BMW Motorrad Spezial

Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer

Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer
I so desperately wanted to like Norton’s new 961 range. After all, the Commandos of the past are among the most desirable vintage motorcycles in the world: sleek and sexy, and with some of the best frame engineering of all time.

The specs of the new 961 are impeccable, with Öhlins suspension, a top of the line Brembo braking system, just the right amount of power, and a dry weight of 188 kg. But there’s something about the 961 that is totally not doing it for me—and this new Café Racer variant hasn’t changed that. Road tests will no doubt extol the virtues of the 961’s handling, but the styling is nothing less than awful.

The tank looks too big. The side panel is fussy, and it neither blends nor contrasts with the curves of the seat/tail unit. There’s a yawning, inelegant gap between the rear tire and fender. And the yellow color of the publicity bike is simply offensive. The 961 Café Racer will retail for £13,495 in the UK, which is US$22,500—almost double the price of a Ducati SportClassic GT1000, and heading into MV Agusta F4 territory. In the US, South Bay Norton has the exclusive distribution rights. I think we need to wish them luck. [Thanks to Stuart Bowey.]

  • Am I the only one that can’t tell much of a difference between the Sport and Cafe Racer variants? Besides, of course, the silly little pirate-hat windscreen and the truly offensive color. And for $22k? It doesn’t rank too high on my Christmas wishlist.

  • I like it. I wouldnt get yellow, but it looks like a helluva bike.

  • daveo

    I don’t think the tank is too big, but the line from the bottom of the tank back to the tip of the tail is too busy. Maybe if it were ‘straight’er?

  • Paul

    I also agree that the tank doesn’t look too big, but there is something wrong with the bottom line of the tail. Plus those sidecovers just look strange. But all in all, if it was cheaper and a different color, I’d be all over it.

  • Tony

    figure out a way to get rid of the side covers and shave at least $6k off the price and maybe……but who am I kidding even for that price one can rebuild two more classic looking bikes

  • The Phantom

    I’ve never considered any Norton to be elegant or stylish – brutal and businesslike is closer to the mark. This sort of follows that pattern to a degree, but there is too much rearward bias to the bodywork from the rear of the tank back, giving the bike an unbalanced look. The rear ducktail needs to be half the size that it is.

    The tanks is definitely on the large side but I can live with it – I’d black out that panel that’s pinstriped onto it. The front guard is completely wrong and looks like a banana : )

    Otherwise, two thumbs up from this corner, but I’d take a (Ken Horner) Irving Vincent over a 961 Norton anyday.

  • Looks like a Suzuki Bandit to me. For $22k you could buy two or three real Nortons that actually looked cool.

  • I was hoping it was just the bad lighting that made the bike look sick. But seriously what kind of yellow is that? Any chance Norton had of making a good impression with the styling has been wiped by the designer listening to his wife, “Come on dear. I love yellow. Please. Just for me …”

  • Tony

    don’t blame a woman my wife thinks it’s ugly too

  • toddly

    I want one!

    I think it looks gorgeous. Factoring in that this is a factory built street legal and usable bike not a bespoke styling exersize I like the size of the tank. The yellow paint I would have to see in the flesh as the photo may not be representative of the real colour. Nice brute of an engine; reminds me of the older Laverdas.

    For that money though there are many many more choices- five $4k Buells at present run out prices makes this a hard deal to seal.

  • It’s the SE that’s the bike, black, purposeful, beautifull. Why they released the other two i know not…and in those colours?!

  • Scott

    Yeah, the color’s not the greatest, but If you love yellow, you love yellow. I can’t talk, I love my lime green Kawa. All the rest of the comments seem like the standard nitpicking that accompanies every lusted after bike that commits the ultimate sin of actually making it to production. If the tank was smaller, people would complain about limited range. The curvy parts probably look good at the 3/4 angle, and half of them wouldn’t be seen with a rider on it anyway.

  • JDW

    Gorgeous bike. I’ve been waiting on this bike for years since Mr. Dreer brought it from his mind to reality. Kenny is out of the picture now, but I’m glad someone else is stepping up (with $$$) to keep this alive.

