Museum or Garage – When is it Right Not to Ride It?

When a stash of old Norton motorcycles recently turned up for auction, still in their delivery crates, still unassembled, the debate began over what any prospective new owner should do. Should they be uncrated and prepared for display, prepared for riding or left in the crate as-is. There are opinions on all sides and some of you might have a fast answer but have you thought it through? These were not one example of a motorcycle thought to have disappeared forever, these are Nortons, there are quite a few still on the road in all conditions.

The Investor
It's easy to say they should remain in the crates as found, preserving the value. This is the investor view. The motive seems to be buying it to resell later at a higher price to someone who will do the same in an endless cycle of buy, hold and resell. The bikes may never see the light of day, they may even deteriorate unless completely sealed in some way, but they will forever be totally original. Perhaps they'll be shown to a select few who may talk about the wonder of these original Nortons but you can almost hear the buttons on the calculator in their heads, adding up the future value of these holdings.

The Curator
Some would at least uncrate and assemble the bikes, not to be ridden, but shown in a museum type display. Visitors could see these complete originals, untouched, unridden, unmodified and as new as could possibly be. The idea is to preserve them for current and future generations to view. It's a nice idea but there are quite a few Nortons already on display in museums around the world, how many do we need? If someone wants to see one up close, all they need to do is travel to one of the displays already in place. These aren't like an endangered species that must be numerous enough to reproduce or they'll die out, as long as we preserve a small number, they'll be there.

The Showman Collector
Another group would carefully assemble the bikes, preparing them for startup and actual riding, but the riding would be extremely limited. They may take them to shows or concours events some distance away but only on a trailer. Riding close to home would be to limited to just enough to keep things working. These owners appreciate the originals and want to get them out for many to see, but seeing them move on a few rare occasions is enough. Usually they'll be sitting, waiting, prepared for the next event. There are a lot of owners in this group.

The Vintage Rider Enthusiast
This group would look at these bikes in the crate as an opportunity to ride an original and enjoy them on the road. It's unlikely they would be daily riders or accumulate the mileage expected of a new bike today, but a weekend ride would be a regular occurrence. Preparation would likely include newer tires and other concessions to reliability. You would see these bikes ridden to shows, not trailered. Lots of folks would get a chance to see these bikes on the road as the factory intended. This is probably a sizable group as well.

There may be other variations but you get the idea. None of these positions is right or wrong, it's completely subjective so where do you stand? It's apparent from your comments on the original post about these Nortons that opinions vary, so let us know what you think.

Comments

  1. says

    It would be a neat museum display to have one in the crate… of course you would have to take the crate apart and clean it up a bit… I would imagine there is some deterioration to the chrome and polished aluminum… I could see some bike museum, or the Smithsonian, with two… one assembled and pimped, the other still in the crate.

    But mostly they should be ridden, maybe even a few of them modified with updated components, cafe racer style, or something.

  2. Doug McDaniel says

    RIDE ON BROTHER, that’s what they were made for. Make your money somewhere else. It would be a crime to not assemble them and take them out every other weekend or so in good weather…

  3. MikeyA says

    It’s just neat to know there are a bike stashes like that out there. What a shop that must have been! Besides the crated Commandos, there was a new in the crate Harris Matchless, and it went for a pretty high price. The John Player Norton went sky high and those dozens of restoration projects all fetched good prices.Well, good for the successors, I hope they came out all right. For me it was just porn, prices were too high for a private rider restorer like me…

  4. says

    Although I believe all bikes should be ridden (that’s what they were made for, after all!), it really depends on the bike. If something is very rare, you’re probably not going to want to ride it every day, or even every week, but it should still be ridden even if it’s just for a special occasion. A bike that can’t/doesn’t run for whatever reason would make an excellent static piece for display or a museum. But let’s face it, none of us are going to be around forever and neither are these machines. Let’s use them while we can =)

  5. anon says

    I like the “The Showman Collector” approach on the whole. I think BMW epitomizes this with their “Mobile Tradition” collection: museum pieces that get exercised on rare occasions (and, admittedly, to promote the brand). That said, with the example of the still crated Nortons, I would fall into line behind “The Curator”. They’re just too valuable (historically, if not monetarily) to ride. There are thousands of ridable Nortons out there…’Time warp’ bikes that original should be preserved if no other reason than to be the reference standard for restorations.

  6. Brian Sheridan says

    Here’s my 2 cents. What if the Barber bought 2 of the bikes, left one in the crate to be used in a larger display, and the second bike assembled, to be ridden at the track during events. When it was not being used, it could also be displayed. So you would have a crated bike next to a fully usable bike, DONE!
    PS, please check my spelling, thank you.

  7. Thom says

    I think motorcycles were made to be ridden and nothing else. If you want to display a bike, it should be at a ride-in event. If I were lucky enough to get ahold of one of these bikes, I’d use it daily. Yes, DAILY. How long has it been since someone enjoyed a BRAND NEW Norton? To enjoy it as the designers intended, with no degradation, no wear and tear, would be fantastic.

