2016 Norton Dominator
The new Dominator from Norton captures the look and feel of the limited-edition Domiracer, but with a more production-friendly and street-legal layout. Norton may have been a bit surprised at the pace at which the Domiracers got snapped up and at the high rate of conversion to street-legal status, but its response was right on target.
Not only does the Dominator resurrect a venerable and storied name, but it shows that this once-mighty, British racebike factory that started out in the late 19th century is still relevant here in the beginning of the 21st. You see, the company fell prey to the flood of cheap Japanese imports during the ’60s and ’70s, and even broke up and changed hands a few times in subsequent years.
Honestly, there was a time when I really felt the same as I did about the original Indian Motorcycle company; once it closed down and changed hands the first time, it wasn’t the same ever again. Well, the new Indian under Polaris made me eat those words once, so join me to see if Norton does so again with its new/old race/street bike.
Continue reading for my review of the Norton Dominator.
2016 Norton Dominator
What we have here is a fairly typical British cafe’ racer that’s been stripped of all but the most essential components for a look so spare you would swear it was just an engine with wheels and a seat added on as an afterthought. Of course, this is partly an optical trick aided by the cleaned out area behind the engine that allows you to see through the bike, but the bike is rather Spartan, which is as it should be.
The upper lines move aft across the gentle curve of the deeply notched (for your knees) fuel tank before the precipitous drop to the saddle and butt-retaining scoop that’s molded right into the tail fairing. No provisions are made for a two-up seat, and the truncated carbon-fiber tail leaves the Dominator looking a bit assless, but in the coolest possible way.
Jockey-mount footpegs and drag bars place the rider in an aggressive, forward-leaning riding position that is probably great for carving canyons, but for the daily commute, not so much. Drilled out braces, cut down fenders and an asymmetrical flyscreen all lend the Dominator a garage-custom look right off the showroom floor with impossible to ignore British overtones.
Norton starts out with a double-downtube, double-cradle frame and elegant Trellis swingarm made from steel tubing, no fancy aluminum twin-beam skeleton or any such, just a traditional, straightforward set of bones. The backbone runs straight back from the steering head to the subframe for that typical, stiff-back cafe’ stature and 32-inch seat height.
This is by no means a drag bike and is meant to be able to handle urban traffic maneuvers as well as carve twisty backroads, as evidenced by the steering geometry. The steering head comes set at 24 degrees with 3.9 inches of trail, numbers that definitely put the handling characteristics into the agile side of the spectrum.
Although the frame looks fairly low tech with the exception of the swingarm, of course, the suspension components are anything but. A pair of 43 mm, inverted Ohlins forks supports the front end on 4.53 inches of travel with compression/rebound damping and preload adjustments built right in. The rear end is likewise pampered by an Ohlins TTX36 monoshock that provides 3.94 inches of travel and comes with adjustable compression damping, ride height and preload settings.
Brake components also come off the top shelf with Brembo products all around. Dual, four-pot, opposed-piston Mono bloc calipers bind the 320 mm stainless steel discs up front, and a two-pot caliper binds the 220 mm disc in back. If you are looking for fancy brake augmentations at this point, abandon hope, Norton keeps it simple and honest with nothing in the way of ABS or brake linking to complicate things. Riders must rely on their on-board, Mark I “skill” feature.
Laced rims mount the 17-inch tires, and if you aren’t feeling the polished spokes and blackout rims, Norton offer a set of carbon fiber rims as an accessory that might be right up your alley, though they may break the bank.
Norton points out early and often that the engine powering the Dominator was made in-house, a definite feather in the cap of a company that for a large part of its history used powerplants built by others. What they wound up with looks as though it could have been torn from a history book, and looks as typically British as a 45-degree V-twin looks typically American.
Primarily an air-cooled engine, a fairly unobtrusive oil cooler at the top of the downtubes helps bleed off waste heat from the engine’s lifeblood for an extra layer of protection. Bore and stroke measure out at 88 mm and 79 mm respectively, for an oversquare layout and a total displacement of 961 cc. An old-school pushrod valvetrain times the twin-valve heads, and the engine relies on electronic fuel injection and two-way catalytic converters to meet emissions standards.
British twins have always been all about the torque, and this one is no exception. At 5,200 rpm it cranks out a total of 66 pound-feet of torque backed up by 78 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, plenty for its purposes but a little low compared to similarly priced modern sportbikes.
Brembo supplies the hydraulic clutch actuator for the multi-plate wet clutch that couples engine power to the constant-mesh, five-speed transmission. As with the brakes, the engine controls are no-nonsense with no traction control, rider modes or fancy dual throttle plates between the riders wrist and the throttle bodies.
