Take a nostalgia trip

2013 Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer

2013 Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer - Credit: Archant

Putting the new Norton Commando trhough its paces

The Norton Commando is the complete opposite to what you might expect. For the price you might be looking for monobloc calipers, a radial master cyclinder and the latest rubber hoops rather than… well, none of those things. But what it might lack in performance parts it more than makes up for in spirit, charm and character.

Powered by a 961cc parallel-twin engine, the Commando actually sounds more like a big Vee. Think ‘old Ducati Desmodue’ rather than Kawasaki ‘dull as dishwater’ ER-6n. It feels like a Ducati too. Keep it between 3,000 and 6,000rpm and the Norton tugs at your arms with a deep burble from the twin pipes and a shiver through the handlebars.

A little vibration on a bike like this is all part of the deal and although you feel like you’re plugged into the National Grid at above 6,000rpm, the vibrations are less annoying lower down. Cruising in top gear on the motorway is reasonably comfortable – as long as you don’t mind the single seat being about as plush as an ironing board.

Don’t bank on the digital screen being crammed with information either. It has a trip meter, a clock, volt meter, odometer and that’s about it. You’ll need to do mental arithmetics to work out your average consumption or top speed and if you’re after traction control, ABS, ride by wire or a choice of mappings, this isn’t just the wrong tree to be barking up; it’s the wrong forest.

The Commando 961 has an electric starter, fuel injection and road-legal lights and indicators so you don’t need to stick an arm out to nip into a side road. But the bike also invites you to forget GS Adventure level comfort, rider aids and electronic wizardry, to dismiss plush suspension and the stiffness of a modern trellis or aluminium frame and to remind yourself of the basic, captivating sensation of riding a motorbike.

For example, gear changes aren’t as clean as a Japanese six speed box. The Commando can hit a false neutral between fourth and fifth gear if you’re too eager shifting up, but that’s part of the fun. You have to concentrate; to do everything with vigour, like you did back in the day when you were part of the original Norton generation.

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With the ever-present vibrations and delicious but constant drone from the twin pipes, the Commando isn’t the rider friendly, forgiving mock-classic bike built by the Japanese brands, or even Triumph for that matter. If you laugh in the face of numbness and have a round trip to the South of France planned, you’ll find that the riding position and ergonomics are practical and relaxed, and with reasonably regular fuel stops this isn’t as impractical a tourer as you might think.

If you’re after a bike that feels alive, this is it. Although it’s sensitive to imperfections in the road, the 961 is far from being unstable. It might need a bit of rider input to get it cranked over into a turn and tracking true, but being part of the experience is, surely, the whole point of the two-wheeled experience and there’s plenty of ground clearance for cheeky lean angles.

You’ll only get a fiver’s change from £16,500 for this new-age Norton Commando but it looks stunning with its lashing of carbon fibre and it feels intense and involving to ride. It’s a tangible reminder of why many riders got into motorbikes in the first place: the Commando is pure motorcycling. It’s an analogue anomaly in a two-wheeled world that has become very digital.

For more information Krazy Horse, Bury St Edmunds www.krazyhorse.co.uk


Model: Norton Commando 961 SF, £16,495

Engine: 961cc air-cooled parallel twin producing 79bhp @ 6,500rpm and 66.4lb.ft @ 5,200rpm

Transmission: Five-speed sequential manual

Dry weight: 188kg

Seat height: 813mm

Fuel capacity: 17 litres

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