NORTON ATLAS 650 RANGER (2020 - on) Review
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Far from being randomly selected from the production line, the Norton Atlas 650 Ranger you see here is a final-stage pre-production prototype, a lone Ranger to go tonto on.
- Related: Best naked motorbikes of 2019
That means that some bits are still unfinished, or not fully calibrated – but as I nose it out of Norton’s Donington Park factory and onto the local lanes there’s a pleasing realisation that this is no lash-up show exhibit. I’ve ridden many less refined production bikes than this...
Norton Atlas - the background
Trading off heritage is so common now that companies will go to extraordinary lengths to invent a heart-tugging backstory to underpin their latest cynical attempt at world domination. But for all their business challenges and struggles, the one thing Norton don’t have to do is fabricate their heritage.
While the first decade of ‘new Norton’ was dominated by their unapologetically old-school Commando 961 model range, they are now dragging themselves into a whole new era, deliberately colliding their past with their future.
So it’s actually this bike, the Atlas, that really matters. If Norton can make the crucial move from hand-built production to more high-volume capability, this could be the bike that proves to be their ‘Ducati Monster moment’ – transforming them into a serious volume player, build on firmer foundations.
This one model (well, two – the Atlas comes in Ranger or Nomad form) has the potential to outsell the rest of Norton’s range combined – providing it can tick enough boxes for our increasingly picky palettes to get any traction in the wildly overcrowded naked retro class.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
The Ranger’s ‘Roadholder’ branded fork and shock (they’re Marzocchi really) do an impressive job of controlling the Atlas’ mass (178kg dry), even with my bulk added to the equation.
There’s no slap or patter from the fully adjustable fork, which soaked up every pothole I pointed it at. Despite the decent travel that allows it the capability to batter down greenlanes without concern, there’s none of the often-found softness in the initial part of the stroke, meaning that you can brake into corners with confidence, devoid of the unsettling mid-corner transition when the front unloads as you dial in the power and drive for the exit.
The shock is equally composed, with enough range to cope with a wide variance in loads. Front and rear work well together, too – meaning you never feel like you’re compensating for the weaker end.
Knitting everything together is the in-house built frame, offering a level of rigid composure that makes you wonder what an Atlas would feel like with 100bhp at the back wheel.
There’s no appreciable flex or forgiveness which will either appeal to you, or won’t. Lovers of bendy-framed scramblers that feel like they’re hiding a hinge under the fuel tank will find it unforgiving. But it’s the sort of frame the ton-up boys would have paid handsomely for, and I much prefer that precision.
Both models steer with surprising neutrality, especially considering the Ranger’s 19in front rim. The Avon Trekrider rubber is up to the job without adding anything extra to the party, while a more pliant tyre would doubtless add even more refinement to the ride, and deliver the corner-hunting potential that lives in the rest of the chassis.
EngineNext up: Reliability
However attractive a bike looks, if it’s lacking character and the right parts, then the relationship’s going nowhere – much like dating a mannequin from Ann Summers.
Thankfully, Norton’s all-new in-house designed 650cc parallel-twin is a peach. From the moment you feed the light clutch to the biting point and dial in some revs, it delivers a smooth surging punch of drive that belies its relatively modest power figures. Norton claim 84bhp at the crank, which means you’re be playing with around 75bhp at the wheel – and that’s enough to have fun with.
It’s geared for around 135mph on the limiter in 6th, but what matters is sub-90mph performance, and it happily charges up to the thick end of that with as much aggression as anyone really needs on the road.
Getting there is aided by the superb gearbox. Swapping cogs in either direction though the ’box is effortless with or without the clutch. It’s as smooth as a mid-Noughties Suzuki, and that’s saying something. You don’t even miss the lack of quickshifter/blipper that’s now so de rigeur on all sorts of bike.
The only glitches are reluctance to easily find neutral, and the imperfect fuelling. Yet to be properly dialled in, this Atlas was running very rich, robbing it of clean-revving crispness. Equally, in places it was perfect, revealing the full potential of the engine delivery.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
There’s enough rattle and hum to give it character, but not enough to intrude.
Is it as refined as a Ducati Scrambler or a Triumph Street Twin? No – but it’s more characterful, interesting, individual and endearing. Only time will tell how reliable these new-era mass-produced Nortons are.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
The Ranger is the more expensive of the two Atlas models, weighing in at £2000 dearer than the smaller Nomad.
That also makes Ranger costlier than the whole Scrambler 800 range and the Street Twin mentioned above, before personalisation at least, so it's top money for a bike in this class. Whether it can justify this pricetag will depend on its manufacturing - will there be a stream of reliable bikes consistently coming out of the Donington Park factory? If so, all those naked retro mainstream manufacturers might have another rival to contend with...
It might be nearly as naked as the day it was born, but its clothing concessions are well judged. The tank is a particular highlight of understated design. Almost the whole character of the bike is defined by this functional fuel box. It looks forgettably simple at first, but your eye keeps returning to it and lingering on those classic lines.
The beautifully finished bench seat isn’t far behind in aesthetics, but it’s less kind to your behind. Norton say the foam will be more usefully dense in the production version, but it’s narrowness means the generous of posterior will feel its edges digging in. But that narrowness, combined with the reasonable seat height, means standover is excellent. I can get both feet flat on the tarmac with my short-legged 5ft11in stature.
The twin chrome-rimmed clocks are pleasingly retro-simple, the switchgear forgettably effective, while detail abounds elsewhere, from peg rubbers to headlamp mounts to the exhaust, while there are still areas of roughness to be ironed out before production starts.
There will be several exhaust options on offer, and the one we tested occupied the middle ground between muted and megaphone. It's more than loud enough.
|Engine type||DOHC liquid-cooled parallel twin, 270-degree crank|
|Frame type||Twin tube seamless steel perimeter chassis with aluminium swingarm mount|
|Fuel capacity||14 litres|
|Front suspension||50mm Roadholder fully-adjustable fork|
|Rear suspension||Roadholder preload / rebound adj shock|
|Front brake||2 x 320mm Brembo discs with Brembo monobloc calipers|
|Rear brake||Brembo 245mm disc with Brembo 2-piston caliper|
|Front tyre size||120/70 R19|
|Rear tyre size||170/60 R17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||-|
|Annual road tax||£93|
|Annual service cost||-|
How much to insure?
Top speed & performance
|Max power||84 bhp|
|Max torque||47.2 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
Model history & versions
Off-road-focused Norton Atlas 650 Nomad launched at same time.
Owners' reviews for the NORTON ATLAS 650 RANGER (2020 - on)
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