Friday, June 25, 2010

Norton’s Rocketship, by Greg Williams


Greg Williams is a professional writer, living in Calgary, Alberta.

His main area of interest is automotive and motorcycle journalism. A weekly column appears in the Calgary Herald’s section. The column is titled ‘On the Road’, see and click on under Weekly Sections. Monthly columns, titled ‘Western Perspectives’, run in Inside Motorcycles — a Canadian publication. He is also the book review editor for Inside Motorcycles. Feature articles run monthly in American Iron Magazine, the No. 1 motorcycle magazine on the newsstands, and every three months in the Antique Motorcycle, the publication of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. He was recognized with the 1997 MAX Award for Motorcycle Journalism — awarded for an article published in the Oct. 1996 issue of the U.K. based magazine The Classic Motor Cycle regarding British motorcycle legend Bernie Nicholson. He was also recognized with the Castrol Chinthe Award for Automotive Journalism in 2003 and the Julie Wilkinson Motorsports Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2009. An avid enthusiast of vintage British motorcycles, he completely restored a 1946 Velocette MAC 350 c.c. single-cylinder machine in late 2003 and early 2004. He also own a complete, original and unrestored 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. The Triumph belonged to Bernie Nicholson, and still wears the patina obtained in the years Bernie owned the machine.

He is a professional member of the Professional Writer’s Association of Canada, a professional member of the Automobile Journalist’s Association of Canada, and a member in good standing of the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group, The Antique Motorcycle Club of America and the Velocette Owner’s Club of North America.

The slogans ‘The Unapproachable Norton’ and ‘The World’s Best Road Holder’ defined one of the most fabled British motorcycle builders. Founded in 1898 by James Lansdowne Norton, or Pa, as he was commonly known, Norton brought to the motorcycling masses several technological advancements. Not the least of these developments was the featherbed frame as designed by the McCandless brothers.

Since the early 1940s the brothers had been working on advanced frame designs, labouring at improving the handling of their own motorcycle – a Triumph. But the McCandless brothers came to the attention of Norton and they were persuaded to design a frame for the Birmingham, England motorcycle company. The featherbed was the result – an all welded duplex tube frame with swingarm rear suspension. The design of the frame was such that the centre of gravity was lowered, and the fuel tank placed further back from the steering head to help centralize weight.

Their featherbed motorcycle chassis, introduced to Norton in 1949 and used in the 1950 Isle of Man TT races, revolutionized how Norton motorcycles handled. There are a couple of stories about how the name featherbed was coined. The most popular is that in 1950, when Norton racer Harold Daniell first rode a 500cc single-cylinder equipped McCandless frame he was so impressed with the handling that he equated it to “riding on a featherbed.” The name stuck.

In 1951 Norton’s Model 7 500cc twin-cylinder engine slid into the featherbed frame, and that was the Model 88 Dominator. Over the years Norton used the featherbed frame for many of its motorcycles, including its more pedestrian 350cc and 500cc single-cylinder machines. It was the twin-cylinder Dominator Model 99 that grew to 600cc in 1956, and to 650cc in 1961 with the 650SS. On that bike, he frame top rails were pinched together, decreasing the width of the frame to better accommodate a rider’s knees... Read more


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