Norton Motorcycles are building a huge addition to their existing factory in order to gear-up for production of their new range of affordable Atlas 650cc models.
The 12,000 square-foot extension to the firm’s existing base at Donington Hall will enable the Derbyshire bike builders to massively increase their production capabilities, moving much of the assembly line from their existing buildings into the bespoke production facility.
While V4 SS production is now moving at pace, the core of the new facility will be used to build the all-new Atlas Nomad (£9995) and Atlas Ranger (£11,995), which share a new 650cc parallel-twin engine, chassis and electronics package, but differ in styling. The pair are aimed at road riders who want to be able to duck down the odd greenlane at the weekend, with the taller Ranger being the more off-road focused of the duo.
"The manufacturing of parts, welding, CNC machining and paint-shop will remain in the Technical Academy building," Norton CEO Stuart Garner told MCN, "while assembly and stores will move into the new factory. There’ll also be a bench dyno and engine test cell which allows us to take an engine from design all the way through development and into a customer’s bike all in-house.
"The new factory allows us to increase our production capacity to 5000 units per year (4000 more than current – Ed) – and if we need more, we can join the two wings together. We’re planning to double production over the next couple of years and then again so that by 2023 we could be at that 5000-bike production figure."
Atlas prototypes are now undergoing full testing, while the race department are putting their efforts into getting the V4-derived Superlight 650 ready for the Lightweight TT. The Superlight will also be sold for road and race use, while Atlas 650 deliveries are expected to start this Summer.
The new model has been designed to be the first ‘everyday Norton’ since the firm’s 2008 rebirth under the ownership of Stuart Garner. The retro 961 Commando family now sits proudly in the middle of the firm’s range, while the V4 RR and SS superbike is a very long way out of the reach of most riders’ wallets.
Norton Atlas Nomad & Ranger spec
- Engine: Norton 650cc liquid-cooled DOHC parallel-twin, 270-degree crank
- Claimed Power: 84bhp @11,000rpm
- Claimed Torque: 47lbft
- Chassis: Twin tube steel trellis with aluminium swingarm mount
- Swingarm: Braced aluminium twin-spar
- Wheelbase: 1446mm
- Dry weight: 178kg
- Front suspension: Norton Roadholder 50mm fork with preload, compression and rebound damping
- Rear suspesnsion: Norton Roadholder monoshock with rising rate linkage, preload adjustable
- Front Wheel: 18inch laced rim with 110/80 R18 Avon Trailrider (Ranger: 120/70 R19 with Avon Trekrider)
- Rear Wheel: 17inch laced rim with 180/55 R17 Avon Trailrider (Ranger: 170/60 R17 with Avon Trekrider)
- Front brakes: 2x 320mm Brembo discs with Brembo 4-piston radial calipers
- Rear brakes: single 245mm disc with Brembo twin-piston caliper
- Fuel tank: composite with 15litres capacity
- Seat height: 824mm (Ranger: 875mm)
- £9995 (Nomad) / £11,995 (Ranger)
"It’s a game-changer for us," says Norton CEO, Stuart Garner. "It’s our first modern affordable bike. This is right in the middle of existing market territory, and we’re aiming to make 2000 per year once full production commences across these two versions."
The new 650 might look like it’s following the V4 as a clever engineering afterthought – but the attractive naked roadster was conceived at the same time, and the team have been evolving and developing the bike for more than two years. A design wall at last year’s Motorcycle Live saw thousands of showgoers affix stickers to huge rendered versions of their preferred designs for the new bike, helping Norton to steer the final stages of design work towards the two bike you see here.
"I think we’ll sell slightly more of the Ranger version, despite it being more expensive, just because it really does offer genuine off-road ability, as well as being a great everyday road bike," says Garner.
"The Atlas is designed to be completely fit for purpose," adds head of design, Simon Skinner. "You really can take both versions down some greenlanes and get them messy, and it’s designed to be robust enough to keep going if you fall off. You can get to all the fuses and relays easily, and if you bend the subframe, you can take it off and get it straightened it because its steel, not aluminium."
"While the engine is effectively half a V4, we have actually only retained the cylinder head," says Skinner. "That’s where all the really hard work was for the V4, and the processes and technology that we put in place for that bike all transfers across to the Atlas. It’s a really solid, robust engine.
"That means it feels simple to build by comparison, and the engine is making excellent power straight out of the box. We’ve gone for rideability, torque and creamy drive, and 84bhp is plenty for this sort of bike. The power to weight ratio is really good, and it will have switchable ABS – as you need it for this kind of bike – and traction control with two modes: on-road, off-road, and you’ll be able to switch it off, too."
