If you enjoyed our story on the Hercules W-2000, the world’s first production rotary-powered motorcycle, you’ll dig photographer Ken Richardson’s video and outtakes from his shoot of the rare, low-mileage 1976 Model we profiled here. Enjoy!
Friend of the magazine Ken Peters is the owner of the lovely 1973 Norton 850 Commando featured in this video. Ken bought the Norton in the 1980s when he was living in San Francisco, rebuilt the engine and then piled on the miles. I met Ken when he moved back to the Midwest, when I still had my 1975 electric start 850 Commando.
Flash forward to 2011 and the Norton was ready for its next rebuild, although this time Ken left the engine alone, concentrating instead on freshening up the paint and brightwork, and also completely overhauling the transmission, swingarm and Norton Isolastic system. He also installed a new wiring harness and a Tri-Spark electronic ignition system from Colorado Norton Works. The result is a stunning Norton that goes as good as it looks. Nice to see it on the road again. (Click here to see the Harley we mention in the video.)
Motorcycle Classics editor-in-chief Richard Backus and his buddy Ken Peters start up Ken's 1973 Norton Commando 850.
Our motto at Motorcycle Classics is simple: ride ‘em, don’t hide ‘em. Our video archive or YouTube Channel show it’s more than a motto for us: It’s a lifestyle. From multiple project bikes and ride reviews to events coverage and museum tours, our videos explore the ins and outs of the classic motorcycle hobby.
Two American teams took on the 2011 4 Hours of Spa Classic, an endurance race for pre-1980 superbikes at Belgium’s iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit. It was the first time Americans have ever taken part. The Moto Guzzi LeMans of Team Guzzi Nerd (Christopher Page and Andrew Gray) was a study in metronomic efficiency. It punched out lap after lap, never faltering.
If you're never watched motorcycle racing from the Isle of Man, you're in for a treat. Vintage racer Dave Roper (pictured here at the 2011 Isle of Man TT with the 1911 Indian Racer Replica) video-taped a practice lap at the 1993 Isle of Man Manx GP while riding the Team Obsolete 1967 Benelli factory GP bike.
Photographer Ken Richardson visited the Isle of Man for the TT in 2011. His story "Motorcycle Mecca: Making the Pilgrimage to the Isle of Man TT" appears in the January/February 2012 issue of Motorcycle Classics. Here's a video featuring some of the racing highlights he captured during his trip.
In Ken's story, he also mentions watching footage of racer Guy Martin doing a lap in 2007 aboard a modern Honda literbike. View part one and part two of that video below.
The featherbed Norton Manx won the Senior and Junior TT at the Isle
of Man in 1950.
The featherbed Norton Manx that Steve Tonkin’s street-legal Norton Manx is based on was one of the greatest racing motorcycles of all time. It can trace its heritage back to 1927, when Norton engineer Walter Moore designed the SOHC engine that took Alec Bennett to victory in that year’s Isle of Man TT. The first DOHC version made its debut in 1937, and between 1931 and 1954 Norton won all but two of the Senior TT races, and often filled the top three places.
In 1950, Norton’s racer got a new frame designed by Rex McCandless. A double downtube steel cradle with a swingarm rear suspension, its superior handling characteristics influenced frame design for decades to come. Asked what it was like riding the new Norton, works rider Harold Daniell replied that it was so comfortable it was “just like riding on a feather bed.” The name stuck, and the Featherbed frame became synonymous with superb handling.
The featherbed Norton Manx (the Manx name was adopted in 1947) were offered for sale in 1951, but with less than 100 made each season, they only went to riders of proven ability. The DOHC 350cc Model 40 and 500cc Model 30 were hand-built by a team of less than 10 men in the racing shop of the Bracebridge Street, Birmingham, factory. Crankcases were cast from Elektron magnesium alloy, and to minimize vibration the crankshafts were made integral with the flywheels to increase rigidity. The cambox contained five shafts with five gears, which were ground, not machined, to size. Engines were always run for two hours on a dyno before being stripped and rebuilt.
Phil Heath, one of many “Continental Circus” riders who toured the European racetracks picking up appearance and place money as they went, said that an engine would last a whole season without being stripped. A Manx engine will hold its tune, and reliability is in the bulletproof category.
Featherbed singles were still the backbone of international racing as late as 1963, when nine of the top 20 places in that year’s 500cc World Championship series were taken by a Norton Manx. Mike Hailwood took the title on the MV Agusta, but Jack Ahern was second on his Norton. The last Manx rolled out of Bracebridge in January that year.
Here is some amazing vintage racing footage of Scottish racer Bob McIntyre testing a Norton Manx at Oulton Park, presumably in the late 1950s:
1972 Laverda 1000
Introduced in 1972, the three-cylinder Laverda 1000 (top) was the bike the boys at Breganze were really hanging their hopes on. Although a little heavy for track work, the big triple was successful in the European endurance circuit. More importantly, it was an excellent high-speed touring machine, equally at home blasting across the U.S. desert Southwest or carving corners in the Swiss Alps. Dual front discs were new for 1974.
1974 Laverda 750 SF
The Laverda 750 SF was Laverda’s bread and butter bike, a well-engineered, well-made parallel twin. European buyers tended to favor low bars, while American bikes, like the one shown here, carried taller bars to suit our presumably longer rides. Bosch electrics meant reliable starting and charging, and Nippon Denso gauges provided clear information. 1974 SF2s sported dual-disc front brakes and a new exhaust with a balance pipe.
1974 Laverda 750 SFC
At the top of the heap was the 1974 Laverda 750 SFC. Although very limited in production, they were highly touted in company ads. While all Laverdas were more handmade than most, the SFC took that to a different level, with each engine assembled by one person. Finished engines were then tested on the factory dynamometer to verify output. Each bike was road tested, usually with an older gas tank to avoid damaging new parts.
Here is a video demonstrating the magnificent sound of the 1974 Laverda 750 SFC:
1949 Steib sidecar ad made sidecars look sexy.
Sidecars have never been big on this side of the pond, thanks in large measure to Henry Ford and the immensely popular and incredibly cheap Model T. But they were the default option for many working-class families in Britain, right up through the 1950s. Transportation came down to what you could afford, and powered two-wheelers — autocycles, scooters, mopeds — were the first choice of many. But what to do when the baby comes along? In England more so than the U.S., automobiles were luxury items. Sales tax on a new car was prohibitive, and fuel and road licensing were also expensive. Plus, many motorcyclists had learned to ride before testing was implemented, and for many riders, taking the driving test seemed daunting. In the 1950s, you could buy an ex-military BSA M20 or Norton 16H for peanuts. Bolt on a sidecar, and your family transportation problem was solved.
Licensing laws in Britain also favored sidecars. A learner motorcyclist could drive any engine size of “combination” — sidecar rig — but was limited to 250cc for a “solo.” But that was then and this is now. Most modern motorcyclists have never “driven” a sidecar outfit, and that’s a shame, because it’s a unique experience. The dynamics resulting from adding a third wheel and more than a few dozen pounds to the side of a motorcycle need to be taken seriously. With a conventional right hand mounted sidecar you steer left under acceleration, and right under braking — or the rig will slew across the road. You accelerate through a right turn, yet overrun through a left, or risk going straight on! Forget countersteering: A sidecar counters any kind of steering you’re familiar with! Want to know more about sidecars in the U.S.? Check out Doug “Mr. Sidecar” Bingham’s sidestrider.com website or head to the annual Griffith Park Sidecar Rally November 6.