We Ride The Rare Norton Dominator SS

Date 23.6.2016

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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One Of The Most Exclusive Nortons In The Country…

Two hundred. Fifty-three thousand. Eighty-six. Those are the winning numbers for one very special bike and one very lucky owner, who also happens to be one very talented rider.

Only 200 examples of the Norton Dominator SS will be carefully crafted, and just six currently reside in Australia, with seven more pre-sold.

The hand-built bike costs an eye-watering $52,990 (+orc) and it’s no coincidence that this bike in particular, build number 86, belongs to Cameron Donald #86,

Australia’s most successful Isle of Man TT racer, who once rode for the iconic British brand at the world’s most revered road race at breakneck speed.

But let’s get the elephant out of the room, which is sure to split opinion. You could call the Dominator SS overpriced and underpowered when you compare it with Triumph’s conceptually similar Thruxton R, which offers a lot of bang for your buck.

Its crucial numbers (1200cc, 120Nm, and $21,100 plus on-road costs), add a lot of weight to the argument. But the fact that the Dominator SS’s relatively low-tech 961cc air-cooled, parallel-twin pushrod engine produces ‘just’ 80hp and 84Nm is simply irrelevant. Likewise, spending less than half the amount on a blindingly fast, uber-advanced circa-200hp sportsbike straight off the showroom floor also doesn’t compare.

If 53-large is too much to swallow you can save almost 10 grand by opting for the more modest Dominator 961 (from $43,990), which loses the polished alloy tank, among bling bits.

Norton Dominator SS Norton Dominator SS

But Norton’s flagship cafe racer is about exclusivity. It’s about the privilege of owning and riding a rare, hand-built piece of rolling art, not mass-produced two-wheeled transport.

Of course, Norton wants us to believe that and to develop a burning desire for such things. Marketing and hype is one thing, but a brilliant, cohesively engineered motorcycle that truly moves you is another. After six hard years of development, Norton has succeeded.

SOUL GLOW

Make no mistake, this bike is hard work to ride, demanding your complete concentration without a moment’s rest. But what you put in it pays back with interest. Big time. You know you’re riding it as every nerve ending, every sensor, is overloaded with the rich purity of motorcycling from its glory days. That sounds like a wank, I know, but stay with me.

The Dominator SS is like nothing else built in the era of modern motorcycling. It’s visceral. It has soul. It’s old school, yet, in specific areas, it’s also cutting-edge. It communicates to you from head to toe through sounds, vibrations and lumpy piston pulses reminiscent of classic British bikes on a good day at full noise. You know what I mean. You can feel it: it’s called pins and needles and ringing ears, and it’s physically fatiguing yet oh-so rewarding. You’re shagged, but you just have to keep going. It eggs you on.

Norton Dominator SS Norton Dominator SS

Riding such a bike is also a double-edged sword in knowing that should something – anything – happen, God forbid, it’s Goodnight Irene to what is essentially irreplaceable. These high stakes take thrill seeking on a motorcycle to an all-new level. Adding to this is the fact that most of us probably can’t afford one, and will never truly fathom how others value their belongings when money’s no object. Sometimes it is good to be poor – you have a better appreciation for such things. Having said that, Cam bought this with his very-hard earnings. A gift from the spoils of success it is not.

Cam first laid eyes on the Domiracer during his stint with Norton at the TT. Staying with his then Norton boss Stuart Garner at his Donington Hall home in the British Midlands it also doubles as the company’s global headquarters. It is a fairytale castle with 18th-century Gothic Revival architecture, a ceiling-height library, and corridors lined with paintings of dead noblemen, knights in armour and even a bear rug fireplace. Spying the bike Cam said to his partner Kaz, “We’ve got to have one of these.” Priceless and never for sale, the road-registrable version of that bike is now their family heirloom.

Norton built just 50 examples of the Domiracer in 2014, all of which were snapped up by well-heeled Englishmen within a week. Near identical to the Dominator SS you see here, the Domiracer is distinguished by even more billet aluminium, a single gauge and the caveat that it can’t be registered for the road.

Norton Dominator SS Norton Dominator SS

POLISHED FLAW

Cam hands me the key which, surprisingly, is nothing more than a piece of plastic rubbish hardly worth 10 cents. The nondescript key conflicts with everything the bike represents, but the handover nonetheless signifies the temporary passing of the baton.

With all this in mind, I treat the bike with the utmost respect it and its owner demand and deserve. There are more flaws to the masterpiece, and nobody is more frustrated than its owner. The near-vertical sidestand can only be described as shit because you need to lean the bike past its centre of gravity for it to clear the deck. If you’re not sitting on the bike, it’s terrifying. Terrifying also describes the bike’s little steering lock, which has your foot slamming the ground to catch it from tipping as you try to make a U-turn.

