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      Latest News:     Last Updated : 27/07/11

Well here I am again, writing an update of recent events in what has now become no more than an annual exercise, in so much that I was expecting to have done this update early in the New Year, but instead it is now July 2011 – so where have the last 6 months gone? Well for me there have been quite a few developments, not all in the Norton arena

So, for anyone that’s interested – here’s what has been happening in the last 12 months, and an update on anything in the Norton pipeline:

Balancing Act – the Day Job vs RacingNorton
    I will give an update on my day job versus the online Norton parts business first, as it sets the scene for the rest of the article and gives me an excuse as to why I have not done all the Norton tasks I thought I was going to do this year.
As I have reported in the past, the Cammy Norton parts business, although enjoyable, is not my main source of income and unfortunately I also have to earn a daily crust in a more mundane occupation, which involves me working away much of the working week.
I am an IT Programme Manager; working for a well known retailer, with its flagship store on Oxford Street London. And like all private companies, to stay profitable in the last couple of years of recession has meant sweating its assets – which includes its staff!
Admittedly, I prefer this approach to business – I would much rather be extremely busy working for a successful business, rather than the reverse, but since this time last year, even I have given some thought to if that is what I want to be doing for the next 15 years or so??, particularly as the Norton business has seemingly reached a level where I might just be able to scrape out a meagre living from it, if I was in a position to throw myself into it full time.
   
Then about this time last year my job role changed again, to such an extent that I had to re-apply for the roles offered and go through the normal interview process, along with another colleague, just as we would if applying from outside. As is the legal requirement in the UK, because the job had changed so, they were also obliged to offer me voluntary redundancy as well, which due to my years of service, was worth considering.
This gave me the opportunity to step back and consider what I wanted to do with myself. I actually did something I have not done for a long time – I updated my CV and made some tentative enquiries for other job positions in IT, that might allow me to do more of a standard ‘9am to 5pm’ role, and therefore have more time for my own business. Although I had a couple of potential offers available, in the end I decided that to make them a success (and why would anyone take on a new role wanting to do anything less?), would mean having to put the same level of effort in as I do in my current job, so the Norton business would probably be no better off.
I also looked at IT project management contract consultancy again (something I have been doing for many years, so it holds little surprises) – as although this involves lots of travelling, it pays very well and also pays by the hour! But in the end I decided against this, as I am truthful enough to admit I prefer the stability of permanent employment.
Within my own team I normally employ at least a couple of IT contractors at any one time, and if for no other reason, they are always identifiable as contractors because about 4 weeks before their contract is due to end – if they have not received the ‘nod’ of an extension from me, they can be seen at every break time on the phone to their agent, looking for the next contract . . . on reflection, not the life for me

industrial unit

Here is a picture of one of the industrial units I was considering at the beginning of the year - when trying to decide if it might be worth doing the Norton business full time

 
 

Then finally, I considered the other option - that this might be the time to consider breaking away from the IT profession completely, and going it on my own with the Norton business full time, and looking for industrial premises. I am sure for many of you reading this – having talked to you as customers and friends in the last 5 years – I know this is a dream that many of us bike restorer’s have – to be able to turn a hobby into a profession. Indeed, I know that for some of you, you already run your own business, and my hat goes off to you for making it work. Well I suppose I was at that point last year, where I realised it might be possible to just about get by doing the Norton parts business, and probably expanding it to take on engine rebuilds and restoration work for customers (something I regretfully have to turn down at the moment).
I actually got as far as going out to look at a couple of small industrial units . . . although I was struggling to find any suitable ones which were for sale, most were for rent, which I am not really interested in. I did find one that was available on a long term lease . . . and with some simple arithmetic I realised I could afford if I was to take the redundancy package and sell one of the better bikes in the collection (a sacrifice I knew I would have to make).

I took about 3 weeks to make a final decision – which came as a bit of surprise to my boss. He thought it was a reasonably simple restructure, and wasn’t expecting the redundancy option to be taken up! However, I confess that in the end I chickened out and conceded that both my family and myself were far too used to a regular income to risk this for a business that would be at best borderline for a couple of years at least. I suppose I am fortunate in being in a reasonably well paid occupation, and although I am away a lot (and therefore the actual hourly rate stinks!) it would be very difficult to give that up unless forced into the position, with no other option.

