Riding High: 1974 Norton Commando Hi-rider

We take a look at a very original 1974 Norton Hi-rider, one of the most unloved of all the Commando variations.


| September/October 2017



1974 Norton Commando Hi-rider

Photo by Nick Cedar

1974 Norton Commando Hi-rider
Engine:
828cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 77mm x 89mm bore and stroke, 8.5:1 compression ratio, 60hp @ 5,900rpm (claimed)
Top speed:
115mph (modern test)
Carburetion:
Two 32mm Amal Concentrics
Transmission:
4-speed, chain final drive
Electrics:
12v, coil and breaker points ignition
Frame/wheelbase:
Dual downtube steel cradle w/Isolastic engine mounts/57.2in (1,453mm)
Suspension:
Norton Roadholder telescopic forks front, twin shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes:
10.7in (272mm) disc front, 7in (178mm) SLS drum rear
Tires:
4.10 x 19in front and rear
Weight (dry):
421lb (191kg)
Seat height:
31in (787mm)
Fuel capacity:
2.3gal (9ltr)
Price then/now:
$2,500 (est.)/$3,000-$14,000

“The Hi-rider is an important part of motorcycle and Norton history, whether you like the styling or not.” — Chuck Bohn, proud Hi-rider owner

Most motorcycle factories believe in evolution in design. Bringing out something completely different is risky — if the public doesn’t like it, management has to explain the flop to angry shareholders. Yet despite the risks, every once in a while something unique and unexpected sees the light of day. The English Norton factory made its name building sport and sport touring bikes, but in 1971 Norton did the unexpected: the company introduced the Hi-rider, a factory custom inspired by the chopper craze and designed to appeal to the American cruiser rider.

According to British journalist and author Mick Duckworth, in the late Sixties Dennis Poore (the controversial owner of Norton, whose Manganese Bronze Holdings company purchased Norton in 1966) took a trip to the United States, where he observed the budding chopper scene. Returning to the Norton factory, he instructed engineer Bob Trigg and the design team to design a Norton that looked like a chopper. U.S. sales were very important to Norton, and Mr. Poore apparently thought that a Norton that looked like a chopped Harley-Davidson Sportster would help sales. Most observers thought that people who wanted a chopped Sportster were very unlikely to accept a substitute made in England, but they weren’t in charge. So the factory staff designed a chopper-style motorcycle around the Norton Commando. The marketing department named it the Hi-rider, and it appeared on salesroom floors in 1971.

At this time, the Norton factory had been building its Commando, with several variations, for three years. The Commando was popular with riders who were interested in sport touring, road racing and fast riding on a twisty road. The bike had first appeared at the London, England, Earls Court show in September 1967. It combined the factory’s venerable but powerful 745cc parallel twin engine, tipped forwards in the frame and fed by twin Amal Concentric carburetors, with a new frame designed to both isolate the rider from vibration and provide rock steady handling through any kind of turn. The frame was complemented by Norton’s highly regarded Roadholder front fork.

This was a bike made for hard, fast riding, not cruising. In Cycle magazine’s 1970 test of seven Superbikes (a word coined shortly before by an unknown journalist) a Norton Commando S won the acceleration test over a BSA Rocket 3, a Harley-Davidson Sportster, a Honda CB750 and a Kawasaki H1, among other contenders. Testers also found the Norton easy to ride at speed. “Handling is extremely light and precise for a big machine,” Cycle said.





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