Those are the Brakes
How a Piece of My Norton Went Home for the Holidays
By Dean Baker
Dean's MKIII Commando (all stock except for a sleeved front brake master cylinder)
Whilst at the Lake 'O the Pines Rallye this past fall, I noticed the front brake of my '75 Commando Roadster had developed a problem. Initial application was good, but after a few moments of continuous pressure, the lever would slowly bleed down to the grip. It's a typical "good news, bad news" type thing: the bad news is having problems with your bike at the LOP, the good news is there is no shortage of expertise to troubleshoot the problem.
During further inspection, we found that traces of brake fluid could be seen around the lever's outer piston boot. Leakage around the piston seals seemed to be the problem. This was not a surprise to me in that I had found some corrosion in the master cylinder sleeve a couple of years previously when I had purchased the bike. Old, unchanged brake fluid with its affinity for moisture had sat too long in the aluminum sleeve. I had tried to hone out the sleeve and installed a rebuild kit, but apparently the small cavities I couldn't get out had damaged the piston seals again.
After returning home I removed and disassembled the front master cylinder, purchased another rebuild kit, then did what any smart vintage Brit-bike owner in such a situation should do..... asked Berwyn Henderson to fix it. After looking the assembly over, Berwyn reported that to hone the sleeve enough to remove all traces of corrosion would probably make it too big. I needed to find another option.
Those of you familiar with our Nortons know the '75s are unique in several areas. One such area is the front brake lever assembly. 1975 was the only year for this particular mod since it was, for all intents and purposes, the last year of Norton production. Bottom line here is this: front brake master cylinder assemblies are not as easy to find as other, more commonly used parts, and if found command a premium price. I had heard of having the master cylinder resleeved, which in addition to being cheaper than replacing the entire assembly, reportedly had the added benefit of better brake "feel". I was told this is because the resleeving results in a slightly smaller diameter cylinder. Assuming the same amount of pressure at the lever, a smaller cylinder diameter (and it's corresponding decrease in area) means in greater pressure per square inch. This results in more pressure at the pads using less pressure at the lever. Talk about a win-win situation! Again drawing upon the NTNOA's seemingly inexhaustible bank of knowledge, none other than Capt. Commando himself, Phil Dansby, provided me with the name of a shop in Great Britain that did such work.
Enter RGM Motors. Allegedly operated out of an old farm in Cumbria, RGM has been selling Norton parts - genuine stuff as well as parts manufactured out in the barn, for many years. RGM's brake work has been reviewed in the INOA newsletter, and Phil Radford at Fair Spares had given me some info on their modification. They had a website (under construction), and an email address. My problems appeared to be over.
Initial email to RGM met with a fast response. Yes, the work could be done, at a cost of 45 pounds (about $65.00). Just send the part off to the address provided. That was it, no other instructions. This was mid-December.
The problems began at the post office. Since I was sending off my useless but somewhat rare part, I decided to insure it. This, of course, required a statement of its value. Since it was going international a customs form had to be affixed, stating that it was a motorcycle part and reflecting the insured value, (I put down $200.) Not having done this kind of thing before and having received no guidance from RGM, I figured that ought to do it.
The first week in January, in response to an email from me, I was informed by RGM the part had arrived and would be completed soon. Hearing nothing for two more weeks, I again inquired and was now informed that the part was stuck in Customs, and was expected at RGM soon. Subsequent emails were returned as undeliverable. At this point I decided to telephone the shop. I was told that because I had placed a value on the part and had not indicated it was going to be returned to me, British Customs was requiring RGM to pay 35 pounds duty. I was assured that this would be resolved, and not to worry. Four weeks and a couple phone calls later, RGM managed to get the part out of the Customs and had the work done shortly thereafter.
Just a little over two months after sending the part home to England, it arrived back at my home, ready to bolt on the bike. Total cost, including shipping and insurance, the repair itself, (and three phone calls to the U.K.,) came to about $125.00. Perhaps not much different than what Fair Spares would charge for a replacement, but it would have been less had I avoided the Customs problem. Nothing else appears to have been done to the part, no touch up paint job or anything.
All in all, aside from the Customs snafu, I'm satisfied. I tried to get the folks at RGM to tell me what needs to be done to avoid the customs problem, but they did not respond. Email to them is still being returned as undeliverable. (I tried using a different address thinking they had grown tired of my inquiries and had blocked me). I even used snail mail, still no response. The important thing is I did get the part back, much to the relief of all you guys who had grown tired of me complaining about it. After installation and bleeding the brake, much to my dismay I noticed a slight amount of brake fluid leaking around the piston dust cover. It was only a drop or so, and subsided after a day or two. I suspect the bedding in and slight swelling of the piston's seals once placed in operation resolved this. Brake action is good, I believe better than it was before the resleeving. Even including the cost of the phone calls, it appears to be a good deal. Best of all, I get to ride my Norton again.
Should you decide you want to have this work done, I recommend calling RGM first and clarifying what needs to be done to avoid the customs mess. Sorry, I really tried to find that out for you. Here's the number: 011-44-194-684-1517. The folks I talked to were friendly enough, although somewhat difficult to understand sometimes. The address is:
Haile Bank Farm
Internet Homepage: http://www.rgmmotors.co.uk
I invite you to also check out the comments on RGM at http://www.captain.norton.clara.net/cnn2sec12.html for some entertaining background.
Copyright © 2000 NTNOA All rights reserved.
Revised: January 29, 2008 .