Unfortunately, the sticker really brings the pain at $28,995 for 2016, which is an awful lot of money to pay for such an unsophisticated bike no matter how cool it looks. Of course, if you have the money and just have to have a British cafe’, this one definitely makes a statement.
Interest in cafe’ racers has been on a definite upswing in the last few years, and there is no shortage of bikes of this ilk on the market right now, but for me the only decision was whether to go with another Brit, or go Italian instead. In the end, the Triumph Thruxton 1200 seemed as good of a fit as any. Both bikes just ooze cafe’ racer charm, though the Thruxton carries a more traditional look with all the normal clutter and none of the breezy open look so prevalent with the Dominator. Make no mistake, they both look really cool, just in slightly different ways.
Norton picks up a win with its fully adjustable Ohlins suspension versus the rather vanilla components on the Thruxton that offer only a basic preload adjuster at the rear. Norton also gains an edge with its Brembo binders versus Nissin on the Trumpet, but the Thruxton does come with switchable ABS which is liable to be a draw for some.
Triumph starts out with something of an unfair advantage in the engine department. The Thruxton runs a 1200 cc mill that somewhat dwarfs the 961 cubes in the Dominator, and that shows up in the power metrics with 97 horsepower and 82.6 pound-feet of torque versus 78 ponies and 66 pound-feet from the Norton. Trumpet definitely shows a more progressive mindset at this point with switchable traction control, ride-by-wire throttle and three separate riding modes, which is great if you are into that sort of thing. Me personally, I think simpler is better in most cases.
Norton really takes a shot at the checkout counter with a drastic price differential. The $29K-plus MSRP on the Dominator thrusts it into a category all its own where pricing lends it a certain exclusivity, which is great and fine for a very narrow slice of an already niche market but not so good otherwise. The much more reasonable $12,500 (Jet Black) or $12,750 (Competition Green) tag on the Thruxton coupled with its charming cafe’ looks and technologically advanced features is bound to make it more popular in the Hipster scenes wherever they occur. Well-heeled old-school riders are more likely to appreciate what Norton put together here, and I, for one, am feeling it.
“Man! This ride is sharp as a rat’s turd, and I love the simplicity of the whole project even if I recognize that many will be turned off by same. As for the price, I fear Norton may be banking a little bit too much on name recognition, or maybe the price is to draw a certain type of clientele, I don’t know. I just hope the factory isn’t shooting itself in the foot right out of the gate with this otherwise very interesting and sexy little sled.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “A guy by the name of Bert Hopwood — a name you might recognize from the Triumph Speed Twin design team — designed the original Dominator in 1947 and 1948. From th late 1940s through to the late 1970s, the Dominator twin was the engine of choice at Norton. This modern version is quite simplistic in design, almost too bare of technology to be a current model; but from a mechanical standpoint, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is usually easier to work on.”
|Engine type:||In house developed parallel twin with dry sump lubrication. Black with polished covers.|
|Valve actuation:||Push rod, hydraulic roller lifter, 2 valves per cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke:||88mm x 79mm|
|Power:||80PS at 6500RPM|
|Torque:||90Nm at 5200RPM|
|Ignition:||Crank fired electronic fuel injection & 2 way catalytic converters. Euro 3 compliant.|
|Gear box:||5-Speed, Constant Mesh|
|Final drive:||525 O-ring chain|
|Front wheel:||36 spoke 3.5" x 17" Black Rim|
|Rear wheel:||40 spoke 5.5" x 17" Black Rim|
|Front tyre:||120/70 x 17"|
|Rear tyre:||180/55 x 17"|
|Front wheel travel:||115mm (4.53")|
|Rear wheel travel:||100mm (3.94")|
|Seat height:||813mm (32")|
|Front suspension:||43mm Black-line Ohlins USD - adjustable preload, compression & rebound damping|
|Rear suspension:||Ohlins TTX 36 mono shock with remote reservoir - adjustable ride height, preload and compression|
|Front Brakes:||Full Brembo system, twin Brembo 320mm fully-floating high carbon stainless steel discs & Brembo 4 piston "Mono bloc" radially mounted calipers. Brembo radial front brake master cylinder with remote reservoir.|
|Rear Brakes:||Full Brembo system, single Brembo 220mm disc & Brembo 2 piston calliper. Brembo rear brake master cylinder|
|Clutch:||Brembo radial hydraulic clutch master cylinder with remote reservoir and Brembo slave cylinder|
|Power:||80PS @ 6500rpm|
|Torque:||90Nm @ 5200rpm|
|Electronics & Controls:|
|Charging system:||300 watt hi-output charging system|
|Instrumentation:||Norton electronic analogue speedo and tachometer|
|Starting system:||Electric push button start|
|Colour Options:||Titanium Grey with Black Pinstripe|