1974 Norton Commando 850

Price: US $6,100.00
Item location: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Make: Norton
Model: Commando 850
Year: 1974
Mileage: 9,709
Engine size: 850
Vehicle Title: Clear
Contact seller: Contact form

1974 Norton Commando 850, eautiful Original Machine, 709 Original Miles, uilt 12/1973, o Expense Spared Restoration of Paint, uns As New
1974 Norton Commando 850, eautiful Original Machine, 709 Original Miles, uilt 12/1973, o Expense Spared Restoration of Paint, uns As New

Engine Number: 312144, rame Number 312144:

In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, he Norton motorcycle company turned out some of the fastest and best handling bikes in the world. And with all of the competition between the manufactures, he bikes were getting wilder with each new model introduction…

The condition of this machine is an extremely nice original machine with some minimal restoration done while taking care to preserve the originalityand historical integrity of the bike . Everything from the frame to the fenders is original with the exception of the paint, hich has been beautifully done in the original color with the correct graphics applied. The motor has also been completely gone through from top to bottom and it runs perfectly.

I believe I am the fourth owner from new but can’t be positive. This machine has been a part of my collection and has been ridden approximately 250 miles since I've owned it. The bike is stored in a temperature controlled environment (my office) throughout the entire year.

When I purchased the Norton, he restoration of the paint and the engine re-build had already been completed. All of the major engine, ransmission, nd braking components are operational.

The tires are in very nice condition and are the correct size for the Commando (Avons). The brakes have also been checked recently and new pads were installed for safety, ront and rear.

The engine and transmission were re-built and restored to the original factory specifications and are in excellent interior condition. A new battery was also installed last year.

The bike is stored in a temperature controlled environment (my office) throughout the entire year.

The seat has been correctly restored down to the pan, hich is also correct and restored.

The Commando on the road is very easy to handle, nd rides down the road tight, ith no shakes, himmies, r rattles. It shifts and accelerates smoothly and holds the road as it should with the new tires installed.

There is absolutely nothing that needs to be done to this machine to ride, how, nd enjoy it. The new owner will have a top quality machine that can be ridden and enjoyed as well as shown at any vintage motorcycle show. I also have a video of the Norton starting, unning, nd riding. If you're interested in seeing it, lease contact me and I will email it to you.

I am always looking for new machines to add to my collection and love talking shop about bikes, o if you have something interesting, lease let me know.


The description of this motorcycle is written to the best of my knowledge. However, am by no means an expert on vintage Norton motorcycles. Please don’t hesitate to ask for more photos and, f possible, ome and look in person before the auction ends. ALL SALES ARE FINAL! If you have any questions, lease contact me before the auction ends.

If you have any questions, lease contact me. If you live close to Chicago, encourage you to come and inspect the Motorcycle in person!

In an effort to protect the eBay user information and to help ensure the authenticity of correspondence between sellers and bidders, Bay’s new listing format does NOT display any bidder information. Nevertheless, STRONGLY encourage bidders to contact me directly to answer questions or to verify correspondence. Seller reserves the right to not accept bids or sell the vehicle to anyone with a zero or negative eBay feedback rating.

This motorcycle is being sold as is, here is with no warranty, xpressed, ritten or implied unless there is a warranty in effect from the factory. The seller shall not be responsible for the correct description, uthenticity, enuineness, r defects herein, nd makes no warranty in connection therewith. No allowance or set aside will be made on account of any incorrectness, mperfection, efect or damage. Any descriptions or representations are for identification purposes only and are not to be construed as a warranty of any type. It is the responsibility of the buyer to have thoroughly inspected the motorcycle and to have satisfied himself or herself as to the condition and value and to bid based upon that judgment solely. The seller shall and will make every reasonable effort to disclose any known defects associated with this motorcycle at the buyer's request PRIOR to the close of sale. Seller assumes no responsibility for any statements regardless of any oral statements about the item.

Please remember that your bid constitutes a legally binding contract to purchase this item. If you require an inspection, ave it done prior to bidding. I strongly encourage all bidders to inspect the motorcycle personally or enlist the services of a professional inspector prior to placing a bid. After the sale, nspections are not recognized as a contingency to completing your obligation to your winning bid. If there are any questions regarding the above terms, lease e-mail prior to bidding.

