The call of the road

| 11/28/2007 4:21:22 PM

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Young Backus 

A decidedly younger editor Backus prepares to venture off to parts unknown on his ’74 850 Norton Commando as riding pals Kai Derr with his Suzuki GS1150ES and Ken Tripkos with his Dunstall-ized 850 Norton Commando look on. Tripkos was the real stud of the trio; the next summer, he rode his Commando from Kansas to Alaska – and back! 


Of all the things I didn’t do in 2007, my biggest disappointment was failing to get in a really good road trip.

When I had my Norton, a 1975 Commando with the big, 6.5gal Interstate tank, I would routinely load up my saddle bags and head off for points unknown. It didn’t really matter where I was heading, just as long as I was riding.

Friends on newer bikes thought I was crazy: "You rode that old bike how far?" they’d ask in odd indignation after I’d filled them in on my latest blast to the West Coast. Firm believers that new equals better, they just couldn’t understand how I could trust an old piece of iron to take me on more than a casual Sunday morning ride. And yet, that old Norton carried me for tens of thousands of miles, north, south east and west.

Over the years, I grew increasingly comfortable on my Commando. There’s nothing like getting some serious miles under your belt to really understand your motorcycle. With the Norton, I got to the point where I rarely used mileage to signal maintenance, instead relying on the bike’s feedback as I rode. After awhile, you can tell just by sound when valves are loose or if the timing chain needs adjustment. Yes, the Norton did occasionally let me down, but in hindsight those breakdowns usually resulted in the most memorable moments of a trip.

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