  • Snorton

    The bike is the hottest bike on the market. They color is not. That’s why god made paint.

  • jameskmetovic

    ‘Roadster’ is the word I always associate with Norton. Big tank to ride farther down the road. Side cover needs to fit in the frame. Are big rear ends ever a good thing? Red or black.

  • JDW

    From what I can see, the cafe uses USD forks, radial mounted calipers, flyscreen and “clip on” style bars. The sport varient uses traditional forks, no flyscreen, axial mounted calipers and bars that won’t kill your back.

    Damn!! I want that cafe version. Neat bike, but as usual – more power and less weight please!

  • Jim Henderson

    I think it is as great a bike as the builder thinks it is. I also think that the Moto Guzzi V7 Clubman is the only bike that meets the mark of Cafe Racer for the masses other than a few specialty bikes. This bike is WOW except for the price. The Moto Guzzi is WOW and then another WOW when you see the price!

  • I actually really like the styling, the price tag however is insane. If they had put together an affordable $9,999 USD retro sport bike they would take a significant chunk out of the market from Ducati but at this price it’s just for wealthy posers.

  • Mingh

    don’t be too harsh on the bike itself. Just let some creative minds chop the crap off and reveal the inner beauty. Look at how people turn bland Sport 1000, V7 classics, bonnies and Thruxtons into much more desireable bikes. This site’s full of them. And seeing the going prices of any custom bike (harley based or even jap based) there’ll definately be actual people doing it.

    I for one would much rather use that budget to get a Commando SS and prep the engine to a degree that rides the snot out of any modern replica. It’s what i’m currenly in process of doing with my 1973 Triumph trident.

  • Turgut

    Agree w Gareth, 961SE with black trim looks better. I think golden fork shoes is the cheapy looking element and the 961SE’s darker tone forks make it a little better.
    Also in black suit, the tail parts and the frame has lower contrast emphasizes the upper profile, though the frame and the bodywork look divorced somehow.

    I’d like to hear the engine, hope nothing like early triumph triples..

  • Andy

    To me, it looks like a kit bike special. I think the individual elements, the enginem tank, etc., are okay, but they look like they were thrown together and nothing quite fits. And then there’s the price tag…

  • Nigel John Norton

    Having seen the bike in the flesh in the UK and ordering the standard bike in candy apple red I’m a little bias. The pictures do not do the bike justice I and just about everybody who went to the bike show this week in the UK thought it was the best bike at the show. As for the price with a 6 to 7 month waiting list 4 days ago and growing by weeks every day (mine is coming in June just after Gordon Ramsey’s and Jamie Whitham’s – he order a yellow cafe racer) why should they be cheaper as the market is prepared to pay the price. Yes the oil tank is a little strange but I’m having mine in black, and yes the power is only OK (+10bhp with free flowing cans) but in the UK you go to prison for speeds over 140 and loose your license over 100 and when I’m out I’m not going to be parked in a line of R1’s, GSXR’s, Harleys’s ………..
    Signed a now very poor English Biker

  • Jim

    Given the equipment and the expected sales volume $22K USD isn’t outrageous. Of course we’d all like it to be half that or less, but to achieve that you would need to have Ducati Monster like sales volumes to get the right pricing on the bits and to defer the expansion of the manufacturing facility that would be required.

    Anything well made in small quantities will be expensive. Wait until a girl friend comments how much she loves a particular purse and you think, hey Christmas is coming. Only to find out that the sack of leather costs over $10K and only a few hundred are produced a year.

  • Adrian

    I actually like the yellow, although if i had one i would like a “vintage” Interstate color scheme – sliver with black pinstripes.

    The only thing I have always hated with this design is the gap between the tail and the wheel, too much open space.

