Unless otherwise credited, all words and photographs are © David Ritchie and may not be used without permission.
Feb 24 The quiet port. Port Bruce, 14 km south of Aylmer on Lake Erie, was once a busy commercial fishing port. Today it is a quiet gem of a village, only busy in the summer with campers and sport boaters, family picnics on the beach. It is a frequent watering hole for us on motorcycles- coffee, tea or soft drinks only- at the Cornerview cafe.
*See the rest of this story here.*
Feb 16 An email from Loblaws caught my attention due to the outrageous subject line: “Shop from the comfort of your warm, wonderful bed.”
Retail businesses are constantly coming up with ways to keep the customer out of the store. They don’t want to have us in there, maybe asking for assistance, wasting our profitable time. And then there’s that pesky check-out business. More time is taken, more employees to pay. Much simpler if they stay home and use a credit card- hopefully, one owned by the store. More profit from outrageous interest charges.
Much better to stay in bed, order your Twinkies and pizzas, and gorge on the imported feast, develop an even larger appetite and girth. Perhaps you can be enticed to purchase one of our newest houseware products- a bedpan!
No more bothersome trips to the toilet. Mustn’t lose the heat from that warm, wonderful bed.
See Photo Restorations for a recent effort on an extremely rough photo.
Feb 11 The quiet Canadian. We Canucks are a self-deprecating lot and have traditionally looked at our giant southern neighbour as the masters of invention, the creators of all the good, modern things and, of course, culture- however fake that may be.
In many cases, they are masters of the illusion that they’ve invented and created so much. In many cases, they’ve been masters of the patent, the con, and the claim to Canadian inventions.
Example: the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland, moved to America with his parents, and in 1870 moved to Paris, Ontario. He developed the telephone in nearby Brantford and first registered a patent in Britain. Later, he registered a patent in the US. That was good enough for the Americans- the telephone is now an American invention.
Similarly, Thomas Edison was a cad of the first degree, stealing inventions from Tesla and others, then patenting them in his name. The light bulb was patented in Canada five years before Edison made a few changes and patented his bulb.
A Canadian- James Naismith- invented basketball while working in the US. That’s good enough for the US, basketball is as American as stealing an apple pie.
Fortunately, the list of inventions by Canadians in Canada is very long, and in many cases, surprising. Many of them changed the lives of millions of people. Insulin, invented by Frederick Banting, is perhaps the most significant, but there hundreds more.
Some examples: Electron microscope, Blackberry, prosthetic hand, Imax, Atomic clock, marine screw propeller, Alkaline battery, Music synthesizer, Self-propelled combine harvester, Hydrofoil boats, Snowmobile, Snowblower, Clothing zipper, Amplitude modulation (radio), Radio voice transmission, Walkie-Talkie, Electric wheelchair, paint roller, Railway car brake, Quartz clock, Television camera, Instant replay, Plexiglass, Wireless radio, and many more.
Looking at that shortlist you’ll see that many Canadian inventions have created our modern world. The longlist is astounding.
One dubious item is the green plastic garbage. And another that we need more of, UV degradable plastic.
Let’s not forget Superman, invented in Toronto (Metropolis), Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star (Toronto Star). Artist was Canadian Joe Shuster. The writer was Jerry Siegel, American born, living in Toronto- that’s likely enough for the Americans to call Superman an American.
Feb 7 Icons and con artists. I’m disheartened to learn that Norton motorcycles are gone, again. The brand that I lusted for in my youth, a lust that resulted in my ownership of two Nortons in later years.
Once again a British motorcycle has fallen victim to greed and corruption. In the mid-’60s to the early ’70s, the Brits were under pressure from Japanese advances into the international motorcycle business. Their reaction was limp and self-serving. Essentially they ignored the charge led by Honda into their market.
The British reaction was, “No self-respecting motorcyclist would ride a small foreign bike.” How wrong they were. It was essentially a racist, superior attitude.
Japanese motorcycles were oil-tight, reliable, inexpensive and very well built. British bikes had few of those traits, and yet we bought those bikes. Triumph, Norton, BSA, Matchless, Vincent and many more- all had a very long history. Plus they were cool. Brando rode a Triumph in The Wild Ones, Steve McQueen raced them. They were fast, light, and stylish, and sounded right, but were not without faults.
