2023 Norton Commando 961 Review | Best of British is Back!

2023 Norton Commando 961 launch review

An iconic name makes a resurgence, and the 2023 Norton Commando 961 impresses at the UK launch in the North Wessex Downs.

THE 2023 Norton Commando 961 is everything the 2019 model wished it could be. But that has been no easy feat. Norton has spent over 100,000 man-hours refining an icon, a machine that is (and always has been) all about style and turning heads. 

Billet aluminium everywhere, the hand-finished Commando hails from the Solihull factory as a self-confessed ‘best ever’ version of the iconic British Motorcycle.

Alex was out in the North Wessex Downs, near Newbury, for the launch ride (or, re-launch if you will) of a TVS-backed new-Norton’s next, newest, and arguably most important release.

Where the first-ever Commando was first seen in 1967, with over 55,000 models sold since then, this machine is every bit of an icon as ever. Despite recent troubles (which we’ll not go into here), Norton is confident to announce that this is the best-ever Commando, benefitting from hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment & man hours to ‘re-launch’ a timeless machine that has clearly been passionately built in the UK.

2023 Norton Commando 961 price & availability

Available from early 2023 - we’re told deliveries are expected from January onwards - the Norton Commando 961 is priced up at £16,499 for the SP, and £16,999 for the CR. 

Hand-painted colour options are Matrix Black with gold accents, and Manx Platinum with red accents - both options come paired with polished spoked rims, the Matrix Black also has the option of black rims. 

It’s worth noting at this point that there were 29 outstanding orders (with paid deposits) for the previous Commando, and in 2020 when TVS acquired what was left of Norton Motorcycles, these orders were honoured by TVS. 

Decked out from nose to tail in the best components and parts that money can buy, 36% of the 350-or-so parts have been changed from the previous iteration… One thing is for certain; it’s a premium product with a premium look and feel, and it delivers on all fronts. Up close and in person, it’s undeniably stunning.

If you want more info on placing an order, you can register your interest via the official website. But anyway, on with the review!

2023 Norton Commando 961 Engine

At the heart of the Commando 961 is a 961cc air-oil-cooled parallel-twin, with pushrods valve actuation, a dry-sump, and a satisfying rumble from the twin exhausts... Not only does firing up the Norton Commando feel like it’s genuinely reverberating your soul, but opening the throttle on the open road (and in town) produces an absolutely breathtaking symphony of noise.

The presence of pushrods in the internals may lead some to describe the firing up and rumble of the motor as somewhat agricultural - I’d personally describe it as charming and classical. With the growing presence of muted Euro 5 motors (and electric whirrs), the Norton delivers a truly addicting engine note, and possibly my favourite feature of an otherwise stacked machine.

Peak power figures for the 7º forward-canted engine are noted at 76.8 bhp at 7250 rpm, and 81 Nm (59lb-ft) of torque at 6300 rpm. By no means Earth-shattering figures, but out on the road the bike feels perfectly pokey for a Sunday ride in the countryside, or an afternoon jaunt to the local bike meet, to give folk something special to drool over. 

Norton staff were keen to announce that they are ‘chasing mm’s and not mph’ - whilst that absolutely sounds like well-versed PR lingo to me, it rings true. 

The motor itself feels brilliantly rudimental, firing up with a bit of throttle to get the pushrods moving - and despite pushrods being rarely seen in most modern motorcycles, the internals of the bike have been subject to £100 million worth of investment for the Solihull factory. That money was spent giving the bike what Norton describes as ‘invisible improvements’, something to keep the iconic essence of the bike the same, but with modern reliability. 

Other changes include a new valve train design, new frame, new fuel tank, changed gearing, new rear cush drives, better coatings and sealed connectors, uprated camshaft materials, engine calibrations and crankcase refinements. No more being stuck in 1st gear, as was seemingly apparent with the prior model.

Back on the road, and powering up to 60 mph is a delight with the motor singing beneath you, and when working the 5-speed gearbox, acceleration is modest - though looking good isn’t about the pace with which you depart! With only 5 gears, I was also keen to test top speed and the rpm - holding 60-70 mph in 5th has the analogue display reading between 4 & 5 k revs, and (allegedly) riding at the triple-digit mark still has the bike feeling composed and balanced.

2023 Norton Commando 961 Brakes & Suspension 

Decked out with fully adjustable Öhlins - a 43mm USD fork up front and twin rear shocks with preload, rebound and compression adjustment - the road feel is quite frankly superb. 

A billet-machined yoke is joined by black anodised tapered high bars on the Sport, and high-grade anodised billet aluminium clip-ons for the Cafe Racer. Of note is the fairly restrictive turning circle on both (but particularly the CR), and despite a 1400mm wheelbase, U-turns are best done with a huge amount of space.

