Commando Raid!

Norton Motorsports puts a famous old nameplate back in action with its new 952 Commando

Photography by Kel Edge

This was all the more frustrating because the 952's motor catapults you forward in a totally addictive way once you get on the gas, encouraging you to rev it. The engine features an absolutely linear power delivery, which means it'll take any gear you throw at it; you only change gears when you feel like it, not because you need to. That's just as well, too, as the race-pattern gear-change felt semi-clunky and slow to react.

In fairness, both of these problems are almost certain to be resolved in actual production bikes. Between my test ride and the submission of this article, Gaudio e-mailed me to report the prototype's vibration had been traced to an out-of-spec crankshaft and counterbalancer. Gaudio added that the company has a new selector drum coming, which should cure the shifting problem.

By contrast, the clutch was easy to feather in traffic and get off the mark from a standing start. The engine comes on strong from 3000 revs, with an extra surge of power from 5000 rpm. It feels as if it'd be happy revving even higher than its currently set limit; there's no fall-off in power at its 7000-rpm peak.

I soon learned to completely trust the new Commando over a variety of surfaces. Those twin shocks belie their vintage looks, giving remarkable wheel control and superb ride quality. I shouldn't have been surprised, having raced and tested many twin-shock four-cylinder muscle bikes in Japan fitted with the same hlins suspension package.

The Avon Azaros suited the bike well, especially the 180-section rear, which gives good traction exiting corners without heavying up the steering. In fact, the handling's good enough that Norton Motorsports will have to reposition the exhaust pipes; I found myself grounding them under enthusiastic cornering, something the 952 encouraged me to do often!

So despite some teething problems, this born-again Brit bike seems to be developing nicely. It's well-conceived, robustly engineered, extremely competent on the road, and offers a visceral appeal that's totally in keeping with its heritage. True admirers of the best of British will relish the advent of Kenny Dreer's comeback Commando.

HOTBOX
Norton Motorsports
www.nortonmotorcycles.com
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