At 84 years old, this Norton CS1 is the oldest motorcycle still being raced in the UK on a regular basis. It has over 400 classic race wins to its name, and it’s piloted by the Liverpool-based rider Ian Bain, with support from the helmet manufacturer Davida.
Even without such a remarkable racing pedigree, any CS1 500 is an iconic machine. Built only between 1927 and 1929, it was designed by Walter Moore and was the first ‘cammy’ Norton. This particular 1928 machine was bought for a song in 1957 by Ian’s father Geoff, from a scrapyard on the Mersey. (If you know the TV show Steptoe and Son, you’ll get the picture.) He had to push it fifteen miles home—but given the thrills and spills it’s since provided, it was well worth the effort.
A bike of this age requires a lot of maintenance, so it helps that the Bains own a foundry. They’ve replicated many of the engine parts, though you can’t tell—they’re perfect facsimiles of the originals. The carb was handmade by Ian, as were the crankcases; the originals wilted under the strain of the hard racing that Ian subjects this bike to.
The carb bell-mouth was an experiment that yielded instant improvement, as did refinements to the exhaust. Ian reckons that modifications of just 3mm (around an eighth of an inch) in those areas can dramatically boost performance. Other improvements to the bike proved difficult: Ian had to fight a committee to be allowed to use a 60s BSA 8-inch front brake, after discovering that the original was an accident waiting to happen.
Despite being raced regularly, the engine hasn’t been rebuilt for eight seasons. It’s been detuned slightly since the 1990s, when the UK vintage racing scene was at its most competitive. It’s also down to the quality of the engineering, and the strength and endurance of the classic Nortons.
The Bains’ passion for vintage racing is refreshing in these times, when big business is encroaching on so much of the racing scene. For Ian, vintage racing remains one of the last ‘pure’ racing experiences: the machines are visceral, the racing intense, and the experience captivating for riders and spectators alike.
Davida’s interest was sparked eight years ago when the Bains visited the company’s factory—the proverbial stone’s throw from the scrapyard where Geoff rescued the Norton in 1957. Ian left the factory with a Davida Jet helmet and a promise of support. Eight years later, the bike is running stronger than ever, and the helmet fits like a glove.
With thanks to Jules Watts. Images courtesy of Brian Maher.