Harry (name changed to protect the guilty) studied his reflection in the deep black paint of the Norton’s gas tank, as if it would tell him exactly how to proceed. Surprisingly, it just stared back at him with an expression identical to his own.

“What do you think?” He asked me for the third time in 20 minutes.

“Same as I told you 10 minutes ago, the bike is pristine, it has a great set of records, and is worth the asking price. This is what all of the magazines and buyers guides tell you to do, purchase somebody else’s meticulous work at a heavily discounted price.”

This was as good an example for the price as he or anybody was likely to find. It had been restored with OEM or high-quality reproduction parts, and looked like a new bike. There was also a restored Triumph Bonneville in the garage, along with a sidecar still in pieces. The guy obviously knew his way around a British bike, and had meticulous record-keeping. He was selling because he found a Triumph TR3 that he was going to purchase and restore, so that he could have an all-Triumph garage. It seems that Norton never made a four wheeled conveyance.

“But you don’t think I should buy this Norton right?” Harry seemed determined to repeat the conversation that we had driving over.

“You asked for my opinion, and I gave it to you. It’s your call now” Harry was a Honda man. He owned a lovely CB450 black bomber,a CB750, a CB360, and a new CB1100XX Blackbird. They were all black, either from the factory, or following a high quality color change. Every now and then he convinced himself that he wanted to own something else, like the R60/5 BMW that he ended up hating, or the Kawasaki H1 that he ended up hating. We met when he was engaged in his BMW diversion and we became friends, mostly because we had a wide ranging interest in lots of motorcycles, but gravitated toward one brand for inexplicable reasons.

“I’m gonna pass on it” Harry nodded his head in reinforcement and sounded resolute.

“Ok, tell him no thanks, and I’ll be in the truck” I walked briskly toward the truck without even a glance back.

Harry, of course, was not at all resolute. Every fiber in his being was telling him that he needed that Norton Commando. He had thought about it for days, he had read a borrowed book, he had poked around on the (then primitive) Internet, and he had talked to 4 or 5 people including me about Norton ownership. He had whipped himself into a virtual frenzy, and this was not the ending that he had in mind. Been there, done that.

“Ok, let’s boogie” Harry returned to the truck, stuck the key in the ignition, put the column shifter in drive, and headed for the highway. I was surprised. I was certain that he would have sheepishly returned to the truck to tell me we needed to load the Norton. After 30 minutes when I thought we were a safe distance, I asked him the question.

“So what convinced you not to take the plunge?”

“Everyone that knows me, including you, asked me why I would want to go look at anything other than a Honda. Everyone said it wouldn’t last. Everyone said I would hate a British bike after having Japanese bikes. Everyone is probably right” Harry didn’t sound particularly happy about everyone being right.

I was in no position to judge, as I had purchased my first Norton in a fit of passion that was accompanied by twisted but unassailable logic. The look of a well sorted proper British standard is still magnetic.

“You know, you could buy three CB550s for the price of that bike, and two of them would be running” It was the best I could come up with. Besides, it was true.

“Or about seven Honda 50s. I could have a whole Armada of them” Harry smiled.

“Or about 15 Trail 70s” I added. We chuckled, and completed the long drive home equating the Norton to all manner of things like some kind of demented currency exchange.

Late the next day, the phone rang, and it was Harry.

“I just got back from picking up the Norton and I thought I would call to let you say whatever you have to say by phone. I’m calling Ted next, and then everyone else who told me not to do this” Harry had a large amount of “tone” in his voice.

“I thought everyone was right?”

“Everyone doesn’t know best, that is just herd mentality BS. Besides, you know what Bill Cosby said? He said I don’t know the key to success, but I know the key to failure is trying to please everybody else” the tone now had a tinge of anger around the edges and he was quoting a comedian, which is always a danger sign, so I decided to back off.

“Good for you Harry, are we gonna see this beauty at the breakfast ride next weekend?”

“You bet”

And we did. It was the subject of many ooohhs and aaaahhs and admiring nods of approval. It sounded great and seemed to run great. Then at the rest stop on the ride, Harry spent 5 minutes kicking the thing over before it started. A few of us stayed behind to make sure he would not be stranded. Been there, done that. Later, after a short highway stint, Harry nearly took out two other bikes when he shifted instead of hitting the back brake, due to the controls being reversed.

No one is quite sure when, but sometime during the next month, the bike was quietly sold.

Many years later I went on to own not one, but two Nortons.

2 Replies to “Roadside Tales #17”

  1. another great post Wayne. This one is classic and I think applies to all of us, trying on that other suit of clothes just to see if they fit.

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