STILL won't start!

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Apr 15, 2004
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I still have the same cold starting problem - bike fires right up but immediately dies. On the rare occasions when I do manage to get it running it runs very well and it starts first kick when warm. It will usually restart the next morning but if it sits for a few days or longer it usually will not start.

I've been all through the carbs and I'm satisfied they're in good working order. It doesn't foul plugs any more, it just won't keep running.

I've cleaned up all the electrical connections, fixed a broken fuseholder wire, and fitted new plugs (AP64), new points, new condensers, and new points leads. None of that helped the hard starting problem although the AP64s seem to perform better when I do get the bike to run.

So what can it be? Two things I could try replacing are the spark plug wires (cheap) and coils (not so cheap but still cheaper than shop labor). Would that be worth doing? Another thing I could try is running a wire directly from the battery to the coils. Haven't tried that yet. Otherwise I don't know, I'm out of ideas. I could take it to the shop in Denver and let them have a go at it but I'm afraid that could be quite expensive. I'm not sure I'm willing to put much more money into this bike.


...Won't start

I had the same problem some time ago and I changed sparkplugs wires and connectors... and it solved the prob! ( Check the battery output too!)
Hi Debby,
Your frustrations are felt by alot of us out here. What you are experiencing is why alot of Nortons are pushed to the back of the garage and left for awhile, (mine sat for a year once, dribbling all over everything.)
There are people with alot more credentials and experience than I, but I will share what I have learned the past couple years.
I live at sea level in a mild climate. I have run 850's for years with no choke. Tickle ONLY when cold, let her rip.
I am currently sorting out a low mileage Combat that needs tickle and FULL choke to start, or it dies like yours. It needs the choke for awhile, then it is fine. What I believe is happening is the tickle gives a temporary rich mixture, burns off then dies.
Why this does not affect my 850, I don't know. Some people would say my 850 is too rich, maybe, however you cannot change the pilot jet on a 932 and the above Combat is running 932's. So go figure.
I think your problem is fuel starvation, carb related. It is probably time to consider reattaching your choke, or other options.

Hard starting after a few days, I would first check the battery condition. Back in the 70's when riding a new Norton, I learned very quick to sound my horn before starting. If it was week, I knew it would be a hard start.
Also, the alternator does not produce enough juice at idle to run the bike. There is a draw on the battery. If the battery is week, it will not run well below 1800 - 2000 rpm.

One more thing, points condition is critical to an easy start. When I was running points, I would clean them once a week with a points file. I would carry this file in the tool bag for roadside cleanings if necessary. I also carried an extra set of points.

The Joe Lucas electrics gave me far more problems than the AMAL's ever did. I think you have a combination of both, which can make things pretty miserable.

Does your bike smoke after start up, then burn off. Wet sumping can also
contribute to hard starting.

Don't despair, we are here to help. I hope this does.
I have been thinking of this choke / no choke I have experienced with 850's and 750's. The choke was not necessary on my original 73 850, I removed the chokes on my 75 850 and yet this 750 Combat needs full choke. All with 32mm 932 carbs. What's up.
Is it the displacement, cam timing, I don't think so. I think it is compression. There is a different atmospheric condition in the higher compression 750's than the low compression 850. Thus, 750's may need a choke were as 850's are optional.
Given that my results are at the same elevation, sea level, it is the only thing I can conclude thus far.
I would be interested in knowing other peoples experience with choke / no choke.
On my old 850 I had to use ticklers and choke on cold mornings. In warmer weather it was ok with just the ticklers. That was in southern CA but it did get down to near freezing at times. I remember one time I was riding to school and I encountered a large patch of black ice on the road. THAT was exciting! You don't expect that sort of thing in balmy southern california.

On my 750 the PO removed the chokes and discarded them. I think one of the reasons he sold the bike was he couldn't get it to start (that was in Michigan). And I've had poor results with just the ticklers here in Colorado. I do have a complete choke assy that came with a box-o-parts I bought recently. Sounds like it's time to install them and see what happens. No additional cost to try that out :)

Well Debby,

MichaelB may have a good point RE: battery......

Are you sure you haven't got an intermittent dead short somewhere & the battery is being drained while sitting?

It may just have enough charge in to start the bike then runs out of power ?

Like he has stated, we all feel the frustration at not being able to sort it out.

I will bet it is an electrically related problem though.

You may need to get friendly with another commando owner close by........

Try this: once the engine starts, keep it running by depressing the ticklers. If jabbing the ticklers keeps the engine running when it starts to falter, then you have a fuel delivery problem.

There's nothing wrong with your coils; generally, they either work or they don't.
I used to have a Honda. It was a nice enough bike. A bit lacking in character perhaps. I traded it in on my Ducati five years ago. I had the Duck out last weekend. Got it all washed and waxed and went for a nice sporting ride in the foothills. Wow. That bike's a keeper! :D

That sounds exactly like my situation. Except the gas has only been in the tank for a couple of weeks. But I wonder, maybe our evil petrol is attacking the lining in the tank and dissolving it resulting in contaminated gas???

I suppose I should also drain the oil out of the sump. It does have a very bad wetsumping problem.

I also bought new plug wires today. The old ones said "LUCAS SUPPRESSION" and could have been decades old. It's got the Champion spark plug caps too.

Unfortunately it's going to be a while before I can try starting it. Last weekend the bike injured my leg while trying to start it. My foot slipped off, the rubber went flying across the driveway, and the bike kicked back nailing my leg hard right above the ankle. It's still way too sore and swollen to even think about kickstarting. Maybe in a couple of weeks. Sigh...

Hi Deb,

Sorry to hear about your leg injury; perhaps you have a timing problem?

Don't waste your time draining the crankcase; all Nortons wet-sump. Also, there's nothing wrong with your gas/gas tank. Your problem lies elsewhere.


Hows it all going Debby,

Is your shin getting better ?

If you start your bike while standing on the right hand side with it on the centre stand, you will avoid that problem.

Has the norton decided to be good & run again ?

Have you found a norton guru that lives close by you yet ?
Well, still can't try to start it. I think I'll have to go in to the clinic and have my leg xrayed. It's not getting any better. But yes, perhaps I can start it with my left leg standing alongside the bike!

I suspect I have some bad gas. Am planning to drain the old stuff and get some fresh. I also bought new plug wires so I'll fit those for the next starting attempt. Maybe that will help. Or maybe I should offer some sort of sacrifice to the Prince of Darkness (Joe Lucas). But what would appease him???


As Jason noted ealier, are you certain your timing is correct ?

I may be about to tell you stuff you know but .......:

Have you pulled both plugs out & checked top dead centre with a straw,
you know, put the bike on centre stand change to top gear & rocked it back & forward to find tdc on the compression stroke.

Then look at the timing mark in the primary case. Does it say tdc or is it out ? I have had one out by 20 degrees...............seriously.

When your norton has the right amount of fuel, compression & spark at the right time, it doesn't require anyeffort to start it as I mentioned before.

I have had a back operation & find that starting it on the centre stand is so easy for me............
Oh is using a straw accurate enough? I've been meaning to do that but thought I'd have to buy some special TDC-finding tool. I've heard they're frequently way off so who knows where my timing is really set right now.

Would I need a degree wheel too or can you just measure how far off the tdc mark is and apply that to the timing scale?


Just get an idea on how close or far out the timing mark may be, using a straw won't damage anything important.

You can feel the piston movement with a straw, just get it close enough.

You will be within a degree if you rock it back & forth a couple of times.

Then check your mark in the primary, take an educated guestimate by eye.
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