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Norton Seeley Commando – Worth Motorcycle Company


Posted on May 19, 2016 by Andrew in Café Racer, Classic. 29 comments

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Written by Martin Hodgson.

If you could place a value on a motorcycle there may not be another bike on the planet worth as much as this Seeley Norton Commando. Not just because it’s a Seeley Commando, the frame made on an original Colin Seeley jig in the traditional way with all the very best parts and materials used throughout the bike. But because the proceeds of the sale of this motorcycle go to supporting Worth Motorcycles, a not for profit organisation, based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that teaches at risk youth the art of building custom motorcycles and mentors them towards a better life. Founded by Jeremy Malman a former club racer whose doctoral studies focussed on the various mechanisms underlying adolescent antisocial behaviour, he’s created a place that not only changes lives but turns out some of the coolest bikes in North America.

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Many of us come to bike building and even just riding on two wheels as a form of therapy, even if consciously we don’t see it that way, whether you’re firing through the twisties or laying down a beautiful bead there is a meditative state that seems to occur when man and machine become one. Informed by his research about the role educational experience plays in adolescent antisocial behaviour, Jeremy found that these struggling students from educationally under-served charter schools significantly benefit from a setting that’s laid back, yet still professional and focused, where they have trustworthy mentors they can dialogue with, and access to an outlet to process the troubles they may not otherwise share. The net result is happy and healthy kids, guided via intellectually and emotionally stimulating vocational training, that sees these youth gain the experience they need to meet the growing skills shortage of well trained builders and fabricators and churn out incredible machines like this Seeley Commando known as Time Lapse.

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The bike is a collaboration between designer extraordinaire Sebastian Errazuriz, NYC Norton and the legendary Dick Gambino but it all starts with a Seeley MKII frame that has been constructed by Roger Titchmarsh; the only man authorised by Colin Seeley to replicate the Seeley chassis. The jig holds the 17 gauge Reynolds 531 tubing in an inverted position but to allow for easy welding the whole thing can be rotated like a rotisserie. The head stock is thick 8 gauge CFS3 BK tube with the main frame loops CNC mandrel bent by Pipecraft in the UK, a modern touch to the classic process. The tubes are joined by hand Bronze welding with oxy-acetylene, including a gas-fluxer, and Sifbronze 101 Manganese Bronze filler. The box section swing arm pivot mounts are mild steel, single sheets that are folded over to form the box section with the welds to join it to the frame simply to die for. The subframe is then crafted with seat and shock mounts and the swingarm fabricated in a separate jig. Of course the whole process is much more complex than can be described in one article but it is done in an exacting and precise manner from start to finish.

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The frame itself is a work of art and given the quality of brazing all involved decided to leave it unpainted. Which requires the occasional rub down with Scotch-Brite and WD40, a small price to pay to keep it in the raw, but you wouldn’t sling a cupboard full of clothes onto Monica Bellucci either! With such an incredible frame to begin the project it was over to NYC Norton and Kenny Cummings and the crew to put together one hell of an engine. The build process starts with Steve Maney racing cases that have been machined to take the Colorado Norton Works breather setup, which virtually eliminates leaking on Norton motors by creating negative pressure in the crankcases. Alloy cylinders come from Steve Maney too, weighing in almost 12lbs less than standard Norton Commando barrels. The barrels are 850cc bore that are sleeved down to 750, this allows for the use of an 850cc head, which has a wider bolt pattern than 750 heads and allows more room for overbores in the future.

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Inside you’ll find a set of custom JS Motorsport pistons that are made by JE in the standard 73mm bore weighing a third less than the factory slugs, reducing both the reciprocating mass and vibration. Compression is a horsepower friendly 11.5:1 with “gapless” rings fitted to reduce blowby and prevents heat & corrosive gases from entering the crankcase. Like all good classics the engine is fed fuel the old school way with Keihin’s responsive FCR getting the job done. Spent gasses exit via individual header pipes into a pair of stunning polished mufflers that run parallel to the bottom frame tube. All that power is handled by the stock Norton Commando diaphragm spring clutch, with 5 Barnett friction and 5 stock steel plates. While keeping wiring hidden and the electrical simple is all helped by a Total-loss setup with an Antigravity 4600 lithium battery which weighs less than a kilogram.

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“The bird is intended to represent the fragile and often precarious balance between freedom and death – a notion never more present than when one is riding a motorcycle”

Built for the Salon 94 at Art Basel Miami and later displayed at the Carnegie Museum of Art the journey to motorcycle nirvana continued with another of the best in the business, Dick Gambino, creating the stunning body work. An old school shaper and fabricator Dick is quite simply an artist whose medium is metal and polished aluminium is his master class. The seat and front fairing give the racer look, with minimalist padding in black and clear screen allowing the metal of the motor, body and frame to remain the pure elements. But it is the gas tank that is the pièce de résistance, it’s flowing, unbroken lines only interrupted on the top of the tank by a taxidermied bird resting inside a glass vestibule that is embedded into the gas-tank. “The bird is intended to represent the fragile and often precarious balance between freedom and death- a notion never more present than when one is riding a motorcycle,” explains Jeremy.