So here I am, 10 months down the line from making that decision – I am now working away in Ireland or London most of every week, as I now manage the IT Supply Chain systems across two companies of our Group, still spending every weekend and what time in the week I can doing the Norton business, and unfortunately getting very little time for anything else. But that was my choice, so I can live with it and actually, 10 months later – I have no regrets. As I said at the beginning of the article, it has been a reasonable year, and from a professional point of view – a very challenging and rewarding one.
And as a small confession – I did not just rollover and take the package offered to me by my employer, if I was going to stay and take the ‘Kings shilling’, I wanted to make sure it was at least partly on my financial terms!

 

industrial unit

And another picture of the same unit, from the other end. What appealed with this unit, was that it had a mezzanine office area above. I considered trying to purchase the lease, then initially take just the office area myself, and sub let the bigger area - but was not sure if anyone would take up this arrangement

Garaham and I

Graham on the left has now joined me part time, to assist with the fullfilment of online Norton orders

Recent Racing Norton Developments
Therefore, with having made the decision to stay in my 'day job', around January of 2011 I realised I could no longer carry on on my own, trying to fulfil the online orders for customers, while also doing the job I do. Although I greatly appreciate the custom you have all given me, and very much want to ensure I can give a friendly personal service, at the same time I know it has become too much for me to do on my own, and after a very busy Christmas period, that extended well into February, it became clear I was falling too far behind with orders and email to carry on like this. Apart from everything else it was not fair on customers and I was starting to resent doing it – definitely not the way to go, so I started considering taking someone on to help me with this side of the business.
Since that time Graham has joined me, working part time, and although it has not been easy for either of us - due to the logistics of the setup, it is slowly getting easier and is allowing me to now finally get my head above water again. I am also now aware, that without someone to help with the mail order side of the business, it would not be able to continue
         

Rocker Pins

Rocker Pin sets are one of the longer term projects I was pleased to be able to get completed this year

                             
   

New Developments and Norton Parts This Year
Hopefully, regular customers would agree with me in saying it has been a pretty reasonable year for new parts, and I have been very pleased to get some of the more difficult to find cammy Norton parts made – i.e. the valve gear, including springs and spring holders, rocker pins and bearings, decent mudguards etc.
Another positive point has been finally getting the outer timing covers completed, which if I say so myself are quite nice, although the matching inner covers are still Work In Progress (I need to check progress in the next couple of weeks).

Overall therefore, the last year has been very positive from a manufacturing perspective and many of the parts I have had done recently have been in larger batch’s than previous years, which highlights the more commercial approach I have been trying to adhere to in the last 2 years – doing this makes them more commercially viable and means I am less likely to run out of stock, however it also requires bigger up front investment. Against this, I have already found that for some of my more regular items, I am on either my second or third time of producing them, indicating their popularity and this approach makes more sense
.
The other boundary of the business I have been slowly continuing to expand over the last year is the actual amount of items I am able to offer. I would estimate that in total I have added approximately an additional 100 items over the last year, and this means in total the I can now offer just over the 450 item mark. Still very much ‘small fry’ compared to the household names of the classic motorcycling world, but then again, I am not trying to compete with them.
This increase brings its own set of associated problems, not least being that, despite me trying to keep the number of items I am actually involved in myself to a minimum, I am still doing some of the manufacturing operations myself, which means this is taking a lot more of my time overall, with continually having to make more batch’s of some of the more popular parts. In particular, where I find most time is spent – is when having a new item made by one of my suppliers, no matter how careful and diligent we are with the manufacture, I can often find one small fault, for instance an edge that has not been de-burred. This is where having my own workshop has a tremendous advantage, as it is actually quicker in the long run for me to set one of my machines up and just do them myself – rather than sending them back to the manufacturer, where at the very least I have to pay postage and insurance etc. I am not sure how small business’s get by without this facility – unfortunately it just costs me time!

