Norton Commando 961 review

One of the best British motorcycles is back with a drive for the new

Motoring 26 Jun 2024

The Italians have Ducati and Moto Guzzi, and the Americans have Harley-Davidson, but back in the day it was the British that boasted many iconic motorcycle brands. Among them was Norton, established in 1898 and makers of the famous Commando model. Check out Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, with Phoenix riding pillion on a yellow Norton Commando 750. Reeves actually owned (and still owns) a black 1973 Norton Commando 850 Mk2A that he’d ridden from Canada to Florida to persuade Phoenix to get on board with the project.

Introduced in 1967, the Commando was legendary, and Norton rode high until, like many British motoring names, it was overtaken by the technologically superior Japanese machines of the ’70s and disappeared. But now it’s back and, unlike many modern styles that have old-school looks yet ride like state-of-the-art contemporary cycles, the new Norton Commando is the bike for today that still feels as if you’re riding a vintage motor.

That’s not to say that these machines come with oil leaks and mechanical problems – plus they’re certainly more comfortable and easier to handle than an original – but you do feel the vibration and hear the exhaust, and you have to be assertive in your use of the clutch and gear shifter. In other words, you have to ride these bikes.


This makes the new Commando a lot of fun for the biker who wants to be gently challenged by their mount. The Commando 961 SP has an air-oil-cooled 961cc parallel twin engine and five-speed constant mesh-type gearbox, full Brembo system brakes, and front and rear Öhlins suspension, but despite the modern-day tech, this is a bike that’s full of what can only be described as traditional two-wheel attitude.

It is also very beautiful. The original Commando was a good-looking machine, and this descendant, with its handcrafted frame and exhaust, is a worthy successor, all flowing lines and forward-angle engine mount. Turn the key and hit the road.


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