatile. Any week spots I should be aware of?

Commando frames are amazingly light. As a result they are easily bent. The front down tubes are often crushed from a DPO fitting clamp on highway pegs. A front end collision easily bends the tubes at the headstock. These are examples of damage I would avoid. It can be repaired, but the cost usually outweighs the initial cost savings.

The rear loop of the frame only serves to hold the rear fender and taillight and as a result can easily be bent. This can just as easily be straightened or the loop replaced fairly inexpensively. (Don't put a luggage rack on a Commando without a brace leading down to the footpeg rests).

Avoid the 1971 frame which looks like the '72-'75 frame except for the PIA sidestand lug. A 1975 frame is also slightly different in the area of the shock mount but is of no consequence and will work fine.

There is a difference in 850 frames and 750 frames. 1972-1973 750 frames have the headstock angle at a 1 degree different from the 1973-1975 850 frame which is compensated for in the triple trees. If you use an 850 frame then use 850 trees, a 750 frame then 750 trees. Don't mix and match.

Actually, I would suggest you find (at least one) rolling chassis to start with. This will be much easier than trying to track down individual parts. Since you have decided on an 850 try to find a '73-'74 850 in need of some help. This may also ease the problem of getting the machine titled, as you might find one with a title to go with it. (O.K. so maybe I'm dreaming.)
Welcome to the club... the rolling-basket-build-my-own-Norton-club that is.:lol:

Before you buy anything, order and read the INOA Tech Digest and the NOC Commando Service Notes, these will tip you off to the common problems - as well as the remedies.

Of course there is the forum!

I originally started my bike restoration thinking I had most of the bits and pieces, clean it up and a few parts would do. Soon I discovered many abused, and worn out bits. The great thing is these bikes are pretty rudimentary - but damn effective!

I would suggest looking for a rolling basket, the more parts the better, as new parts are flippn expensive (considering what they are), and the originals can easily be cleaned up. In my opinion your dollar will go farther when buying a bunch of parts, rather than one by one.

Good luck!
Building Nortons is Great Fun.....................
All those parts lying in peoples sheds are better off getting another Norton back on the road again, I reckon anyway.

If married, you need an understanding/tolerant wife though. Don't they hate the ovens being used for heating up necessary items !

A "Parts Norton" finds a new home with me day 1.
One Piece at a Time...

After a BIG clean, polish, new seat & mufflers.
One Piece at a Time...

Changed clothes to suit my taste, Interstates rule with Brembo M/Cylinder.
A Down to Bare Frame rebuild with sourced parts.
It is reliable, not "bulletproof" & a first kicker :D
One Piece at a Time...

An 850 is now getting the same treatment, almost completed.
Nortonfan said: If married, you need an understanding/tolerant wife though. Don't they hate the ovens being used for heating up necessary items LOL ~

yes it helps.. I recall taking snap shots of my former partner. .. sitting on the lounge floor, in her :shock: very bare essentials .. tapping the rear/ main bearing into a gearbox housing after it having being extracted from a hot oven !!
(She enjoyed getting into the grimmy bits ~I 'll give her that .. )
The project will definitely teach you patience! And you'll probably find it requires a lot more time and money than you thought at first. The parts tab runs up very fast. My advice is, try not to think about how much you're spending! :)

In my case I started with a $3600 ebay special. It was basically in good shape but needed a LOT of sorting. $1500 USD in parts later it's coming along nicely. Still more to do though. It's sort of a never-ending project...

Good luck with your project!

71/72 750 Roadster
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