All in all, therefore, I am pleased to report that it has been a positive year for developing the catalog, but I think I am now getting close to the capacity I can take on at this current time on my own. I would still like to develop some of the larger and rare cast items, like heads, barrels and cambox’s, but these will be slow ‘back burner’ projects, as I know from experience these all take lots of time and money, and mistakes can be extremely expensive!

Milling Oil Pump Drives

One of the manufacturing tasks I do myself - Oil Pump Drive Plates, in this case milling the end tangs

                         

Crankcase Patterns
Crankcase Patterns and Core box's - including components to differentiate between pre-war and post-war types

             
                                                             
              M30 Magnesium Crankcases
Talking of expensive, time consuming projects, this is a case in point. I was pleased to be able to show some very positive progress on these in the last 6 months, and my patternmaker has done a really first rate job of the quite complex patterns – resulting in a collection of over 20 pattern components . I have now had two sets of trial castings made – one pair of the pre-war variety and another post-war. The differences between both are very minor, but I wanted to get them right, even though is has meant an additional number of extra pattern pieces to be able to produce both types.
Unfortunately the next step is being hampered by the large outlay that will be required for making machining jigs and initial machining setup, but I am hoping to have this done and the first production casting run in motion by the end of this year.

These crankcases are exact copies of the pre-featherbed type magnesium crankcases employed on all proper SOHC racing engines and pre-featherbed DOHC engines from approx 1935 to 1950. I am hoping that by providing these, it will enable some rare but fragile racing Norton’s to appear back on the tracks and be used again in anger. I suppose I also ought to see if there is any interest from the Cooper car boys as well, as the pre-featherbed Longstroke Manx using these crankcases was also very popular in these F3 cars.
                     
             

Crankcase Patterns

Magnesium Crankcases
. . . and inside faces, showing additional 'meat' added around timing side main bearing

Magnesium Crankcases
First trial castings of SOHC magnesium crankcases, look pretty good, with detail touches as per original

 
                                         

Lower Crankcases
Underneath of crankcase shows cooling fins and pinchbolt area - denoting Post-War type

   

Original Crankcases
Compare the picture above to these original magnesium crankcases

           
                                             

My Own Bike Progress This Year
Yes well, perhaps not as much progress as I would have liked in the last 12 months (for the reasons I talk about above), but neither has it been a dead loss:
     
                                   
                                                                       
1937 Road-going International (current build project):
I am not going to do this one in any detail, as I have also written a couple of separate articles covering this bike separately – other than to say, the engine is now almost finished. It just needs the vertical shaft height confirming and final valve timing setting then it is done.
I have also made progress with the chassis, and started accumulating the other smaller parts, so as soon as the engine is completed I will be starting on the gearbox, TT carb and mag-dyno before commencing a loose assembly. No timescales on this, but it would be nice to have something loosely assembled by Winter.
                           
 

37 Road Inter
1937 Road Inter engine is now nearing completion, as I write this article I am setting the valve timing

     

Norton Chassis
Chassis loosely placed on purpose made build trolley. Frame is a rigid to Racing Inter spec

                               

38 Racing Inter
1938 Racing Inter had been stripped down since early last year, while having a new cambox built, but was re-assembled in time for Mallory 1000 Bike Festival in July

      1938 Racing International
Yes, I have made some progress with this . . . although I admit, not entirely successful progress, but I have covered this too in a separate article, so take the link here to read it and laugh!
Racing Inter Issues
   

38 Racing Inter  Reassembly
This photo was taken when reassembling with the new magnesium cambox, which has replaced the alloy cambox, now been used on the 37 road engine

                                 
1938 Big Plunger Manx
I am almost ashamed to say I still have not ran this bike yet, since totally restoring it the year before last. I am even more ashamed to say I have not even fitted throttle and magneto cables yet – and in some perverse sort of way have been using this as the excuse for not starting it!
The truth is, I have not had time or inclination to do so. I know that as soon as I start it up it will need some fettling to get it sorted properly and to do this will just distract me from other projects. I do think it is a very pretty bike though and one of my nicest restorations, it has many nice details points – like the genuine ‘new old stock’ pre-war racing clutch and brake cables, and really if I could find a suitable museum or such, I would happily lend it out, so at least people could get some enjoyment from looking at it.