Please do not waste my time or yours bidding on an item you do not intend to pay for. If you bid on this part and win, ou are expected to pay for the Motorcycle and pick it up in a timely manner!

I welcome ALL international bidders and am happy to assist with making shipping arrangements. I can also arrange crating for shipment on my end for a nominal extra charge. If you are an international buyer, understand it can take some time to arrange shipping, o I do not mind keeping the motorcycle for a longer period of time until pick up. Please contact me before the sale ends, f possible, o discuss the specifics.

Thanks for your interest!

For more on the Norton motorcycle company and the Norton Commando, lease read on past the photos…
History of the Norton Commando:

The Norton Commando is a motorcycle that even today, 6 years after it was first introduced, ives on as one of the most iconic British motorcycles of the 20th century. The story of the conception of the Commando has all the hallmarks of a feel-good Hollywood film – a small team of engineers with a minimal budget, imited resources and an outdated engine set about creating a motorcycle that would go on to become, or many in the ‘60s, 70s and today, he most desirable motorcycle in the world.

All this despite the pre-unit construction (for those unfamiliar with pre-unit, t just means that the transmission and engine are two separate parts, ather than unit construction where they’re both part of the same case), he relatively antiquated Atlas engine and a budget significantly below that of its arch rivals.

The Norton Commando is a British Norton-Villiers motorcycle with an OHV pre-unit parallel-twin engine, aunched by the Norton Motorcycle company in 1967. Initially a nominal 750 cc displacement, ctually 745 cc (45.5 cu in), n 1973 it became an 850 cc, ctually 828 cc (50.5 cu in). It has a hemi-type head, s all ohv Norton engines have had since the early 1920s.

During its ten years in production, he Commando was popular all over the world. In the United Kingdom it won the Motor Cycle News "Machine of the Year" award for five successive years from 1968-1972. Given that its engine was an old pre-unit design, ven Norton's chairman, ennis Poore, xpressed surprise at the Commando's remarkable success.


The origins of the Norton Commando can be traced back to the late 1940s when the 497 cc (30.3 cu in) Norton Model 7 Twin was designed by Bert Hopwood. The twin-cylinder design evolved into the 600 cc and then 650 cc Dominator and 750 cc Atlas before being launched as the 750 cc Commando in 1967.

As well as having a radical new frame, he Commando's engine (which was mounted vertically in earlier models) was tilted forward. This was relatively easy as the engine was "pre-unit", hat is, he gearbox was not integral with the crankcase, nd the change gave three benefits: (i) the center of gravity was moved further forward; (ii) this allowed more space behind the carburetors for the airbox; and (iii) it gave an attractive raked appearance to the motorcycle.

Isolastic system:

One of the most famous features of the Commando was the use of an Isolastic system to reduce engine vibrations being transferred to the frame and subsequently to the rider. In layman’s terms, he Isolastic system was an engine mounting system using rubber bushings that had to be carefully calibrated, nce perfected they significantly reduced vibrations caused by the 750 and later the 850 Commando. This reduction in vibration improved the bike’s handling and reduced rider fatigue, pecifically in the hands and wrists.

This revolutionary part of the Commando, ompared to earlier Norton models, as developed by former Rolls-Royce engineer Dr. Stefan Bauer. He believed the classic Norton Featherbed frame design went against all engineering principles, o Bauer designed his frame around a single 2.25 in (57 mm) top tube. Bauer tried to free the Commando from classic twin vibration problems, hich had severely increased as the volume of the basic engine design expanded from the 500 cc of Edward Turner's 1938 Triumph Speed Twin. He, ith Norton-Villiers Chief Engineer Bernard Hooper and assistant Bob Trigg, ecided that the engine, earbox and swing-arm assembly were to be bolted together and isolated from the frame by special rubber mountings.

This eliminated the extreme vibration problems that were apparent in other models in the range, s it effectively separated the rider from the engine. Named the Isolastic anti-vibration system, he system's patent document listed Hooper as the lead inventor. Although the Isolastic system did reduce vibration, aintaining the required free play in the engine mountings at the correct level was crucial to its success. Too little play brought the vibration back; too much, nd the result was poor handling.


