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Norton Commando Mk II Limited Edition test ride review
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Norton Commando Mk II Limited Edition test ride review

Aninda

It’s galling isn’t it? That the first result of a simple Google search for Norton happens to be an anti-virus software company? I don’t know about you blokes but to me, that hallowed name only conjures images of the heydays of the Isle of Man TT when MotoGP wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eyes, of the Featherbed chassis, London’s North Circular Road and of course the legendary Ace Café. Anti-virus? Hell, no! Started in 1898, Norton is one of the oldest motorcycle brands in the world but it wasn’t until 1902 that the company started manufacturing motorcycles with engines bought from others. The first Norton engine in fact didn’t come along for another six years, in 1908. Thus started a saga of singles, and eventually twin-cylinder engines and the latest chapter in that saga has brought us to this. The Norton Commando Mk II Limited Edition, which Motoroyale (Norton’s exclusive distributor in India) has lent us for India’s first ever ride story on this British icon resurrected.

Why resurrected?

Because this isn’t the first Commando. That one was in 1968 and a super hit with Brit bikers of the day. This one is a new motorcycle that has been produced by Norton after Stuart Garner bought the brand rights in 2008 and restarted the by-then defunct manufacturer. In an ode to Norton’s illustrious racing legacy, which includes many decades of dominating the fearsome Isle of Man TT and several grand prix victories, the new office was moved to Donington Castle, less than ten minutes from the iconic Donington Park circuit. Mad Mandke Hrishi and I, having no such access to any such park, decided that the road from Lonavala to Aamby Valley would have to do as our very own Lonington Park. The plan was simple. Hrishi would have fun on the bike. I would do the work and write the story. Lucky B.

“Attention to detail is tremendous too with everything on the bike crafted to recreate an authentic period classic look”

The current Norton Commando looks far sportier than the original

That’s due to flatter lower ‘bars, sculpted petrol tank with knee recesses and a more aggressive riding posture in general. And this limited edition avatar looks even racier than the stock Commando’s black on silver paint job. Attention to detail is tremendous too with everything on the bike crafted to recreate an authentic period classic look. Unfortunately, the feel of a lot of things is authentic too. While I would want my Rs 21 lakh bike to look authentic, I would still want a modern feel to the product. Hard to get unused to the good life, don’t you think?

The switchgear, for instance, isn’t cheap by any means but doesn’t feel like it belongs on such an expensive machine. The ergos too aren’t exactly spot on. The relation between the seat and the ‘bars is fine but when it comes to rear sets, they seem to be a little farther away from the bike than they ought to be. So if you grip the tank with your knees, you’ll either have your feet planted on the mounts of the foot pegs or your shank will be slightly splayed outwards.

70bhp and 67Nm from the 961cc parallel twin engine

All these are forgiven when you fire up that 961cc air-cooled parallel twin with an oil cooler. The old school push rod operated motor is noisy and nothing like the refined units you get in the more run-of-the-mill British classics, or ‘neo retro’ as they seem to be called nowadays. But it is far, far closer in feel to the engines of the yesteryears to which this bike pays homage. It is full of character and vivacity as you allow the ears, unused now to these old sounds, to remember the sounds of the past. There is an element of vibration also that you can feel through the usual culprits – handlebar, seat and footpegs. They aren’t nearly enough to cause you trouble on your ride but enough to remind you of a tactile era that has been gradually replaced by an isolation of the man from the machine to a point where sometimes the experience is all too clinical.

None of that here mind you. The engine spreads its 70bhp, made at 7,500 revs, and 67Nm, which you get at 6,500rpm, over the bottom and the middle. The result is easy rideability and great initial shove when you wring it, even though it’s detuned for India. Wheelies come and go and at one point I got bored of Mad Mandke on one wheel. It’s quite exhilarating really and in spite of my full face helmet I can quite imagine what a head rush you’ll get if you choose to go in for a period correct pudding basin helmet, which I thoroughly discourage in the interests of safety even though that and a pair of vintage goggles and a Lewis Leathers jacket would have looked damn good on this bike.

Unlike the bikes of yore however, the five-speed transmission feels nice and light to work. With the kind of muscle the engine packs in, honestly you won’t need to work that ’box too much but when you do it is slick and thoroughly modern. Push yourself back on the seat till the arse hits the bum stop, crouch down and gas it and you’ll be on the other side of a ton, that’s 100mph or 160kmph, long before you’ve finished saying Ton Up Boys. It’s really that easy, even if you’re not tucked into a race crouch. The only problem with this whole period thingy is that without a bloody fairing at that pace everything has shaken itself to a blur and your chest has taken quite a beating from the wind blast. So between short blasts you inevitably slow down. And what a blast these short bursts turn out to be, wrenching that grin on to your face even if you’re feeling grumpy. It’s truly glorious.

“Through the corner the Commando is stable and then past the apex when you open her up, she thunders as she lunges ahead for the next corner in eager anticipation”

The Norton Commando is agile and light-footed

But no Commando would be complete unless it handled well and this one is no exception. Despite its 200-kilo weight, something you’ll definitely feel if you’re wheeling the bike, the Commando is agile and light-footed. A nudge on the handlebar and the bike’s into the turn. What else would you expect when you’ve got a tubular steel frame that pays homage to the legendary Featherbed mated to top quality Ohlins? Through the corner the Commando is stable and then past the apex when you open her up, she thunders as she lunges ahead for the next corner in eager anticipation. A hugely involving experience and thoroughly enjoyable.

What about Ride quality?

Well, on a bike like this, who cares, but if you insist on knowing then my spine’s intact and no my teeth didn’t chatter in my lid over the rough stuff. So there. When you need to stop, and in India you sometimes do need to in a huge hurry, Norton has the bike kitted out with top-of-the-line Brembo monoblocs that will have you stop time and again on a new ten-buck coin. Great, except on a bike so wonderfully engaging you just want to keep going. All you really need is a black leather jacket, strong boots, a pair of gloves and if you really want the old look then an open face helmet and goggles (personally, I’d rather you keep that bit modern). So is the bike worth it? That’s a tough call at Rs 20.99 lakh, ex-showroom. Plus the after sales network for this hot rod is positively cold and you’re liable to get gremlins too. We did. But the experience of riding one? Priceless, and period perfect.