However, the reason I mention this bike, is that just recently I have been having a set of racing (Manx spec) girders re-tubed by Jake Robbins, and am hoping to have them back with me in the next two weeks. The forks currently fitted to the Big Plunger are actually International specification forks – in that they have a side damper fitted – genuine racing forks of this era did not, relying instead on just parallel checksprings (in my own experience with the Racing International, not entirely successful, but who am I to question the most successful racing team of the 1930’s!). Anyway, if all goes according to plan, I am intending to have these powder coated (but will probably still paint over them myself, as normal) and then will swap them on the Big Plunger for the other set of forks, currently on them, which in turn will go onto the road going International I am building. This will also then be the right time to fit throttle cable and other little bits needed to get the bike ready for running.
Footnote: Just as I am publishing this article, the fork blades have arrived back from Jake and look excellent (see photos). Therefore over the coming months as I assemble all the chassis parts for the Road Inter for painting, so will I also have these forks powder coated (and will probably topcoat myself as well) and then swop these over on the Big Plunger Manx, so it frees up the currently fitted girders to go on the Road Inter.
If you need any remedial or refurbishment work done on your Girder Forks then Jake can be contacted on the following number: Phone - 07986 254 144

Or by email : elkforks@aol.com

                             

Big Plunger Manx
Big Plunger Manx - notice girders have side damper fitted

       

Girder Fork Blades
Newly retubed racing girder forks (notice no side damper) look excellent

 
 

OldGirder Forks
Before retubing, the fork legs had taken a serious clout to the side and were badly corroded - Although repaired, they did not look safe, or inspire confidence

Girder Forks
Now after retubing, they look totally different, in fact almost like new forks - I feel a lot more confident about using them now!

 
Royal Oilfield Constellation
I reported last year that after some continued grief I had finally got the Royal Enfield Constellation back on the road, following a bout of blown head gaskets. I had then switched to using a new type of gasket Hitchcock’s were able to offer – the compressible car type head gasket – easily identifiable in so much that it costs three times the amount of the original copper type! This seemed to be holding reasonably well last year and I had managed a couple of nice rides on the bike.
Well, as a footnote to this story, on its first ride of this year, while just returning home and pulling onto my estate, there was a scaringly loud bang, followed by what sounded just like I would imagine half a conrod would sound like banging against the walls of the crankcase. I freewheeled to a halt, and looked down, resigned to the fact I would probably be able to see the conrod for myself any moment now, and expecting a large pool of oil on the road underneath the bike – but no, no signs of either. As I was only a quarter of a mile from home, I decided to push first and ask questions later (a Constellation is a big bike when you live atop a hill!).
    Once home, I gave the bike a number of kicks (on the kickstarter, on the kickstarter! . . . it wasn’t that I was just pissed off!), and it did turn over, but as the engine turned over, there was also a godawful noise coming from it, like a Camel farting after a bad curry,
A few minutes later, having roped in a luckless passing neighbour, and asked him to examine the Camel’s arse, while I continued kicking, he was able to confirm my suspicions – that yet again the left head gasket had cried enough.
I suspect, that while the standard hard copper gasket just starts leaking and on stripdown shows a blackened area, these compressible type gaskets have what is called in the aerospace industry a ‘catastrophic failure’, and pretty much disintegrates.
Regardless, that was enough for me! Much as I love the Royal Enfield Constellation ( . . . in a similar way to loving a very old incontinent pet, that you kinda hope will die in its sleep soon – only kidding!) I have now lost the will to want to strip the bloody thing down again – for the third time in just over a year, to fix another blown head gasket. It does not help itself by being such a sod to strip down anyway, and frankly it took too much time last year anyway, so it has now been relegated to the back of the garage, and the covers put back on it, until I decide it is forgiven and I can be bothered to strip it down again. Besides, I know now the only way I am going to make the left pot sealable is to skim the head (probably what I should have done last time), so that will mean a bigger job anyway.
So, we move on.