  8. Jets says

    Have you ever seen a display of children’s teddy bears and listen to people’s comments. They ooh and aah over the well worn and well loved ones the most.
    Well, machinery is the same. Are you really interested in seeing the fastest jet that never flew, the race car that never raced, the 100 year old steam engine that that never pulled a train or the motorcycle that was never driven?
    Vehicles, like art, that have no provenance are not worth very much.
    I once went to England and I made two visits – Beaulieu National Motor Museum and the London Royal Science Museum.
    At Beaulieu, there was a vehicle missing from a display. In its place, there was a note from his Lordship – “Sorry but I took it for a drive” It was gratifying to see that it was far more than a museum. It was the coolest garage ever!
    At the London museum, I touched the first jet engine to fly in the UK. I was impressed.
    Owning old stuff that was never used does not turn my crank. They don’t build the 1969 Norton 750 Commandos anymore for a reason. Pay to see a new one in a museum?… Don’t think so.

  9. Nathan says

    I’d get myself two – keep one in the crate and thrash the other – the less there are, the more valuable your one in the crate is….

  10. Greybeard says

    If you’re happy just to look at it I’ll snap a pic before launching off down the road in a hail of gravel and hot rubber.
    Ride ‘em, personalize them ’til hell won’t have anymore of it, give it to Mule and let him have his way with it then ride it like it’s rented.
    We’re here for a good time, not a long time.

  11. Oldyeller8 says

    I love seeing bikes – running or not. I know some vintage officianados will want me dead after this but…
    I think it is up to the owner of the bike to do what they want. The “Oh my God that thing is not stock!” attitude, well it ain’t your bike so too bad.
    So whether they are running or in a museum is a good thing. My only concern is when they are hidden from view.

  12. Bob Jones says

    You’ll often hear “a bike is only new once” to argue for keeping it in the crate. Well, a girl’s only a virgin once but that doesn’t mean I’ve spent any time trying to preserve that quality in a woman. I wouldn’t buy a TV and not plug it in. Et cetera.

  13. Hellcat Boss says

    Unless the motorcycle is representing some historical museum piece or manufacturer’s history showcase, then ride it, as all others remind me of zoo animals—there were not meant to be caged.

  14. Davidw says

    Got a 70 bonneville with 3550 miles on the clock 6 weeks ago; after a bit of fiddling it runs strong and for some reason everything works; so simple to work on. Started first kick and after changing those 40 year old K70s it will be ridden and not just a little bit. Shes faded and has a bit of rust but beautiful. If ya got it, ride it!

  15. Karl says

    Two should go to a museum, one to be left in the crate as an historical artifact and the other assembled but unridden, to show the bike’s original state.

    The rest should go out on the road so they can be enjoyed as intended.

  16. The other Larry says

    In this case being that they are E-start Mark III Commandos first you need to replace the camshafts (soft) exhaust valve guides (tight) and the layshaft bearing (crap). Then go vintage Triumph hunting and smoke ‘em!

  17. Nicolas says

    Teddy bears, zoo animals, women and Norton are all meant to be ridden !

    euh … hold on a second …

  18. Brian Sheridan says

    I thought that I would relate what happened to me late last summer when I bought a 1978 Honda CB750 K8 with 2450 miles on the clock. I found the bike in Ohio, and had it shipped to Milwaukee. I paid $2650.00 plus $500.00 to ship it. It is a 1978 new Honda. We have a very large Two Wheel Tuesday here in Milwaukee that gets 500 bikes on a warm night. The shipping depot was about two miles from the TWT, and it was Tuesday, so I trailered the bike over. I bought the bike with the thought of making a Cafe Roadster out of it. Well, I would say it was about a 50/50 split whether I as killing a great bike, and should probably be committed, or that it would be a great project. My previous projects have won Best of Show here in Milwaukee, so this is not my first rodeo. I finally said to anyone that was very vocal, I would be happy to trailer the bike to their house, just write me a check for $3500.00, $500.00 for my trouble, and it’s a done deal, and I was serious. I’m sure you can guess the answer, no takers. Guys, it’s really an issue of put up or shut up. The auction is Thursday, and they take phone bids, and probably credit cards, pre-approved. If you want to save the Nortons either way, all it take is commitment.

  19. DWolvin says

    I think that there are many valid opinions, and they are each as valid as the next. You want to invest? Fine. You want to ride the last one in existence.., Ride on, Bro! Nobody else should tell you how to do it, and that’s the point. If we were going to be conformist, we would be driving cages. I do have to admit, I have mixed feelings when one of the mechanics at the local shop rolls up on his 1936 BMW, but they are mostly jealousy…

  20. says

    Tell you what I would do – I would take all the parts, and make a better bike than original. It would be better than a restoration, better than old new, just the best possible version of old. Like blueprinting, but adapting to better materials where possible and improving reliability without killing the character!
    You would then ride it as a unique bike – making it as valuable as a crate of new old bike, more valuable than an old bike in great condition, and the answer to what if Norton built this bike today (ignoring the fact that Nortons are being built today!)

    Of course, that’s just me!

  21. Tinker says

    I’d update the bikes to handle like a modern bike, while looking as original as possible, and then I’d ride it. Maybe boost the power. Improve braking. Make it superior in function.

    Do what you want, its yours. But surely you can imagine SOME changes, can’t you? Even Colorado Norton Works makes improvements. I think I’d start there.

