It’s sometimes easy to get carried away with AJS and Matchless CSR twins and comp singles, but there’s lots of charm in something a little less exotic. Frank Westworth has been rediscovering gentle charm…
As you might already know, I earn what passes for a living in the deep South-West by writing about old bikes. I know, I know; it’s a tough old world, but someone has to do it. Although you may be reading this in balmy spring, I can reveal that when it was written I’d spent most of the previous day riding a Royal Enfield around the fringes of Dartmoor in the snow! Yep; snow in Devon in March. Brrrr…
Happily, earlier in the week I was paying homage at the shrine of AMC worshippers aboard a rather more stately, sedate and certainly more sublime motorcycle, one with ‘AJS’ gleaming from its tank badges. And although it wasn’t a particularly sunny day, neither was it actually snowing. The bike, though, was very interesting.
How good is your memory? How far back do you remember with anything like clarity? Can you, for example, recall when bikes like this 1957 AJS 16MS were so common and so unwanted that they were almost free?
When I was but a wee youth, and possibly callow with it, I wasted some time in London, as you do when you’re young and callow, and along with a couple of pals acquired quite a collection of old AMC 350 singles simply by finding them in front gardens and then knocking on doors and wondering whether the previously proud owners wanted them taken away for free (always have been public spirited, me). Incredibly, in 1972 or so this often resulted in us gaining another doggy old soldier.
And, space being what it was, we would strip them down and keep just the engines and transmissions. There was a reason for this. Yes, there was! The Plan, which seemed sensible at that time of considerable youthful penury and almost free motorcycles, had been that we would accumulate piles of 350 engines and build deeply ace trials bikes. Folk would be so impressed by these deeply ace trials bikes that they would buy them in vast numbers and my chums and I would be able to afford a new Norton Commando each. Ambition was modest then, as was intelligence.
But we did in fact build a couple of trail – rather than ‘trial’ – bikes. They were notable for many things, none of them good things. They were slow. They were heavy. Things fell off them (important things, like the rider). And even though the heart of the motorcycle, its engine, had usually been free, and even though we knew a demon welder who could make replica trials frames with an ease unsurpassed by anyone else I’ve known over the intervening three-and-a-half decades, he wouldn’t do it for free. Thoughtless and unkind, but there you go.
Cheap AJS spares on eBay.co.uk
In any case, the big flaw in our master plan was that although bogus 350 AJS trials bikes would find a ready market in the sunny South-West from whence we came, Lunnuners bought far better bikes for almost no money at all, bikes with names like Honda and Suzuki or even Bultaco and Montesa. We knew the true way, of course; we knew that these modern inventions would never catch on. It was a bit of a surprise to learn, in 1972 or so, that AMC no longer built motorcycles, whereas Honda, Suzuki, Bultaco and Montesa still did. Bit of a blow to our grand plan for global domination, that was…
1957 AJS 16MS
It’s always something of a relief, then, to stumble across an almost one hundred percent original and unhackedaboutbybodgers bike like this one (I’m assuming here that somewhere on this e-page lurks a pic of an AJS 16MS, rather than of some mostly unclad babe spotted at a race track). It is perhaps too easy to succumb to the performance advantages of a 650 twin, forgetting that these humble 350 singles were once the staple fare of manufacturers like AMC. It’s too easy to believe that we actually need 70mph performance, when in fact all the riding we do on our old bikes requires 55mph performance, not least because we do in fact steam about the place aboard Suzuki Burgmans, rotary Nortons and the like whenever there’s serious mileage to cover. Go on; admit it!
I forget how many times in the last couple of years I’ve been regaled with tales of how folk have to get rid of their treasured big singles and bigger twins in favour of something with an electric start. Empire loyalists, of course, go for Triumph Bonnevilles and Royal Enfield Bullets, while the more adventurous plump for machines from distant shores (although in truth, few shores are more distant that those of the Indian sub-continent where are built those Bullets).
But look at this. Single-kick starting. A long stroke, too, so that there’s lots of opportunity to get the engine spinning a bit before compression gets in the way. Not that there’s much compression; 7.5:1 isn’t too taxing, even for the weary of limb). A clutch that’s Honda-light, and a gearshift which has rarely been bettered. A perfect, comfortable sack’o’spuds riding position. And, best of all, a relaxed thump from the exhaust which follows you at a very easy, relaxed 55 or so down the lanes, back roads, up hills, down combes, across the levels of mid-Somerset and into the haze of evening. Even the brakes do actually slow the thing down as and when the road demands it. Other traffic? Mainly behind you, so not a problem.
The only thing lacking from an AJS 16MS like this one, when compared to those which found themselves neglected and disposable back in the early Seventies, is the price. This may come as a shock, but no-one throws old long-stroke 350 plodders away any more! Even more remarkably, standard all-weather touring-trim bikes like this demand higher prices than failed field bikes like those we once wanted to build. So I reckon that my chums and me did everyone a favour really; by raising the value of old soldiers like this one. Or possibly not…
The AJS Model 16MS seen here was up for sale at www.ventureclassics.com Although it’s probably been sold by now, if you ask nicely then Chris the proprietor can keeps his eyes peeled for something similar for you…