Norton Commando 961 Sport

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I have been trying to get the Commando on loan to review for some time. Norton have been around for many years and family members and friends would fondly recount tales of their experiences with their Nortons so I was eager to have a little bit of my own history with one so I could recount my own tales.

I had heard mixed reviews on the new Nortons and wanted to make my own mind up so when I got the call that the Commando 961 Sport was available, I was super excited.

I just hoped Norton was going to live up to my expectations. 

A Few Specs for you:

  • Weight: 230 kg
  • Seat height: 810 mm 
  • Norton air-oil-cooled pushrod parallel twin with dry sump lubrication 961 cc engine
  • 81Nm @ 6300rpm; 76.8bhp 
  • 5 speed
  • Analogue speedometer and tachometer
  • Öhlins upside-down forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping; 
  • Öhlins twin shocks with remote reservoir – fully adjustable
  • Brembo brakes front and rear
  • Spoke wheels
  • 2 colour options: Matrix Black or Manx Platinum 
  • Price: Commando 961 Sport £16,996; Commando 961 Cafe Racer £17,499

A little Bit of History

Pa, as he was affectionately known, James Lansdowne Norton, founded Norton in 1898 as a manufacturer of fittings and parts for the two-wheel trade. 

In 1902, the very first Norton Motorcycle, the Energette, was produced which was powered by a 143cc, single-cylinder Clement engine. 

In 1907 Norton began their racing career. Rem Fowler became one of the country’s most notable motorcycle racers by riding a 5hp Peugeot-engine Norton to victory at the inaugural Isle of Man TT.

The following year saw the first Norton powered by a single cylinder side-valve unit (the now legendary big 4), and by 1909 you could walk into Harrods and buy a brand-new Norton. 

Norton had come a long way in under ten years and this was just the start. The Norton logo was introduced in 1914 and became a feature on every bike from 1916 onwards.

The rest, as they say, is history and like most companies that have been in existence for many years, they have had their share of ups and downs.

With the new breed of Norton bikes, I for one, think they are definitely on an up.

Engine

The Commando has the Norton air-oil-cooled pushrod parallel twin 961 cc engine with dry sump lubrication pushing out 76.8 bhp @7250 rpm of power with 81 Nm @ 6300 rpm of torque.

The engine on start-up combined with the noise of the twin exhaust pipes can only be described as sublime. The shiver goes all the way up your back, the grin spreads across your face and a little chuckle escapes. I honestly never tired of hearing the bike on start-up.

I can only imagine what the bike sounds like when you’re in a car and I drop it a gear to overtake, I can hear the noise and the rumble myself so the car must be able to hear the bike which must be utterly glorious for them to experience the beautiful sound too 😬

Chassis

The frame is hand TIG and MIG welded at Norton HQ with Billet-machined yokes and a full stainless steel exhaust system with multiple 3-way catalytic converter.

The Commando Sport has black anodised tapered high bars whilst the Cafe Racer has high-grade anodised billet aluminum clip-ons.

I did find the weight of the Commando at 230 kg, a little on the heavy side when moving the bike around, riding of course you notice the weight.

With a seat height of 810 mm, although my feet were not flat on the floor (I’m 5’6”) they weren’t far off.

The front suspension has 43mm Öhlins upside-down forks which are adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping and on the rear there are Öhlins twin shocks with remote reservoir which, again, are fully adjustable.

The Commando has Brembo brakes front and rear. On the front there are twin Brembo 320 mm fully-floating high carbon steel discs, Brembo 4-piston MonoBloc radially mounted calipers with ABS, and Brembo front brake master cylinder.

The rear has a Brembo 240 mm disc and 2-piston caliper with ABS, and Brembo rear brake master cylinder.

Personally, I didn’t think the brakes were as good as they ought to have been but as it was a loan bike I didn’t interfere with them but I did wonder if they needed a service.

Instrument Display

There are twin round analogue clocks, the left housing the speedo and the right the rev counter.

On the speedo clock there is an lcd display from which you can choose to see the time or the odometer. There is no fuel gauge so I kept the display on the mileage so I could keep track of how many miles I had done since I last fuelled up.

