Norton returns to USA

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Beginning in May, 2011, Norton Motorcycles will again be on-sale in America. Similar in both style and mechanical arrangement to the much-loved Commando of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, three versions of the new bikes will be offered — the basic Norton Commando 961 Sport, the up-styled 961 Cafe Racer and the high-spec 961 SE. All three are powered by a sophisticated 961cc parallel-twin and equipped with modern running gear. In the case of the SE that even means USD Ohlins and radial Brembos. Classic looks, classic experience and modern performance? Yes, please.

Norton Motorcycles USA is being spearheaded by Dan Van Epps, the former CEO of Ducati North America. “We are fulfilling the dream and delivering the excitement of a truly iconic all-British motorcycle,” says Van Epps.

The new Commandos have been on sale in the UK for two years, where they’ve proved a sales success even through the financial chaos that’s still decreasing overall motorcycles sales in Europe and North America. “The orders have been well beyond our most enthusiastic expectations,” said Norton Motorcycles Ltd. CEO Stuart Garner. “we’ve had to ramp-up production much earlier than anticipated to grow on pace with our customers requests.” A visit to the Norton website confirms this, the flagship £15,995 961 SE is sold out.

That air-cooled parallel-twin powering the three bikes was co-developed by Norton and F1 engine-builder MCT. It uses pushrod valves, a dry sump, a balancer shaft and puts out 79bhp and  66lb/ft of torque. The steel tube frame holds oil and contributes to a dry weight of just 188kg/415lbs.

Those numbers compare very favorably with the Commando’s most obvious rival. The much heavier (506lbs) 2011 Triumph Thruxton is equipped with a smaller, 865cc parallel-twin which puts out 68bhp and 51lb/ft of torque. The Thruxton is hardly a direct rival though, it’s much cheaper and equipped with far-inferior suspension, brakes and other components.

Norton describes the Commando as a “continuation of the Norton legacy of defined style and performance. A modern roadster with the soul of the original machine.”


  • Mason

    “What the Thruxton and Bonneville really need isn’t fancy suspension, but a serious weight loss program and the addition of both more power and more character to their engines.” – HFL

    I think that the real competition for this bike are the Ducati Classics. I’ve actually considered a Thruxton, but this one is out of my price range. Plus, The Thruxton has a kickstand.

  • Scott Pargett

    These are some startling numbers to consider when the two bikes begin to get performance comparisons. Certainly makes me wonder about bang for the buck. #performancewise

    Thruxton: $9,000 USD
    Norton: $25,000 USD

    • Ben W

      While I wouldn’t exactly say the Norton is directly comparable with a Bimota, it’s safe to say that buyers aren’t looking for the cheapest deal. However, I wonder how much it would cost to make the Thruxton on par with the Norton’s claimed weight and performance?

      Personally, I love the look of the Nortons. They’re stunning bikes with gorgeous engines. I pray they’re able to grow and get the price down. It gives me serious bike lust.

    • Endless Mike

      The problem is that you can’t make a direct price conversion like that. I’d expect this to be below 20k USD, but that’s still asking a LOT.

  • Jeremy

    Would love one of these for about 11k USD

    The Thruxton’s lack of anything worth while makes me want a Ducati Classic with the mono shock.

  • Ken D

    “A continuation of the Norton legacy of defined style and performance.”

    Now hang on a minute, my Dad’s last bike before I was born and put a stop to all the fun was a 350cc Manx. There was no mention of “defined style” back then. The damn thing was a cutting edge racer, top of its game. That’s what made the Norton name famous. I really like this bike, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s in any way a continuation of the Norton legacy. Given the serial catastrophes that have befallen the brand over the last 30 years, that might not be a bad thing. This is tasteful Commando nostalgia and persons of my age are most susceptible to it.

    That Manx was manufactured in 1937.

    • Chris


  • seanslides

    Looks like all it needs is a set of sticky tires. This how you do a cafe racer the right way.

  • george_fla

    MEH! Only thing I dig about the bike is the RWU Ohlins forks. Hopefully enough people will buy these things so Norton can make some cash to build a new NRV588.

  • Mark D

    Agreed, the real competition is the Ducati sport classic. Which puts out 100 HP, if I remember correctly. Its a looker, though.

  • DoctorNine

    Say what you want. I could polish that engine all morning long, and stare at it longingly while drinking at the cafe’ later in the day. It’s a gorgeous piece.

  • scottydigital

    Yawn…… Isn’t this the same bike that filed to gain traction 6 years ago? Someone just bought the tooling from the defunct company and wants to make these again….

  • Kevin

    Those mirrors look about as big as a throat lozenge.

  • Mike Brooklyn

    Too much nostalgia in motorcycling imho. I’ve always loved the most unique things, that make non bikers look twice.

  • Sasha Pave

    Bravo Norton! I’m glad to see the brand return state-side.

    Buying any of these retro-euros means having an affinity with the brand. It’s not an entirely rational decision. So comparing this bike spec-by-spec to the Duc, Guzzi or Triumph probably won’t sway anyone.

    I love that Norton isn’t going whole-hog retro, mixing in the contemporary CNC machined parts, 1 1/8 bars, Ohlins, CF Wheels, modern brakes, etc.