  • Swagger

    We can debate the shape of the tank and tail all day long; they will appeal to some and not to others. Cool. Wanna gripe about the shape of the knurling pattern on the shifter toe…whatever.
    This bike Fooking rules! Living here in Portland I got to spend a little time in the ‘factory’ here and I did get a ride on one of their development bikes. There’s just nothing out there that can touch it. This is an exclusive and unique, nearly niche-market bike. I’m glad it’s expensive. I’m glad that it’s out of reach for nearly any squid who might consider buying one. Let it bet he stuff of dreams. It should be. It’s not the fastest bike out there, but it’s not rolling in a plastic condom either, you can see all the good bits. It’s not the most powerful either, but the ‘experience’ is damn near magical. The motor pulled really well, spun up pretty damn hard for a parallel twin and the sound……..damn.

    No, sorry……all you detractors are wrong.


    You should give up riding and grab yourself a mid-80’s Chrysler minivan.
    All kidding aside, if you’re just speculating or griping about styling you just don’t get it. And that’s ok. Now imagine…..

    Same tank shape in polished alloy with a ribbed alloy front fender. A smaller tail like the Manx, all upholstered just the same. Dump the flyscreen for something a bit more reminiscent of the Manx too, in black with a silver ring around the headlight. That “side panel” in satin black with a little pinstriping or some vintage style decals……..


  • My father courted my mother on a Norton Commando and his stories of leaking oil, 100mph two up, blown alternators, police trouble and then finally having to sell it to pay the tax man have fueled my love for motorcycling.

    I’ll forgive the scoopy set hump, the large tank, (reminds me of my 1995 Trumpet Speed Triple) dodgy side panels and even the colour (weirdly my 1st 3 motorcycles were bright yellow). It’s just fantastic to see such a great marque revived and on the road.

    It certainly stands out amongst the sci-fi styling the go-fast mainstream. I look forward to seeing them develop over the next few years.

  • Swagger

    note tongue in cheek……

  • K.Dreer & the new company got the most difficult part right. (body work and paint are easy, comparatively)
    What other engine on the market today looks as good?
    The Irving Vincent engine looks great, but that is even more money and is it street legal for EURO3 or North America?

    Price? I’d spend that money on this Norton before a $22k Harley (which are quite common). The return of grins while owning it would be more as well as any return on investment if you sell.

    good going for using spoke rims, too.

  • mingh

    my bottom line: how does it sound?

  • RetroGrouch

    “The 961 Café Racer will retail for £13,495 in the UK, which is US$22,500—almost double the price of a Ducati SportClassic GT1000.”

    That’s because it looks twice as good. Sorry, but the Ducati cafe is an eyesore. This Norton is vastly superior in styling, quite a bit fancier than the Thuxton and does a good job of bringing vintage into the present. And yes, it’s out of my price range but I prefer to build up my own bikes by scrounging, just like the original cafe racer guys.

  • ralph newton

    Had a 72′ Combat commando bought new in 72′.Was 21yo,and had fallen desperately in love with the mysterious blend of raw power,and minimylist art wizardry of the Norton.Came upon the new Norton accidently,on a nostalgia web search.Never imagined much of anything would provoke the raw feelings of that early love,but was wrong.With Harleys,and italians upwards of 20-35,this doll is not a deal,but in the park,and astonishingly beautiful

  • Tin Man 2

    I like the bike,and I like Yellow. I would paint the side covers and front fender Satin Black, And call it Good. Or maybe the whole bike in British Racing Green.

  • T

    black looks good, but the sideways bell-shaped headlight is strange. Better fender here too…

    photo from the NEC Show

  • redted

    Could’nt agree more with Benjamin re: “If they had put together an affordable $9,999 USD retro sport bike they would take a significant chunk out of the market from Ducati but at this price it’s just for wealthy posers.”

    Also the notion that smaller volume well built bikes will always be expensive is inncorrect. Have a look at the Thruxton and Bonneville.

    The design above does nothing for me; wouldn’t buy it at half the price. It’s styling looks awkard and Japanese “sport bikish” with the small wheels, etc..
    With the original design inspiration that they could have drawn on for a beautiful “retro” they really muffed it in my opinion.

    Much rather have a beautiful Commando as refurbished by the Colorado guys.
    Norton should try producing something more conservative and elegant looking along the lines of a Norvin or similar; they would sell well: they certainly did a good job on the look of the engine however, it’s a beauty so they are half way there.

