2015 Norton Domiracer | FIRST RIDE

TIME MACHINES: Yesterday Once More

They say: A present to ourselves. We say: How about sharing with a few Yanks?

Norton Motorcycles has turned a corner of sorts, having built more than 1,000 examples of the 961 Commando and beginning deliveries to the US for long-waiting customers. To celebrate, Norton owner Stuart Garner has unveiled the first limited-production variant on the firm's existing air-cooled parallel-twin theme, the Norton Domiracer. (The name comes from Norton's Dominator-based racebikes of the early 1960s.)

“Designing this bike in the first place was a present to ourselves,” Garner says. “Many of the lads who work at Norton had their own ideas of what the next-generation version of the 961 Commando platform might be. After all the disruption of moving the factory last year, we thought it would be good to let each of them have a say in what such a bike might be then ask Simon Skinner, our head of design, to draw up a bike based on their input. Simon did this, built the result, and then parked it on the factory floor for two weeks for everyone to critique it during their tea breaks. The Domiracer is the result.” Just 50 will be built for the UK, priced at 22,000 pounds.

The Domiracer 961 represents a café racer for the modern era, an ultra-minimalist homage to Norton’s first parallel-twin GP racer of the same name. “It’s not meant to be a retro bike because it now has a monoshock rear end where the stock Commando has twin shocks, and the mixture of old and new is very deliberate,” Garner says.

Pushrods and air cooling are true to Commander heritage, but fuel injection and a 270-degree crank are new additions.

But it is aggressive, and that’s an impression backed up by the Domiracer’s parallel-twin engine breathing through open pipes. Only, the Norton sounds like a Ducati, not a classic British twin, thanks to its 270-degree crank. Although the engine is unmodified internally, it actually makes 4 hp more than in Commando guise (because of the open exhaust), larger airbox, and shorter velocity stacks. Claimed power is 83 hp at 6,500 rpm. But the 961 experience is all about grunt. Peak torque is said to be 66 pound-feet at 5,200 rpm, so you can short-shift at 5,000 rpm, enjoy the noise, and still make good progress.

Handling has always been a strong point of any Norton, and the new Domiracer lives up to expectations. It steers faultlessly, tipping easily and controllably into a turn on the radial brakes; the Domi rides slightly higher in the rear, assisting turn-in. Lightness helps too; Norton claims 381 pounds dry.

For all its retro appearances—intentional or not—the Domiracer lives up to the billing of a classically styled café machine with completely modern performance. Latest-spec suspension, fantastic brakes, an up-to-the-minute chassis made from steel tube, and an engine developed to be light, powerful, and compact all help the Commando be more than just a looking-back machine. The unabashedly gorgeous, lighter, better-performing Domiracer is just that much better.

tech SPEC

A Commando made fantastic with creativity and carbon fiber.
Norton Commando (standard), Paton S1, Triumph Bonneville and Thruxton
PRICE $36,500
ENGINE 961cc, air-/oil-cooled parallel-twin
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 83.0 hp @ 6500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 66.0 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Öhlins 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Öhlins shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 24.5º/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 381 lb. wet
CONTACT [nortonmotorcycles.com][]
Verdict: Pricey, limited edition, probably not coming to the US. But completely drool-worthy.
Pushrods and air cooling are true to Commander heritage, but fuel injection and a 270-degree crank are new additions.