Norton Commando 961 Sport Review

Posted: 12 Feb 2013

Norton is back and has an interesting three-bike line-up to attract fans of this famed British marquee. The base model is the Commando 961 Sport that figures on the price sheet at £13,995 and stops at £15,995 for the 961 SF.

Each model is tasty to look at, yes even the ‘plain Jane’ Sport model. And no, I’m not looking through rose-tinted spectacles. But then they should be considering the price tag for what is essentially an air-cooled, old American engine design that’s been redrawn to work and meet present emissions regulations.

If we appear to be cynical then it’s only because Triumph’s present Bonneville engine is a lot sweeter to use in everyday riding conditions. True, the 961 makes more power – and it is smile-making when it comes to overtaking traffic or belting along back roads – but then it is 961cc opposed to 865cc. It’s also fact the 961 engine deals out a lot more vibes and has a gearbox that wouldn’t be out of place on a proper classic.

Gearshifts are slow and noisy and the needs a good solid movement of the foot to get top (fifth) gear to engage fully. No doubt most owners will call it character and live quite happily with their treasured Norton – the bike they’ve always wanted. If this includes the weeping crankcase breather we encountered then so be it.

Of course Norton wouldn’t be Norton if the bikes didn’t have sports riding capability built into them as standard. Fortunately, the 961 is well up for a session or two of back road boogie. We can thank the sturdy frame, respectable chassis geometry and some of the tastiest chassis components your money can buy.

Top of our list of bolt-ons is the Ohlins suspension front and rear. This is the sort of tackle that specials builders lust after. Billed as road/track, they suit the Sport very well. Any subsequent adjustment is purely to accommodate riding styles and rider weight. The Sport is super stable but doesn’t take much effort to cajole it through the bends – the chassis gifts the rider with feel and, therefore, confidence to seek out the next set of bends.

The old adage of ‘you’re paying for the name’ falls squarely across a Norton fuel tank. There are plenty of bikes out there that would run rings around a 961 Sport – probably two for the price of one – but then I guess we’d pay anything to own the bike of our dreams.

+ points – the name on the tank. Quality chassis components. Handles well.

- points – £14k for the base model takes some swallowing. Engine feels underdeveloped/at its limit

Price: £13,995
Power: 78.9bhp, 66.4ft lbs
Dry weight: 205kg
Seat height: 813mm
Colours: Black, silver, red