  22. says

    Hmm, somehow the artist’s approach was not mentioned; press the bikes – Buell Blast style – into cubes an flog them to modern art museums. Or be less radical, and just cast the still-crated Norton into another block of clear epoxy.

  23. BoxerFanatic says

    The only reason a bike should ever remain in a crate is to remain in cold storage for years or decades, for protection.

    If anything other than that… why keep it in a crate? It doesn’t show off anything other than wood packaging. even permanent display should be assembled.

    A crate is not what people come to see… They want to see what is IN the crate, and what is IN the crate is a motorcycle. A motorcycle displayed should be assembled properly, even if it is a dry permanent exhibit. I don’t want to see the packaging the exhibit was wrapped in.

    But unless there are a dozen or less examples of a single bike, or some other compelling reason to “freeze” a particular motorcycle in time, so to speak, I think they should be in some sort of operable condition, to be enjoyed at least a little bit.

    Very, very few motorcycles have the qualities and rarity to justify being solely an art/museum piece as the “curator” category, and most should be the last two categories, as either “Showman Collector” or “Vintage Rider Enthusiast”

  24. Michael W LexPk MD says

    I would want mine in the crate, but COMPLETE.
    I would uncrate it myself and make the various mods at that time then assemble and ride till it is dead.
    Most of my bikes have been tore down to make various changes, and this way I could save alot of time on the disassembly portion. However, they need to be ridden.
    Good luck and rides safe.
    P.S. I have yet to see a factory carberator set up right.

  25. Einspur says

    The bike in the crate is like a lottery ticket before the drawing. Everyone looking at it dreams about what they would do with it.

  26. Emmet says

    depends on the bike. Every die hard enthusiast expresses some form of each opinion. Ride the bikes that are dead reliable, cheap, and with an affordable parts market. Ride the rarer model on the weekends. And put your prized possession in your living room!

    My collection:
    ’79 suzuki gs750- daily rider
    ’80 yamaha xs850- daily rider
    ’71 triumph tiger 650- weekend rider
    ’59 triumph 3ta- restoration project, for the shows/living room.

  27. says

    My vote would be to leave a them in the crates. A new Norton in the crate, besides being rare beyond compare will probably never come around in the future ever again. Never! I agree, they are motorcycles and meant to be ridden. Thats what they were made for and that is most likely what happened to every other Norton ever made. But say there was only one in the crate? What do you do? Run the pizz out of it till it’s just another used up, raced out, 750 like thousands of others or maybe even wrecked or totalled? Then there will be none in the crate ever again. Should we raid all museums of artifacts and thrash all the old planes, dishes, weapons, dinosaur bones, art, clothing, etc? Use the stuff all up until its gone and then we’ll be left with a world full of Chinese crap in a throw-away culture. If you want a fast, good handling, lightweight bike to run the crap out of, there are tons of bikes on showroom floors collecting “economic downturn dust”. Burn the Nortons all up like so many other used and discarded commercial products and they’ll never be another one to be in awe of.

    If you ever rode or saw a brand new Norton on the showroom floor in the 70’s, they were a sight to behold. And a pleasure to ride. They had problems as all bikes did back then. Except the Japanese bikes which is why the British motorcycle industry evaporated. Now you go into a showroom and there are hundreds of cookie cutter sportbikes or cruisers to choose from. A Norton in the crate in 2010 is not just another bike you service out and go ride till it’s worn out. It’s a motorcycle treasure. Theres plenty of great bikes out there to go put 45k miles on.

  28. Cameron Nicol says

    As much as it pains me to say it “keep em in the box”. There are very few original in the crate motorcycles. Just can’t be replaced. I can buy or build a “new” Norton. Factory crates are irreplaceable. My dentist owns one. Sitting in a warehouse in NY state somewhere. Years of planning has made it too valueable to ever uncrate.

  29. Sportster Mike says

    Love all the comments and I had said previously take them out of the crate and ride them but if you brought one – it’s yours do what you like with it
    If you all want a new Norton though.. I fell over one of the NEW Norvil built ones at the Classic Car Show last year in Birmingham, England
    It was a new 850 Mk 3 electric start Roadster in Purple NEW just built to the old original or better specs. Orders being taken for others by Les Emery

  30. says

    Most of these observations have merit. I would not be able to leave it in the box nor would I ride the wheels off of it. The box has no value, monetarily or aesthetically and the object just becomes an investment. But then, I never did value money very much.

  31. Walt says

    Great analysis, Paul. I’m voting with those who recognize the uniqueness of this find and want to preserve the bikes untouched. Wanna ride? There are millions of bikes out there ready to go. Only a handful like this. Why use up such a treasure?

    All those with bugs in your teeth, let’s see you lay down the scratch to buy one of these time capsule machines, then turn around and ride it. Turn a once-in-a-lifetime find into just another used Norton. That would prove you’ve got the balls to back up your position.

