Triumph Thruxton R v Norton Dominator SS

Published: 29 May 2016

We’ve been in love with the Thruxton since it’s launch but how does it compare against that other great British icon, the Norton...

They might both be the best of British but the Triumph and Norton crack the retro nut in two very different ways. The Thruxton R is the modern-day Fiat 500, Mini or VW Beetle. It’s a machine designed to look like the original, but performs in a clean, unflustered, easy, modern way. The Norton, on the other hand, looks and acts like a 60s bike. It’s raw, demanding and slightly quirky.

The Triumph has been developed with unlimited resources, so it’s no surprise the Thruxton R is plush, fast, fine-handling and smooth. It’s safe, too, thanks to its friendly power delivery, traction control and ABS.

Jump on the feather light Norton and it’s like hunkering down on a race bike. The seat is painfully hard and the clip-ons are set low and feel like they’re connected to the front spindle.

ABS-less Brembos are fiercer and more tactile than the Triumph’s ABS-assisted versions and the Norton’s steering is deliciously crisp at low speeds, but it’s less precise when you push on. Lazy chassis geometry and old-generation Dunlop Qualifier tyres aren’t in the same league as the lithe, grippy Triumph.

Power delivery from the Dominator’s 84bhp, 961cc air-cooled, two-valve pushrod parallel twin-cylinder motor is smooth and friendly. It rewards with a hard-edged kick at 5000rpm. Sure it’s fast, but it can’t live with the Triumph in a drag race.

The Norton is all about the vibe

What the Norton engine does have is vibration. The faster you go, the more it spills out from the motor, through its racing rearsets, up your body and into your brain, rattling your eyeballs. Over 85mph in top (fifth) gear the vibes blur your vision. After an hour or so crouched on that uncompromising saddle you’ll have a headache to match your sore wrists, arms and bum.

But none of this will matter to the Norton fan and for lower speeds and shorter blasts it’s fine. It even has generous legroom for those with dodgy knees. This is a bike more about soul, character and the way it looks than what it’s like to ride. Just be careful with the side stand when you stop. It’s so tall you have to lean the Norton over the wrong way to get it down…and there it stands, perilously upright. Will it, won’t it blow over in the wind?

The more you look at the Norton the more you want it

That handmade polished ali tank is exquisite, then there’s the beautiful carbon fibre seat unit, mudguards and airbox cover, the Black-line Ohlins forks and TTX36 shocks, spoked wheels, Brembos, polished yokes, fabricated ali oil-cooler and nice details touches like the swoopy gear linkage. You could stand there and slurp in the detail all day until you’re punch drunk with lust.

Jumping back on the Triumph after a day riding the Norton is a blessed relief. The Thruxton’s comfy, vibe-free and as small and narrow as a 250cc commuter. But through my still pounding headache I still can’t stop thinking about the Norton and how perfect it would be on a Sunday morning blast, then spend all afternoon polishing it in the sunshine.

Thanks to Prime Factors Motorcycles for their help with the Norton Dominator SS.

Read how the Triumph Thruxton compares to the 1950's orginal and the outgoing model, what it's like as a track bike and much more in our Thuxton special in MCN on sale June 1st

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