The Commando does not have modes or any other settings, it is just you and the bike and you decide how you want the bike to be ridden. Perfect 👌

Tyres

Now tyres are a very personal choice and having spoken to many people on this subject, it seems that you find a tyre that suits you and you tend to stick with it.

The tyres on the Commando are Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 which Dunlop describe as an urban sport tyre as follows:

  • New pattern designed to deliver safe performance in all urban conditions
  • Light and flexible construction for comfort, smooth handling and reassuring stability
  • New Silica-blend compound improves both mileage and wet grip

I have not had experience with these tyres before but did find them to be good especially in the very wet conditions I did find myself in at times. 

I had confidence in these tyres which is a huge plus point to giving you an all round pleasant riding experience. 

LED Lights

There are LED lights all round on the Commando with a single round polished stainless-steel headlamp which has a daytime running light feature. 

I thought the light was good from the headlamp, plenty of illumination and the main beam was really good coming home in the dark.

Although perfectly effective, I did think the style/shape of the indicators were a little on the dull side, I would have to change these for something more in keeping with the style of the bike but, of course, that is just my personal preference.

The rear light however I did think was pretty cool. I love the way the light is neatly housed within the rear bodywork of the bike.

What’s The Norton Commando 961 Sport Like To Ride, I hear you say?

The Commando surpassed my expectations and then some.

I would describe the bike as a re-engineered classic bike rather than a new bike, if that makes sense.

In my opinion, Norton have nailed what this bike is about, they have managed to keep the character of the original bike whilst bringing it up to date with modern electronics, brakes etc.

To me, the Commando is noisy, cantankerous, raw, a little on the heavy side (for me) and I love it. I wouldn’t change anything on this bike. I don’t think I have continually grinned so much whilst riding a bike.

I love the way the bike makes me feel when riding, the character just oozes from the bike and it just wants you to keep riding it, this is definitely what the Commando was made for.

Yes, the Commando is a little on the noisy side (which is a huge plus for me) and it is a bike you will get noticed on as they will hear you coming long before you come into sight. 

I was out for a ride with a couple of mates and they were behind me, they said all they could hear was the Norton. To be honest, that just made my day and my grin even bigger.

I did find moving the bike around, especially out of the garage, a little on the heavy side for me especially as it does not seem to have a great deal of lock, but there was no way I was going to let this stop me.

The riding position is nice, it feels as though you are sitting in the bike rather than on it although you are not too far bent over the tank.

The Commando handles nicely, it is smooth to ride and you can feel that it loves the bends and boy oh boy, does it sound glorious winding through them, easing off the throttle into a corner and then powering back on out of it, the noise is addictive. 

The Commando is one of those bikes that when you get to the end of a winding road, it urges you to turn around and go do it again!

Now I think I would put a little screen on the front, not because it needs it for the wind protection, but because I think it would finish the front end off nicely. When I mentioned this to others when parked up, I was definitely in the minority with this thinking.

There are Brembo brakes front and rear and whilst I found them okay, I wouldn’t say they were brilliant, at times I was hard on them and not a great deal was happening. I wonder if there was a problem with this particular bike, if it were my bike, I would get them checked.

There are no modes etc. on the Commando so you decide how you want to ride the bike and this of course makes it an easy bike to ride. There is no setting up the bike before you go, you just start the bike and away you go. Perfect.

The Öhlins upside down forks and twin rear shocks means they soak up the lumps and bumps nicely making this a smooth bike to ride.

There are of course many opinions about the new Commando but in all honesty, you should ignore them and go get a test ride and see for yourself what this bike is all about.

If you love a bike with a bucket full of character, is beautiful to look at and sounds glorious, then you definitely need to check the Commando out.

Thank you to Norton Motorcycles for the loan of the Commando 961 Sport, this is one bike I am very sad to see go back.

BK

Here’s a link to my YouTube video on the Norton Commando 961 😎 https://youtu.be/HmJZvnWWpNU?si=MliMQEJMCq9CrVXK

4 comments

  1. Another great review Kaz. A mate of mine gave me a lift to rugby training on his Commando. This was about 1972.😂😂😂 Loved it👍🏻👍🏻

    1. Thank you Neil, I really appreciate you saying that 😁
      Sounds like you haven’t forgotten that life on your mate’s Commando, must have been a great ride 😜

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