Gareth's Norton 850 Fastback
By Gareth Roberts - 04 Nov 14
For everyone there’s one bike that captured the childhood imagination, one machine that fuelled the two wheeled dreams that propelled them along the long twisty road of frustrated joy that a lifetime of biking brings. For me it was the Norton Commando. Bored out of my tiny mind at the back of my maths class I spent hours doodling the old workhorse that to me was as exotic as a dragon. Launched in 1967, the Commando enjoyed ten years of production in which time it won five MCN Machine Of The Year Awards. It combined the old (with a pre-unit parallel twin) with the revolutionary (the vibration neutralising Isolastic engine mounts) and was arguably the UK bike industry’s swan-song. I had been looking for a Commando for a while when I stumbled across a Norvil built 850, that was in reasonable condition but hadn’t run for three years. On closer inspection the engine needed considerable work so was dispatched to Norton ex-racer and member of the original Commando development team, Norman White, for a rebuild. He did an impeccable job. Much about the Commando’s design is iconic, and doesn’t warrant being messed with. I wanted the custom work to be in the spirit of the original design, but making the improvements I felt it needed. I wanted it to be rooted in the early seventies, the period of my childhood infatuation. The frame was powder coated silver as a departure from the standard black, and the engine powder coated and polished. The bodywork utilises the Fastback tail unit relieved of its ugly reflector discs, the Roadster side panels were chosen to expose the V of the frame, and the Long Range tank for its looks. The Royal Fire Flake Blue and graphics were by Keith at Khameleon Custom, and the seat upholstered in royal blue by VonZeti. The rims were upgraded to stainless and shod in Avon Roadmasters. The front brakes were up-speced to AP Lockheed twin discs with a single AP rear disc, with braided hoses fitted. Will at CRC Motorcycles fabricated the shorter more streamlined front mudguard and replaced the stock rear fender with a concealed configuration that follows the line of the frame and seat unit. He also fabricated a neat angled tail tidy to replace the stock monstrosity, employing tiny billet indicators provided by the lads at Down & Out Cafe Racers. The bars remain stock but finished with Lowbrow Customs teal (that’s American for light blue) GT grips and billet bar end mirrors from Dime City Cycles. The Commando was run-in on a trip to the Cosmic Nozem Motorshow in Belgium, organised by MotoKouture Bespoke MCs, where it turned a few heads and made many friends. Kicking over first time, she rides like a new old bike, delivering a satisfying thumping grunt. She has me grinning like the seven year old that fell in love with motorcycles for the first time.