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My 2011 Commando 961 sounds like a tin can full of old nails

Can someone help please?

I own a Triumph 2016 Bonneville 1200. The engine is mechanically quiet and runs perfectly. I mention this, because it contrasts to what I write below.  

I just bought a 2011 Commando 961 sport to complete my little collection. I wasn’t able to test ride one in advance else I just wouldn’t be in this position.  The engine is excessively noisy mechanically (deafening in fact - far louder than the exhaust). When I start the engine up from cold up it won’t even tick over. When it warms up it improves a little. My experience (as an ecm software designer for Ford) tells me it is running excessively weak and that the ecm calibration is total rubbish. It is horrible to ride. The bike has only been ridden for 1300 miles since 2011 (which is no surprise). It has been serviced by Norton main agents and “crazy horses” at the prescribed times. It appears to have the standard exhaust. 

Can someone chip in and tell me what I need to do to make this poor engine run properly please. It is really suffering and needs a lot of tlc.

Thanks in advance.



My late 2012 Sport model has only been serviced by Norton - twice in fact so far - and after the second service at 1500 miles the ECM was remapped on recommendation by Norton who admitted the early bikes were running too weak. I'd suggest they do the same for your bike regardless of what you have been told about its life before you bought it.

From new mine had an occasional hesitation if throttle was opened a bit sharpish but otherwise ran fine and always ticked over evenly from cold after ten seconds or so from start. After the 1500 mile service and remap the hesitation disappeared completely and bike continues to run today just fine with 4,000 miles on the clock.

961 engines are mechanically noisy - you'll get used to it ! Fitted the louder silencers available from Norton to mine at 1000 miles which seemed to improve performance not to mention masking all the mechanical clattering !  



... to compare a state of the art production line evolved motor of 2016 with an 8 year old clunker built by hand in a tin shed. 

Can you discern between "mechanical noise" and "Combustion noise"?  If its lean run it on big  hand fulls regularly to see if quietens down...


I owned two of these monsters. Both were great looking bikes that handled brilliantly, had superb brakes and unbelievable acceleration. Both rattled like old Diesel tractors with failing big ends.The first one was horrible to ride in town, constantly cutting out in slow traffic. It had almost incurable electrical issues and an unpleasant vibration point at exactly 70 mph. The second bike also had electrical issues that drained the battery flat within a week if not kept on charge. It was gutless until remapped at the first service by Krazy Horse. 

Over 2 years of riding my 961s, I met loads of other owners with tales of woes regarding these bikes. The very early models appear to have the more reliable and quieter engines. The later versions being set up with over-weak Carburation . Was this done to overcome emission issues or just to lower the fuel consumption? For reasons that I never fully understood the service agent for my bikes always claimed that these bikes ran better after 4000 miles were on the clock. They also advocated the fitting of an unrestricted exhaust system. This apparently would improve the bike's performance and lessen engine vibration. I traded in an Atlas and Commando to pay for my short 961 ownership. Big mistake!!!


Can you discern between "mechanical noise" and "Combustion noise"?  Not sure that I can. The majority of the engine's noise  is a knock that increases with RPM until about 3000 when is smooths out into a rumble. Think tractor diesel engine. . . 

The pipes are going very blue, throttle response is dull, hesitant and laboured below 3000 RPM. Above 3000 RPM the response is smoother but still dull and laboured. I derestricted a KLX250 recently. It had the same characteristics until I "operated" upon the ECM, replaced the air filter, modified the air box and added an aftermarket silencer with no Cat. This work absolutely transformed the KLX (my off road bike). I am sure the 961 needs the same treatment.

I had my 961 re mapped and a straight through zorst put on at the first service at Norton, it made all the difference with the tickover and running.

The primary gears are straight cut so yes there is a lot of noise, even more so when it gets hot but that's just normal, but if your still not sure  take it to an authorised Norton dealer like 'Teasdale motors' who will have a listen and either tell you that there is BIG problems or put your mind at rest. My 16 plate 961 now has 13000 miles on the clock  and I love every minute of riding it, I'm afraid if you want something 'sophisticated and civilised go for a Jap bike as the Norton is none of these.


It seems to me that the carb(s) are set up way too lean.

What are the details of the carb fittings, jet sizes, etc?



OK, my error.  I forgot that the new units went to fuel injection.

So, the question then becomes what does the fuel map look like?

