California Style: 2018 Norton Commando 961 California

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Photo by Kel Edge
The 2018 Norton Commando 961 California.

2018 Norton Commando 961 MKII
Engine: 961cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 88mm x 79mm bore and stroke, 10.1:1 compression ratio, 72hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 130mph (est.)
Fueling: Electronic fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube chrome-moly oil in frame/55.12in (1,400mm)
Suspension: 43mm Öhlins upside-down fork w/adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping front/Öhlins piggyback reservoir fully adjustable shocks rear
Brakes: ABS, dual Brembo 320mm full-floating discs front, single Brembo 240mm disc rear
Tires: 120/ 70 x 17in front, 180/55 x 17in rear
Weight (dry): 415lb (189kg) (est.)
Seat height: 32in (810mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.5gal (17ltr)/55mpg (est.)
Price: $20,000 U.S. (est.)

This year commemorates the original Norton Commando’s decade of production, which was kickstarted 50 years ago in April 1968, following the iconic twin-cylinder model’s debut in 750cc guise at London’s Earls Court Show the previous year. To mark the occasion, today’s reborn Norton Motorcycles has introduced a trio of limited edition birthday bikes based on the existing Commando 961 Sport and Café Racer, as well as adding a third new variant named the California.

This new version of the Commando 961 is available in a choice of 10 different Seventies-style color schemes ranging from a retro metal-flake red to the red, white and blue combo seen here. The new Norton is distinguished from its sister models by carrying a high-rise handlebar with pulled-back grips. Otherwise identical in every way to the existing Commando 961 platform, the new model’s official name is a bit of a mouthful — so take a deep breath here, folks: It’s the Norton Commando 961 MK II Limited 50th Edition California, aka the Cali to you and me, as it’s also known inside the company’s Donington Hall factory. But what this tells you is that not only does it have the copious upgrades to its air- and oil-cooled 961cc parallel-twin engine that were introduced almost two years ago in its MK II update, but it also benefits from an all-inclusive component upgrade at no extra cost.

“We’re building 50 numbered editions of each Commando model to mark its 50th anniversary,” says Norton owner Stuart Garner. “The Café Racer, Sport and California will each be pimped-out with a full range of our polished billet aluminum and carbon fiber special parts, then we’re discounting them back to the price of the standard model without all that, as a bit of a thank you to our customers for all the support the Commando has had over the years that’s enabled it to enjoy a 50th anniversary at all. We’re selling the bikes for the old 2017 flat price, which means you get about £6,000 [approx. $8,100] worth of options included for free. Spread out over 150 bikes, that’s more than a million bonus U.S. dollars of extras, so we’re calling it the ‘million-dollar thank you.’ They’re available now on a first-come first-served basis, and each limited edition bike will also have its unique build number from 1 to 50 etched onto the instrument dash.”

So in the case of the California that means its £16,495 price in the U.K. (including 20 percent local tax) includes a carbon fiber front fender, rear hugger and license plate hanger, while the fully adjustable 43mm Öhlins fork, twin piggyback Öhlins gas shocks, lightweight sprocket and assorted chassis parts, are all polished brightly.

Also included is a brushed aluminum oil cooler and a chrome chain guard and headlamp bowl/bezel, while the engine has been finished in the classic combo of a silver cylinder head and polished rocker covers sitting on a black cylinder barrel, as first featured on the hotted-up Combat version of the original 745cc Commando back in 1972. A bike cover and paddock stand are also included in the price. Once the 50 limited edition bikes are sold, the California will continue in production for the same price, but without all the options included as standard, which then cost extra.

Order the March/April 2018 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about the 2018 Norton Commando 961 California. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.

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