Mk1 750 cc

The Norton Commando was introduced in 1967 at the Earls Court Show. The first production machines completed in April 1968 had bending frame problems, emoved with the introduction of an improved frame in January 1969.

The original model, alled the 'Fastback' was joined by the scrambler style 'S Type' which had a high level left-side exhaust and a 2.5-gallon (11 L) fuel tank. The first Commandos had a twin-leading-shoe front drum brake.

Production of the machine was initially complex and located across different parts of England, ith the engines produced in Wolverhampton, rames in Manchester, hile components and final assembly was at Burrage Grove, lumstead. In late 1968 Plumstead works was subject to a Greater London Council compulsory purchase order, nd closed in July 1969.

With assistance of a Government subsidy, he assembly line was moved to North Way, ndover; with the Test Department in an aircraft hangar on Thruxton Airfield. Frame manufacturing was transferred to Wolverhampton, here a second production line produced about 80 complete machines each week. Components and complete engines and gearboxes were also shipped overnight, rom Wolverhampton to the Andover assembly line.

Other Models:

The production racer, eaturing a tuned engine, ront disc brake and finished in bright yellow, as known as the 'Yellow Peril'. In March to June 1970 the updated S called the 'Roadster' had the 750 cc engine, ow-level exhaust, pward-angled silencers with reverse cones. September 1970 saw the introduction of the classic 'Fastback Mk2', hich had alloy levers with modified stands and chain guards. The ‘Street Scrambler’ and the ‘Hi Rider’ were launched in May 1971, ith the ‘Fastback Long Range’ with increased fuel tank capacity from July 1971.

The ‘Combat’ engine was introduced in January 1972 saw the appearance of the ‘Mk4 Fastback’, pdated ‘Roadster’ and the ‘750 Interstate’. The ‘Combat’ delivered 65 brake horsepower (48 kW) at 6500 rpm with a 10:1 compression ratio, ut the stressed 750 cc twin proved less than reliable at the time, ut more collectible today with certain engine improvements.

The last of the 750 series, he MkV was produced from November 1972 to mid-1973 as a 1973 model and featured improved crank bearings and the standard grind camshaft. Compression was reduced to 9.4:1.

750 vs 850 vs Combat:

The major engine options you’ll be faced with are the original 750, he later 850 or the higher-performance and slightly temperamental Combat. Now, pinions vary quite significantly on this issue so I’ll try to outline the benefits of each as fairly as possible.

The 750 is the original engine, nd once it’s set up properly it’ll run like a dream and propel you to speeds in excess of 110mph. Spares will be easy to find as the majority of Commando engines are 750s.

The 850 has almost exactly the same power output as the 750 due to the fact that it has a reduced compression ratio, his later engine benefitted from a series of evolutionary advances and they’re probably the most reliable of the Commando engines (if all other factors are equal).

The Combat is the engine you should choose if you want higher performance and you know how to pull and engine to bits and put it back together again. It is possible to build a Combat engine into a reliable daily runner but as a general rule, ou might be better off with one of the above engines if reliability is more important to you than a performance boost.

Right Shifter vs Left Shifter:

Pre-1975 Commandos had right hand side gear shifters, his was switched over to the left side in 1975 to comply with the American market – long the biggest market for British performance motorcycles. The right side shifter is fine once you get used to it, ut until you adapt you’ll be tapping what you think is the rear brake and changing up a gear.

Which Model?

When looking for your Commando, ou’ll have to decide whether you want the Roadster, i-Rider, uper Scrambler, nterstate, ohn Player Special, astback or Fastback LR model. It’s probably worth having second and third options as many of them are rare or just don’t come up for sale very often. I’ve always been a fan of the Interstate 850 and the Super Scramber, ut these are very popular choices. You’ll want to do some reading and find the model that you’ll be most happy spending time with because you’re going to get to know every part of her over time.


The fact that you’re even considering buying an old Commando means that you’re probably not afraid of a little oil, little work and a little bit of character in your motorcycle. Some Commando owners swear that their bike has moods and can instantly tell the difference when their bike is having a good day versus a bad day, ou’ll also probably never meet a Commando owner who hasn’t done most, f not all, f the maintenance that the bike requires.

At the end of the day, hen you arrive anywhere on a Norton Commando you’ll find that everyone wants to talk to you, sk you questions and share stories about the old British bike they owned once too.