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Even the smaller details of the build haven’t been ignored, the rearsets beautifully fabricated and fitting the race theme of the bike, while the kickstart reminds you of the classic era this machine hails from. The neat clip-ons sit perfectly on the forks cutting a clean line where the frame tubes meet the headstock and fitted with a Tomaselli Twin-Pull throttle add another racing element. The polished front forks hold the calipers for the twin disc setup, while out back adjustable shocks keep the rear end planted with a single disc and low slung caliper. The rolling stock is all business with lightweight Excel rims laced with spokes to the hubs and all wrapped up nicely with Avon rubber. There is just a single headlight to shine the way down life’s new journey and a Scitsu Racing Tacho giving the only information, the rest you have to do by feel and intuition.

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This is an ex-parrot

Pictured in its finished form it’s not only a remarkable motorcycle built to an incredible standard it’s a testament to NYC Norton and all involved in providing much needed support to young people like Kevin, Rey, Jared, Reynold and many more from Brooklyn so they can be given a chance to shine. Jeremy, along with a small group of sponsors and the organisation’s board of directors, have bootstrapped the project from the beginning, but this, of course, is not a viable, long-term model. In order for Worth Motorcycles to continue to carry out its mission and to be able to serve more students, the time has come for the organisation to launch a formal fundraising campaign. You can support this incredible initiative and ensure the future of bike building is in good hands by helping out Worth Motorcycles and the kids from Crown Heights by giving a donation big or small right here. It’s an investment in their lives, in a creative and therapeutic environment and in the future of hand crafted custom motorcycles.

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The team in front of another build at the Worth Motorcycle Company x Industrial Color Event








  • John Wanninger

    From this point forward, whenever anyone says “coffin tank”, this is what I’ll see.

  • Stoney Tim

    Such a cool bike, such a weird bird.

    • guvnor67

      For some reason “Surfin Bird” from Full Metal Jacket snuck into my tired head. Still, awesome bike tho.

      • Hardley T Whipsnade III

        Looking at this I can’t get Monty Python’s ” Dead Parrot ” sketch out of my head . As for the bike , not quite to my tastes but there’s no doubting the quality , work and passion that went into it . The dead bird in the gas tank / sarcophagus though I could definitely do without

    • Tyler Stone

      Agreed. Awesome bike from every angle. Naked aluminum is a beautiful thing. But that bird is just odd. I saw the first top-down shot of the tank and thought that maybe it was some airbrushing/pinstriping of some kind. Then found out it’s a dead bird. Wtf?

      • I love how incongruous it is. Surreal almost. Genius.

        • Really Andrew? Genius? How about unbelievably lame. All that talent, money and skill, and I can’t find one good thing praise other than the fairing.

          • Honkylips

            That’s probably because this isn’t built for you, remember?

  • guvnor67

    Beautiful. And if it doesn’t put a smile on the faces of those perusing this site like it has the youngsters whose lives It’s changing, then condemn me to a life of OCC repeats and luke warm beer.

  • bill barker

    Very cool bike – agreed…and the bird is a bit over the top weird. I can see it deteriorating in the sun…Hope not – look forward to their next project.

  • Luke Hughes

    First and foremost to Scott and Andrew thank you for sharing about this bike and this group; cheers to Pipeburn and the staff; fantastic post! In all aspects, solely “beautiful” and absolutely “unique” is what comes to mind; the story, the motorcycle, the group and the thought. To Jeremy, the volunteers and the kids behind this build WELL DONE and Very Well Done!

  • Blackbird

    Maddness, i’m in love.

  • krish

    Great build!! Congrats…

  • Alasdair Sykes

    Loving the petrol tank parrot. I pulled some roadkilled rat out of my engine mounts the other day… but if this is the new trend then maybe I’ll leave the next one in.

    On a serious note – amazing bike and fantastic project. The world needs more people like these guys. Kudos to the kids as well, what a great project to be involved with.

  • Larry Kahn

    In the same light as the bird being a reminder of fragile life, when I start to ride stupid I try to take a little extra notice of the physical state of road-kill I pass and that usually reminds me to back off a tad.
    Great bike, good story.

