From the saddle, though respectably light and lithe, the 961 is a fairly big, roomy roadster with a pleasing view ahead over classic twin dials.
Stability, steering (bar a slightly restricted steering lock) and manageability are all intuitive and natural; the posh suspension and brakes, classy and effective. All of which leaves you to focus on the heart of the matter: the drive and delivery of that big Norton twin.
Wind it above four thousand rpm and it’s truly invigorating and a joy. It doesn’t take long to realise how good it is through the turns. The steering is accurate and reassuring, the suspension and brakes more than capable of handling twice as many horses plus it’s stable, planted and just good fun.
Norton’s pushrod twin has evolved significantly since 2010 so many of these changes were introduced up to 18 months ago. However, the MkII, compared to the 2010 original, now has: die (rather than sand) cast crankcases etc; Nikasil (rather than steel)-lined cylinders; an uprated crankshaft (all of which improve running and reliability) plus a significantly updated gearbox, with new bevel-cut gears to improve shifting and reliability. The engine is now also available with black-finished barrels and/or head.
As before the 961 starts with a slightly reluctant shudder and low down the big push rod twin is mechanically lumpy, jarring almost, and a touch hesitant. Above that out on the open road, however, the improving refinement shines through.
The Mk II has been notably updated to the bike it is superseding and, while the original 2010 961 Commando wasn’t a bad machine by any standard, the Mk II build on the original’s successes and is more refined in both build quality and finish over the Mk I machines.
Owning a Norton is like joining an exclusive club, they’re not mass-produced bikes that are shipped out from massive factories, it’s a lovingly hand crafted and exquisite piece of machinery that commands respect. As such, the relatively high asking price seems far more justified and its resale value makes it a worthy investment.
The 961 SF and Café Racer variants have always been fitted with top notch suspension and brakes and as these have improved, they’re now fitted to the MkII versions which feature the latest radially-mounted Brembo Monobloc calipers, now finished in graphite, compared to the gold two-piece radial Brembos fitted to earlier versions. The Mk II also has the latest, more compact, Brembo brake and clutch master cylinders.