The Long Wait: The 2015 Norton 961SE

U.S. buyers waited a long time for the 2015 Norton 961SE, but was the wait worth it?

  • Bob Jones' 2015 Norton 961SE
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 961SE equipment varies from bike to bike. Both carbon fiber and traditional spoked wheels were used, as were standard and inverted Öhlins forks.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 2015 Norton 961SE
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 961SE equipment varies from bike to bike. Both carbon fiber and traditional spoked wheels were used, as were standard and inverted Öhlins forks.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The 961’s styling is spot on, modern while solidly evoking the design of the original.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The 961’s odd, curving transmission shift linkage looks like it shouldn’t work, yet it shifts beautifully.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • Bob Jones with his Norton at delivery.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • Upsweep on the aftermarket pipes seems severe, but they sound glorious and make wheel removal easier.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The 961SE at the top of Utah’s Fisher Pass.
    Photo by Stephen Clark

2015 Norton 961SE
Top speed:
130mph (test)
961cc OHV air-cooled parallel twin, 88mm x 79mm bore and stroke, 10.1:1 compression ratio, 80hp @ 6,500rpm (claimed, at crankshaft)
Weight (dry):
414lb (188kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
4.5gal (17ltr)/NA

In 2008, British businessman Stuart Garner announced the rebirth of Norton Motorcycles. Initial production was set to start in mid-2009, with delivery of U.S. bikes to follow in late 2009 or early 2010. U.K. market bikes began trickling out of the Norton factory in 2010, but critical EPA certification for the U.S. market didn’t come until late 2012, and it wasn’t until October 2013 that the first batch of Norton Commando 961s landed on our shores.

Vintage motorcycle enthusiast Bob Jones wanted one of the new Nortons, so in February 2011 he put down a $3,000 deposit on a 961SE, hoping to take possession that year. 2011 stretched to 2012, then 2013 and 2014. In May 2015, 51 months after tendering his deposit, Bob finally got his new Norton Commando 961SE.

The backstory

Not every enthusiast is as patient as Bob. Indeed, many early would-be 961 buyers pulled out after waiting a year or two. Yet Bob was somehow inextricably bound by a desire to own one of the new Nortons, a desire fueled by his interest in classic British bikes, starting with a Triumph Bonneville and eventually a small collection of vintage Nortons.

“I became intrigued with motorcycles in the mid-1950s, when my uncle would ride his Harley from Redding, California, to our home in the Bay Area. He would take me for the occasional ride when my father wasn’t around to object, and I’d spend hours during his visits sitting on his bike in the backyard, dreaming of my own adventures,” Bob recalls. “Unfortunately, my father was very opposed to me having anything to do with motorcycles, so the closest I came in my youth was a pull-start Tote Goat-type machine that I’d ride around our two acres.”

2/5/2016 8:41:54 AM

I have followed the Norton rebirth with interest and it is nice to see that 961s are finally being shipped to the U.S. I hope that Norton will consider building a modern street version of the Manx next.

2/4/2016 4:29:03 PM

Pardon my typos on my first comments below. This website is a bit buggy and was having my own issues. However the story is not quite complete and I should add. Approx $6M was spent on Lawyers or as Kenny calls them "F###ing Lawyers" and securing the worldwide trademarks which was a MESS. That was a nightmare in itself. just over $3M was spent on developing the bike into a 90-95% shovel ready production bike. The motor still needed some fettling. But they were ready to move Fwd. I will not out Garners price but he got the smokin deal of the century. The accomplishment of a small band of crazys in the backwoods of Portland Oregon cannot be minimized for a very small amount of money compared to any other startup in the last 30 years of MC history. Evan Wilcox had a LOT of design input into that bodywork, Paul Gaudio, Simon Smith, Patrick Leyshock, and a few others are the unsung heros. While Dreer managed the circus and called the shots it was these guys who showed up for years, often without pay who made it happen. Even when the money dried up they kept showing up day after day. It is THAT true passion that moves mountains! For more info on our museum here in Oregon and our educational outreach see our website at: Be sure to click on the construction pix and see our newest addition. Consider donating to help us finish our library, conference rooms and the all important bathrooms. Buy a brick with your name. We are part of the Antique Powerland campus right off Interstate 5 just north of Salem Oregon. We have 12 other museums on site. Stop in and say Hi!

2/4/2016 4:12:25 PM

BruceH, what are you some sort of Flame troll? Its a stunning bike end of story. Dont like the tupper ware? Buy some billet bling with laser etched logos. Looked at a Ducati or many of the comparables lately? Several aftermarket co's offer cool billet bling for these issues. SpeedyMoto and others. Norton offered up a good basic platform. Make the parts dept happy and show up and say "I wish to accessorize!" I knew Kenny for almost 30 years, live right up the road from his old place and the birthplace of these bikes. Read the old CW and other articles when he developed the VR880s and then these. They were always intended to be Nortons answer and comparable to the Ducati Monster both in price point and performance. I own over a dozen Nortons and this bike aint grandpas Norton there sparky. Sheesh, always one in the crowd.

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