  32. Steve T says

    I like Doug K’s quote the best. But I can see the Barber doing what an earlier person suggested: get 2, leave one crated (but maybe open, or assembled but with the crate next to/behind it), and have the second up and running and parade it a bit at the track there. As another earlier reader posted, that year had some issues, and I happen to know that with Brian Slark working there it would be all fettled and running right. But personally, I’ll just keep mine (’72 roadster) running as best I can, and run it when I’m able. TTFN

  33. SteveD says

    I would:

    1. Leave one dirty in the crate.
    2. Take one out of the crate and leave in pieces on the floor.
    3. Assemble one and put it on display.
    4. Keep one as daily rider.
    5. Crash one and put the remains on display.
    6. Chop one, rake it out, add lots of chime and paint it lime green (and then crash it).
    7. Put one up for auction and donate the money to the search for more Nortons in crates.

  34. todd says

    Tell you what, I’ll save a ton of money by buying a new GSXR but have them keep it in the crate. In 35 years someone will give me 10 times what I paid for it. I only need to come up with the space to keep it. Same thing, right?

    As a motorcycle, these Nortons have little value. They need to be completely gone through and restored to be road worthy. However, there are plenty of $3000 Nortons that are already fit for the road. Buy now, Ride today. I can pick up a Norton that needs to be restored for around $1500 – they might even still have the original blue california plates on them.

    These bikes only have immediate value as an investment or conversation piece. They are not yet motorcycles. To me, I have no use or little budgeted for risky investments or conversation pieces. They are worthless to me.

    -todd

  35. John says

    Bikes were made to be ridden. To be truly enjoyed they should be assembled and ridden daily. We can’t preserve things forever, if you want to collect something go for stamps or coins, get the wind in your hair.

  36. greybeard says

    By all means, do what you want with one, but I’d be damned if I let them engrave on my tomb stone ” He once looked at a Norton”.
    It’s a machine.
    Let it do what machines do.

  37. John F says

    As a bike to be “ridden” it’s a heap of crap! and it would be a dissapointment except to those who are used to riding Harley’s or vintage. It is because of time, a treasure worth preserving and the fact that it is a motorcycle is secoundary.(if you found a 14th century cannon would you fire off a few rounds if you knew it could be destroyed in doing so ?) As it is it’s WOW factor is huge, out of the crate it’s JUST an old bike with no mileage and wouldn’t have even made a headline or point of disgushion on this site. I would keep it in my bar/games room as a facinating talking point (maybe even build a bar or table around the crate) and hope that in 2069 my son can enjoy it for what it is as well, a treasure.

  38. T-Ray says

    There is a nice juxtaposition between this article and the rapid prototyping one below it. If we are truly entering an age where we will be able to scan/3d model and machine any component with the exact qualities of the original (if not vastly improved with modern materials) then doesn’t this make the ‘non-riding’ argument one of pure sentiment?

    Or does it give even more reason to leave your perfect ‘template’ in the crate?

  39. oldtimer says

    As a bike to be “ridden” it’s a heap of crap! and it would be a dissapointment

    John F; you are either very young, or have no soul. I can’t tell which. Of course its not up to todays standards for horsepower, handling or pretty much anything else.
    If you rode it, and still proclaimed it a heap of crap, well, I don’t know what to say….no soul??no heart???no pulse?? Heritage, history, pedigree, cutting edge for its time…….CRAP!! I just can’t understand how anyone could not be jazzed if they had a chance to ride this thing.
    I’ll admit, maybe its me….I am old….I am tired….I am an enthusiast though, and for a chance for a little wind in the face, be it on a Hyabusa or a Whizzer, you can count me in!

  40. says

    We have a guy a few miles away who specializes in CZ’s (The best fricking motorcycle ever built in the universe!). Anyway, his parts counter is a CZ crate with a brand new 1972 400 inside. One side of the crate and the lid have been removed and replaced by glass. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a bike shop. If you like CZ’s, it’s especially cool!

  41. WRXr says

    Having two vintage bikes myself, I can’t understand the value of the Nortons in the crate.

    Who would buy it? Let me see:

    Probably not an Investor or Curator. Quite honestly, even untouched the Norton is far, far, far, FAR TOO COMMON to be in the same sphere as a Brough, Vincent or MV. Furthermore, they have NO historical provenance, having never been used by anyone, for anything.

    Would a Vintage Rider appreciate it? I can’t speak for all vintage riders, but I for one would not. Knowing what to expect from vintage bikes, I would not expect much from a “Norton in a Box”. It would also not have the “Time-Machine” appeal for me. If I were planning on RIDING an old Norton, I would probably opt instead for a cheaper, “Non-Box Norton”.

    Would a Showman want it? Methinks not.I ride both my bikes regularly, but they also won some nice awards. There is no reason you can’t do be a rider and a showman provided you take care of your steed. So there is also no need to pop the extra dough for a “Norton in a Box”.

    What about a modern rider looking for thier first vintage experience? Maybe.
    I tend to agree with John. Riders of strictly modern bikes are often frustrated by older machines…especially when they get over the initial thrill of being on something old. This usually happens when they have to shift or use the brakes.

    So who would be thrilled by this bike? Fans of the Norton Brand.

  42. Tim says

    its only a Norton Commando: the true rarities like the RC30 that Belgian dude had in a crate for years, now thats rare.

