TopSpeed 2019 Norton Buying Guide
A Look At The Norton 2019 Lineupby Allyn Hinton, on
Norton Motorcycles is, undeniably, one of the British Greats. It made a mark for itself early on with success in both the racing and streetbike/commuter sectors, and it continues to do so to this day. The factory splits is efforts fairly evenly between its superbikes, Brit-style standards and café racers with a couple of scrambler-esque models to expand its footprint off the black and onto the brown. English charm and deep historical roots are the hallmarks of the brand and the main reasons for its continued success.
The factory started in 1898 when James Landowne “Pa” Norton began manufacturing bits and bobs for the two-wheel trade. Early on, the Norton machines were powered by imported engines from France and Switzerland, and racer Rem Fowler rode just such a bike to victory in the twin-cylinder bracket in the first Isle of Man TT race in 1907. That success gave the marque a solid start, and the very next year saw the company’s first in-house engine; a sidevalve thumper.
In 1924, Norton’s first 500 cc OHV engine produced more top podium spots, then tragedy struck in ’25 with Pa Norton’s untimely death at the young age of 56. The years between the World Wars saw more racing success, and by the mid-thirties the factory was cranking out over 4,000 bikes per year. It withdrew from the racing scene when World War II broke out and focused all its energies on the war effort by producing almost 100,000 sidevalve units that saw service in the European theater.
After the war, Norton launched itself back into the TT, and it enjoyed success every year between ’47 and ’54. The early ’50s saw the twin-bore Dominator engine married to the new Featherbed frame – a combination that would hold it in good stead in the race circuit as well as the general market. By the end of the ’52 racing season, that combination garnered a few more world championships for the brand.
The ’60s heralded a new era with the introduction of the new Commando that introduced rubber engine mounts to cut down on the vibration that was transmitted from engine to frame. By any standard, the factory had enjoyed quite a nice run up until the ’80s, but as with so many other brands, the emergence of the Japanese manufacturers all but killed the company. The company changed hands and even split up a number of times, and it would be 1992 before the factory turned in another TT victory; the first for any kind of Brit machine in almost three decades.
After the turn of the century, the factory moved to Donington Park, and in 2009, CEO Stuart Garner rode a rotary-powered Norton to a World Speed Record with a 173 mph speed over a one-mile strip. The factory took a hiatus from racing, but returned to the TT in 2012 and has been working to reclaim its former glory ever since.
The V4 RR and Superlight make up Norton’s superbike and supersport offerings. Both rock a super-aggressive, windtunnel-tested body style that’s fairly typical of the sport sector, complete with short windscreens, cowl scoops and tank flanges that create a wind pocket for the pilot, though you’ll have to tuck in tightly to benefit from it. To keep weight down, the bodies are all carbon fiber and the frames are aluminum tubing as are the swingarms.
At the bottom of the range is the Superlight that runs a 650 cc parallel-twin that cranks out an impressive 105 horsepower to propel its 348-pound mass (dry). The V4 RR pushes the power level up to 200 ponies from its 1,200 cc plant with a dry weight of only 395 pounds. Fully-adjustable suspension is a constant across the board as are Brembo brakes though only the Superlight carries a stock ABS feature.
|V4 RR||£28,000||1,200 cc|
The Dominator carries itself with an old-school café racer bent that shows the company’s deep roots. A small bullet screen, clip-on bars, and tail fairing sell the look, and the 961 cc parallel-twin plant just exudes British charm with 78.8 horsepower on tap to make it ride as sporty as it looks. Brembo brakes and stock ABS takes care of the anchors and add a bit of safety. This model brings some serious stoplight-burning performance to the table along with genuine classic looks.
Norton’s Commando line takes the café vibe to the Nth degree with varying levels of style. The Café Racer MK II goes all-in with clip-on bars, deep knee pockets, and a sculpted rear end that displays the café-typical tail fairing. The Sport MK II eases up a tad on the racing DNA with a short-rise handlebar that creates a slightly more relaxed rider’s triangle, but it maintains the same classic tank shape and molded rear end.
At the bottom of the pecking order is the 961 California with a full-rise bar and comes with a pillion pad beneath the removable tail cover so you can share the fun with a friend. Power comes from a 961 cc parallel-twin plant across the board with 78.8 horsepower on tap with adjustable Öhlins suspension that gives the Commandos a deal of flexibility to handle a variety of loads and riding conditions.
|Commando 961 Café Racer||£16,495||961 cc|
|Commando 961 Sport||£15,495||961 cc|
|Commando 961 California||£16,495||961 cc|
The Atlas siblings are the factory’s off-road machines, and are best described as factory scramblers. Wire wheels and stealth knobbies lend them a definite off-road look backed up by real ability off the beaten path. Bench-style seats leave room for a passenger or some serious body English for technical off-road work. The Ranger adds a bashplate and headlight grille along with a tripletree-mount front fender to round out the special gear. Both carry a 650 cc parallel-twin mill with 84 horsepower on tap.
|Atlas Ranger||£11,995||650 cc|
|Atlas Nomad||£9,995||650 cc|
Norton Limited Edition
The Breitling Sport Limited Edition is set up much like the Commando Sport with short-rise bars and an unmistakable café panache. Custom touches include a unique black saddle with orange stitching and “B” monogram on the removable tail cowl cover. Chrome components and luxe paint mark the model as something special, and it comes with fully adjustable suspension components and Brembo brakes complete with ABS protection. Bespoke is the word that best describes the LE.
|Breitling Sport||£16,495||961 cc|
Norton Atlas Nomad
See our review of the Norton Atlas Nomad.
Norton Atlas Ranger
See our review of the Norton Atlas Ranger.
Norton Breitling Sport
See our review of the Norton Breitling Sport.
Norton Commando 961 Café Racer / Sport
See our review of the Norton Commando 961 Café Racer / Sport.
Norton Commando 961 California
See our review of the Norton Commando 961 California.
See our review of the Norton Dominator.
See our review of the Norton Superlight.
Norton V4 RR
See our review of the Norton V4 RR.
Read more Norton news.