To celebrate the Commando’s 50th anniversary, Norton released a limited run of 50 California models in 2018. These were simply a Norton 961 Commando with higher bars, chrome around the headlight and polished Öhlins forks.
Each one carried a number plaque on its top yoke and came with an option of exhaust styles. The California is a non-limited run of this bike and aside from Euro4-compliant pipes, gold rather than polished forks and a black headlight, it is identical and costs the same £16,500.
You don’t ride a Norton, you experience one during a journey together. And this emotive input between the bike and rider creates a very clear distinction between it and one of its more mainstream rivals.
There is something very special and visceral about thumping along back roads
When the sun it out, there is something very special and visceral about thumping along back roads with a motor that feels, sounds and vibrates like a motorcycle from yesteryear. Refinement certainly has its place, but every now and then it is nice to be taken back to the roots of what makes two-wheels such an engaging experience – as long as the experience is backed up by modern reliability and handling.
And riding a Norton is an experience you seldom have to sample on your own, well not when you are stationary…
Anytime you stop on the Norton California its stunning looks and iconic name on its tank instantly draws admirers. Filling up with fuel takes me fifteen minutes – two to fill the tank, thirteen to talk to someone about the bike. When you ride a Norton you need to add extra time into your day, but it is a sacrifice worth making and does the ride justify its high price tag?
The finer details needs to be improved to justify their price tag
Nortons aren’t polished mass-produced machines in the way a Triumph Bonneville or Triumph Thruxton is. When you ride a California you know it has been (for better or worse) hand built by someone in the UK. To some this gives Norton’s range more spirit and soul, to others it means a machine not to be trusted.
Norton’s build quality and attention to the finer details needs to be improved to justify their price tag as the quality of components they use deserves to shine, but overall there are still far too many rough edges on a bike that costs so much.