“Sir must accept that a motorcycle leaks a little motor oil and occasionally breaks down.” Well, sir didn’t accept that when offered an alternative. Soichiro Honda, a brilliant engineer and industrialist wisely led the charge into the Brit market by attacking their position of strength: road racing.
The Isle of Man TT was- and still is- hallowed ground, the place to “race on Sunday, sell on Monday.” It had worked for decades. Norton had huge successes, the Norton Manx, named for the Isle where it dominated for many years, sold many Nortons on Monday.
Gradually the howl of multi-cylinder, technically superior engines replaced the growl and thump of British twins and singles on the starting grid and the podium. Champion racers Mike Hailwood and Phil Read jumped ship, signing contracts with Honda and Yamaha. Racers want to win, allegiance to a brand ends at the finish line where bonuses were earned.
The Brits, rather than spending money on R&D to compete, let the accountants run the show. If we’re selling fewer bikes, well, we’ll just make them more profitable. What became known as parts-bin bikes showed up on the market. Assembled from parts made for previous models, they were poorly built, unimaginative designs.
The one shining light was the Norton Commando, one of the most attractive British bikes ever. I owned two of them. They were powerful and had a new engine mount, Isolastic, that cured the vibration problem of big twin-cylinder engines. They looked and sounded like real motorcycles. But there was still the underlying problems: oil leaks and constant maintenance was needed to keep them running. Norton was simply delaying the inevitable. Bankruptcy followed after seven years of production.
My 1972 Norton Commando after restoration.
The classic Norton engine and transmission.
Various concerns in the USA tried to revive the brand with an engine that looked like the handsome original but built with advanced technology- electronic ignition, overhead camshafts, oil seals that actually sealed, electric start and much more. The lessons of economics ended their efforts- it requires very large investments of capital to build and sell motorcycles. The new Commando had to sell for a far higher price than comparable bikes to allow for some profit. After several years, the Norton tent was folded up once more.
Several years later Stuart Garner, a Brit, decided to have a go at reviving the Norton brand. He hired talented designers and engineers to build a new Norton Commando. It was beautiful, with top-drawer suspension, frame and brakes, a leak-proof modern engine that was a clever imitation of the original.
The motorcycle press favourably reviewed the bike, the major criticism being the cost. Unmentioned was the long waiting list to buy one, with the money demanded upfront. That should have rung alarm bells, but the cache of owning the rare and expensive beauty appealed to many who had the funds to afford one.
All the while Stuart Garner was in full weasel mode. He bilked untold millions from investors, kept the deposits on bikes with no intention of building them, and went so far as talking the employees into investing their own retirement pension funds they accrued before joining the company. He burned the Chinese engineering and development firms that he had used. Norton owes hundreds of thousands in unpaid taxes and multi-millions to investors. It’s all very sordid.
Stuart Garner: the Bernie Madoff of British motorcycle manufacturing. Not a legacy to be proud of. The list of people who would like to wrap their hands around his throat must be very long.
Norton is now in Administration which is similar to Chapter 11 in the US. It will likely end in bankruptcy.
Triumph motorcycles are the business model of how the Norton saga could have succeeded. John Bloor, the owner of Triumph Motorcycles, revived the marque from the same bankruptcy that Norton, BSA and all the other British motorcycles ended in.
Bloor invested his own fortune, gained from his previous construction industry career. He hired the best engineers and designers to build proper, reliable, successful bikes. Triumph has a large model lineup from the ultra-modern to a range of models based upon the classic Bonneville.
Triumph has survived despite a drastic fire that destroyed the factory, the recession of 2018, and extremely competitive pressure from Europe, Japan, India (most motorcycles built and sold in the world), China, Taiwan and Indonesia. Triumph is a model for anyone considering reviving marques from the past.
The first rule is to bring lots of cash, and expect to need much more. Be patient and re-invest sales income. Hire the best talent and treat them right. Pay your suppliers and your taxes. Be honest.