The Spondon swingarm and monoshock reminds this is no classic, no retro. This is a Featherbed for the here and now; a Norton café racer for the 21st century. And you can stuff your dribbly, shonky old Tritons…
Hand-in-hand with the modern monoshock is the cutting edge carbon fibre, lashings of CNC-milled-and-hand-polished alloy and top spec, state-of-the-art cycle parts. Golden Ohlins and radial Brembos never fail to enamour. Here they’re the pearls and diamonds adorning Venus de Milo.
Designer Simon Skinner says there were two main thrusts to this labour of love, a very personal, pet project that began in the middle 2011: the first was to get the stance, the posture of the bike right. “We tried to make it look more ‘butch’, more aggressive, like a British bulldog if you like,” he told MCN. “That’s why the front is pushed down, with the headlamp back and down, the rear raised up.”
But the biggest surprise of all is how the Domi rides. That Norton’s new baby looks so good is reason enough to want it. That it sounds so primeavally delicious is the unexpected bonus. There was almost no need for it to be a decent bike as well. But that’s not even the half of it.
This being the first completed example (hence the ‘No. 1’ sticker on the carbon airbox) it perhaps unsurprisingly is going to remain the property of Norton owner Stuart Garner himself.
Which is why, leathered and helmeted, and astride the Domi ready to head out onto the road for the first time, it’s his parting words rather than the exhausts’ deafening thunder which were ringing in my ears the most. “If you crash it, don’t bother coming back!” I think he was joking.
With hindsight, the Domi was so well behaved (slight starter motor glitch and limited steering lock aside) there was never really any danger of that.
Although the Norton’s café racer stance appears fairly extreme, the riding position offered by the lowered ace bars and raised and moved back footpegs is no real problem, even for this slightly aging six-footer. The thinly-padded solo seat and tank rear is slim, its weight fairly neutral, its controls reached naturally.
Thumbing the open-megga-ed Domiracer into life was like opening a whole new dimension of sound and sensation, like Dorothy crossing the threshold from monochrome Kansas into Technicolour Oz.
At low revs the big twin burbles and blarts with a richness and vibrancy that can only make you smile. Then the merest blip of light throttle has it racing violently up to five and with it a whole orchestra of sound and volume is unleashed. Brass? Strings? Timpani? The whole bloody lot of ‘em and all bass and treble and so, so loud. Then, on the over-run, sucking and spitting like a bath plughole draining its last.
There’s not much point revving above five, but there’s lots of joy in just blipping and blipping. The whole aural experience is intoxicating and addictive.
A handful of easy-enough clutch, a prod down into the first of five ratios, a slight blip and clutch slip and we’re away, easy as pie. Within 200 yards I was out of the HQ’s grounds, onto the open road and starting to feed it revs and gears.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s no performance revolution here. Norton’s pushrod twin, despite what the fiercesome exhaust note may suggest, is no firebrand. Its 80-odd horses, progressive delivery and slightly clunky and sloppy, ‘old school’ nature reminds most of a worn, air-cooled, two-valve, Ducati L-twin, so this baby’s not going topside of 125mph any time soon.
On this evidence, the build quality on display is Norton’s best yet. Components, fit and finish are all exemplary. Ohlins and Brembo front and rear, the exquisite, CNC-milled and hand-polished heel plates, top yoke and seat retaining bolt (designed to mimic the original’s oil cap). Everywhere you look, from the ‘Monza-style’ fuel filler to the modern, clean single analogue/LCD tacho (the road version gets a speedo) absorbs and delights.
Well, it's £26k for the road version and only £2k less for the track bike. Which is a lot of money... but then again the 50 that were produced for this limited-edition run all sold within a few weeks of the bike being announced. So, the owners obviously think this is good value.
This rare bike will only appreciate and if any come up for sale, you can bet your bottom dollar, it will be more than the original £26,000. It's a work of art, a collector's dream.
Key style element is the exquisite, polished alloy, café racer style tank, designed by Simon Skinner again and welded up, immaculately, in-house at Norton’s new premises at Donington Hall. (Incidentally, it also fits straight onto the 961 Commando and is available as an accessory costing £1680.) By contrast, new seat unit, air-box and front mudguard are in unpainted, hand-laid carbon-fibre, the fender with beautiful, hand-finished alloy stays.