  43. Thom says

    The best things about motorcycling have been lost with time and technology…. Today’s riders do not know the joy of working on a bike themselves. Back in the day, if you didn’t do your own repairs or maintenance, you didn’t ride! These bikes are an echo of things that used to be…. and to be enjoyed properly, they need to be ridden. How can anyone know how to adjust the isolastic bushings if they’ve never had to do it? (Yes they need to be adjusted sporadically….) How can you set points if you never have to? Set valve lash? Do you even now that Norton Commandos used a diaphragm clutch spring if you’ve never opened one up? It’s a symbiosis of man and machine, and without use, that is lost. No one will ever appreciate what we’ve lost if all it does is sit in someone’s garage or on display in a museum.

  44. Greybeard says

    Mule quote;
    “We have a guy a few miles away who specializes in CZ’s (The best fricking motorcycle ever built in the universe!). Anyway, his parts counter is a CZ crate with a brand new 1972 400 inside. One side of the crate and the lid have been removed and replaced by glass. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a bike shop. If you like CZ’s, it’s especially cool!”

    You doing ‘glass work with the door closed again? ;p

    I’d like to be buried in a box like that with a sign that says “He rode everything he could get his hands on. Literally and figuratively.”
    Then be displayed in the Mulesonian Institute.
    Mind the cobwebs!

  45. Paul says

    Finding stashes of crated motorcycles is likely to to start happening more often. I have heard rumors that the onetime owner of the local Honda shop has a tractor trailer loaded with ’70’s Hondas, and others, still in the crates.

  46. says

    The “Everything needs to be ridden into the ground and then discarded theory” is great for dirt bikes and/or somebody else’s stuff, but say it was the last 250/6 Honda in existance. Would you take it a track day and let everyone takes turns on it till it’s toast? If the answer is yes, you’re not touchin’ my bike!

  47. The other Larry says

    I was once told that my round case Ducati GT was too valuble to ride in case it broke. In that case as well as these Nortons you could run them til they broke and still look at them. So ride the hell out of them!

  48. bblix says

    I know some folks who have a Ferrari F40 parked and drained. It makes me a little sad every time I see it…I’m in the camp that they should be preserved and used, if sparingly.

  49. todd says

    I guess, since these may never get ridden, you can take out all the internals and sell them on eBay to help keep some of the road-going Nortons on the road. In fact, you could even sell some of the visible stuff as long as you replace it with a wood or plastic mock part. Would it matter if the head or the gauges were plastic replicas if they never needed to work? I mean, the whole point of this bike is that it was never taken out of the crate and used on the road (well, at least not after it was put in the crate – these things were factory tested on a track and dyno…).

    Its value is in what it never did.

    -todd

  50. Greybeard says

    C’mon Richard, that’s more than a bit extreme and not even a balanced comparison.
    A Honda GP bike was rare when it was new!
    A mid ’70’s Brit bike now is no better nor deserving of deference than the one’s we rode in the mid ’70’s and cursed into damnation for every fault, foible and misstep.
    You know better than most there’s nothing sacred about the net shape of a metallic object.
    While my past is getting further back I can’t and don’t want to live there.
    The presence of a pristine object from “back then” won’t make the memories any dearer or heighten present reality.
    And let those who follow make their own memories.
    They certainly can’t live in mine.

  51. meatspin says

    i’d be a showman collector. Those bikes were not that good for the day and many bikes of that vintage are still on the road. I’d ride it every now and then, but I doubt it would be all that great of a ride compared to what you can get and ride now. If people want to bask in its british aura, thats fine by me. I’m sure I’d grow fond of it like I do all my bikes but I’ve only done “sympathetic restorations” to my pre-80s bikes. They are all mechanically fine, but they do have that patina of use.

    The bigger question is why did this dealer squirrel away so many bikes? I bet he was a hoarder of some sort, and a pathological mental mess in the head.

  52. Norm May says

    A number of years ago a local Harley dealer here attended an receivership auction for a Harley dealer that had gone broke. (Yes Virginia, Harley dealers can go broke….) In the basement of the dealership there were two Harley “XA’s” still in the crate. (XA’s were the opposed twins built for the US Army in WWII, modeled after the 1934 for BMW, plans supplied by the Russians after they brokered the rights, as part of the non agression pact, from Hitlers Germany. The German military had decided that the 34′ was obselete and it became the forebear of todays Ural.) Our local dealer bought both and had them shipped to his business where he hd established a motorcycle museum from his private collection. One bike was removed from the crate, cleaned up, the final assembly done, and put on display. The other crate was x-rayed to prove the contents and stored away. I always thought that it was a shame in a way that neither was ever ridden but I suppose I could see his point. They could only appreciate in value as time went by and after all he was a business man first, last, and always. In any event, what you do with it is your business as it’s your money. The same is true for the buyers of these Nortons. You pays your money and takes your chances. Personally, I think I would have donated one to a museum who already had an assembled model and wanted to display how they came from the factory.

    Funny thing about Norton. A few years back a fellow named Nelson Skalbania, a fellow Canadian, managed to garner the rights to Norton. The first thing that happened was that he put his daughter in charge and she tried to retrieve all the bikes from the museums that Norton had donated over the years……….. She was for the most part unsuccessful and it’s a good thing. You see, the Skalbania’s don’t ride but they sure have a knack for making money on deals that have proven in the past to be questionable and you can bet that Pops would have made a bundle charging the rest of us to view that piece of motorcycling history if he could corner the market. I am sure that 20 years from now that one or two of these Nortons will still be in the crate waiting for the right owner…….

