One of motorcycle racing’s first true superstars– Geoff Duke, known simply as “The Duke” by his circuit peers and fans, was a six-time World Champion (racking up 33 Grand Prix victories along the way), who dominated the ’50s racing scene, winning three of his titles on Snortin’ Norton bikes. After bringing home the championship three years in a row for Norton (’50, ’51 & ’52), in ’53 he moved on to race for Italy’s Gilera– not exactly an endearing move with the British fans and press, but nonetheless ‘The Duke” continued his winning streak, and would eventually find himself racing Nortons again down the road.
Duke’s racing prowess was a boost for Norton, who struggled to regain their racing foothold against the evolving postwar technology as their single cylinder machine was up against the advanced, more powerful multi-cylinder engines being cranked out by the Italians and AJS on home soil. What Norton did get right was their legendary shock-absorbing “featherbed” racing frame. The name was coined when Isle of Man TT racer Harold Daniell was quoted as saying that it was like “riding on a featherbed” as compared to riding on a “garden gate” when compared to conventional racing frames. Their featherbed frame technology, with a lower center of gravity and shorter wheelbase, combined with finessed engine placement to further maximize bike handling, were crucial in keeping the Norton Manx competitive– the mother of all badass cafe racers that are still loved today.
Ultimately, Norton frames were paired with Triumph engines by motorheads looking to create hybrid bikes that became known as “Tritons” — effectively combining their respective strengths to create fierce racing machines.
1952– The legendary Geoff Duke astride a 500cc Norton bike at the Dutch TT, Assen, the Netherlands. via
1951, Northern Ireland, UK– The line-up for the start of the Senior World Championship motorcycle race in Ulster. The winner was British motorcyclist Geoff Duke (No. 55) on a Norton bike. –Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis