World Exclusive: New Norton V4 RR revealed

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It’s proving impossible to look away. Despite trying to hold a coherent conversation with Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton and the man responsible for bringing the legendary British brand back into existence, the glinting silver form of the new V4 RR is simply too distracting.

But it’s not the bling bodywork glinting in the sunshine that’s catching my eye, it’s the sheer level of detail, the intricacy of the design touches, the remarkable attention to detail and the pure metal pornography of it that’s proving so utterly captivating. This isn’t just a bike, it’s a work of art.

Norton V4 RR & SS highlights

  • All-new Norton V4 British-built engine
  • All-carbon fibre bodywork
  • Carbon fibre fuel tank
  • Carbon fibre wheels (SS)
  • TT developed chassis
  • 7″ high-def dash with rear-view camera
  • Full electronics package

“The new V4 takes Norton forwards,” says Garner. “When we got the brand we always wanted to be modern and to make modern bikes, but the budget and resources needed for design engineers and a supply chain to make a bike that’s not embarrassing, something that can stand up against BMW’s RR or a Ducati Panigale, or an R1 or a Blade is just huge. Those guys have spent tens and tens, or hundreds of millions of dollars and have ten, twenty, thirty years of development behind the platform – and for us to go into that arena and not be embarrassed is a massive ask.

“We were deciding engine options five to six years ago, as to whether we went inline four or V4. We got specialist engineers in to help with the decision, and we even looked as to whether it could be a triple or a V5. We had a beautiful situation where we had a blank sheet of paper, and we didn’t have a V-twin platform to follow like Ducati, or an inline-four like the Japanese, or a triple platform like Triumph. So it was ace, because Norton could go in any direction we wanted to. So what we tried to do is make an engineering decision on what was best, and then make a brand decision on what was best.

“The engineers did all their calculations and worked out which configuration gave us the best balance of power, performance, and packaging – which is one of the most important things on a bike. And after they’d been through all their metrics, they ended up with a V4. They then brought that to me, and I had to decide what engine configuration the next Norton would be. I felt that the space Norton could make the biggest footprint and create an impact with an engine that we would become known for, was a V4.

“I also tried to put myself in the mindset and shoes of the design engineers who made the Manx race bikes back in the 1950s, because what they were doing was cutting-edge in their day. So we asked ‘what would those guys do now?’ We like to think that they would have done what we’ve done with the V4. And we made that decision for the SG1 [TT race bike]. The world didn’t quite get it, but we’d taken that decision, and that’s why we put an Aprilia V4 in it.

“We’re making a brand new motorcycle from scratch and wanted to was to prove as many sections of the bike as quickly and practically and cost-effectively as possible. Engine, electronics and chassis are all interlinked; if the engine is unreliable I can’t do anything, I can’t prove my chassis, and I can’t prove the electronics. And when we’re using the Isle of Man TT to test our bike, one lap is 37 miles, so I really need that reliability.

“So we took the decision to use an engine that was already proven so that we could develop our chassis and electronics. And now, at TT 2016, we had a chassis that was working and we’d got complete control of the Bosch IMU, so that our traction control, anti wheelie, launch control, downshifts, everything – were all controlled by Norton. So with the chassis and electronics sorted, it was finally time for us to look at our own engine.

“It’s been a massive task. When was the last time a major manufacturer made a proper clean-sheet superbike? It was probably BMW’s S1000RR, or the beginning of the YZF-R1 or FireBlade.

“And of course we’d prove everything at a 116mph lap, and it would work, then we’d go to 120mph, and nothing would work – it was all scrap. Our rider Ian Mackman would come in looking like he’d done 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali. He could go faster, he wasn’t at his limit, but he couldn’t wrestle the damn thing round any faster. So we’d have to go back to design and make the changes we needed to make the next step forward. We change the swingarm and go 121mph, and then the front end didn’t work. We’d sort that and go 122mph, then the swingarm didn’t work again. It’s taken from SG3 to SG4 to SG5, so three TTs, to get a serious package together. The difference between 3 and 5 is huge – it’s almost embarrassing when we look at it now.