Royal Enfield
Constellation in happier times, when it was still merrily roaming Leicestershire, leaving little oil patch's where ever it stopped - like a dog marking a tree . . .

   
     
Ducati 916
If like me, you have more than one bike in your collection, then I am sure you too are familiar with the concept that keeping them running is a bit like a merry-go-round, in as much that you tend to go from one bike to another, fixing something, or spending some money before moving on to the next, which becomes a never ending circle.
Well, with the RE Connie out of commission and me sulking with it again, my thoughts turned instead to another bike that had been sat in my garage gathering dust – the Ducati 916. I had not ran the bike at all last year and the year previous to that I was well aware that the rear chain was so loose it felt like it had a rubber transmission, with no adjustment at all remaining in the rear wheel – so I was well aware it was due new sprockets and chains on its next airing.
Added to this, it needed a full engine service, as it had not had a full one since I first bought the bike. Imbetween, each year I had done my own servicing - oil changes etc, but I know my limits and much prefer to hand it over to the Ducati experts to check valve tolerances etc.
Besides which, the other expensive bit I had nagging in the back of my mind, was that the engine had not been turned over at all in the last year and therefore it would need new cambelts to be entirely safe (sounds silly really doesn’t it – leave a bike standing for a year and it costs you £300 to have the cambelts changed! But with Ducati’s I am reliably informed it is a real risk if you don’t).

Ducati 916
Ducati 916 having just come back from full service

Ducati 916
Lay-by and farm lane make nice backdrop

   
In fairness though, I knew this last year when I decided not to run it, that although I only do a very small mileage on the Ducati, I knew the belts had not been replaced since I first bought the bike, so last year was a conscious decision not to turn it over, because that would force me to get them changed before I next used it.
So with this backdrop, and knowing my chequebook was about to have open heart surgery, I dropped it off with Jeff Green at GTEC (previously the service manager at JHP Ducati Coventry, but now running a very nice operation of his own), for a full service and sprocket change. I had already bought genuine Ducati sprockets online, as well as supplying the fully synthetic racing oil – as I still have a trade account for Rock Oil, but never the less, I still had a good idea that it was going to cost a sizeable amount of money. Luckily I had accounted for this, so had purposely been holding back money in my road bike fund for this purpose.
I picked the bike up just over a week later and was very pleased. Apart from anything else, I had polished and waxed the bike before sending it, but they had also made sure that as part of stripping it, everything was cleaned when it was put back and it looked spotless.
   

Ducati 916 side shot
Now 14 years old but still a style icon

I am now running it again, after a two year lay-off and had forgotten what a gorgeous – but uncompromising bike it is. It is deceptively fast (almost loping . . . to give it a term that best describes it), extremely uncomfortable – like riding a racehorse, handles brilliantly, and sounds awesome. It suits my style of riding, short fast hops around Leicestershire, normally less than 100 miles, which is when the wrist starts to hurt and the dodgy hip begins aching badly, and reminding me I am fast becoming a geriatric.
And of course, the other thing about it is; when I stop anywhere for a break, I can get off and look at it, and remind myself what a gorgeous work of art it is to behold. Very much the Ferrari of the bike world at a distance, then as you get closer, you see all the mechanical trinkets like the Corse slipper clutch and the Ohlins damper and rear shock, not forgetting of course all the carbon and titanium titbits and the billet footrests. Not surprisingly, it also attracts a fair bit of interest from bystanders as well, which is always nice.

Ducati 916 Clutch
Ducati Corse slipper clutch and billet footrests are both trick performance parts, and look the dogs doodah's

All in all, it is still one of the prettiest and most desirable modern bikes I know of, and having owned it for about 7 years now, I am pleased to say I still have no desire to sell it – which is a good job considering it has just cost me £900+ for that all important service stamp and the other little jobs I had done at the same time – sheesh, I have bought complete bikes for less before!

