The young woman disappeared inside the cafe, but quickly reappeared with a camera. She took several pictures. I was wishing I could share her opinion of my bike. At that point, over 200 miles into my trip, I was thinking it was a recalcitrant and difficult Norton, with a bad sense of humor.
A couple of months previous, I decided that I was going to ride my Norton Commando to the annual International Norton Owners Association (INOA) rally near Ashland, Oregon. Now, Nort and I go way back, and I had no illusions that the 900-mile trip would be a walk in the park. Nort is, after all, a 40-year-old British motorcycle. One of the challenges I was looking at was getting the motorcycle started. The Boyer ignition draws too much current for the “electric start” (more like “electric assist”) to work. Not being a 200-pound guy or a professional weightlifter, I can’t kickstart the bike unless it is on the centerstand, and I can’t get the bike on the centerstand unless it is either on the level or, better, pointing uphill.
I did my best to make sure that both Nort and I were going to make it. Before I left, I had the bike checked over by a competent mechanic. I had the front brake master cylinder replaced with an upgraded version. I manufactured a wedge to get that front tire up so I could more easily get the bike on the centerstand. I took a minimum of gear and checked the weather. I left early so I would not have to rush.
Problems had started to surface on the way home from the mechanic. The tachometer was refusing to indicate over 3,000rpm. I called the mechanic when I got home. He said it was the tach cable; he was going to the rally and he would bring a tach cable.
More problems appeared the morning I left. I realized that I could not get Nort on the center stand unless I removed the saddlebags and the duffle I had packed, even with the wedge. I resigned myself to a tiring trip, fired up Nort, and left. Instead of kicking back at the motel that evening, I spent an hour with the tools out. I figured out a way to bleed the rear brake with a minimum of equipment (it had been fine when I rode it home the week before) and went over bolts with a wrench. The sidestand was loose. I tightened it.
Off early in the morning the next day. Norton was running fine, but the sidestand was refusing to stay tight to the frame, and the end of the stand was tucking up under the bike, which made it difficult to get the sidestand down, which made it difficult to get off the bike. I alternated between leaning the bike against posts and thanking good Samaritans who helped by holding the bars. Tightening the bolt at every stop did not help. Halfway up US 199, a scenic road between Crescent City, California (pleasantly cool and foggy), and Grant’s Pass, Oregon (in the middle of a heat wave), the speedometer started malfunctioning and oil started dripping from somewhere. Normally Nort does NOT leak oil. This was alarming. I finally made Grant’s Pass, found a motel, dumped my bags in the room and got Nort going again so I could park it where I could see it. The sidestand was under the bike again in the space of a few hundred yards. I tried to get it out while standing on one foot and dropped the bike. Totally steamed, I picked up Nort by myself (amazing what adrenaline will do) and verified that the only damage was a slight bend to the brake lever. The paint was unscratched. I went into the room, turned up the air conditioning and tried to calm down.
Okay, so where’s that oil coming from anyhow?
Later, I went out with tools and a plan. I had found a tube of liquid thread-locker in my tool bag. I eased off the side stand nut, doused the threads with thread-locker and tightened everything up. I checked the oil and found that it had been overfilled and the excess was siphoning out the breather hose in the hot weather. The speedo drive in the hub — a brand new aftermarket replacement — was coming apart. I tried wiring it together with a bit of wire found in my bags. It didn’t work. I had no speedometer or odometer for the rest of the trip and had to guesstimate gas stops.
However, the thread-locker did work and I stopped having side stand problems. Things started getting better — or at least stopping getting worse. Staying at the same motel another night so I didn’t have to load the luggage and could go for an unencumbered ride in the Cascades helped the attitude problems. When I arrived at the rally, I was at least not ready to bite someone. Mechanic appeared with the tach cable and instructions on how to put it on. The tachometer worked for about a half hour and then started to malfunction again, just not as badly. Hallelujah.
The temporarily repaired tachometer drive.
I decided to leave a little early, so as to have plenty of time to get home, and found some nice people to take my camping gear back in their truck. A fellow club member volunteered to ride back with me on his BMW. However, when I showed up at the meeting spot at 8 a.m. as agreed, he was not packed and still eating breakfast. Facing Interstate 5 and temperatures over 90, I left.
It was broiling, especially after I came down out of the mountains north of Redding and headed south through the valley. Norton continued to run well, despite continued problems with siphoning oil out the breather, unlike the rider, who was having overheating problems. About 3 p.m. I found an air-conditioned motel. I made it home the next day, only to find out I had won the long distance/female prize in absentia.
Next time I will skip the prize and take my modern bike. I have nothing left to prove.
Strength in numbers: Nortons gather for the International Norton Owners Association rally near Ashland, Oregon.