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NORTON DOMIRACER (2014-2014) Review

Published: 12 November 2014

A sensory overload - better than sex!

NORTON DOMIRACER  (2014-2014)

A sensory overload - better than sex!

  • At a glance
  • 961cc  -  80 bhp
  • 42 mpg  -  130 miles range
  • Medium seat height (813mm)

Overall Rating 5 out of 5

New Nortons don’t come along very often, especially ones with featherbed frames and looks like this. That is in enough in itself for the Domiracer to be considered special.

The fact that it's 83% British with much of it (frame, tank, pipes, engine and final assembly) all done on site at Donington, is another big plus. Then there’s the look (which makes the 961 now seem old hat), the wonderous noise, the quality and the components and the ride itself.

Best of all, though, I reckon, is the price. For £20,000 you are getting something very special indeed. Or should that be were, ‘cos sadly they’re all snapped up already. I don’t blame those buyers one little bit. The Domiracer is a truly great bike – not great becaue of its abilities, dynamics or performance. Great because of the wonderously rich biking experience it delivers, Compared to this every modern superbike is flat, bland and sterile. The Domiracer, meanwhile, is one of my bikes of the year.

Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5

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.

Engine 5 out of 5

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.

Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5

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.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 5

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.

Equipment 4 out of 5

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.

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2014
Year discontinued 2014
Original price £26,000
Used price -
Warranty term (when new) 2 year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group -
Annual road tax £88
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 80 bhp
Max torque 66 ft-lb
Top speed 125 mph
1/4-mile acceleration -
Average fuel consumption 42 mpg
Tank range 130 miles
Specification
Engine size 961cc
Engine type Air-cooled, pushrod 4 valve parallel twin
Frame type Tubular steel, 'featherbed' style with tubular steel swingarm
Fuel capacity 19 litres
Seat height 813mm
Bike weight 175kg
Front suspension Ohlins 43mm inverted forks, adjustable for preload
Rear suspension Single Ohlins TTX monoshock with adjustable preload, rebound and compression
Front brake Two 320mm Brembo discs with Brembo four-piston radially-mounted calipers
Rear brake 220mm Brembo disc with twin-piston Brembo caliper
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 17

History & Versions

Model history

Created by Norton in 1960 the original Domiracer was a race version of its Dominator 500cc twin, a bike designed in 1947/48 by Bert Hopwood to compete against Triumph’s 500cc Speed Twin. (Hopwood, incidentally, had been on Triumph’s original Speed Twin development team.) The resulting design set the template for Norton twins for the next 30 years.

Unfortunately, the Domi couldn’t quite match the Triumph in terms of performance, especially after the Meriden concern evolved it into the 650cc twin carb Bonneville in 1959. What the Norton did have, however, was superior handling, especially after the second variant, the Model 88, came with the featherbed frame from 1953.

Norton’s factory racing team briefly used race-tuned Dominators from 1960, but they still weren’t as fast at the Manx singles. Undaunted, Doug Hele developed and a 55bhp ‘Domiracer’, a race-only version which revved to 8000rpm and had its weight reduced so it scaled 35lb (16kg) less than the Manx single. Riders Dennis Greenfield and Fred Swift won the 500 cc class in the Thruxton 500 aboard one that year and in 1961 Tom Phillis came third in the Senior TT lapping at over 100mph, a first both for a pushrod and for any twin. When the Norton race shop in Bracebridge Street closed in 1962 the Domiracer project was abandoned although classic versions still compete, and are in strong demand (although not as much as a Manx) today.

Other versions

None - this is a limited-edition machine.

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