I’ve always had something of a theory regarding Norton’s motorcycles or more accurately put a personal gut-feeling about these machines. I’ve always regarded them as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and apparently the new 961/SS Commando only comes to confirm this theory.
Being a sport-biker, and more of a modern type at that, I can’t really state that the design of these bikes is or ever was particularly attractive to me. However being a true biker at heart I can’t help having a sound respect for pretty much everything on two wheels. I’ve always respected caffe racers and enjoyed riding them whenever I got the chance since I personally consider them to be the forefathers of modern day sport-bikes.
Of all caffe racers ( pre and post WWII) the Norton probably deserves most of the credit for always remaining a purebred racer at heart and continuing the tradition to this very day, successfully combining modern day technological achievements with the design that is the Norton trademark.
All of this being said the first impression that strikes me about the 961/SS Commando is that it’s a beautiful bike. No buts or maybes about that. It is a born and bred racer and it looks to me like one of them fancy sport-bikes without all the flashy plastic cover-up – makes sense, because given the history of this bike, it has certainly nothing to hide from the eyes of the onlooker.
Once on the bike though, the impression that one’s riding a race-bike quickly becomes certainty. The wolf is eager to start showing claws and teeth out of the sheepskin. Heck it’s like a luxury race car (don’t want to be pointing to any specific one here) on two wheels. It becomes obvious from the start that the whole design went for the weight to power ratio, as the carbon fiber wheels and light chromoly steel tubular frame prove it. The 961 cc parallel twin engine (air-cooled) doesn’t churn out all that many horses (80 HP at 6500 rpm) but once one realizes the weight that this power plant has to thrust forth is merely 415 lbs (188 kg), it becomes clear this is a wolf on the prowl indeed. The power to weight ratio is a respectable 0.4250 HP/kg, by the way.
What Norton managed to do with this bike is surely something worthy of all respect. The way tradition married to technology in the 961/SS Commando is truly amazing and it comes to prove once again that a true motorbike is not only the sum of its parts, a bunch of pipes, cables and pistons, but something much more than that. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s got a soul, but it definitely has some sort of spirit about it. Technology is simply a tool to make sure the spirit lives on.
The 2001 Norton C652 Combat, the 1992 Norton Commander, the 2000 Norton Nemesis, all the way back to the 1970 Norton Commando 750 are each a shrine where the spirit of the streetfighter prevails.
Bottom line about the 961/SS Commando is that like its similarly named 1970 brother, riding one is like sippin a rare fine French wine: one always knows what to expect of it and also that it will always cater to the most refined of tastes.
It is good to know that there are certain things in this world that will simply put, always be there for the passionate rider and that will always deliver just the type of experience they’re famous for. Norton bikes ARE among these things.