Opinion: AMC Anorak 20

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If you want to ride your classic bike roughshod, then you simply can’t beat the real thing! Frank Westworth’s been playing in the dirt…

Before I say anything else, may I share with you my complete amazement when the AJS & Matchless OC, a very fine club (official) presented me with an award last year! I want to thank everyone concerned for this entirely unexpected trophy. For reasons which continue to elude me, the club presented me with The Ambassador’s Shield, also known as the Basil Chilvers Shield, and apparently it’s for promoting the marques and the club. Doesn’t everyone do that? It brought a lump to my throat when Mr Jampot Editor Chris Read produced a plastic bag containing the handsome shield, and then, to prove it was not a dream, he paid for our fish’n’chip lunch. That is rare, I can tell you…

I have been having a wild old time of it lately, what with giving up the day job to concentrate on RealClassic magazine, produced by Rowena and I from our clifftop eyrie in an unfashionable part of Cornwall. And I have acquired a bike which is possibly the best AMC twin I’ve ever ridden … but more of that another time, I think. The Previous Owner may yet change his mind and demand the CSR’s return!

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When I was a lad, slender, clever, dark-haired and prone to assisting folk my current age across the street, lots of us attempted to turn the lumpen ruins which were all we could afford into much more super-duper motorcycles. Most of my chums wanted to be pretend racers, and fitted clip-ons, rearsets and swapped engines like there was no tomorrow – which was alarmingly close to the truth in several cases, given the way they rode. The more sane of us went down another, darker, less glamorous path. We fitted knobbly tyres, big wide handlebars, and threw away all the excess weight – which, on a G3 Matchless is quite a lot. Have you ever weighed an E3 dynamo?

The muddy route was always more credible than the hardcore highway hero way; can anyone look sane pretending to scratch around a housing estate on a stripped down 1954 jampot AJS Model 16? Even an Ajay 16M fitted with alloy guards looks daft with clip-ons, so forth. But I mustn’t knock it; several of my chums have been this way. I preferred the notional trailbike approach, not least because there’s less backache involved, which is important now that we’re all a little older than we were.

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With any luck at all, there’ll be a photo somewhere near these words. It’s a photo of a 1950s Ajay, a 16M (inevitably), a ’55 if the combination of hubs is to be believed, although when it came my way it pretended to date from 1951, Who’s arguing?

In theory, a bike like this old animal should have been at least halfway handleable in the swampy stuff once all of the weighty roadgoing junk had been removed and chucked away (and where did it all go? Those of us who attempt to restore an occasional relic to something like originality would like to know!).

If you look closely, you will observe that the Ajay does indeed boast a little mud on its boots, and yes, it was one of my feeble and always unsuccessful off-road attempts. I’ve never been able to ride the rough stuff, but I’ve had loads of chums, not least in the AJS & MOC, who could ride as rapidly through no-grip filth as I could on dry tarmac.

What this old beast was, though, was a great machine for pottering around the muddy lanes once I’d relocated from Cheshire suburbia to Shropshire’s rural heaven. It had a lot of cred, was comfortable and was usually a reliable starter. It also had no performance at all, and looked horrid unless liberally plastered with mud! And check out the silencer: an un-patented attempt at stopping the exhaust pipe filling with rainwater. An unsuccessful attempt, too…

But it was no trials bike. It didn’t feel like a trials bike; it felt like a butchered roadster.

I was driven to dig out the photo because I had recently spent a little time, both on- and off-road, with a real, honest-to-goodness comp G80C, the one which appeared in RC31. A rigid one, in sensibly restored condition. It was great. It was brilliant.

It was everything all my bodgers were not. It made me laugh when I rode it (well OK, my bodgers made me laugh too, but only in a derisory way). It was packed with poise, grace, calm and plonk. It made me understand how those genuine comp tools are so much better at mud-plugging than any slimmed-down roadster, even though I still don’t really understand how that could be. No doubt RC’s many masters of mud can enlighten us!

Random AJS Stuff on eBay.co.uk

Now that's hard graft. Look at that rockery...

That 1948 rigid G80C was also a great memory jogger in another way. It reminded me how bikes from the immediate post-war period were jacks of all trades, unlike the later comp machines which were very unlike the roadsters from which they were allegedly derived. I had the pleasure of riding Malcolm Arnold’s late G80CS, and it was indeed a truly tasty tool, but it had a certain seriousness of purpose about it which the rigid beastie did not.

That G80CS was much more developed, much more competent, and beautiful in red, but I would want to have one in The Shed only if I could have another less serious machine for those less serious moments. The G80C would make an ideal bike if you could only have one bike.

Which gives me food for thought. Now that great age and semi-retirement are upon me, which bike would I keep if I could have only one? But never mind me! Which bike would you keep if you could have only one? I think I might plump for a rigid compster from the late 1940s. You? Answers to TP, written on a crisp new £10 note, please…

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