Ken gets his Norton

Ken is a long time neighbor and a buddy of mine. Forty (40!) years ago, Ken set his heart on one day acquiring a Norton 750 Commando.

On May 27 2010, that life long goal was attained. This is the account of that road trip.

We acknowledge, of course, that even though this page is in the 'Americana' section, the Norton is a British make (which meant that a whole toolkit was needed as well, which Ken gladly and gleefully paid for; glee was the operative sentiment the whole trip for this guy).

We set out from New Jersey to Essex, Vermont, with an overnight in Colchester at a very reasonably priced Day's Inn. The trip up was pretty uneventful, enlivened by our characteristically nerdy-detailed conversations, ranging all over the map, as did our vehicle. Here is a sampling of some of the subjects we bantered about and bandied about, necessarily incomplete, but representative:

  • Palindromes
  • What language does 'Tuxedo' come from?
  • What one says in Ukrainian when someone sneezes, and you say 'Gesundheit'
  • Farmers and Daylight Saving Time--"The animals don't know the difference", as Ken sagely stated
  • Rollie Free, the Vincent Black Shadow, and his record-breaking run in a speedo at Daytona Beach (because his leather had been ripped to shreds)
  • Steven Pinker and his book on how the mind works
  • Perception and perfect pitch                                                                                                      (I told you, nerdy)
  • The relationship between the difficulty of kick starting a bike and its engine compression
  • Latin and German
  • Army days in Germany (alerts, the deuce-and-a-half and five-and-a-quarter)
  • Storm King sculpture park
  • Helmet requirements; Illinois and Iowa have no requirement
  • Picking apples
  • Quantum entanglement ('spooky action at a distance') and Big Bang
  • Actors from the Thirties (Paul Muni, Robert Donat, and more)
In addition to the often animated conversations we had, we also had long stretches of comfortable silence, equally appreciated.

The evening of our stay, we went into Burlington for some food; we were originally aiming for a place on a hill right across the highway, but it was for breakfast and lunch only during the week, so we set off for downtown. There were a number of choices; we chose Tiny Thai. Excellent flavor, generous portions. A rainstorm came through for about half an hour, with fierce winds and pelting rain, but we were safely inside during the worst of it. That evening, we watched the Celtics and Magic game Five with the sound off. Once it became apparent that Orlando would win, I killed the TV and we tried to get some sleep.

There was coffee in the lobby as we checked out, and it was plenty strong. Due to how much we'd had the night before, we just determined to get the bike and hit the road.

We hit the U-Haul place around 8:30 at their request, as business is good, at least early in the morning, and there is not a lot of room to work with. This little doodad was sitting out front:

The trailer parked outside the shop, with Ken's bike waiting for him:

After a drive of about five miles through a busy set of streets, we approached The Classic Bike Experience, in Essex, and parked in the driveway; in that same driveway, Ken had practiced driving it and had been tested and certified by the estimable staff of the establishment. Nick Woodbury, Welby and Kay Reynolds run a tight ship; they cross all the t's and dot the i's. Their care and professionalism was evident in a number of ways, but perhaps the most important of them was how well they secured the bike in the trailer. Over the 300+ miles of our return, that bike budged not one meter, it was tied down so well. (Rather than use the center stand, they counselled letting the tires bear the load, and compressed them slightly by sitting on the bike as it was secured good and tight. Well done, folks).

Ken told me that this was an Enfield that had been imported by Indian. Indian and Harley Davidson were the top brands in the US in the early days.

In his youth, Ken had started with a Japanese two-stroke Bridgestone, which looks like a 2/3 sized sibling of the Norton Commando. As Ken told me during our drive, there are entire websites, and many of them, devoted to Bridgestone, a 'common starter model'.

Now, the Commando he first laid eyes on had "chopper" style handles, made so popular by the film "Easy Rider" (RIP Dennis Hopper). He didn't care for that style of handlebar, preferring the standard configuration "the way God intended".

Here is the trailer, itself weighing 1000 pounds if my memory serves me, to carry about a 400 pound bike. To his relief, Ken found that negotiating the extra weight while driving stopping and turning was easy to get used to.

Here Ken poses for Welby for the Classic Bike Experience website, to add to a no-doubt long list of satisfied customers; in fact, Ken ran into an Aussie (or maybe Scot, even though Ken is Scot, neither he nor I could be certain of his accent), who expressed admiration for the bike and said he'd buy one too. Ken handed off the reference to Classic Bike Experience; highway rest stop referral fees?

Here Nick and Welby secure the bike as Ken eagle-eyes his baby:

Here are shots from our drive back home through the small towns and countryside of Vermont.