  • Paul

    Personally I like the yellow. Stands out from the norm. Would so love to test ride the bike and trade in my duke, but like other comments it’s a tad pricey for me at the moment. It will sell well I’m sure, so good luck to them.

  • Craig Milne

    I cant believe what I am reading, here we have a work of art & the re-birth of a name famous of old & what are most people complaining about, OH ITS YELLOW. Yes its a bit expensive but so are all bikes nowadays. Just think of when you bought your first bike & try to buy the same one today. Lets not get away from the facts, it has some of the best kit available today, you can pick the colour you want, your bike is built to order & you actually go to the factory to meet the team before they build your bike, “it has a big tank” so what, just means you dont have to keep stopping to re fuel just keep ridding. If when you first see the new Norton you dont like it, then its not for you & there are plenty others to choose from. On the other hand, if you are like me I fell in love with it. To me its just what we need in the bike world to get away from the plastic bikes that all look the same.

    Well thats my say & I enjoyed it, now I cant wait for my new Norton to arrive.

  • Turgut

    Craig, my best wishes for your new bike, hope you enjoy it as you would like to.
    I also hope it’s not yellow. ;-)

  • Castrol ‘R’

    Check out the new livery, yes the yellow is vulgar, but the ‘Classic’ Norton silver grey and pinstripe is back, with real Manx Norton style. The Brits can’t get it through thier heads that if the continental market wants a continental bike, that’s what they will buy, and not a wannabe. If they want a Brit bike, thats what it should be, and I think this Norton IS TRUE BRIT. Engineering wise, a pushrod twin is, well, retro, Dominator, (don’t forget how these spanked your Harleys!) Atlas, Commando. The heritage is there, and advances in engine design seem to have been by-balled, but it doesn’t seem to matter. This Norton ticks a lot of boxes, including being a bit on the pricey side, and I’m guessing the target market is old geezers who have made good, shaken off the kids and remember looking longingly at Coommandos in the showroom, when they only had a Honda 50 budget!
    I would love to see Norton make a comeback, and I think this is a good start

  • Castrol ‘R’

    If the guys at Norton are into ‘Retro’ engineering and want to fill a gap in the market, any chance of simply re-issuing the Manx 350’s and 500’s?

  • Steve Crocker

    I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. There’s nothing about the styling I find at all offensive.
    Now if you want to point out an offensive gap between rear wheel and fender look at the Duke GT1000, the end of it hanging out there swinging in the breeze….that and the 15 litre tank reasons I crossed it off my list.
    The Norton’s cut off tail is neat and complete, finishing just at the end of the rear tyre ….perfect!
    That forward tilted engine is a thing of beauty, exhausts emanating from up high where they should and finishing as stubbies where the rear sprocket stops.
    I have always had the warm and fuzzies for retro styling. I came back to riding with a new Bonneville in 2001, kept it 10 months but never really warmed to it. Looking back I think it was saddled with an the overly long exhaust with too upright a motor which looked and sounded as anaemic as it felt, issues all addressed on this bike (although 100 horses might be more useful for two-up and for overtaking faster moving cars than we had to in the 60s/70s). It’s also 17 kgs (nearly 40 pounds) lighter than the Bonneville.

    I wonder if those laced looking wheels are going to have to have inner tubes or if they are retro looking but with tubeless tyres? I never want to have to take off a wheel to fix a puncture some hundreds of kms out in the country on day rides.

  • Big Sven

    Stop nit-picking, lads. I knew Joan Collins before she was famous and resprayed, and she weren’t absolutely perfect even then. The new Norton looks great to me, ignore the few slight blemishes, I’m certain she’s a good ride anyway (Joan was…ahem). A poor pensioner, I’d need that dratted lottery-win first, but I’d have one, windshield, panniers, hit the Top Gear Best Roads In Europe, love every second of it. And I’ll guarentee you this, until I get me helmet off the girls will be simpering all over me! Damn I look good in black leather….