That is an vital second for Norton, a degree when its status can both correctly start the journey again to respectability within the hearts of fanatics worldwide or verify what the skeptics have been saying all alongside: that the as soon as nice British marque is destined to stay little greater than an also-ran on this planet hierarchy of bike producers.
We’ve had the buildup, the buyout by Indian big TVS Motor Firm, and a 100 million kilos sterling funding in a state-of-the artwork manufacturing HQ in Solihull, proper within the coronary heart of the British Midlands. There’s been high-profile recruiting, notably CEO Dr. Robert Hentschel, former director of Lotus Engineering. There’s even been the relaunch of the troubled superbike, the V4, because the V4SV.
However manufacturing of the Commando 961 is maybe the second that issues most up to now to “new” Norton’s journey again. Just like the V4SV, it was inherited from the previous regime by TVS together with myriad issues, not least poor reliability. Slightly than abandon the venture, Norton’s new administration determined to fill the three or so years it could take to conceive and construct its first all-new Norton mannequin by completely reengineering each side of the retro twin. In doing so, the agency would present that its new processes, tooling, and expert workforce of craftsmen and -women may do what the previous Stuart Garner–owned Norton couldn’t: Get it proper.
And right here it’s. The identical superbly proportioned parallel twin, gleaming within the autumn sunshine, its status on the road.
The previous Commando was a good-looking and purposeful-looking machine. However within the flesh, the 2023 961 seems to be sharper and fitter, as if it has given up junk meals and invested closely in a brand new health club regime. The standard of its fasteners and the depth of the gloss are each instantly apparent. Regardless of being assembled in a classy manufacturing facility, it’s clear that expert human fingers have introduced this bike collectively. Proudly owning a Commando 961 will make you a vacationer attraction wherever you park.
There are two fashions to select from, the Sport (SP) and the Café Racer (CR), with the one vital distinction being the CR’s low bars and racy, built-in seat unit, making the CR 500 kilos dearer within the UK. Each bikes can be found within the Matrix Black or the Manx Platinum, and each look very good. The black contrasts with the bike’s chrome surfaces, whereas the Manx Platinum (silver to most of us) is harking back to the enduring Manx Norton of the Fifties and ‘60s.
The considerably old-school air-cooled pushrod twin seems to be the half too. Internally, bore and stroke stay the identical, however many elements have been reengineered or designed once more from scratch; the truth is, roughly a 3rd of the engine could be described as completely new. It punches out a claimed 77.8 hp at 7,250 rpm and 59.7 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,300 rpm. That’s barely lower than the 80 hp and 66.4 lb.-ft. claimed by the previous Norton regime, maybe within the title of reliability or a brand new realism about efficiency figures.
There’s no hiding the truth that the 961 is down on energy in comparison with its nominal rivals available in the market. Triumph’s Thruxton makes 104 hp; Ducati’s Scrambler 1100 churns out 87 hp. In actuality, it’s extra like an air-cooled Harley than these trendy retro twins. Revs construct comparatively slowly; the analogue rev counter has what you may describe as a heavy needle. These revs are accompanied by a fabulously evocative exhaust notice that’s cleverly skipped previous the Euro 5 emissions rules.
Fans of the ‘50s and ‘60s will love its each pop and burble, the aero-growl of a bygone age introduced again to life in a package deal of tighter tolerances and luxurious construct high quality. As a substitute of plenty of trendy free-flowing revs, there’s a standard unfold of usable torque. You trip the Commando within the midrange, short-shifting via a gearbox that’s a lot smoother and slicker than the one in all previous.
It’s simple to turn out to be immersed. Objectively talking, there are noticeable engine vibrations, however most who purchase a Commando will most likely benefit from the sense of involvement and interplay they bring about. Flip the throttle and the bike surges ahead, revealing a brisk flip of pace that instinctively makes you crouch into the wind, chin ahead, seeking out the ton.
Really, 100 mph is simple. The 961 ain’t gradual. It surges effortlessly previous vehicles, whose drivers should worry they’ve wrong-turned right into a Nineteen Sixties time warp. There are solely 5 gears to fret about too; that’s all you want on a motorcycle with such a wealthy seam of torque and which, aerodynamically, stops being enjoyable earlier than the speeds get foolish.