  • arnold

    yup

  • Wrhinrichsen

    Been riding for over 45 years
    There a few bikes in the shed including a ‘1974 Norton 850 and a Honda CBR 1000RR. So……..couple things here………it IS a lovely bike……….but and its a big but……..this was a school project????………..and your mother didn’t help you on that school
    Project either………. And the philosophical BS of death and destruction on a bike……..represented
    By a dead bird IN the tank. BIZZARRO WORLD…………..still a
    Nice bird,Er build

  • This bird-in-tank thing is just beyond contempt. What’s next? Abortion in a battery box? And after giving the bike a second and third look, stupid bird coffin aside, I see a jumble of parts, and no coherent vision. No finishing touches.
    Cables blocking the speedo. Crude fit and finish. Boring monochrome. Zip ties everywhere. The seat doesn’t sit. Holes with no bolts in them. Side covers bolted on crooked. I mean, it must be a joke on us.
    The explanation re the dead bird is, well, just read it. I’m embarrassed for these guys.
    I really could go on but why bother?

    I like the fairing.

    • Blackbird

      Look,
      it’s very common that a patient who has fecal impaction to demonstrate irritable moods, often redircting thier anger towards staff and small dogs.
      Now, while your probably worried about the big complications of fecal impaction, such as ischemia developing into tissue hypoxia, cellular necrosis, bowel perforation into the abdominal cavity resulting in septic infection and ultimately death, fear not dear revsome, you do have options. There are a lot of laxatives available tailored to your specific impaction. I would recommend Musinix for a bulk laxative, its over the counter, but take it with lots of water and make sure to walk several times a day to encourage intestional peristalsis and loosen the impaction.

      Your primary provider may also recommend one of several surfactants to reduce the surface tension of your impacted poop. In simplest terms, surfactants help water to enter the poop, loosening it and get it moving. Beside taking in adequate amounts of water, you should also be eating plenty of soluable and insoluable fiber in your diet because it is necessary for your body and have something to attach triglycerides and cholesterol to. With fiber, your body has something to physically attach the fats and metabolic waste to, while smooth muscles of the GI use a wave like muscle contraction, called peristalsis, to move the bulk to your bum hole to be eliminated.

      During impaction such as yours, it is typically the bloating associated with the bowel impaction that would cause you so much discomfort and irritability. If the impaction is chronic in nature or idiopathic in origin, your primary physician may refer you to a GI specialist for further diagnosis and testing.

      One of the simpliest preventative measures is to drink water or coffee with cream BEFORE reading about some kids trying to learn new skills and become more involved with motor bikes.
      But i do recommend that your get tested for the impacted feces, if you don’t, it will eventually back up the GI system far enough, it will come out of your mouth and land on your keyboard.
      Cause, if that happens, then you will just be spewing crap.

      • Really?

      • jlgace

        I realize I’m way behind on the blog and the comments, but I just have to say that was awesome. One thing I love about Pipeburn, the comments section is almost self-policing.

  • STUNNING. While the bird gives it the art bike vibe it is clearly meant to be ridden, hard. Love the dichotomy between the aesthetics of the polished everything and the raw purely functional, no-nonsense mechanical, race ready vibe of it. While the bird in the tank is kind of a one-liner it kind of sets this build apart and I find myself liking it more the more I look at it..

  • Jester the Clown

    Some excellent fabrication here and it’s refreshing to see a machine featured on which function takes precedence over form.
    Apart from the dead bird, of course.

  • ” “The bird is intended to represent the fragile and often precarious balance between freedom and death- a notion never more present than when one is riding a motorcycle,” explains Jeremy.”

    What a joke. Do these heroes think that a rotting, stinking bird in the tank makes a profound statement? This bike has been done a thousand times by one man in an English shed. Way better.

    This bike shouts out “We did it for a good cause”.

    All that time, money and talent wasted

    Still like the fairing though..

  • Racing Enthusiast

    The bird might be too far from the engine for proper cooking.

    • Honky lips

      Well, Judging by the size of that chubby little hand, you should probably switch from hot dogs and white bread to more bird. Lean meat and all that.

  • The bird in the tank is lame. But anything that hasn’t been done is considered cool these days. The bike has lots of areas that appeared unfinished or still in work. One easy clean up would be to trim the lower edge of the seat to match the seat rail. Not hard to do, what with all the work into the seat already. Perhaps NYC Norton should have just a bit more involved?

  • jlgace

    Beautiful bike. Kudos to the founder of this initiative. If it turned life around for one kid it was worthwhile. I’m thinking the bird has caused some hurt feelings in the comments, possibly rendering some unable to appreciate the bike itself. That said, the other nitpicks show it’s hard to fault this bike otherwise.

  • Charter of Carnaro

    Great idea and something I would like to support but I find the details a bit vague. How exactly is Worth helping these “at risk youth”? We see a few apparently candid photos of kids around a classic machine or two- are they going on to get jobs in motorcycle repair? Are they working toward owning classic bikes of their own? or perhaps after these high dollar creations are sold some of the money goes to the kids, the families or some other social organization? I would be curious to hear the details of how this works and in what way this worth is equitably distributed. I’m sure having this descibed in some detail would help them raise funds and generate interest.