The Chevy Pickup of Nortons

The INOA 2016 rally was held at Quincy, CA. Twenty years ago I rode my 1975 Mark III 850 to my first INOA rally also at Quincy. Twenty years of Norton rallies have produced more memories than I can recount in this article, but I will tell you about the trip to the one this year.

Plans to ride with a good sized group failed to come together (as they had 20 years ago); so Ann was quite relieved when Steve Millard offered to ride with me. On Sunday, a little after dawn, Steve showed up, and with a little last minute preparation we set out. I was on my 1975 Mark III Commando and Steve on his modern Triumph. Traffic around Portland and all the way to Corvallis was as light as I’ve ever encountered around Portland, but it soon started to rain. We cut around Portland to 99W and headed south to Corvallis. Then my left side foot peg was suddenly gone. The nut that holds the peg on its mounting bracket had come off.

Yes, all good long rides start with some adversity. The ride gods want to know you are serious. We found the peg, and Steve had a some rubber bands and a bungy cord and we managed to jury rig the peg well enough that I could ride. The route from Corvallis to Medford was a path mapped for us by the Southern Oregon OVM guys. It is the route they take to Corvallis, and it avoids I5. I misread some of the directions and we used short stretches of I5 to get back on track. Traffic stayed light, but the rain persisted, and we got pretty well soaked, despite rain gear as we rode south on the Territorial Highway. By the time we got to Rice Hill, I was wring out my gloves at every gasoline stop. We were feeling our age, but the bikes were motoring on with little or no complaint. Despite the rain, I began to enjoy the ride again after Rice Hill. I would have been smart to have packed some warmer gear. Well before dark we pulled into my friend Scot Rogers’s place in Ashland. George Kraus and Ann had driven the minivan with the Atlas and George’s bike loaded; and they were already there. Eleven hours to cover only about 330 miles.

I slept pretty well, and the early the next morning Steve and I found an appropriate nut at Ashland Hardware. My bike was restored, David Overacker on his 850 Commando joined us, and we set out for Quincy with the only planned part of the ride on I5. The ride gods having been satisfied that we were worthy motorcycle hooligans, the sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot. We got off I5 at Mt. Shasta, filled up and headed east. The roadster tanks on my bike and David’s meant we needed to fill up about every 80 miles, but gasoline stations seemed to appear just when were about to get out the hose to transfer some gas from Steve’s Triumph’s tank. We had lunch at a place called Old Station in the middle of a sparsely populated part of Northern California. The scenery was really very appealing, but the road was mostly straight and boring. We turned south a little west of Susanville, and the road became more interesting. We made our final gas stop about thirty miles short of Quincy, and I was actually a little sad that the ride was almost over. Just a few miles short of Quincy, I checked my rear view mirror and couldn’t see my ride mates. David’s layshaft bearing had failed just seven miles short of Quincy.

After sorting out what had happened, I rode to Quincy, parked my bike, picked up the minivan and now empty trailer and drove out to pick up David and his bike. After dropping David and his bike off at his campsite at the fairgrounds, I joined Ann at the cottage we’d rented. Every place seemed to be closed by the time we got to looking for dinner, but it was good to be arrived without any disasters. David’s wife had driven down with a trailer loaded with several bikes; so he was well set up for the rally, despite the failure of his first ride. Except for the trip to pickup David and his bike it was a little more than seven hours, a little less than 250 miles and pleasant weather.

It was great fun to see old friends at the rally and to brag about having ridden to the rally on the same bike I’d ridden to Quincy in 1996. George won well earned recognition for his bike (Best of Show) and for the newsletter. Mike Tyler seemed to have had a good enough time to feel the long car drive (all in one day) to get to the rally was worth it. He also made the biggest killing of the rally scoring a derelict, but interesting Atlas (“Shep”) for a very good price. George and Mike and I did some of the group rides albeit not necessarily with the group and some of the self guided rides. The Atlas got a good run coming back from one of the “group” rides, but then developed a broken exhaust pipe (cheap header pipes, since replaced with good quality pipes from Armours in the UK). The Mark III 850 soldiered on bemused at the trouble encountered by the glamorous Atlas.

Saturday morning after the awards banquet I had an early breakfast and headed out alone. Steve was off to do some camping, and David rode home in his van. Ann and George set out later with the minivan and trailer. The ride to Ashland, retracing the route of a few days before, was so uneventful that I got into Ashland before Ann and George. It was just about six hours. Again I had pleasant riding weather, though a bit chilly in the early hours.

After a good visit with Scott in Ashland and a good night’s sleep, I set out to correct my mistakes about the directions on the Medford to Corvallis route. In good weather and with the benefit of careful study of the directions and maps the previous afternoon, I managed to follow the full route this time. The bits I’d missed on the way down were well worth the extra effort. Traffic on a Saturday afternoon was heavier, and my body was telling me it was time to get off the bike. The last eighty miles was a chore. This time it took about nine hours, again about 330 miles.

I was tired, but the bike had proven more reliable than it was 20 years ago using only about a quart of oil, a couple of spays of chain lube, one chain tightening and using approximately one gallon of gasoline every 40 miles. With the rides at the rally the Commando had gone about 1700 miles. Alan Goldwater remarked at the rally that the Mark III 850 was the Chevy pickup of Nortons. I was too polite to ask which of his more exotic Nortons had been ridden to INOA rallies for 20 years. Both the bike and I survived better than I could have expected. I did well because the bike proved solidly reliable, and I believe that is because I’ve had the benefit of 20 years of help with the bike from members of this club. Special thanks to Ann for all the support she gives me and for being a good sport about it and to George Kraus who helped me prepare the bike for this anniversary trip.

Sam Justice