  53. Joe Bishop says

    Not sure if the Kneeslider will actually read this or it will just end up in meaningless hyperspace. I’ve ridden, built, rebuilt, created & re-created many wonderful 2 wheeled rides that I’ve enjoyed both in the seclusion and peacefulness of my own garage as well as the tremendous rush of riding a bike for the first time on the road. Whether it was a simple tune-up or a full blown creative build, the ride was the thing that I always wondered about and pursued. Many years ago, while I was working at a well established steel import warehouse in a southern suburb of Chicago, I was approached by a co-worker who had a 70’s something yellow Norton Commando with no wheels. He needed the cash and fifty dollars later I had the bike in my pickup truck. On the way home with the bike that afternoon I thought about how great it would feel to ride this bike down the highway after such a great score. When I arrived at my apartment, a neighbor saw the bike and had to have it. A thousand dollars later it was in his living room and I was having a cold beer on my porch wondering how that first ride might have been. Would a bike that has been in the box many years run with just an easy assemble? Or would the bottom end bearing be gone with time and blow a hole in the side of a much sought after and precious engine case. Only one way to find out. Get the crow bar out, pull the crate away, assemble the ever so precious metal, start it and enjoy the ride. The extreme pleasure of the first ever ride, far outways looking at unassembled iron in a wooden box and wondering how wonderful the miles would be.

    Joe Bishop
    Absaroka M/C Racing
    Bonneville Salt Flat Racer 580 B
    Etna, Wyoming

  54. oldtimer says

    Joe Bishop,
    Well said, well said, well said. I was beginning to think that maybe I was just old and nostalgic, and should just keep quiet. (I’m sure this is my wife’s opinion!)
    The joy experienced after careful assembly, tedious tuning (gotta get it just right!), and as my daughter would say; OMG!! that first time you kick it over and fire it up, is hard to explain. Five horsepower, or five hundred, the feeling is just the same.
    I guess the people who feel the Norton was a waste of mother earths precious recources to ever be made in the first place probably feel the same about their doubleshothalfcaffoofyfrothfrappethingy they are enjoying in the waiting area while their kickass, cutting edge, (enter brand name here) is being serviced in the back.
    I’ll be in the garage. Coffee, black please.
    Did I mention the grumpy part of being an old man? Sucks. Sorry.

  55. kneeslider says

    As expected, these comments reflect opinions everywhere from leave them crated to ride them as though they were your everyday bike. My own thoughts fall somewhere in between.

    Most of us here have enormous respect for old machinery and seeing it abused and destroyed is a painful sight, but, at the same time, especially if you like old machinery, seeing it move is the reward. Static displays do not convey what the inventors, designers and builders actually accomplished.

    Go to an airshow and walk the flightline, everyone loves to look at the planes but as soon as someone lights up the P-51 Mustang, all eyes turn to see and hear it live again. Old steam locomotives are imposing assemblies of wheels, pistons and drive rods, but sitting still they might just as well be made of plastic. Hearing them rumble and hiss while watching those huge wheels start to turn is an entirely different experience, if you’ve ever been close to one you’ll feel a chill when you see this magnificent steel beast begin to move. Machinery is designed to move, it’s not made of marble or clay, movement is the whole point.

    Even if the machine in question, whether a motorcycle or anything else, is the very last example of its kind on earth, if at all possible it should be able to run. Preserve it so others can witness what it does, but to keep it silent forever, means the machine no longer exists, you haven’t preserved it, you’ve embalmed it.

  56. oldtimer says

    Very well said, once again. (Makes me wish I could write also!)
    One thing we can all agree on; thekneeslider always = interesting, fun, excellence!
    Sorry bout the grumpy thing, dudes. Going for a ride on the Bonneville….I’ll be OK.

  57. oldtimer says

    2006 T100 Bonneville, by the way……….cripes, I’m not THAT old fashioned!!!!!

  58. Steve says

    I can see both sides of the coin.
    If your a rider, buy it, ride it. I suspect there are plenty of lovingly restored bikes available for purchase that would equal or better the crate bikes for a mere fraction of the cost.

  59. John F says

    There are plenty of old Nortons to ride, but almost none in their original packing crate, and that’s what does make it SO SPECIAL. I’m sure if I had the crate one I would buy another and restore it to the crate one’s spec’s and ride it as often as I cared. I’m sure the likes of Jay Leno who also leave it in the crate. By the way “old timer” I’m 49 years old, I have been riding for more than 20 years (every day) and my 140,000km GSX1400 (the best all round bike EVER MADE) looks brand new and is only worked on by me. I appreciate things in this world that by chance have become VERY special and the Norton’s HAVE become just that by chance. If it was a first series Honda Cub still in the box my thoughts would be the same. Taking them out of the box and using them destroys the very thing that makes them so special in the first place. Although if I had 2 of those crates, one would definatly come to life.

  60. Marvin says

    Speaking as a Brit I would say for that much money you could buy a realy nice bike and a realy nice coffee table and let someone else pay good maney for a splintery box of rusted and seized up old iron from the arse end of our bike industry. Bikes are often advertised in England as “never seen rain” which allways makes me feel a bit sorry for them. never turned a wheel seems positivly tragic but I’m not willing to cough up the cash so he who pays the piper will call the tune.

