NYC Norton Is Vintage Racing Paradise

Kenny Cummings, the owner of NYC Norton, doesn’t want his exact location in Jersey City, NJ, disclosed. But, inside, it's a vintage Norton and racing heaven.

At NYC Norton, the phrase, “We build beauty,” is part of what separates the motorcycle shop from most others out there. In addition, almost all motorcycle shops want as many customers as possible to walk in the door. However, Kenny Cummings, the owner of NYC Norton, doesn’t want his exact location in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from the Big Apple, disclosed.

Ken Cummings NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

“I don’t want a clubhouse atmosphere,” Cummings admits. “I can’t flourish in a clubhouse. I get so much done by myself.”

Most motorcycle shops sell new motorcycles and parts and accessories for them. Cummings sells 50-year-old machinery restored to perform on the road and 50-year-old machinery set up for vintage road racing. He explains that his operation does three things: maintains road racing Nortons for people contesting the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association Formula 750, BEARS, 500 Premier and 350 GP classes; sells restored Norton street motorcycles; and restores Nortons and parts of Nortons for customers — most of whom want to ride their bikes on public roads.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

For those who weren’t around in the 1970s, Norton Commandos are 750cc or 850cc twins manufactured in England between 1967 and 1977. These were popular bikes in their day and have continued to be popular. Present-day parts availability is excellent. In fact, if you want a brand-new bike and have the skills and equipment, you can build a Commando from over-the-counter parts. Several people designed racing frames for Commandos, and one of the best was Colin Seeley, whose chassis continues to be manufactured in England by a successor using his original designs.

The only advertising NYC Norton engages in is occasional social media posts of current builds and racing its Seeley-framed Norton Commandos around the country. Racing brought in Kenny Cummings’ first customers and continues to generate a good share of the business. Most of the publicity for the company is done simply by posting photos of its bikes online.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

“We post about a customer’s bike and it will usually always get at least several hundred hits,” he says. “But, every once in a while, we’ll post about a recent build and it gets over 30,000 hits. Then, the phones will really light up. Most of the calls will be from New York City’s 212 area code. Wealthy people want to come in and pick out a bike and ride it home. They are not always Norton people, and when they learn that there is a waiting list, most lose interest.”

Kenny Cummings has an unusual resume. His father had a Norton when he was a young child, and although Cummings didn’t remember the brand of this motorcycle, the bike made a lasting impression on him. However, instead of getting involved with motorcycles as a youngster, he learned keyboards and backed up a list of famous musical artists before he moved to New York in 1986 and got a job with an instrument rental company, which led to further engagements and a job with the Saturday Night Live show. Eventually, in another change of occupation, he got a job with a high-end art book publishing house.

NYC Norton racing
Photos: Marian Sell

The seeds of NYC Norton were sown in 1993, when Cummings bought a non-running older Norton. He eventually sold it and bought a running Norton Commando. Nortons handle beautifully and are a great deal of fun to ride but can be expensive to maintain if you don’t know how to do the maintenance yourself. Even Cummings admits he once had zero mechanical skills. Eventually, Cummings decided he had to learn to work on his Norton if he wanted to keep it.

After an accident, he got the Norton back to New York, took it apart and began to put it back together. He registered the domain name NYC Norton and started a blog (before there really were blogs) to document what he did to repair and maintain his old Brit bike.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

“The blog attracted people at ground zero,” he says. “I became known in the Norton world without really trying.”

Cummings needed space to work on his Norton and rented an area in the “Rising Wolf” garage in Manhattan.

“In Rising Wolf, I met racing people and got the racing bug,” Cummings says. “I decided to build a racing Norton.”

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

He became well-known in vintage racing circles. Eventually, Cummings joined with other racers to rent a larger and cheaper space in an industrial building in Jersey City. Slowly, he started to take over more of the space as other partners decided to do something else or moved from the area.

In 2008, three things happened. The first was winning the BEARS AHRMA championship on a bike Cummings built himself. The second was getting laid off at the publishing job. The third was a phone call. Someone wanted Cummings to build a racer just like the bike that had won the BEARS championship — and was willing to pay good money for the effort. Shortly after the first customer signed a contract, a second called, wanting the same thing and also willing to pay. NYC Norton was off and running.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

“I now have a waiting list that is so long — I can’t turn off the lights and go home,” Cummings says.

Early customers were either racers, aspiring racers or older men who had a Norton sitting in their garage for many years and who finally had the time and money to get it on the road again. More recently, there has been an influx of customers who want a bike that is already restored and ready to ride. These are often 40-something wealthy men (Cummings has very few female customers and wishes he had more) who don’t mind paying top prices but want to specify tank colors and accessories and ride it off into the sunset.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

Most racers are one-off custom jobs, and the operation’s large machine shop is buzzing much of the time. NYC Norton has recently started selling kits, made in the machine shop, to upgrade specific parts of a Norton from stock. He also sells performance racing parts. Another recent shop innovation is component restoration. People who feel comfortable restoring most of their Nortons but who have reached their limits with one part or the other can send that part (for example, the engine) to NYC Norton to rebuild it or install performance upgrades (such as tunable front forks) and return it to the customer.

NYC Norton
Photos: Marian Sell

Asked what he will be doing in five years, Kenny Cummings says he will be doing exactly what he is doing now. He has finally found what he wants to do and is even making some money at it.

“It’s something everyone in the motorcycle industry understands…. I don’t think anyone does this to get rich; they all do it for love, because the margins are slim,” he says. “If you get into this business, you’d better love what you do, as it’s not an easy road. However, I can say I’m happy.”

NYC Norton

(917) 717-4300
Ohlins, Kibblewhite, Hastings, NGK

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