No matter where you go in the world the community of men and women that surround the Commando are genuinely fantastic people, arts are often sold at very low “friends” prices and there are a series of websites like the Access Norton forums full of kind hearted souls who’ll offer tips, ricks and advice.

Interestingly, here’s a company called Norvil that still make parts for original Commandos, eaning you can buy literally any part of the bike you need, resh out of the factory without having to take a risk on a questionable used or refurbished part, aking Commando ownership much easier to manage for many.

…Thanks to James McBride and Silodrome for the information above…

And now, or a great article by Peter Egan on two great machines from the 1970’s…


Travels with a pair of mid-’70s superbikes, ust 40 years after they seduced a generation. Or at least one member of a generation...

December 21, 015 By Peter Egan

A few weeks ago, ith summer truly here and the locust trees in full bloom, flipped open my ancient cell phone and gave Editor Mark Hoyer a call at the CW office in California. “What I have sitting in my workshop at this moment,” I said, ausing for dramatic effect, are two rival superbikes from the mid-’70s—a 1974 Norton Commando and a 1976 BMW R90S—and they’re both in pretty nice shape. One is quite British and the other is very German. I think it would be neat if you could fly out here to Wisconsin for a little classic comparison test/tour and take some photos before I drop one of them in the driveway and ruin everything. Or the Norton wears out.”

“Where were you thinking to go?”

“Oh, robably through the western Wisconsin hill country toward the Mississippi. Stay in some small towns where they have craft breweries—maybe try some English-style porters and German bocks. We could take the back roads down to Galena, llinois, restored old mining town and river port. It’s also the home of U.S. Grant. If you stayed an extra day, e could play a little guitar.”

Hoyer, dark-beer enthusiast, orton owner, uitar aficionado, nd history buff who likes riding on our twisty rural lanes showed up a short time later. If you can think of any buttons I failed to push, et me know.

In truth, he idea for this little outing was more than a sudden whim. The kernel of the idea went back almost exactly 40 years. Let me explain.

One fine September morning in 1975, y wife Barbara dropped me off, elmet in hand, t a motorcycle shop called Madison Suzuki/BMW/Norton. I was there for the joyous business of taking delivery on my new black and gold Norton Commando. I’d chosen the Interstate version—with the oversize 7.3-gallon tank—because Barb and I harbored illusions of extended transcontinental travel. Those were optimistic times.

When I arrived, he bike was parked in front of the showroom, ight next to a brand-new BMW R90S—then in its second year of production—with a lovely two-tone Silver Smoke paint scheme. This was another highly tempting bike on my personal radar at the time, ut it was almost unimaginably expensive. Nearly twice as much as my new Commando, hich was heavily discounted because the Norton factory was about to close its doors.

“The Commando accelerates like a Rottweiler tearing across the lawn to bite your leg, ut the BMW is more like a greyhound that’s been trained to build speed in linear fashion. Not as exciting, ut possibly more rational.”

In a way, hese two bikes were crossing at the upward and downward arcs of their factories’ fortunes; Norton was going out of business after 73 years of building legendary motorcycles, nd BMW was ascending new heights because the glamorous R90S was rescuing the company from its staid image and finding a legion of first-time buyers.

Nevertheless, hose two bikes made a nice snapshot, itting there in front of the showroom. The BMW was elegant, idy, nd very Teutonic in its purposefulness. The Hans Muth-designed bodywork had a beautiful unified flow to it, nd the misted paint made the bike look like some kind of Black Forest wraith beaming itself through patches of light and dark. Quite Wagnerian.

The Norton was more a harmonious collection of exquisite artifacts than a single, nified design concept, ut those pieces had somehow all landed in the right place. The polished transmission and engine cases wrapped tightly around the mechanical bits inside, nd the whole bike looked spare, aspish, nd handsome. I sighed at the inexpressible rightness of life, ulled out my checkbook, nd headed into the shop.

When I emerged with my Norton keys and temporary registration, was accompanied by the new owner of the R90S. I recognized him right away as the famous artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, arko Spalatin, hom I’d met before at various motorcycle shops. Marko was a native of Croatia who’d escaped from Communist Eastern Europe to a life of great artistic success in the West.