Ground clearance is also something to be mindful of, and if your suspension is set soft, you run the risk of grounding out the beautiful hand-welded stainless steel exhaust system. Rider beware!

Whether atop the more upright Sport model, or fully tucked in Cafe Racer, turn-in and mid-corner feel is right up there amongst the best in my opinion - and adds an air of confidence to what is already a confidence-inspiring machine. It’s all well and good talking the talk, but you better be able to walk the walk too!

When it comes to braking power, the 230kg Commando is brought to a stop by floating radially-mounted Brembo calipers on the 17” front and rear wheels (with Dunlop Sportmax GPR 300 rubber), a 4-pot twin-disc 320mm setup is found up front and 240mm disc with 2 pistons at the rear.

The Brembos provide a progressive & reassuring braking feel, with sharp pressure when you really hammer down. As far as electronic gadgetry goes, the ABS is the main event - and you can feel it clicking away under some heavier braking, but not intrusively so. Of note is the levers aren’t span adjustable, and in first gear the bite point for the clutch is a tad further out than you may at first expect.

Cafe Racer ambitions - Style and poise, luxury and exclusivity

If opting for the slightly pricier Commando 961 CR, you’ll be pleased to find it’s a seriously special cafe racer option. The clip-ons promote that classic hunched forward riding position, and while the 810mm seat is absolutely stunning with Norton logo and pristine stitch-work, it’s not something I’d say is the most comfortable for longer rides. 

If you’re looking at a new Commando for outright rider comfort, you’re probably considering the wrong bike. Our launch ride tallied a total of around 60 miles, though even for myself as a 6’3” rider it was fairly comfortable in that short distance - though the slender cut-down waist and tank indents for your knee were just a fraction too small. Riders of standard height should get on fine. 

Spec rundown

A few other ‘essential’ spec bits; the analogue dash doesn’t have a fuel gauge for the 15-litre tank, so keep a beady eye out for the fuel light coming on after what we’re told is about 100 miles, with 20 miles in ‘reserve’ to find your way to the nearest forecourt.

The side stand is not spring-loaded and is found tucked away right underneath the billet-machined left peg (which is also not spring-loaded). Pulling to a stop means a tentative search under the peg for the kickstand - not a dealbreaker by any means, just something to be aware of.

The first service will be due after your maiden 500 miles, with the next (and each subsequent) service due every 6000 miles - I’d be surprised if most owners ever reach the mileage required for a third service. You’ll also have a 2 year warranty from new on your side.

A slight benefit of the current small-batch manufacturing process is that the Commando 961 is subject to SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) over Euro 5 rules - allowing the exhaust to reach up to 99 Db, as opposed to the fairly restrictive limit of 80 Db for Euro 5. That, unfortunately, does place the Commando 961 in its current form out of the realms of possibility for an instant Euro 5 homologated version - though we’re told this is something Norton is actively considering for European & North American markets.

Each model will come with a carbon fibre front mudguard, and the option for a pillion seat in the accessories catalogue. All in, the build quality of the Commando 961 is up there as some of the best around - you can see the sheer amount of talent & effort that has gone into producing this special machine, and everywhere you look you’re gifted another small detail that amounts to a stunning picture.

What we liked about the 2023 Norton Commando 961

  • Timeless design, it’ll turn heads

  • Outrageous engine note

  • Shiny parts galore - stunning!

What we didn’t like about the 2023 Norton Commando 961

  • Pricey when compared to some of the competition

  • Tight turning circle & low ground clearance

  • Euro 5 may be a hurdle to overcome for sales outside the UK


Norton Commando 961 Verdict

As far as launches go, the introduction ride to the 2023 Norton Commando 961 was up there as one of the more impressive launch rides. Stylish and well-poised, you’re sure to turn heads - and be just as confident with how the Commando performs on the road. 

Whether opting for the SP or CR model, both are undeniably stunning motorcycles, with an iconic name that stretches back decades. Fire it into life, and it sounds the part too. And when you do get it out on the road, it’ll probably surprise you with the handling on offer.

Norton has never been known for budget motorcycles, and never will be - and what makes the distinctly British marque special is the expert craftsmanship hand-woven into every machine that comes out of the Solihull factory. It’s clear that an outrageous amount of time & effort has gone into getting the ducks in order, where the previous regime may have been running on shoestrings and prayers, it now appears to be in shape to be a formidable luxury brand to represent the best of British once again.

One of my notes from the launch is that it all distinctly feels like a passion project, and the much-loved British brand appears to be in the right hands under the stewardship of the TVS group. Norton wants to open up motorcycling, and while the Commando 961 absolutely sits in an exclusive category, it represents a first ‘accessible’ model for the 'new' Norton (compared to the £44,000 Norton V4SV), the revival (or re-revival) of a legend, and a glimmer at what could be in store for the next 125 years…

For full information on the new 2023 Norton Commando 961 can be found here.

2023 Norton Commando Video Review