Motorcycling has radically changed in the last 30 years, not just the bikes but the riders as well. A motorcycle was considered an economical mode of transport for all, particularly the working man, cheap to run, easy to maintain. However, today, if you see a gathering of motorcyclists with helmets removed, they are of more mature years. Many are returning to motorcycling after decades without owning a motorcycle, my self included. Gone are the shackles of responsibility, the mortgage paid off and the children left home and so the void is being replaced, the passion for things two wheeled rekindled, manifesting itself in much motorcycling exotica: High performance machines with ABS, traction control, adaptive suspension, selectable engine modes and so the list goes on. They are no longer the simple, functional machines of the past.
A historic day
The 22nd October, 2009 was an historic day for the British motorcycling industry and a day to be celebrated by British motorcycle enthusiasts around the world. It was also a day that didn’t go unnoticed by the world’s watch connoisseurs.
The day, courtesy of present company owner, Stuart Garner, marked the return of the iconic British motorcycle brand, “Norton”. An event as unique as this required something special to mark its importance in the world of motorcycling and what better way than to bring it together with another great British brand in the shape of Bremont watches.
An unusual Partnership – perhaps not
Many watch brands have associations with prestige or performance car manufacturers, which is understandable. However, when Bremont produced a watch in collaboration with Norton motorcycles it was, to say the least, an unusual partnership and certainly not one that would instantly spring to mind.
But the more I thought about this while looking at the latest creation from Norton, the more obvious it became. Skilled British enthusiasts with a passion for perfection producing engineered excellence, there could, perhaps, be no better marriage.
A historic brand
The Norton name has a distinguished history stretching back to its humble beginnings in 1898. Throughout its history the capabilities of Norton motorcycles have been proven in the world’s most grueling motorcycle race, the Isle of Man TT. They won the first ever TT in 1907 and continued to have success at the event for many succeeding decades.
Tested Beyond Endurance – now where have we heard that before?
A 37.73 mile mountain circuit on public roads, the TT is much more than a race but a test of endurance of both man and machine. Present day machines lap the circuit at an average speed of 131mph. Norton had significant success in this event in the past, a true testament to the skill of the rider and durability of the machine and their hope is to emulate that success in the near future.
Like watch enthusiasts, today’s motorcyclists are a little more discerning. They want an individually engineered master piece, created by craftsmen who are passionate about what they do. Mass manufacture has its place for producing the mundane items of life, but putting your heart and soul into a living mechanical implement takes a great deal more and it is here that we see the parallels between the two companies, Norton and Bremont.
They are both run by young entrepreneurs, who are devoted to creating a product of the highest quality and craftsmanship and are passionate about what they do, in the case of Norton rekindling the lineage of a much loved motorcycle, and with Bremont pioneering modern British watch design. With Norton and Bremont, British precision engineering is being presented at its best.
The creation of a British classic
The Norton Commando 961SE was the first bike off the production line at Norton’s factory positioned close to the pit lane at Donnington Park race course, a track famed for Formula One, and steeped in racing history.
Only 200 motorcycles of this designation are to be produced, each with a limited edition production number. To compliment the bike, owners are also able to acquire a matching, limited edition Bremont watch sharing the same edition number as their machine. In true Bremont tradition the watch is of supreme quality and finish, bearing the same colour scheme and Norton logo as the bike.
Breaking with convention
Modern day high performance motorcycles, particularly those with track pretence, are exceptionally close to those that we see on the race circuits today. Exceptionally fast, high revving, with superb handling. They are in effect road legal race bikes.
However, Norton did not want to go down this road, literally. They wanted to produce something unique, a machine that was aspirational as well as inspirational. Distilling over 100 years of heritage and pedigree they sought to create a motorcycle which retained its distinctive yet classic lines whilst still affording excellent handling and performance that one would expect of a modern day machine.
Location, Location, Location
The Norton factory is ideally positioned to take full advantage of some the finest engineering facilities in the world.
The engine form is most definitely Norton having a simple pushrod 2 valve per cylinder, air cooled parallel twin.
It is produced for Norton, in part, by Menard Competition Technologies of Oxford. They are located within the UK’s golden triangle for motor sport, an area that services the majority of Formula One race teams.
The right hand side engine casing is Norton’s distinctive 3 lobe shape, and is cast by Grainger and Worral in Telford, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The chassis and components are now built in house. This will ensure product quality and give the assurance of supply.
Other bike parts come from world class component manufacturers. These include Swedish company Ohlin. They provide the front and rear suspension units and have been successfully involved in motor sport for over 30 years. The brakes come from Brembo, a name that is synonymous with motor sport, providers of brakes that are extremely powerful but with plenty of feel.
All companies involved produce components to Norton’s exacting specifications and design. Careful sourcing means 80% of the bike is of British manufacture and Norton are keen to increase this figure.
The SE is only available in black, with gold coach lines around the tank and single seat fairing, a traditional Norton colour scheme.
A Watch with parallels
The watch also follows the same tried and trusted formula as the bike using the best of design and components available, manufactured to the highest of specification.
It has a hardened stainless steel Bremont Trip-Tick® construction with scratch resistant PVD treated case barrel. Its Calibre BE-50AE automatic, 28 jewelled “engine” is on display through its sapphire caseback with Bremonts’ signature decorated rotor taking centre stage. The watch barrel is black while the face takes on the same colour scheme and layout as the bikes speedometer and rev counter with Norton’s logo located just above the date.
The black leather strap with gold stitching brings echoes of the past, very reminiscent of Norton’s of bygone days when they used leather straps to hold the fuel tank to the bike.
Modern day saviours
Nick and Giles English as well as Stuart Garner, to me, are modern day saviours and champions of British craftsmanship and engineering. They have had the foresight and confidence to enter two extremely competitive and demanding markets, doing so with great vigour and style, setting themselves apart from the mainstream and creating unique products. I believe we have a great deal for which to thank both sets of British entrepreneurs, for their vision and the legacy that they have created.
Giles English and Nick English
The watch and the bike compliment each other perfectly, I would be proud to be in possession of both but feel covetous of anyone lucky enough to be in that position. Both companies are ambitious and I can see nothing but a successful future ahead.