There are other nuances, too.

While the footpegs are beautifully machined and appreciatively rubberised, they’re not spring-tensioned which can catch you out if they’re tucked in the upright position. It bothers Cam more than it bothered me, unlike the polished aluminium tank, which would drive me quietly mad trying to keep it clean. Not helping is the knowledge that it takes three days for Norton metal workers to shape the bike’s crowning jewel using English wheels and hand tools.

Norton Dominator SS

It’s a beautiful monochromatic bike to look at that all comes together from a few paces back. Whatever the distance, the eye is drawn to carbon fibre, CNC machining and top-shelf components, including the fully adjustable Ohlins suspension front and rear and Brembo brakes.

All the classic Dominator styling cues are there, including its classically shaped tank, unapologetically spartan bodywork, cut-down single seat and ‘Featherbed-style’, or Spondon-style, frame. Those drilled aluminium side panels are a nice bridging touch too.

Then you thumb the starter button on the modern, minimalist switchblocks and encourage the parallel twin to rumble to life with a gentle but assertive throttle blip. Cor, blimey!

Problems? What problems? This would have to be one of the most intoxicating engine notes on a modern-day motorcycle, punctuated by a pair of chest-pounding straight-through megaphone pipes. The Dominator SS comes with two pairs of exhausts and, unsurprisingly, Cam swapped the asphyxiated anorexics ones for the big barkers. Hello tunnels! If you order the regular Dominator, the megaphones are a $4500 option. Add $5500 if you want the polished tank.

Norton Dominator SS

Cam’s further tweaks include smaller indicators with halogen (not LED) globes in keeping with the trad styling and binning the Ducati Scrambler/Multistrada-esque mudguard/number plate holder thingy for a sleek tail-tidy unit. We can neither confirm nor deny the absence of mirrors either.

THE HOT SEAT

Some will describe the head-down-bum-up riding position as aggressive and uncomfortable, which is a bit unfair. Yes, the clip-ons are low, but they’re not wrist-heavy and the rearsets don’t force your legs to tuck in like they do on a modern sportsbike.

The psychological blow, however, comes from the carbon seat, which unapologetically offers only a thin strip of foam for comfort. But don’t worry about that either: it’s actually more comfortable than it looks. The laser-cut ‘N’ on the back pad is another suave touch.

Norton Dominator SS

So will you be able to comfortably ride the Dominator all day then? Probably not, but it’ll help to harden up your gooch or wear a pair of good cycling knicks under your Kevlar jeans (it’s okay, nobody needs to know). Speaking of sensitive areas, when you hit those unexpected big bumps, expect your voice to go up a few octaves thanks to that long, nut-crushing tank. It also pays to empty your bladder before setting off each time, no matter how strong you think it is.

Beyond the city limits and into the quiet, twisting hills is where the Norton is meant to be ridden. It loves it. Potholes and aggressive riding position withstanding, the Dominator is actually easy to ride with gusto. The fuelling is direct, the clutch is light and progressive and the brakes – despite not yet bedding in – are easy to modulate.

Eighty horses doesn’t seem much but, teamed with a healthy 84Nm of torque straight from the get-go, the engine’s performance offers strong flexibility that devours a diet of short-shifted gears. It slingshots down the road pretty hard until about 160km/h where its oversized rear sprocket (have a look at it!) holds it back. A replacement with fewer teeth is on Cam’s to-do list.

The top-shelf Ohlins suspension was initially firm during our back-country blast, but Cam’s barely ridden the bike, let alone adjusted it to his liking. The TTX monoshock was set up pretty right so all we had to do was make a few road-side tweaks to soften the fork preload by a few clicks. And just like that, the front and rear were working in concert; a massive difference. You’ve got to love quality suspension.

Norton Dominator SS

With everything warm, clicking, ticking and gripping in harmony, the Dominator rewards you with agile handling and confidence-inspiring keenness to flip-flop through fast-flowing twists. Its roadholding is solid and authoritative and doesn’t need to be muscled around, but it does like you to dance with it by moving about and riding it accordingly. Like I said, you know you’re riding it, and it’s bliss.

Cam has toyed with the idea of turning up the wick to at least 100hp, but was justifiably dissuaded. “Mate, why would you bother trying to turn it into something it was never meant to be?” asked a spanner-twirling friend. “If you want a 200hp bike, just go buy one.” He makes a good point.

On paper, the Dominator SS makes no sense. It’s low-tech, devoid of rider-aiding technology, exorbitantly expensive and it’ll never win a drag race with the litre sportsbike. Exclusivity aside, though, it’s an exquisitely crafted, cohesive package that commands your attention and involvement. And it rewards greatly. Well done, Cam, you deserve it.

Norton Dominator SS

 

Story by Chris Harris aka ‘CHarris’ from Cafe Racer issue #3