Norton DominatorSS First Ride

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Say hello to the new Norton Dominator SS, the latest creation from the revived historic British company and the culmination of six years of hard work.

If it looks familiar it’s because the Dominator SS, plus its slightly lower-spec sibling, the Dominator, are essentially road-going versions of the track-only, limited-edition Domiracer launched last year (MCN, March 7, 2014). That bike sold out in a matter of days despite its hefty £25k price plus the fact it wasn’t a road bike and needed Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) to be registered and actually ridden on the public highway.

A year on, following a barrage of requests from fans who missed out on that bike, the Donington Park-based company decided a road version was possible. The Dominator is the result. The top-spec SS will again be a limited- edition model, with just 50 being built for the UK, while the standard version (see panel above) will join the rest of Norton’s line-up in full production.

All of which made the opportunity to test the newcomer, despite the near-freezing temperatures at the Norton factory, simply irresistible.

While final checks were being carried out, I got a close look at the bike for the first time. At its core, like the Domiracer, is the familiar Norton 961cc air-cooled, push-rod twin but this time, again like the Domiracer, housed in a new ‘Featherbed-style’ frame which harks back to the original Norton Dominator model.

Bodywork is minimal. The cut-down single seat, hand-beaten alloy tank (the standard Dominator’s will be steel) and drilled aluminium side panels compete for your attention with high-spec components such as  the Öhlins TTX shock and Brembo brakes.

That tank is simply glorious. It’s hand-crafted on-site and takes three days of work by the Norton metal workers to shape using English wheels and handtools – and adds £1700 to the standard Dominator. It’s like a huge jewel sitting on top. 

Before my ride, MCN photographer Ian Jubb gets to work taking the static and detail shots of the bike. Forty-five freezing minutes later we’re ready to head out onto the roads surrounding Donington Hall. In the background is a fishing lake. It’s surrounded by tall trees, bare of leaves with the only sound being the soft cawing of birds…

Until the Dominator SS is fired up, that is. It takes just one piston stroke from the Norton’s parallel twin firing through its fully-open twin exhausts to shatter the silence and send a whole flock airborne. Such is the volume pulsating and beating from the exhausts once the bike clears through and settles to a fast idle, it may be several counties before the birds stop flying.

The noise is brutal. In fact it’s not just noise; it’s an all-round sensation of hard-edged, staccato beats that you can feel in your chest and through your whole body. Even as I slip into a quieter place with my earplugs inserted, this is still one of the loudest bikes I have ever heard outside a race track. If you like to be a bit stealthier in your riding then you are in luck as both the Dominator models leave the factory with fully noise-compliant exhausts, the SS model has the straight-through pipes in a box and they can be bought as an option for the standard bike.

In an era of riding modes, electronic rider aids, adjustable this that and the other, clambering aboard the SS and getting ready to ride is a much purer experience. There’s a key, two chromed analogue dials and some simple switchgear for the lights, horn and indicators. That’s it.

That said, it’s still pretty extreme. Getting comfortable is an issue initially as the thermals under my leathers restrict my knees and, as the pegs are so lofty, I am struggling to get my feet high enough. In short, the riding position owes more to racing bikes than those tailored for the road but that’s exactly what this bike is all about; head down and arse up. The clip-ons are low, the seat and pegs are high and it sounds like hell on wheels.

But despite the extreme riding position, hard seat, high pegs and generally hardcore appearance, it’s a piece of cake to ride. The throttle is direct, the clutch light and progressive, and the brakes are easy to modulate. And with 80bhp the performance is pleasingly brisk rather than superbike terrifying.

The Öhlins suspension is on the tough side of firm, but the quality of the ride is exemplary and combined with the nicely judged Dunlop tyres this bike makes an excellent weekend, back-road companion. 

Boil down the Dominator SS to the facts and it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s wallet-crushingly expensive at £24,500 (£19,950 for the standard bike). It’s an old-school 80bhp pushrod parallel-twin that was technologically current in about 1960 and has so little steering lock it makes U-turns brief moments of terror. It’s also uncomfortable, impractical, has none of the latest electronic aids and, to be honest, is too bloody loud with those open pipes.

But then all of the criticisms you can level at this bike can so easily be flipped around to become positives. If you can afford £25k then the price isn’t a problem, and with just 50 being built depreciation won’t be an issue. 

If you want 200bhp and electrickery then there are all manner of high- volume superbikes dripping in every acronym known to man; likewise so many other bikes do it more comfortably, with more practicality and have variable this and adjustable that. The Dominator is none of this and is all the better for it. It’s tremendous.

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Andy Downes

By Andy Downes

Former MCN Senior Reporter