Probably the most interesting thing for me though, getting back on the Ducati after a two year break, is the comparison it makes with my other current two wheeled transport – the KTM 660 SMC Super Moto bike. When I first rode the Ducati again, almost back to back with the KTM I could not believe how two bikes could be so extreme and powerful in such completely different ways. The KTM is absolutely arm wrenching in acceleration and has trouble keeping its nose down in the first 3 gears. It’s handling is also awesome, and super quick. I remember when I first got the Ducati years ago thinking the same thing, but back to back with the KTM, the KTM handling is superfast and can be thrown into a bend at some ridiculous angle, even at slow speed – not sure I would trust doing that on the Duke. Below 90mph neither does the Ducati feel as extreme as the KTM, but after that the KTM is just hard work particularly with no fairing, while the Ducati is just coming into its own and feels like it was built for these speeds and above. Then there is the driving position, the Ducati totally uncompromising with feet tucked up under backside, while the KTM you are bolt upright and nicely stretched out. Having them both on the road at the same time is a great experience and means I can choose what kind of ride I would like on the day – but knowing either one I choose will be great fun.

 
 

KTM 660SMC
KTM 660 SMC makes interesting contrast to Ducati

 
     
Holiday Scribe - Portugal This Year
And with a faint trace of deja-vu, I am aware that like last year I am doing this update from the pleasant surrounds of this years chosen holiday villa, so I suppose I have to accept that this update has itself become almost an annual literary pilgrimage for me, and is now part of my holiday routine, albeit a far more pleasant one than the waiting in crowded airport lounges or reminding myself that the driving test in Mediterranean countries does not require the applicant to have ever driven a car before, and certainly not to understand what the indicator stalk is there for . . .

So I might as well finish by describing where I am holidaying now, and then I will get on with all the other articles I am supposed to be writing!
This year I am in Portugal, on the south coast(’ish), in a very private villa – so private in fact that the neighbours on at least 3 of the four property boundaries are actually the local wildlife - which is just how I like it!
Sandy excelled herself this year, picking this location; realising that I ‘don’t travel well’ and having to share breathing space with my fellow holidaying countryman – normally accompanied with ball kicking offspring, or portable noise devices just stresses me out, which in turn quickly relates to the rest of the family getting stressed out, so this location with its own swimming pool and beautiful flower garden can only be described as idyllic.

As always, I have bought my laptop with me and the early mornings - before any of the other female family members have risen and hit the sunbeds - are a perfect time to relax, take in the balmy sun and pen a few articles. As I start this update, we are actually closer to the end of the holiday than the start, but at least I have managed to write another instalment of the 1938 road International engine build (what can I tell you . . . it should have been done 3 months ago, hey ho) and the latest Newsletter is ready to publish as soon as I get back to Blighty. And as yesterday was an ‘out and about’ day, I am looking forward to a whole day of lounging by the pool with family today, and writing a couple more engine build articles.

Hopefully by the time you are reading this, it means I am back home and have managed to publish on the web at least 3 or 4 new articles.
I would like to tell you I have lots more articles in the pipeline – which is true, but the reality is that at the moment I do not seem to be getting much spare time for writing them, so best just to say I will get to them when I can, and let you know I have a few new ideas for the website I would at least like to explore before the year is out.

Best wishes
Paul Norman
August 2011

   

Portugal Villa
Very pretty villa in Portugal was this years holiday location

       

Portugal Villa
Lovely pool and garden, with no neighbours was a bonus

 

Writing Articles
Trying to look like I am doing something . . . writing an article while my younger daughter asks when I will be making lunch.

Portugal Villa. . . Later on, I oblige, here is a picture of the dinner queue - where the communial crisps get passed in order of seniority

 

Family
Family shot on a day trip to local Sealife centre. My two daughters Abi and Stef are now old enough to be asking when I will be selling a bike to buy them a car. Mmmm . . .

 

Sandy and Paul
Another pool shot, this time Sandy and I looking very formal. Amazingly, the second year on holiday for me without
alchohol - which is why I can balance on tiptoe!

     
 
       
                         
         

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