“Manufacturers have taken the development of sportsbikes so far that the marketing men have convinced buyers that they need 200bhp. So now, they’re not marketing a bike on its lifestyle or brand, it’s just a numbers proposition. We’re in a great position at Norton because we can differentiate here. Norton can offer a lifestyle proposition with a Dominator, Commando, Café Racer, and our numbers proposition would be the new V4 superbike. 

Growth for Norton

“There’s an interesting dilemma for Norton when it comes to scale, and what’s best for the brand. I think that’s selling 4-5000 Nortons every year. We’re selling up to 1000 each year right now, but the V4 will change the game next year, then a year after that we’re looking at another new engine platform to change the game again. That will take us towards 4000 units, and we will continue to have super special bikes and a race team. We can’t exist off 500 bikes a year, we can tootle along, but we can’t develop the next engine on those numbers. There is a sweet spot between that and high volume sales, and that’s where we’re aiming to get to.

“We’ve made the RR to be understressed, so that we can easily hit 200bhp without having to push the engine. That’s one of the reasons we went for a 1200, not a 1000, but even so, the bike is very compact – smaller physically than some of the other 1000s. The bike is superbike size, but the engine is oversized, so we’ve got a stack of torque because we’ve got a bigger engine, which makes it easier to ride and get the most out of.

“One of our strengths here is knowing what we can do, and what we can’t. That’s how we ended up with Ricardo when we started to develop our own V4. We felt we needed to get a globally experienced engine development company in to come and help us. And very luckily we had a relationship with VPRO, which ended up being absorbed by Ricardo, and we’ve ended up developing a really good relationship with them.

“All of the engines will be built here in the UK in new engine workshops at Donington Hall which are being planned now. We will produce everything other than cast parts, and will make enough of the platform to have a good handle on the bike, and have some control. Whatever is too difficult to do in house at our scale will be bought in. But what we buy in will be world-class, like Öhlins, Brembo, Bosch – but if we can do it ourselves, we will – it’s a key value for me.

“Since we moved to Donington Hall three years ago we’ve grown up so much that we can now cope with a new platform. I think finally the job has come together, from a dealer basis, an engineering basis, service, parts and warranty basis, the new building to house our production, and the academy to give us a talent pool. We’ve emerged from our early years as a fully-formed motorcycle manufacturer. I think if we had brought this V4 to market three years ago, we’d have fallen over.

“All 200 V4 SS models are already sold, and we’ll make available the first batch of 250 V4 RRs for order now. We’ve taken a few orders already, and you can order one on the stand at Motorcycle Live this weekend – with a few nice extra money-can’t-buy incentives – like getting to set it up in pitlane at the Isle of Man TT, and getting a few laps of the course, too.”

And what the team has created will be the fastest, most technologically advanced and most powerful British production superbike ever. The limited-edition £44,000 SS version is beyond everyone’s reach as they’re all sold already, but anyone able to part with £28,000 for the V4 RR is unlikely to feel short-changed. Where else can you buy a hand-built British superbike with class-leading spec and such an iconic name on the tank?

It’s not just a vanity project designed in a boardroom and punted out as a cynical piece of incoherent design to keep the coffers swollen, either. The engineering is truly impressive, and so is the quality, the detail, the fit and finish. Go to Motorcycle Live and see it for yourself. Wherever you look there’s quality engineering, blended endearingly with cutting-edge technology.

Garner said: “We’ve tried to move the bar with this bike; with the chassis, the swingarm, the carbon, the electronics, and a V4 with 1200cc, banging out north of 200bhp. We’ve looked at where the competition is, and thought ‘how do we beat it?’ We wanted to create a bike that’s not lesser spec than the competition, but a V4 that is at least where the cream of the market is today, and then go past that. A V4 that delivers everything with a little bit more swagger, and a little bit more exclusivity, but with a hand-built finish and exclusive numbers.”

“What gets me every time is the passion and enthusiasm of the Norton team, and I’m so proud that we’ve got the brand back to a stable footing that gives all of us confidence in the future.”

Get under the skin of the new V4 SS & RR with Norton design guru Simon Skinner.

Richard Newland

By Richard Newland