Monday, July 28, 2014

Norton Motorcycles

Life comes in ups and downs. As travelling is part of our life, that comes in ups and downs as well. Visiting the Norton factory was something we had all looked forward to. No wonder, Norton Motorcycles is one of the quintessential motorcycle brands in British history. From the very first Pa Norton designed 500cc single to the Manx single cylinder racers. One of my personal favourites is the single cylinder ES2 and the 850 Commando Interstate. Norton has come back with the modern Commando 952. We had been given written permission to visit the factory and photograph these hand build machines. Were we excited? You bet! It all went a bit different though. 

We all love British motorcycles. The history, the heritage, the style… all of it! Triumph is doing well, Norton is back and Hesketh just started again… hopefully BSA is next and maybe even AJS? Visiting Norton Motorcycles was going to be a highlight of our UK trip. We had made prior arrangements and visiting and photographing had been approved by the secretary of the Norton CEO. All seemed fine, seemed.

The secretary had left and we were 'forwarded' to Sean, the UK sales manager. He never replied to our e-mail… Still the arrangement was there so we put in the effort and rode up to Donington. We were met by Sean who turned out to be quite rude, bordering on nasty. He claimed to have send us 6 e-mails… which is somewhat odd as we received all other e-mails from Norton Motorcycles just fine. We regularly check our junkmail box too but non had ended up in there either. Hmmm. Sean said he would sort something out and asked us to wait in the showroom. We waited… and waited. His secretary came out and asked if we needed any help, upon which we told her we were waiting for Sean. After an hour Sean finally came out of his office, walked straight past us but never said a word, no apology, no explanation, nothing. We were gobsmacked, looked at each-other and decided enough was enough.   

If visitors from Australia turn up, who have just ridden halfway around the world while doing a world record attempt, would you leave them standing for an hour without any explanation? Or would you perhaps be enthusiastic about the new Norton and tell all about it? As a sales manager that would seem the most logical approach. If the visitors offered to produce a page about Norton and give you the option to check the page for errors before publishing, I would certainly be interested. Sean apparently was not. Not in the slightest. What he did felt the need to do was send us a derogatory e-mail afterwards… suddenly his e-mail was working fine apparently.

We had used the hour for photography and studying the new models. I'm not quite sure how many versions there are but there were quite a few on display. Quite frankly, independent from Sean's attitude, we were not impressed with the new Commando. Both Mike and myself came to the conclusion that a lot of effort had been made to make it look expensive. Fitting Öhlins suspension back and front for example as well as Brembo brakes, a beautifully made curvaceous fuel tank and use of quite a lot of unpainted carbon fibre.

Yet at the same time there seemed little uniformity in design. The classically designed crankcases, clearly hinting back to the old Commando, were mated to a rather square top end that looks more at home on an industrial diesel engine than a motorcycle. Quite a few details disappointed as well. Cheap flimsy brake fluid reservoirs and brackets, unbraided oil lines strapped to the frame with zip ties(!) and the plain ugly throttle cable arrangement at the throttle bodies. 

Of course I asked Norton's CEO for a reply on what happened, but he wasn't available. The only reply we received was from his secretary who send us a standard reply that she was sorry we were disappointed… All in all a big disappointment, both the motorcycle and the attitude. We would have loved to make something good out of it, after all we all 3 rode up there especially to do just that, but it wasn't to be. Still, something good came out of it as well; as you can see in the next post!