This is an necessary second for Norton, some extent when its popularity 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 the earth hierarchy of bike producers.
We’ve had the buildup, the buyout by Indian big TVS Motor Company, 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.
But manufacturing of the Commando 961 is probably the second that issues most up to now to “new” Norton’s journey again. Like the V4SV, it was inherited from the outdated regime by TVS together with myriad issues, not least poor reliability. Rather than abandon the undertaking, Norton’s new administration determined to fill the three or so years it might take to conceive and construct its first all-new Norton mannequin by completely reengineering each aspect of the retro twin. In doing so, the agency would present that its new processes, tooling, and expert staff of craftsmen and -women might do what the outdated Stuart Garner–owned Norton couldn’t: Get it proper.
And right here it’s. The similar fantastically proportioned parallel twin, gleaming within the autumn sunshine, its popularity on the road.
The outdated Commando was a good-looking and purposeful-looking machine. But within the flesh, the 2023 961 appears sharper and fitter, as if it has given up junk meals and invested closely in a brand new gymnasium regime. The high quality of its fasteners and the depth of the gloss are each instantly apparent. Despite being assembled in a classy manufacturing facility, it’s clear that expert human fingers have introduced this bike collectively. 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 costlier within the UK. Both 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 long-lasting Manx Norton of the Fifties and ‘60s.
The somewhat old-school air-cooled pushrod twin looks the part too. Internally, bore and stroke remain the same, but many components have been reengineered or designed again from scratch; in fact, approximately a third of the engine can be described as totally 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 outdated 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 out there. 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 fashionable retro twins. Revs construct comparatively slowly; the analogue rev counter has what you may describe as a heavy needle. Those revs are accompanied by a fabulously evocative exhaust notice that’s cleverly skipped previous the Euro 5 emissions rules.
Enthusiasts of the ‘50s and ‘60s will love its every pop and burble, the aero-growl of a bygone age brought back to life in a package of tighter tolerances and sumptuous build quality. Instead of lots of modern free-flowing revs, there’s a conventional unfold of usable torque. You journey the Commando within the midrange, short-shifting by means of a gearbox that’s a lot smoother and slicker than the certainly one of outdated.
It’s straightforward to turn into immersed. Objectively talking, there are noticeable engine vibrations, however most who purchase a Commando will in all probability benefit from the sense of involvement and interplay they carry. Turn the throttle and the bike surges ahead, revealing a brisk flip of velocity that instinctively makes you crouch into the wind, chin ahead, looking for the ton.
Actually, 100 mph is simple. The 961 ain’t gradual. It surges effortlessly previous automobiles, whose drivers should concern they’ve wrong-turned right into a Sixties time warp. There are solely 5 gears to fret about too; that’s all you want on a motorbike with such a wealthy seam of torque and which, aerodynamically, stops being enjoyable earlier than the speeds get foolish.
Certainly, 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. But none of this actually issues on this occasion. Most will love the Norton’s purity and ease, that old-school rideability that typically will get misplaced within the rush to be the newest and biggest.
The new reengineered 961 feels extra sturdy and tighter, and whereas its efficiency is not any match for the fashionable water-cooled competitors—the Thruxton, as an example, is able to delivering an honest trackday—it’s sportier than earlier than, too, albeit in an historic sense. In truth, it feels prefer it ought to have a kickstarter.
Chassis-wise, new Norton has once more stayed in acquainted Commando territory. There is 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 fashionable requirements is heavy for an air-cooled and comparatively easy bike (Ducati’s air-cooled 1100 Scrambler is 57 kilos lighter).
But in some way, like these engine vibes, a couple of additional kilos in comparison with fashionable twins appear to suit. There’s a solidity to the chassis that makes the steering barely lazy but additionally 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 Sixties sports activities using.
The Öhlins setup is on the mushy aspect however copes with nearly every part a spirited journey within the English countryside can throw at it. Around city there’s a pleasant steadiness, with the mass of the motor held low within the chassis because of its dry sump lubrication system. The mushy 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 outdated bike, making it a smoother journey in every single place.
Those softly damped and sprung fork legs give a reassuring really feel, however the preliminary dive below hard-ish braking is a bit fast. Meanwhile, the handcrafted exhaust touches down earlier than the pegs whenever you actually push, and the Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tires lack really feel. Given that additionally they take some time to heat up, and that there’s no traction management on the 961 as normal, 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 normal, in fact, however solely in a standard non-lean-sensitive format.
After all, 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 a whole general. Parts have been changed and redesigned when crucial. Testing on each highway and monitor has been intensive. Every 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 parts and an thrilling new starting for Norton.
Only time will inform us if the purpose of reliability has been achieved, however eventually evidently Norton has a Commando to be happy with.
2023 Norton Commando 961 SP and CR Specs
|MSRP:||16,499 kilos sterling (SP) /16,999 kilos sterling (CR)|
|Engine:||Air/oil-cooled, pushrod parallel twin; 2 valves/cyl.|
|Bore x Stroke:||88.0 x 79.0mm|
|Claimed Horsepower:||76.8 hp @ 7,250 rpm|
|Claimed Torque:||60 lb.-ft. @ 6,300 rpm|
|Fuel System:||Electronic gasoline injection|
|Frame:||Tubular metal, hand TIG-and-MIG welded|
|Front Suspension:||43mm Öhlins upside-down fork, preload, compression and rebound damping adjustable|
|Rear Suspension:||Öhlins twin shocks, absolutely adjustable w/ distant reservoir|
|Front Brake:||4-piston Monoblock radially mounted calipers, twin Brembo 320mm floating discs w/ ABS|
|Rear Brake:||2-piston caliper, Brembo 240mm disc w/ ABS|
|Wheels, Front/Rear:||Spoked w/ aluminum rim; 17 x 3.5 in. / 17 x 5.5 in.|
|Tires, Front/Rear:||Dunlop SportMax GPR 300; 120/70-17 / 180/55-17|
|Seat Height:||31.9 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.0 gal.|
|Claimed Dry Weight:||507 lb.|