  61. oldtimer says

    John F
    I really do understand your point of view. I don’t agree, but I understand. When you say that the fact that is still in the crate is what makes it special you lose me. I am 57 and not counting bicycles I have ridden “something” every day there wasn’t snow or ice on the road since I was 12. My first ride was a mini bike built from plans from the back of a magazine. I begged a 3hp motor from a neighbor who had an old cement mixer. I had to promise to keep the motor in good shape and re install it on his mixer should he ever have the need to use it. (He never mixed any cement, but he never sold me the motor either) “You takin good care of MY motor, young man?” was his standard greeting whenever he saw me from then on. From there came a Honda 90, Mustang (12 hp. I WAS FLYING!!, still one of the neatest things I have ever owned)CB350, Harley Davidson 350 (Italian) 62 650 Triumph, a 75 Hercules with a Sachs/Wankel 250 rotary engine, 69 Bonneville, 67 Electra Glide Police Special, a BEAUTIFUL red Ducatti, and so on and so on. With the exception of the Electra Glide and the Ducatti and others I have owend up until now, riding was the reward of lots of work rebuilding, saving money for needed parts, patching things together, dreaming of the day I could actually buy something BRAND NEW that didn’t need massive amounts of work and a daily prayer regimen. I guess that’s where I get my perspective that the ride is the reward. And if all my past and present bikes were lined up in a row, and you asked me which one was my favorite…….As I went down the line and as I sat on each one I could honestly say, THIS ONE.

  62. says

    Anyone who buys a vintage motorcycle just to make a profit should have it stolen in the middle of the night and RIDDEN away by a motorcyclist.

    For convincing proof of what should become of vintage motorcycles all one has to do is visit the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC.

    An entire museum filled with classic iron and not only do all the bikes run, they all get ridden.

  63. Jess says

    A find like this rarely happens.I wonder if the owner of these great machines had a plan for them when he purchased them.I owned a commando whem I first started riding and it really is a nice ride. I would love to have the coins to buy them all.I would assemble all 11 give them to nephews and grandsons and let the good times of becoming a biker develope.I owned one in 1974.I would keep 1 for myself so I could lead the way!

  64. Jess says

    p.s. A guy walks in a bar and says,I have 11 Norton 850’s in crates! And everyone says SO WHAT!!!!

  65. Kenny says

    I’m of the opinion of, ride it until it is unsafe to do so. And I don’t mean the whole motorcycles are dangerous argument, I’m talking about watching some guy on a 1914 or so Indian twin (powerplus I think) riding down the street on a bike that came with asbestos brakes (or wooden), a leather belt drive, manual advance and retard and no clutch as standard!
    Unless that is the case, at least take it out for a spin on sunday.
    As many people have mentioned these bikes aren’t very rare, they are no goldies or bonnies by a long means, maybe in another 50 odd years.
    Even so they still have their own gruff, crude, charm. Like parking it outside overnight, then waking up in the morning, and finding the solid brake disks covered in rust.

    As for whether I would choose to buy and then store or ride on of these old commandos. I wouldn’t go for either option. I’d find myself an old one for a good price and spend many happy months figuring out all its faults and failings and bodge jobs done by previous owners and trying to fix them all. And happily ride it it as often as possible safe in the knowledge that If something goes wrong I get to try and fix it!
    Several of you guys mentioned that “kids these days” don’t get a kick out of old bikes, the reason is you can’t get a kick out of an old bike by saying it was the pinnacle of technology at its time. So what!? That same tech is still being used today and in a far superior state, unlike the massive 2000 hp radial engines that pretty much died after WW2 or the awe inspiring and imposing locomotives that ruled the rails 60 years ago those were the last of their kind and have a similar attraction for us as dinosaurs.
    With vintage bikes you have to put some of yourself into them, a machine doesn’t have character, you give it one.

  66. oldtimer says

    Well, here goes…
    Dear Kenny,
    The guy on the 1914, or so, Indian Twin has just as much right to the street as you do. Probably more. It appears “unsafe” to you and therefore in your studied wisdom, should not be allowed to happen. In riding it he is using skills you will never have, or aquire, because it’s just not something worth doing in your opinion. I can guarantee you that the guy on the Indian does not share your views, and was probably experiencing something you never will, no matte what machine you are on.
    “Gruff, crude charm. Like parking it outside overnight, then waking up in the morning and finding the solid disk brakes covering in rust.”
    Here I am almost at a complete loss. The only thing in this statement I can see to argure is; Who in his right mind would leave it out side overnight?!?! And Kenny, I realize you probably don’t understand.
    On to your “So what!? statement. You mention some things that you find “awe inspiring and imposing”. That’s great. I’m glad that you appreciate these things, as do I. Just because something is not the biggest, loudest, most imposing, cutting edge, or just the tail end of what was at the time well used technology, or what ever, in no way diminishes it’s existance or it’s value. It’s a personal thing. Value, not talking money here Kenny. It would be like me saying “I hate dinosaurs, wouldn’t give a damn if I never saw another one.” I’m guessing you would take exception to that statement, and would be right to do so. Dinosaurs were absolutly “the thing” when you were growing up. From fantastic new archealogical discoverys, to cartoons, to nearly every toy on the shelf. (I have kids, maybe close to your age, I remember, and yes, I too was facinated even though it was not my primary interest.!
    All of which leads me to your closing sentence:

    “With vintage bikes you have to put some of yourself into them, a machine doesn’t have character, you give it one.”