We stood for a few minutes admiring our new bikes, nd Marko said, So this is your new Norton?” “Yes.” He gazed at the bike wanly and nodded. “I had a Norton…” he said. Then he grinned and punched me lightly on the shoulder. “Someday,” he said, you’ll buy a BMW.”

We both had a good laugh, ut mine was probably not as hearty as his. As a British car mechanic at the time, understood his meaning perfectly. Nevertheless, honestly wanted the Commando more than any BMW, egardless of price, eliability, r future parts availability. I was a British bike guy and I’d spent a couple of years staring at those seductive Norton ads just inside the front cover of Cycle World. I had to have one, nd nothing else would do.

So Marko and I shook hands, ut on our helmets and rode off happily into the future.

Or at least he did.

My bike died at the first stoplight. And at all subsequent stoplights. Then on the way home it… Well, on’t get me started. Let’s just say the Commando was not a paragon of reliability. At 3,000 miles it seized a valve in Missoula, ontana, hile Barb and I were attempting to ride to Seattle, nd we had to send it home in a Bekins moving van. After that, e continued our trip by train and Greyhound bus. The best thing I can say about this trip is that I wrote a story about it and got my first-ever article published here in Cycle World.

I’ve often wondered what life would be like if I’d come home with Marko’s BMW that day instead of the Commando. Would CW have bought a story called, Young Couple Successfully Reaches West Coast on Reliable German Motorcycle”? Probably not. Maybe life unfolds exactly as it should, nd this is the best of all possible worlds.

“We stopped for lunch in the small Swiss village of New Glarus, ome to the venerated New Glarus Brewery and Puempel’s Olde Tavern, here Braunschweiger and Limburger sandwiches terrorize the olfactory glands of the weak and timid.”

In any case, arko’s prediction eventually came true. I’ve owned several BMWs since 1975, nd last fall I bought a Silver Smoke 1976 R90S—almost exactly like his. But I’ve never lost my affection for Nortons, ither, nd have owned and restored a series of Commandos. I seem to be addicted for life.

My current Commando is a black and gold 1974 Roadster that was given to me a couple of years ago by a friend who wanted to see it restored rather than parted out. It had been in a shed for 25 years and needed everything. It took me one full winter—and plenty of money and new parts—to restore the bike, ut I’ve been riding it now for more than a year without any trouble. It’s stock, xcept for electronic ignition, lloy Production-Racer-style rims, nd a sleeved-down brake master. Also, left the rear hubcap off because I like the look of the inner casting.

The R90S is a clean and unmolested bike, riginally from San Francisco, till with its original paint and only 44,000 miles on the odometer. I bought it late last fall from my friend Mike Mosiman in Fort Collins, olorado. He put it up for sale when he suddenly realized, o his horror, hat he had one too many airheads—and that the bike’s low bars hurt his back. Also, e’s a good guy and knew I’d been looking for a nice R90S for several years.

So of course I sold two of my other old bikes to buy this long-coveted item and trailered it home from Colorado exactly one day before our first big snowstorm. This is what passes for “life simplification” in my universe. After that the BMW became a static display item that warmed my heart every time I turned on the lights in my workshop. But now it’s summer.

Editor Hoyer flew in and showed up with two photographers, rew and Carter, hose handy rental car allowed me to take the hard bags off the BMW and my ancient Eclipse tank bag off the Norton, o as not to distract from their aesthetic purity. Mark had never ridden an R90S (gasp), o he started out on that bike and I took the Norton.

I climbed aboard the Commando, nd it started first kick, hich it usually does even though I’ve left out the seldom-used choke slides for the sake of simplicity. So you simply “tickle” the twin Amal carbs (which sounds more mirthful and less messy than it is) and kick it over with a mighty leap. Riders weighing less than 150 pounds need not apply.

The 828cc parallel twin roars to life and soon settles down into a regular idle that has the engine bouncing ever so lightly up and down on its rubber Isolastic mounts. Those two big pistons rise together on the 360-degree crank and would like to fly to the moon, ut the connecting rods hold them back. Usually. The front fender vibrates at an amplitude of about 2 inches, o even the hard of hearing will know when the Norton is running.

