Norton Commando or Triumph Trident?


Motorcycle Classics tech expert Keith Fellenstein
Editor’s note: If you’re having trouble with that old Suzuki, BSA or BMW, Keith Fellenstein is your guy. From motorcycle tuning tips to detailed motorcycle engine repair, he can draw from a wealth of experience to help guide you to success. Send questions to: Keith’s Garage,
Motorcycle Classics, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or send an email with “Keith’s Garage” as the subject.

Q: Hi, Keith, I enjoy your column and the entire magazine. My wife and I have been riding large touring bikes for the last several decades and now due to age and injuries we find long distances are no longer on our agenda. So I have been thinking about a smaller bike like a Norton Commando or a Triumph Trident. I had a Commando when my wife and I met nearly 40 years ago but always wondered how it compared to a Triple. I would be looking for a ’75 electric start of either but would like your opinion as to the pros and cons of each (you can’t ask an owner and expect it to be unbiased). Thanks for your help!

- Rob Bowen/Fontana, California

A: Rob, I don’t know how unbiased I can be since I own one of each of those bikes. My Trident is a 1974 model but I’ve retrofitted the 1975 electric start parts. It’s now so easy to start that it gets ridden more than before. I’m hoping to fit an electric start (Colorado Norton Works) to my 1974 Commando this year, and after that I’ll probably sell my 2008 Triumph, affectionately known as “The Appliance.” With two electric start classic bikes, I don’t really need the newer one. Like you, I had it to cover longer distances, but find that I don’t have the stamina to ride the miles I used to. I think for two-up travel you would find the Trident to be smoother running, but nothing really beats the torque and sound of the Norton. Horses for courses is the phrase the British use for this situation. I think you’ll find the Trident to be the less expensive initial purchase, though the 1975 models are rarer and bring better prices. The Commandos are fairly expensive across the years, at least restorations or reliable runners.

10/29/2020 3:51:59 PM

CJ and Phils' comments touch on one very important issue when considering either of these bikes - the hours tinkering vs. the hours riding ratio radically changes from the ratio on more modern bikes, even on bikes that the owners claim "Why, I ride my Norton/Triumph/BSA/(vintage) Harley/ etc./etc. for 10k/20k/30/k/ etc./etc. miles with no work needed other than changing the oil and the air in the tires." Even if that's true, and I congratulate the owners/riders if it is actually true in their cases, these bikes/owners are almost as rare as hen's teeth. I have a 75 Norton with most of the basic updates, like electronic ignition, 4 brush starter, etc. that I typically ride a 2-3 or more thousand miles a year and it is a REALLY sweet ride when it is running well, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get and keep it running well. For a good amateur mechanic with a lift and lots of tools, this probably isn't much of an issue or effort, but for the rest of us it has to be a consideration. A newer classic or collectible Japanese bike, or a 70s BMW or Moto Guzzi might be a somewhat less exciting ride but you'd spend more time riding and less "wrenching." They also would be cheaper to buy a nice one needing little work, but would still be bikes that would attract favorable attention when going to the local cruise-in or along the way on an extended ride. Whatever you end up buying, join the nearest local club/association for that brand/model, as well as the national association. Actually, start lurking on their discussion group pages now so you can get an idea of what kinds of issues are common with whatever you're considering, as well as the flavor of the kinds of people who are attracted to the brand. For instance, (warning: gross generalization follows!) Norton and BMW classic bike owners aren't afraid to spend considerable money at addressing the weaknesses of these bikes, while owners of old Moto Guzzis (I am one, too) tend to relish being considered "cheap" and more prone to home-made and often pretty rough-looking solutions to mechanical issues and breakdowns.

9/28/2020 9:31:05 AM

My "75 850 E-Start Commando has re-sleeved Amal carbs, an Olde Britts electronic ignition and a hi torque 4 brush starter. I never trickle the carbs to start it. On cold days I use the choke, hit the starter and it fires right up. The change over to the Olde Britts style electronic ignition was the best thing I ever did ( well, the starter up grade was right up there as well) The programming of that ignition has given me fantastics starts and it pulls extremely well through the entire RPM range! At 55,000 miles (I bought it new in Phoenix AZ) is does need new exhaust port threads as I let the nut get lose too many times and they washed out! I haven't done any top or bottom end work on it, but iff I have the exhausted threads redone I might as well have the head rebuilt! Thanks for all the good tips and reviews!

9/25/2020 3:49:43 PM

I feel your post does a serious disservice to the Norton, or for that matter, classic British Bikes in general. I have owned and regularly ridden a Combat Commando for some 6 years now, and have NEVER had any serious issues with it. I can let it sit for 4-5 weeks, go out, follow the proscribed starting procedure (One full kick with clutch lever pulled in to free the clutch; choke full on; tickle the carbs; ignition on; take a deep breath and kick that baby like you are mad at it... it starts EVERY TIME on first kick. You mentioned a number of modifications you've made to your bike, to which I ask "why?". There's absolutely nothing wrong with the original dual Amals that Norton wisely installed at the factory (and, if worn, slap a brand new, identical pair on for well under $300 and you're good for another 50,000 miles) And, not to be disparaging, but, yes, these bikes DO require basic attention, and if you aren't competent to accomplish these tasks without a mechanic, then most likely you WILL be better off with a Honda that you can ride with little maintenance. Oh, as a final note, my aged 1952 Ariel Square Four MK II has been every bit as reliable as the Norton. I ride it weekly with great joy. Phil A. Austin, TX

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