    Here again,,,long as this post is,,,,I’m nearly speechless. Make’s me want to say something “grumpy” like, “Here is concrete proof….Society as we know it is doomed and we’ve slid so far down this slope it is now irreversable” But that WOULD be grumpy, and really, I do not wan’t anyone to take offense, least of all you Kenny. I’m just trying to get my point understood. Truly, I don’t know why,what anyone else thinks, is even that important to me. Usually its no big thing. Live an let live. Believe what you want and allow me to do the same…………
    “a machine doesn’t have character”……..?…….aaaa………???………how can I….expla….????
    what the….?????

  67. OMMAG says

    I’m of the opinion that machines are meant to be used. If they are past their day of usefulness then just care for them. I have a friend who spent decades collecting hand tools and old power tools. I helped him restore motors and working parts for the sake of having them in proper condition, but none of them were fit for use as tools. I wouldn’t even think of trying to use an old power drill or saw for safety reasons. The same thing would go for an unsafe vehicle being operated on the street. There are limits to what is reasonable and safe to do and there are places for things of value to be kept and cared for.

    In my view a crate is NOT such a place.Crates serve only one purpose and that is protection for transport. Crates do not provide protection from aging and deterioration.
    The only way a machine can be maintained and properly protected is by being properly prepared and that can mean being kept dry and clean or being kept in operating condition and even used regularly.
    As long as the use is done within the safe limitation of the machine and the proper maintenance is kept then there is no harm.

    Ultimately it is the owner’s choice to do whatever they think appropriate… but for my money … when it comes to bikes.

    Ride them … maintain them …. and if you can’t do both … sell them to someone who will.

    Those Nortons could be preserved and enjoyed as they were meant to be.

  68. Kenny says

    Whoa! I guess I touched a nerve…hahah…
    Guess I didn’t give the impression I wanted.
    The Indian I gave as an extreme example, it is the oldest motorcycle I have ever seen in the flesh and was probably only out for the weekend of the vintage rally that I was part of on a BMW R51. I was trying to use it as an example, anyone who would use that Indian on a regular basis on roads was chancing their luck and running the risk of getting into trouble that that bike was simply not equipped to handle (remember it was made to ride on dirt roads where most of the traffic was still horsedrawn). The Nortons above do not have the same problem, so long as you don’t do something stupid you’ll be fine.
    The simple fact of matter is that the commandos didn’t use stainless steel disks, the discs would be covered in a light rust at the slightest amount of water, you just had to scrub it off with the brakes.
    Oldtimer, I do understand, I have no axe to grind against old bikes, I spent my childhood helping rebuild and maintain my fathers collection of 1940/50’s german bikes, my own bike is over 20 years old and I take pleasure in even running down to the shops on it, I use it everywhere.
    With your “So what! reply” you agreed with my point.
    It IS a very personal thing, you can’t expect some pedestrian who has no knowledge of vintage vehicles to have the same appreciation of your say perfectly restored Norton as you do. To them it’s just a pretty interesting hunk of metal that moves. They didn’t put hours of love and care into a bike or car or whatever to have the empathy, to understand what that particular machine is so much more than a hunk of metal to you.

    “With vintage bikes you have to put some of yourself into them, a machine doesn’t have character, you give it one.”
    I was trying to be kinda philosophical here, maybe I’m a bit odd. But stepping back myself, I know that I have given my bike a personality, hell I’ve even given it a name and refer to it as a girl. I want to keep that bike and maybe someday it will be even rarer than those nortons are now. I still wouldn’t sell it though

  69. FiremanBob says

    I imagine that if the people who made those bikes were told their creations would never be ridden, they would go on strike. What could be worse than knowing that your work would never be used and appreciated as you intended?

  70. Jess says

    One thing for sure there is a lot of different thoughts about what should become of the Nortons.Lets look past our own feelings about it and ask the bikes what they want.I don’t know about the rest of you ” bikers” I myself have a bond with mine and we talk on a regular basis.Well mostly I talk the bike listens,but any of you that are true to your ride no matter what it is, be it 50cc’s or 1800 sometimes you just do.Myself like oldtimer have been riding since before being a biker was a cool thing. Real bikers ride they don’t store!!!

  71. oldtimer says

    Kenny,
    No harm, no foul. You should, however, check out the motorcycle cannonball run across the US happening this Sept. Oh…did I mention….Pre 1916 motorcycles only.

    Jess,
    I was not going to mention in such a public forum, the fact that I talk to my bikes also.
    Mine also talk back to me. Usually when I get a little carried away and exceed my riding abilities. Thankfully, my abilities come no where close to exceeding the abilities of the bike.

  72. says

    What would be worse?

    one of these never-ridden, crated Nortons destroyed in a museum fire ( e.g. UK, 2003)

    or

    one of these Nortons in a mishap on the road?

    yea, moto museum fires are rare, but so are road mishaps if the museum-quality bike is ridden just enough to feel loved.