Snick the lovely gearbox into first (one up and three down on the right-side foot lever) with a well-oiled click and we’re off. At about 2,000 rpm the Isolastics drop into sympathetic harmony with the engine and the Norton accelerates with almost glassy smoothness through the gears. The exhaust has a regular, ellow, ut hard-hitting punch that may be one of the nicest sounds in motorcycling. Throttle response is instantaneous, nd the bike accel-erates in an asphalt-spitting rush, eeling remark-ably quick and muscular even by modern standards. This combination of smoothness and performance has prompted many British bike enthu-siasts to name the Commando “most tourable” of British vertical twins.

Meanwhile, n the R90S, ark turns on his fuel taps, ushes down the choke lever on the left side of the engine cases, nd merely hits the starter button. No gasoline is slathered. The engine fires almost imme-diately with a rocking motion, nd the pumper Dell’Orto carbs let it idle with a slightly hollow and metallic exhaust note. The left-shifting gearbox (one down and four up in the modern mode) accepts first with a reluctant grunch and is then slightly notchy on all shifts that follow. It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the late 20th Century that BMW, uilder of long-lived, recision engines, idn’t produce a truly slick gearbox in that era. It works okay but never endears itself to your left toe.

As we accelerate out onto the highway, he R90S has no trouble staying with the Norton but lacks its immediacy. The Commando accelerates like a Rottweiler tearing across the lawn to bite your leg, ut the BMW is more like a greyhound that’s been trained to build speed in linear fashion. Not as exciting, ut possibly more rational.

A number of subsequent top-gear roll-on contests over the next three days will reveal that the more explosive Norton can always pull away by a couple of bike lengths, t any speed—until we approach 100 mph, nd then the BMW starts to move inexorably ahead. We didn’t proceed much over 100 mph because, a) gosh, hat would be illegal; (b) we have a lot of nervous deer around here; and (c) the Norton has two pistons that would like to fly to the moon. Suffice it to say that these two bikes are so close in performance as to be an almost perfect match on a backcountry ride.

We stopped for lunch in the small Swiss village of New Glarus, ome to the venerated New Glarus Brewery and Puempel’s Olde Tavern, here Braunschweiger and Limburger sandwiches terrorize the olfactory glands of the weak and timid. The green hills of Wisconsin support some 60 craft cheese factories, nd a large number are found around New Glarus. And the same steep hills that tip over your tractor—and therefore encourage the grazing of dairy cows—also give you really good motorcycle roads. The landscape looks like the Swiss border in The Great Escape, nly the local Germans are friendlier and there’s no razor-wire fence to jump over.

We traded bikes and wicked it up a few times on the nearly empty farm roads, topping for a handling comparison conference. “The BMW feels like a bike with a very deep keel,” Hoyer concluded, almost gyroscopic. It’s very formal in its handling. You set up for a corner properly, urn in, nd it just stays planted, ll the way through. The Norton is nimbler and quicker steering, ore adaptable to sudden changes in the road, ut not as settled.”

I agreed completely. “With the Norton,” I said, you flare your elbows out and attack the corner; with the R90S you tuck in and dispose of it. The BMW is more stately and less manic, etter at the big sweepers.”

Brakes? We both agreed that the BMW’s brake pads were made of some hardwood but couldn’t decide between mahogany and oak. The Norton lever has a more sensitive and progressive feel, robably because I installed a sleeved-down master cylinder to encourage this trait. Both bikes stop pretty well when they really have to.

We sped along on County Highways H and F, own into the old lead mining district of southwestern Wisconsin, here towns have names such as Lead Mine, ineral Point, nd New Diggings. The ready availability of lead in the early 19th century pulled in thousands of miners from Cornwall and other exotic places, uch as Missouri, reating much friction with the local Indians. Tons of lead was mined out of these hills, ome of which is still said to be embedded in the forests around Gettysburg and Shiloh.

“With the Norton,” I said, you flare your elbows out and attack the corner; with the R90S you tuck in and dispose of it.”

Turning straight south on Highway O, e crossed the Illinois border and took back roads into the beautiful old river port of Galena—named for a variety of lead ore and now a mecca for antique hunters. Here we checked in at the historic DeSoto House Hotel, uilt in 1855. They had a nice covered parking garage, here we checked over the bikes.