The suspension is top-quality and branded with the firm’s famous own-brand label of 'Norton Roadholder'. The fork is a fully adjustable 50mm unit, while the monoshock rear will be preload adjustable only.
Both bikes come on centrally laced spoked rims, which run tubes, in different sizes for the Nomad and Ranger. The more road-centric Nomad uses Avon Trailrider tyres (110/80 R18 and 180/55 R17), while the taller suspended Ranger wears Avon Trekrider rubber and a 19in front rim for improved off-road riding, while the rear rim size remains a 17in (120/70 R19 and 170/60 R17).
The 15-litre rotationally moulded composite tank is beautifully proportioned and detailed, and should deliver decent range between fill-ups. And with 20bhp more poke, and 24kg less mass, than Triumph’s 2019 Street Scrambler it will offer buyers hunting for a stylish British mid-capacity on/off-road bike a serious new alternative.
"This is an everyday Norton," says Garner. "It’s a bike you can ride through winter and use in all weathers. If you’ve bought a V4 RR, you’re not going to ride that through winter, but you can buy an Atlas for £9995 and ride it all year as your daily bike. That was always the intent with the Atlas."
"It’s designed as a two-seater bike, so it has rider and pillion pegs, but we will also offer a single peg version for those who want it. We’re also planning to build a small run of special Atlas SS numbered editions, and those will almost certainly be single peg version."
Norton Atlas Ranger is even tougher
- More off-road focussed
- Taller suspension
- 19in front rim and high fender
- Bash plate and braced bars
Joining the Nomad is the taller and more aggressive looking Ranger. It shares its chassis, engine, tank, seat, switchgear and clocks with the Nomad, but the jacked-up suspension provides more ground clearance (200mm travel), and it gets a set of beefier braced handlebars, small screen, bash plate, raised front fender, a 19in front rim and more off-road focused Avon Trekrider rubber.
"I always focus on making genuine and honest motorcycles, and there’s a reason why we haven’t called it a scrambler – because it isn’t," says Skinner. "It’s competent as an off-road bike, but it’s not a motocross bike. Equally, you don’t want a 200+ kilo 1200cc bike with loads of power. If I’m riding and I want to nip down a greenlane when I fancy having a bit of fun on the way home – that’s what this bike is all about. This isn’t a bike designed by a marketing department, it’s designed to work – it’s not an ornament.
"I always try to make our bikes as slim as possible, and while the seat height is 875mm, the standover is really good because it’s slim. The tank is nice and flat and a really traditional Norton shape, too. If you’re standing up and need to lean over the bars, you want to be able to get forward without having a great big tank in the way.
"For this size of bike, we’ve designed it to be better off-road than Ducati’s Desert Sled. The fact that we’ve got a nice compact parallel-twin means that the engine is shorter front to rear, which allows us to use a longer swingarm for better chassis geometry and stability. We’ve used a steel trellis frame with an aluminium swingarm, which is shared by both models. It has a separate subframe so that it’s fit for purpose. If you do have a fall off-road, it won’t write the frame off."
The Atlas Ranger will be built at the same time as the Nomad, and can also be ordered now for a planned May delivery, at a cost of £11,995.
[All images are MCN copyright]
In November, Norton CEO, Stuart Garner released a second teaser video on Twitter, showing fleeting glimpses of the new Norton 650 mixed in with footage of previous off-road Nortons.
Norton released their first teaser snippet for the upcoming machine on November 1, which featured some of the British manufacturers historic off-road machines.
Norton 650 Atlas: first details revealed
Norton’s all-new 650 Atlas could be a game-changer for the revived, Donington Park-based British firm.
The Atlas will be powered by an all-new, 650cc parallel twin which is effectively half of Norton’s latest 1200cc motor, will have a tubular steel frame, top-notch susepnsion components and Brembo radial calipers, and the range is expected to start with a model priced at under £10k.
Norton have decided to call this exciting new model the Atlas, which is a name the firm used back in 1962. The original Atlas was a 750cc parallel twin and a Scrambler version went on sale in 1963.
The story so far: November 2017 – Norton announces intentions
At Motorcycle Live 2017, Norton revealed their intention to build a new family of 650cc parallel-twins, showing renderings of a new scrambler model to canvass input from potential owners.
This meant two scrambler-styled bikes will be launched, one more road focussed, the other a more serious dual-purpose option for riders who want to get their kicks in the dirt – and ride home afterwards.
"It started off life as half of the V4," said Norton head of design Simon Skinner at the time. "We always knew we wanted to do a 650 parallel-twin to create a new range of bikes with a retro engine platform, and a high-performance platform, and a high-volume platform. And that would cover everything we want to do for the foreseeable future as a brand.
