Norton Commando 961 Sport

A classic model which captures the basic formula of motorcycling that many of us love.

Over the past five years, the Norton Commando 961 MkII range has only had a minor upgrade to the ECU and ABS as required by law.

While other brands have progressed with hi-tech rider aids such as traction control, engine modes and more, the Norton has retained its simplicity. Perhaps that is what is so charming about this bike.

It captures that basic formula of motorcycling that many of us love. No distracting electronic wizardry here.

Also, the fact that there have been no upgrades doesn’t leave the buyer with a bike that has been devalued by this year’s new model.

Australian importer James Mutton of Brisbane Motorcycles invited me to try the Sport model on a short blast from the city into the hills and back.

Lust stretching right back to my teenage years was enough to convince me to accept his offer. But I was also interested to see if the hefty price tag of $32,990 plus on-road costs is justified.

Before departing, James told me the ECU update had taken some of the lumpiness and grumpiness out of the engine, particularly when cold or ridden at low speeds. However, we let it idle for a few minutes to warm up, just in case.

As we headed out into busy morning traffic, I was pleasantly surprised at how tame and manageable it felt.

Yet a twist of the throttle revealed plenty of bite from the 961cc parallel twin pushrod engine with 60kW of power and 80Nm of torque.

They are not world-leading figures, but there is a tone and character to this engine that is absolutely delightful and infectious.

Handling duties are managed by Ohlins forks and shocks so it’s predictable, sharp, precise and firm, but with a compliant ride over the harsh bumps. A perfect, neutral handling bike with light steering and a joy to sweep through S-bends.

The seat was comfortable and fit me well, but my knees were too far forward and underneath the indents on the tank. I moved rearward and it felt better, but still a little strange.

This has to be the slickest transmission on any non-Japanese bike. Unless you watch the green neutral light flick off, you wouldn’t even know you had selected first gear it is that smooth and quiet.

There are only five gears but, with hefty midrange torque, you don’t really need to mess around with a lot of cog swapping.

I was a little surprised to find the instruments only included an odometer, one trip, a clock and a volt meter with the toggle button between the two analogue dials, not on a switchblock on the bars.

But then, this is supposed to be a neo-classic.

Finish is high quality, although there is no lavish paint, hi-tech wizardry, spec sheet bragging rights or acres of chrome to admire. In fact, the casings are a lightly polished alloy that is already developing an oxidised patina.

Then it hits me. That’s exactly what I like.

There is a certain intrinsic value to this bike that does not translate to the bank balance.

I know I could afford two Japanese bikes for the same price, but I don’t know that I would feel the same level of pride in ownership. 

Norton Commando 961 Sport tech specs

Price:  $32,990 plus on-road costs 

Engine:

961cc push-rod valve actuation, 3 bearing crank and balancer shaft
Power:  58.4kW @ 6500rpm 
Torque: 90Nm @ 5200rpm                                                
Compression: 10.0:1 
Bore x stroke: 88.0 x 79.0 mm (3.5 x 3.1 inches) 
Valves per cylinder:  
Fuel system:  Injection                                                                                                                                                                 
Ignition:

Digital

Lubrication system:       Dry sump                                                                                                                                                                                  

Cooling system:        

Air           
Gearbox: 5-speed                                                                                                
Transmission:  Chain
Clutch:  Wet multi-plate hydraulic lifter
Driveline: Constant mesh
Emissions:  3 way catalytic converter  
Exhaust: Stainless steel  
Frame: Steel tubular with integral oil tank
Rake (fork angle): 24.5°
Trail: 99mm (3.9 inches)
Front suspension: 43mm Ohlins RWU – adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping 
Front wheel travel: 115mm 
Rear suspension: Twin-sided steel swing arm. Ohlins reservoir-style twin shocks – Adjustable ride height, preload, compression
Rear wheel travel: 100mm 
Front tyre: 120/70-17 
Rear tyre: 180/55-17 
Front brakes: Double disc. Brembo system, twin semi-floating hi carbon stainless steel discs, Brembo 4 piston “Gold Line” axial callipers
Front brakes diameter:  220mm 
Wheels:  Polished aluminium rims 
Seat:  813mm (adjustable) 
Dry weight: 188kg
Power/ weight ratio: 0.4255HP/kg
Fuel tank: 17 litres
Wheelbase: 1,420mm