Saturday, November 27, 2010
CATHERINE, PARIS, NORTON
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 Norton...it 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 Paris...it 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.