The sharp-eyed Hoyer noticed that the pinch-bolt had jittered out of the Norton’s front axle. Not critical, s long as the axle nut was in place, ut we’d have to find a hardware store in the morning. We had dinner at the hotel then went down Main Street to look for the Galena Brewing Company so we could try a pint of Uly’s Dark, n oatmeal stout with a picture of General Grant on the label. But a sign on the pub said it was closed on Monday nights.

In the morning we went to U.S. Grant’s home, nice old brick structure overlooking the town. It was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I considered naming this “The Closed Mondays and Tuesdays Tour.” My advice to the reader is just to read Grant’s autobiography and have a beer at home. This will save me a lot of descriptive typing.

Next stop, ardware store. We replaced the pinch bolt on the Norton, nd I noticed quite a bit of oil drooling from the area around the left side cover. Seems my ingenious homemade catch bottle/breather canister, esigned to keep the Commando’s oil out of the air cleaner and off the rear tire, as slightly overfull. As I knelt on the ground, leaning the oil up with contact cleaner and a filthy piece of paper towel, oyer said, I have to admit, his is the kind of thing you seldom see a BMW owner doing on the roadside.”

After that small repair, owever, he Norton minded its manners and we motored across the Mississippi bridge into Dubuque and cut north along the high riverbanks of Iowa. A long, ravel road took us down a valley to the dock of the Cassville Ferry and we crossed back to the Wisconsin side. A fuel stop revealed similar fuel mileage for the two bikes—both in the low 40s—but the BMW could safely go about twice as far on its 6.3-gallon capacity as the Norton with its svelte 3.0-gallon tank. Still, 00- to 120-mile fuel stops can sometimes be a welcome break from sitting.

Speaking of which, oyer and I both agreed the riding position on the R90S suited us perfectly. When you assume the position, ou feel like a cast human figure who’s been clicked into exactly the correct spot on a model motorcycle. The Norton is pretty good too—with the lower European bars installed—but those beautiful forged footpeg brackets are a bit far forward. You sit on the Norton and in the BMW, lmost enveloped by it.

Nightfall found us at yet another historic old stone hotel/B&B, he Walker House, n Mineral Point, ith a restaurant and pub called Brewery Creek just across the now-missing railroad tracks. Nice hotel, riendly owners, ood food, everal fine beers. We’d hit paydirt. One of the hotel owners was a retired college professor, o my bedtime reading was an English translation of Andre Gide’s The Immoralist. Quite different from the usual Gideon Bible, nd when we left in the morning I was philosophically confused.

Nevertheless, oyer and I stopped on the way back to my place to discuss motorcycle philosophy over lunch—in New Glarus again, t a Swiss restaurant called the Glarner Stube. I posed this deep question: “If you didn’t already own a Norton Commando and could take just one of these bikes back home for your own, hich one would it be?”

“One is really a sport-touring or GT machine, nd the other more a pure sportbike, o they don’t so much rival as complement one another.”

He thought for a few moments and said, The Norton. It’s just more exciting and agile on these back roads. The BMW is too formal for me. You have to set up for corners and do what the bike wants, s though you’re just along for the ride. The Norton just does what you want to do. What about you?”

“That depends,” I hedged. “On a one- or two-hour ride, ’d take the Norton—which I usually do. If I were repeating this 350-mile route we’ve just finished—or if Barb and I were trying to go to the West Coast again—I’d automatically take the BMW. Over a long distance, y soul is more at rest on the R90S. The BMW always has its eyes on the horizon, hile the Norton is focusing on the next apex.”

When we got back to my workshop late that after-noon, e put the bikes on their centerstands, at back, pened a beer, nd looked quietly at them for a while. I told Mark, I’ve decided to conclude that the BMW is a sublime motorcycle and the Norton is a sublime experience. What do you think?”

He tilted his beer toward me in a small toast and said, That’s it.”

Thinking about it now, ’m not sure these bikes were ever direct rivals for the same territory, ither on the road or in your soul. One is really a sport-touring or GT machine, nd the other more a pure sportbike—never mind that big “Interstate” gas tank on our old Commando, hich was mostly a matter of wishful thinking. So maybe the Commando and R90S don’t so much rival as complement one another. A friend with a Norton shop told me some years ago that if his customers owned a non-British bike, t was most likely to be a BMW.

Makes perfect sense to me and sounds like the best of all possible worlds.

Also published at eBay.com