Russ Swinnerton on NOC-L
I have two rotaries, and find them incredible bikes. The F1
lacks the top end of the modern 900cc superbikes, but has better midrange than
almost everything except the Suzuki TL1000. I did a back-to-back with a TL1000
and my F1 while roadtesting the former, and covered the same roads in almost the
same conditions. I preferred the F1: it is more useable, and handled better,
although that could be because I'd done more miles on the F1.
There seems to be a bit of revisionist slagging off at F1s in some modern motorbike magazines - one made a big thing of the unavailability of Rotella 'rotary' oil. Rotella is of course a Shell oil for diesel engines, which rotaries also like, and is available everywhere. Don't believe the bad press. The F1 was/is a fine motorcycle, despite a few faults that a Mk.ll would see rectified. I ran mine in tropical Malaysia for a year without overheating problems too, supposedly a major failing.
The brakes do feel eight years old now, compared to the state of the art, and are better on a race track than on the road: they seem to work best when applied hard. I always enjoy looking at a modern superbike with its clothes off, particularly one that is a year or two old: the poorer build and component quality, compared to the F1, really stands out when the showroom gloss wears off. F1s do not look (or act) their age.
I interviewed David Garside a couple of years ago, and he talked about the next generation, with fuel injection, and a centrifugal cooling fan that separates the oil from the cooling air to give a circulating, rather than total loss, lubrication system. I would love to see a new Norton rotary version 2.01, with the bugs fixed, but I like the F1 so much that I doubt I would trade mine in although the F1 is a handful in traffic, and I wouldn't want to commute on it.
The Commander, by comparison, is very civilised, in or out of the city, and my favourite bike when weather conditions are poor. The power characteristics of the rotary make it ideal over slippery surfaces, and the fairing gives it plenty of presence. The twin daytime riding lights and horn also help and the riding position is ideal for a trip. The front forks don't look beefy enough for the weight of the bike, although they work OK. Handling is pretty fair, but front tyre condition and pressure are critical: when the tyre goes off, the head shakes.
The gearbox is a load of rubbish, though: someone said it evolved from a Triumph model, and it feels like it. If you are used to the feel of the AMC box on a Commando or Dommie, the Commander's box will disappoint. Mine makes more noise in third than the exhaust. Overall, I think the Commander would need quite a lot of updating to match the modern Honda equivalent, but it is still more than satisfactory at doing its job of carrying two people and loads of luggage over long distances.
I've got some rotary road-test text from some locally-published articles I can send to individual addresses if anyone is interested, but it's gushy.
Russ Swinnerton (email@example.com) on NOC-L 12th. Apr 1998