For the last few years, the only talk about Norton Motorcycles has been about bankruptcy and disgraced former CEO Stuart Garner. But the brand name remains one of the most prestigious in the automotive world and the Commando is still its king. So to customise one, and to do it in a way that the anorak brigade certainly won’t approve of, comes with some trepidation. But as it turns out, the only thing that stalled Brent King’s progress was Covid-19. Now the Sensei, designer and builder behind the Mifune Werx brand is ready to reveal his 1973 Norton Commando 850, which is packed full of his personality, has plenty of Japanese twists and goes by the name ‘Asohka’.
The man from the Midwest is a Landscape Architect by day with his own firm, but bike building came from his need to get his creative ideas out of his head and work with his hands. Something he is clearly very good at because he not only builds bikes but is a martial arts instructor and sword practitioner. This particular bike came to him by way of a friend, who had bought it from small-time bike dealer with a huge personality, Art ‘Big Art’ Zander. It had sat for years unassembled at Art’s and then in his friend’s basement for another decade before the two guys decided to piece it back together.
But Brent was rightly worried his mate might fall in love with the finished product and so convinced him to sell the Commando and its collection of parts, so Brent could build it with his singular focus. Showing just 8,759 miles on the clock since new, the project started a few years ago and then stalled when Covid hit. “After picking it up again in November of 2022, and getting invited to the Mama Tried Show in February, I regained the desire to finish her.” With the tail hooped already, that was good enough for Brent to not worry about keeping it original and he was off and running.
The frame forms one of the big visual statements, and with his cousin owning a chrome shop in Cleveland, the chassis was the first piece to take a dip. “The tank was in the parts bin with the bike, and I started sketching, thinking, and conceptualising what I wanted. I created an initial drawing, but as I worked the aluminium, the front fairing really designed itself on the wheel too.” Brent was allowing the bike to come together organically and also heavily infusing it with his personality as can be in the ‘gills’ that run along the bike’s side and the brass pieces that are used to both add strength in vital areas and act as adornments.
Being the swordsman that he is, this served as inspiration for the design of many of the brass additions. “These pieces were inspired by the menuki located on the katana handle, as well as other decorative fittings seen on samurai armour.”
The tail design and the front shield that wraps around the down tubes deliver more of this mix and match of beautifully worked aluminium with intricate brass details. “The oil tank needed to be accessible, but I didn’t really want to see it, so I used cooling fins inspired by the ‘gills’ to create a feature for the rear cowl. I also decided the brake light needed to be asymmetrical, so I created a cone and three bullets to cover that.”
The leatherwork is just as impressive and was taken care of by Brent’s wife, @jupiter_8_design, an absolute weapon on the sewing machine. The subtle brown leather is beautifully cross stitched with a tan thread and from the tank strap to the knee dent pads and the seat itself, it is all an absolute work of art.
All of this looks incredible, but the functional aspect had to be strong too. Traditional way up GSXR 600 forks do wonders for the handling, as do their accompanying twin disc braking package and the modern adjustable rear shocks.
With the famous Norton engine already having had a going over before the bike was officially Brent’s, and found to be in excellent condition, it’s the little changes that make a big difference. “I wanted the exhaust to be next level and different. I decided to pull the exhaust through the centre with long simple sweeps, the rear bracket was probably the most difficult part of the exhaust.”
It gives the bike a mean look and the long velocity stacks are the perfect period part, while an NYC Norton Reed valve setup solves that period’s problem of engines dumping their oil on the floor. Modern electronics from Boyer Bransden and Podtronics and the big twin purrs like a kitten.
“The primary cover design was a result of a ‘blink’ moment when I walked by the bike and had a flash of the Hokusai Wave move through my mind.” Brent sketched out his design onto the primary, but left it for months, unsure if he had the skill to pull off what he envisaged in his mind.
He’d engraved swords and even the brass on the bike, but such an iconic image on such a major part of the bike was another step altogether. So with a spare cover just in case, the engraving was the last part of the build to be completed.
The finished result is as spectacular as the rest of the build, and like the deliberately misspelt name for the bike, it’s been done Brent’s way, and that happens to be a thing of beauty.