Norton, the world-renowned motorcycle brand, has re-invented itself with the launch of a new Commando model, the 961. I-M Intelligent Magazine sent Jeremy Webb to Dorset to get up-close and personal with this icon of the British roads.
The Norton Commando was launched in 1967, the year of my birth. The bike was so popular that in a decade, 55,000 of them were sold. Over time, the bike has gone through a few changes, leading to the launch of the entirely modernised 21st-century Commando 961, which still retains the looks and character of the original 1960s machine.
Under new management, Norton wants to push the boundaries of motorcycle design and construction, yet keep its inherent values and classic looks. The idea is to attract buyers from outside motorcycling, the kind of customer that once rode but hasn’t had a bike for a long time or first-timers, with their licenses still fresh in their pockets. Basically, the Commando 961 is a lifestyle choice, ideal to be ridden at the weekends or for special events. Norton believes people will fall in love at first sight with their new bike… and I agree.
The Commando 961 is available in two versions, the CR Cafe Racer (OTR £16,999) and the SP Sport (OTR £16,499), both running the same 961cc engine, which produces 77bhp. The differences in the machines are the riding position and subtle changes to the steering because of the handlebar setup. The SP has a higher, more expansive flat bar allowing you to sit upright. The CR has a dropped bar, so you lean forward over the tank and lie lower when riding.
Detail of the handlebar and seat of the Cafe Racer, more atuned to higher speeds.
The lower handlebar configuration in the CR comes from the days bikers raced from cafe to cafe across the country. It means that at higher speeds, you are in a natural position for reduced wind buffering as you are streamlined with the bike. You lean forward and place your weight on the tank to find the best riding position, which is harder on your wrists and back at slow speeds. Tuck your knees into the shaped petrol tank, and your weight disappears, your head in the perfect position to see everything ahead.
Jumping on the Sport, you immediately notice the difference in riding position as your arms are wider apart and higher, so your body is upright. Easier to ride at slow speeds than the CR, with more steering lock available for manoeuvring. The payoff is that when you open the SP up, you get hit by wind, so again, the best position is to crouch forward and lie on the tank. You still get a great view and plenty of fun.
The Sport model is design to ride in a more upright position, which makes it more comfortable at lower speeds.
The Commando 961s are not really built for long-distance rides, but still, you will get around 100 miles on a full tank, equating to about one and a half hours of constant riding. Both models come with a 15-litre petrol tank, beautifully crafted with classic curves for your knees to nestle. You will ride your Commando at weekends, to the beach or to bike nights, enjoying a fifty-mile blast, having a drink, some food and a chat, then happily riding back home.
Both versions are stunning-looking machines, with styling and colour combinations that hark back to Commando’s heydays: Matrix Black and Manx Platinum. Hand-painted, the Matrix Black finish is enhanced by a Duke Gold Norton logo and pinstripe combination. The Manx Platinum version adds one further detail to its Matrix Black pinstripes with fine Mercury Red detailing.
The new Commando 961 showcases the cutting-edge production techniques, high-quality materials and attention to detail that Norton is famous for.
The Commando 961 definitely has the wow factor in terms of looks and the way it rides. It is a head turner and a conversation starter wherever you go. This is a bike that definitely follows Ralph Waldo Emerson’s motto “It is not the destination, it’s the journey that matters.” I loved it. Find out more HERE.
Words: Jeremy Webb