It certainly sounds as if Terry's bike is not set up to give the best running engine.  Probably it is set up waaayyy to lean such that it will pass emissions tests.  Can it not be re-mapped?



When I got my little 2011 961 engine I discovered that it was low on engine oil and the gearbox oil was very contaminated (think silver sludge). I am not impressed by my seller's servicing stamp in the service-book.  Subsequently, I changed both oils (as per the Norton procedure) and the engine sounds every bit as mechanical as it did before but it is much happier. The engine is a bit nicer below 3000 rpm now. Not exactly purring like my Triumph Bonneville but definitely running better. 

So, tonight, I went all over the engine with an engineer's stethoscope and mapped out the noisy areas. 90% of the noise emanates from the primary chain case right on the big "N". This is the source of the noise.

If the tip of the stethoscope pick-up is pressed on the crankcase the engine is actually very quiet. However, on the front section of the chain case it is a little noisy. But put the tip of the stethoscope opposite the clutch on the large sculpted "N" and the mechanical noise is very loud indeed. You can hear a bearing spinning and some associated secondary vibration.

I am wondering what is in there to make such a dreadful din and spoil an otherwise quiet engine. Do I have a dodgy bearing, is something not shimmed or adjusted properly or did Norton make a design error in the choice of bearing? It doesn't sound like the primary chain.

Can anyone chip in before I take the cover off and do a visual inspection please?


Have a look at  this before you start stripping the engine, it's a workshop manual.

There is no primary chain in the case, just straight cut gears that are always noisy on any engine. The clutch rattle probably adds to the total noise as well. The manual will tell you  a lot more than your stethoscope.

There's only one chain in the engine and that drives the camshaft like the old Commandos.

As for the rich running give Norton a ring and see if the ECU has been re-chipped.



whats happening with the warranty ,I thought the the Honda dealer was dealing ? 

Richard:  I am still waiting for them to collect the bike and still getting the run around chasing them. I would like to keep the bike so maybe an alternative strategy is called for I.e. DIY and use small claims court to recoup losses. The small claims court is very easy to do.


Peter: Thanks for the heads up. I downloaded the service manual. It is going to be useful. I'll look at quietening that clutch if possible. I don't think the MK2s are as noisy are they? So, there might be a way to improve the rattling. I am waiting on Norton's call back for parts prices, advice on whether it was remapped and what to do about the mixture (if anything is possible).


Thanks guys. Very good of you both to chip in. 



Does the noise go away or diminish significantly (or get louder) when you pull in the clutch?




I have a 1972 Honda CB750 which sounds rattly until I pull the clutch in, as do a lot of dry clutch Ducatis. I think it is just the nature of those engines. 


I’ve recently joined the world of Norton’s with a 2014 961SF which has the same issue. Remapping sounds the way to go - do you go through Norton for this or is there a list anywhere of approved establishments that do it?

Also the bike has only 1000mls but has two oil leaks. Under warranty so not too worried but the dealer I bought from has so far been unable to resolve the problems. 1 leak is from the front of the sump - new gasket they fitted hasn’t helped. The second is a bit of a mystery - see pic. Anyone any idea where this could be RH side under sprocket covercoming from?



Fixing a difficult commando:  call Rob Jameson or Max Muller at Norton Central (01332 811988). Either gentleman will tell you exactly what needs to be done. Dealers seldom have much knowledge about the Nortons they sell. The receptionist will go seek out the guys if they are not immediately available. They always get you back.

961s went through a succession of changes through the years and it is difficult to keep up with the exact state of any one bike e.g. has yours had the oil non-return valve fitted or does it have the revised oil dipstick?  The old dipstick caused peeps to put far too much oil in the engine which then p1sses it out wherever it can (usually into the airbox). I have no idea if this is relevant to a 2014 bike. 

Also, there can be up to 3 years difference between model year and registration date of the bike. This is very likely on a low mileage machine I.e. it was sitting unregistered somewhere like a shop window. So, have a look at the VIN in your V5c. The model year is clear in the VIN.

Remapping?  I had a bad 961 which was returned to the dealer. When it was running it was horribly fluffy below 3200 RPM. A pig in slow traffic. My newer 2018 model is far better but still a little fluffy. What am I trying to say?  I suspect remapping will help but not half as much as circumventing the emissions strangulation. I am on this case and will post how I get on. I am working on a free flowing exhaust first because I know how this helped my little KLX250 off-roader that was similarly strangled.


Good luck. Give Rob or Max a call. They love it. . . 



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