Actually, the Commando 961 scores poorly on the spec sheet. Its ABS system is comparatively primary, there’s no traction management, no using modes, no lively suspension or six-axis IMU, not even a quickshifter. However none of this actually issues on this occasion. Most will love the Norton’s purity and ease, that old-school rideability that generally will get misplaced within the rush to be the most recent and best.
The brand new reengineered 961 feels extra sturdy and tighter, and whereas its efficiency is not any match for the trendy water-cooled competitors—the Thruxton, as an illustration, is able to delivering a good trackday—it’s sportier than earlier than, too, albeit in an historic sense. In reality, it feels prefer it ought to have a kickstarter.
Chassis-wise, new Norton has once more stayed in acquainted Commando territory. There may be an adjustable 43mm Öhlins fork up entrance, twin Öhlins shocks taking care of the rear, and high quality Brembo stoppers all spherical. The body is redesigned and MIG and TIG welded at Norton HQ. Rake, path, and wheelbase are unchanged whereas the Commando’s weight is now quoted at 507 kilos, which by trendy requirements is heavy for an air-cooled and comparatively easy bike (Ducati’s air-cooled 1100 Scrambler is 57 kilos lighter).
However by some means, like these engine vibes, a number of additional kilos in comparison with trendy twins appear to suit. There’s a solidity to the chassis that makes the steering barely lazy but in addition assured and tremendous secure. It rolls into turns, holds a predictable line, then picks up easily because the faucets are opened. It feels good, like a completely modernized model of Nineteen Sixties sports activities using.
The Öhlins setup is on the smooth facet however copes with virtually the whole lot a spirited trip within the English countryside can throw at it. Round city there’s a pleasant stability, with the mass of the motor held low within the chassis because of its dry sump lubrication system. The smooth setup takes highway imperfections with out jolts. And whereas the throttle response can nonetheless really feel a bit sharp, fueling is way improved in comparison with the previous bike, making it a smoother trip all over the place.
These softly damped and sprung fork legs give a reassuring really feel, however the preliminary dive beneath hard-ish braking is a bit fast. In the meantime, the handcrafted exhaust touches down earlier than the pegs while you actually push, and the Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tires lack really feel. On condition that additionally they take some time to heat up, and that there’s no traction management on the 961 as customary, I’d change these for one thing extra deserving of the 961 on the first alternative.
Brembo four-piston Monoblock stoppers mix with twin 320mm discs and do a wonderful job of slowing the comparatively heavy Commando. ABS comes as customary, in fact, however solely in a traditional non-lean-sensitive format.
In spite of everything, this bike is all about really feel. Its numbers are common, however it brings the senses to life—it’s, in some ways, the Commando that ought to have been. The air-cooled engine has had an entire total. Components have been changed and redesigned when essential. Testing on each highway and monitor has been intensive. Each element has been scrutinized and improved the place wanted, from gasoline tank to crank and cam supplies, ensuing within the introduction of greater than 300 new elements and an thrilling new starting for Norton.
Solely time will inform us if the objective of reliability has been achieved, however ultimately plainly Norton has a Commando to be happy with.
2023 Norton Commando 961 SP and CR Specs
|16,499 kilos sterling (SP) /16,999 kilos sterling (CR)
|Air/oil-cooled, pushrod parallel twin; 2 valves/cyl.
|Bore x Stroke:
|88.0 x 79.0mm
|76.8 hp @ 7,250 rpm
|60 lb.-ft. @ 6,300 rpm
|Digital gasoline injection
|Tubular metal, hand TIG-and-MIG welded
|43mm Öhlins upside-down fork, preload, compression and rebound damping adjustable
|Öhlins twin shocks, totally adjustable w/ distant reservoir
|4-piston Monoblock radially mounted calipers, twin Brembo 320mm floating discs w/ ABS
|2-piston caliper, Brembo 240mm disc w/ ABS
|Spoked w/ aluminum rim; 17 x 3.5 in. / 17 x 5.5 in.
|Dunlop SportMax GPR 300; 120/70-17 / 180/55-17
|Claimed Dry Weight: