Norton 850 Commando 1974

“Boyhood Dream”

Back in the 60s and 70s, the Triumph Bonneville had a rival that many forget about: the Norton Commando.

In the years leading up to WWII, Norton was one of the most successful British motorcycle companies. It had repeatedly won the Isle of Man TT, enough that a Norton on the podium was basically a foregone conclusion.

After WWII, Norton continued to have some racing success. In 1961 famed racer Mike ‘the Bike’ Hailwood won the Isle of Man TT on a 500cc Norton. However, both Norton and Triumph were starting to fall behind the Japanese competition, especially in the engine department. Honda was about to reveal the 750cc four-cylinder CB750, the first motorcycle called a ‘superbike.’

Triumph’s solution was the Triumph Bonneville. It had a 650cc twin-cylinder, making 46 hp and giving a top speed of 108 mph. Norton tried to counter with its 750cc twin-cylinder Atlas but the engine vibrations overwhelmed the frame.

Making matters worse, Norton didn’t have a lot of money left to improve the Atlas. Instead, to make the 1968 Norton Commando 750, engineers mounted the Atlas’ engine on shimmed rubber ‘Isolastic’ mounts. The engine still vibrated, but now the rider didn’t feel it as much.

The Commando’s 750cc two-cylinder put out 58 hp and made it about 10 mph faster than the Triumph Bonneville. In 1973, Norton introduced the Commando 850, with an updated and more-powerful 828cc two-cylinder.

Our 850 was built in 1974 which made it the last of the kick-starters. Avoiding the unpopular Electric Starters of 1975. It was owned by a fairly successful Norton racer who kept it as his road bike whilst taking his other Nortons to the race track. He meticulously rebuilt and maintained the bike before selling it to us when he decided his biking days were over. It had been one of my dream bikes as a teenager and I’m so glad we found one that had been so well loved.

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