Saturday, November 27, 2010


Catherine and her Norton Commando Roadster in Paris, 1971
Catherine, who prefers her privacy, started riding in the heady year of 1969.  She always liked motorcycles, and had a boyfriend who rode one of the first Honda CB 750s, but "he scared me, as a passenger, by going too fast.  I decided to get my own bike.  That way, I could control things." Her first choice, a Yamaha DT1 Enduro 250cc, was a bear to kickstart, even for two-stroke, but she kept it for a year...not bothering with a driver's license!

By 1971 she decided a Norton Commando 750 (above, wearing its usual chrome tank) was the bike for her, which led to a string of Commandos, ending with an 850cc Interstate electric-start, which lacked the svelte grace of the previous Roadster models and didn't stay long.  She kept that first Norton for 39 years; it endured a string of other bikes as garage-mates, including a Dresda-framed Suzuki racer (a twin-cylinder two-stroke, weighing all of 110kg), and a lot of Hondas.  The very first Gold Wing in France was hers (the importer was a friend), but Catherine found it horrible..."it was a big shit, and I sold it in 3 weeks. It always felt like it was falling over in corners, and simply wasn't fun...I preferred sporty bikes, and at the time I wanted the biggest bike of all...very American!" she laughs.  By contrast, she also had the very first Honda Dax in France, with a floral seat.

In the early 70s, many of her friends rode Harleys, but she chose a Norton. "Everybody had a Harley Davidson; it was popular to say 'I have a Harley', but my friends who owned them weren't really fond of motorcycles...they just wanted to say they had one.  They didn't ride very well, it was all for show.  
I was working for La Moto magazine in Paris, as a test rider for bikes.  I was also asked to model for a lot of ads which needed a woman on a bike.  Once, I was approached for a commercial for 'Genie' soft drinks, which was filming in that part of Spain they use for Western movies.  They needed a woman who could ride an Enduro bike, so I got the call.  It happened that Giacomo Agostini was also used for the film, so I was able to interview him at the same time.  The article was published in La Moto.  I rode with a gang who were friends with some famous people, so we were pretty visible around Paris."

Her distinctive leathers were made by Parisian Albert Hirsch, whose company 'Dada Cuirs' (Dada Leathers) made some of the finest racing and riding outfits in the world, kitting all the French GP stars from 1971-84; Bernard Fau, Jean-Claude Chemarin, Charles Krajka, and most notably, his friend Michel Rougerie, wearing Dada leathers in the fantastic film Le Cheval de Fer (check out this youtube teaser - if you haven't seen it, buy it!).  Hirsch earned his scissors at fashion houses Lanvin and Hermés, and the quality of Catherine's leathers is clear - they are still in excellent shape nearly 40 years later.

Hirsch made her two sets of one-piece leathers, one in black, the other red, with the black meant to be tucked into boots, and the red with bell-bottoms - the height of fashion.  He made the custom 'flaming Norton' logo for her chest, and Catherine's personal logo, the panther, for the back.

Catherine "considered having the panther tattooed on my arm, but walking into the parlor and seeing the tattoo artist and a very stoned customer turned me off completely, and I walked out.  Now I'm glad I didn't do it."  While she included her leathers with the Norton when sold earlier this year (they don't fit anymore!), she kept a fur-lined riding jacket; "I had Dada make the fur collar really tall so it would cover my nose while riding and keep my face warm."

Regarding the was difficult for her to sell such a long-time friend, but she "finally found someone I felt would take good care of it" in Paris, along with her leathers... although she's keeping the beautiful hand-painted tank which adorns it for these photographs.  It's a spare, which she gave to a group of artist and musician friends in '71 to paint as they chose, and she loved the result.  A treasured possession, she declines to publicize who did the work, as the artist didn't sign it, and she doesn't want to be bothered by 'trophy hunters'.

What I can say about this tank, painted in an era of 'heightened consciousness' in is simply sublime, one of the finest custom paint jobs on a motorcycle tank I've ever seen, very sweet in a depiction of youthful, virginal innocence, the Springtime of life.  Alas, that image was stark contrast to the reality of the time, when so many of Catherine's friends "used Everything", while she preferred the high of riding a powerful motorcycle.  Sadly, the painter died soon after the tank was finished, a victim of his own indulgence, but Catherine keeps the tank, and her memories, close at hand.


SonicSeb said...

very nice story !

Murfs Spot said...

Paul,being born in Dublin Ireland in the early sixties and moving to Bordeaux then Karlshrue when i was seventeen,then to the U.S. when I was 24,it was interesting to read Cathrines comments regarding the "American" riders and the "Bigger is Better" motorcycle culture,and also her comment "They didn`t ride very well,it was all for show".
Being an ex Trials rider and Enduro competitor,I concur,and that mentality is alive and well here in the U.S,unfortunatly.
Having spent the last 8 months on my bike,camping,taking pictures and blogging about my trip all the way,I constantly run into motorcycle riders who still use only the rear brake.
Anyway,I just though her comments were so apt.
Great article again Paul.....


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Alright, we have to come to some sort of agreement that everything is tracing back to this whole blog thing!

I just thought this was extremely funny how similar it turned out!

-Louis Costa

ATOM said...

Nice! Thank's for posting, I enjoyed this thread.The bike mural looks ace. ;)

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,
I am a friend of Derek over at Lewis, also of Phil Rudge (as I have a Rudge that I just MUST finish building). I wanted to mention a project that Our company have created with Lewis Leathers.
We are a clothing brand est in 1860, I can easily send you some interesting historic notes (we introduced the boxer short to the UK etc etc), as well as some wonderful factory photos. We still use the same old factory.

With Lewis we have created a t shirt of the very best Egyptian cotton, it is quite wonderful. The back of the t has the same cut panel as their famous 'Lightning Jacket'. I would love to send you one for you to see whether you feel it is blog worthy.

As a by note, I must send you some motor related stuff. My Dad races a 1903 Panhard Levassor racing car (from the Gordon Bennett race), among other things.
I have a rather interesting Cooper JAP 500 that has finally returned home to the UK after being in the USA for 30 years, a very original and nice looking little thing.

I have enjoyed the Vintagent for a number of years now, it is still the only blog that I actually read when it arrives. My best regards,

Yours Marcus

Marcus Black
Sales Director

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,
I run the website for the Morgan Three-Wheeler Club.
A large group of us are going to Montlhery 2011 .
Do you mind if I do a link on our website to your Montlhery article.
Best regards,
Ian Parkinson
The Morgan Three-Wheeler Club Ltd.

Fashion Serial Killer said...

wow! super cool. The tank is so awesome as well

Don O'Reilly said...

What a story, what a gal!
Now I know of at least two women who ride commandos (I have a feeling Catherine is going to miss hers real bad, and get another). Though I've always wondered how these girls manage to start the thing. Even if its a one kick starter, it does take some g-force to get that thing going....

Don O'Reilly said...

and one more thought... she looks way too young to give up on nortons! thanks again Paul!

Anonymous said...

Superbe histoire. Merci !

Douglas Waitkins said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this article, and being the proud owner of a 1969 Norton P11A 750cc Ranger since 1976, I truly understand her love affair with Nortons. Sadly the bike is in rebuild stage at the present time so I am unable to ride at the moment and I have NO intentions of ever selling it. My daughter will inherit this bike when I do stop riding(someday). (If anyone still has original parts contact me at:

Javi said...

Oh .. the real Kill Bill... he he.

Without jokes, amazing history.. my mum was also a wild rider with Bultaco Lobito, maybe not so big, but vey nervous and perfect for Andorra roads.