First Ride: Norton Commando 961 SE - Going Commando

Riding Norton's nascent Commando 961 SE

By Phil West, Photography by Motor Cycle News

Even in a gray drizzle amid the humdrum surroundings of Norton's modest industrial unit at Donington Park, the new Commando 961 SE is an impressive machine. The sharp styling, exceptional finish and overall quality are mouth watering. Swing a leg over the scooped-out solo seat and everything feels just right. A sculpted tank makes the bike seem incredibly slim, the center of gravity feels low and well-balanced (reminiscent of Ducati's latest Monster) and the view over the front is glorious. Top-notch switchgear, high-end Brembo levers, tapered alloy bars and proper twin gauges from VDO complete with LED idiot lights communicate that the 961 Commando is a luxurious and well-built bike.

A thumb of starter, a quick blip of throttle, and the fuel-injected 961cc parallel twin, refined with assistance from Indy racing specialists Menard Competition Technologies, rumbles to life with a gruff, bassy note. Out on the short, kidney-shaped test track behind Norton's factory it's immediately obvious that the 961's chassis is properly sorted, with neutral steering and more than enough sporting prowess. The motor wasn't quite there yet-the fuel mapping still needed fine-tuning to erase a flat spot around 5000 rpm-but it offered plenty of low-end grunt and around 80 horses up top. Acceleration was again reminiscent of Ducati's Monster 1100 or another likely competitor, the Harley-Davidson XR1200.

The new-generation Commando 961 offers performance to match both of those bikes, and even better curb appeal. This is a "feel good" bike par excellence. It's great fun to ride, but just as satisfying to park and admire in the garage.

By Phil West
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