"The first bike that the 650 will appear in is a scrambler type bike. The engine has been designed to have three power levels, with the top-end high-spec 175bhp supercharged version, then a normally aspirated high-performance version at 100bhp, the a low-powered one with just under 70bhp.
"It’s the same core 650cc parallel-twin engine with a 270-degree crank, which give it nice drive characteristic, a nice sound and a nice vibe – and matches the firing order of the Commando engine.
"It’s a very lightweight, modern parallel-twin, so it’s not like a BMW or Kawasaki mid-capacity parallel-twin. This is literally half the V4, and by losing the rear bank of cylinders we can make the bike very short, very compact.
"It shares a lot of architecture with the V4 engine, the cylinderhead and valvetrain are all common. The engine is very versatile with what we can do with it, and has been designed to work across a range of applications and both steel and aluminium chassis.
"The first bike will be the Scrambler version, and that will use a steel trellis frame some aluminium bolt-on sections to give it more rigidity and stiffness. It still needs to be a lightweight bike, and a Norton, but I looked back at what Norton used to with P11s and other models back in the day, and the performance was always a step up from the competition, and that’s our goal.
"It need to be a proper scrambler, not something that just looks the part. It needs to be capable, and it should be a proper giggle. This is about rideability, not trying to make an adventure tourer.
"It’s not going to be a cheap bike, but you’ve got to be able to ride it through mud, bash it about, drop it, and pick it up and carry on. It’s got to be a pure and honest bike that can do what it looks like it’s capable of doing.
"One of the stipulations for the design," says Garner, “is that if I’m out greenlining or in a gravel pit mucking about and I drop it, I want to be easily able to pick it back up on my own and carry on with my ride. It has to be durable. It’ll all be honest, with items like the bash guard being able to do the job, rather than just being there for show. The bike should last a long time, because it’ll be made with proper components."
"The chassis and geometry is all our own," says Skinner. "The more off-road focussed version will get a longer swingarm for more capability off-road. We’re certainly intended to offer both versions from birth, a street scrambler version, then a more off-road capable desert racer. The rears will be 17in on both models, and the more road biased bike will get an 18in front, while the more off-road bias one will get a 19in.
"The tricky part is getting the styling right. I’ve looked back through the old Norton models, and penned some designs with a lot of those traditional styling cues, and they just don’t look right on this. The hard part is paying homage to the heritage, without being old-fashioned, or retro – it’s got to be an authentic Norton, but it’s got to be modern.
"This is an everyday Norton," says Garner. "It’s honest and faithful, and the sort of bike I’d use as an all-year-round ride. You can imagine someone buying the V4, then having this as their everyday bike – with switchable ABS and traction control – and that’s what it’s for. In volume terms, we expect this to be our biggest seller, and we’re targeting a £10k target for the base model and around £12k for the higher-spec version. And if this bike is a success, it’ll enable us to build the 650 sportsbike – hopefully within a year of the scrambler going on sale."
Norton 650 supersport in development
Even more exciting for those who yearn for a V4 RR, but are unlikely to ever raise the funds needed to buy one, Norton also confirmed that the scrambler model will be followed into production by a sportsbike version using the same 650 parallel-twin. But don’t’ start thinking this is a budget clone of a Ninja 650, this is a proper TT lightweight destroyer.
Weighing in at a projected 140kg, and developing over 100bhp in standard trim – with the possibility of a supercharged version even further in the future that could see the output rise to 175bhp – it will redefine how we think about parallel-twin 650 sportsbikes forever – and should they choose to campaign it in the TT Lightweight, it’s nice to dream that we might see a Norton winner on the island at its debut.
But faired sportbike versions are still a long way off, so there’s no point putting one on this year’s Christmas list. Save it for 2018’s letter to Santa, for a 2019 delivery.
Norton thinking big
A little while back Norton struck a deal with Zongshen to licence their new 650cc engine platform, which also enabled Zongshen to distribute the bikes in China. As part of the deal Zongshen would be producing new bikes using the Norton engine, but nothing would be branded Norton. Now Norton have set their international sights even further by signing a joint venture agreement with Motoroyale, the motorcycle arm of Indian business group Kinetic.
Unlike the deal with Zongshen, the new joint venture will build the current range of Nortons and any future models in at Kinetic’s plant in Ahmednagar, India. These models will then be sold in India and all over Asia by 2018, although bikes destined for other markets will still be built in the UK. Kinetic have been producing motorcycles in India since 1972 and current import MV Agusta and SWM to the region.
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