ARCHIVE ALERT! This article originally appeared around two decades ago. Some things never change – RealClassic’s editor Frank Westworth is still a committed AMC Anorak – but don’t be surprised if some of the people and specialists he mentions are doing other things these days…
Why do you ride the bike you do? Why do you not ride the bikes you don’t? Frank Westworth has a head filled with puzzles…
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Do you have a favourite motorcycle? Is it (for example) an AMC motorcycle?
These are not trick questions. In the 481 years that I’ve been a member of the mighty, timeless and indeed galaxy-spanning AJS & Matchless Owners Club, I have spotted that some members have more than one motorcycle, and that some of these motorcycles are not of stout AMC provenance. In fact, and I should probably not share this factoid in AMC circles, several of my own bikes are neither AJS nor Matchless. I know; it’s a worry. A lot of them are Nortons, which is almost as good as an AJS or a Matchless, a few of them are strange mixtures of AJS, Matchless and Norton, and one of my own favourite motorcycles is one of those.
Back in 1974 or so, when we were all impossibly young, there was endless debate in the absorbent pages of the AJS & Matchless OC’s mighty organ, The Jampot, about the merits – or indeed otherwise – of the various AMC models available. Tables were thumped in a virile sort of way, as stalwart chaps, huffing mightily through their briars and reeking only slightly of wet sock and Belstaff wax, argued about the merits of the single and the twin. Singles, everyone knew, were no use at all, largely because they destroyed their big ends on a daily basis and that the only available repro big ends were made of cheese, and not particularly hard cheese, come to that.
Meanwhile, everyone also knew that twins were no damn use because they threw a conrod on a daily basis, and snapped a crank every week. And of course there were no repro cranks available, and in any case if there had been spare cranks they would still have been no use and it was entirely because rough riders raced the wretched things – on real race tracks!
Happily, everyone completely ignored the lightweights, which was a bit odd really, because they are actually almost pleasant motorcycles, viewed carefully in an evening light, through a glass, dimly…
There were great, muscle-rippling tales of adventure and derring-do (and no, I have no idea what a ‘derring’ does). Characters bounded from every page, riding bikes with heroic names like The Massed Albert (always my own favourite); no-one called their AJS or Matchless Matilda or Beatrice or Tarquin or Egbert or other demeaningly gentle names like that. And every month, the curiously crusty, blotched pages of erratic typescript of The Jampot carried the endless debate: single or twin?
One particularly keen individual coined the expression ‘twingle’ to describe the magneto twins’ tendency to run on one cylinder before expiring altogether in a dark, damp place, never to start again until the mag had cooled down a lot. Experts muttered mysteriously about something called ‘shellacitis’, talked bafflingly about undercutting your commutator, and shared with us the cheery thought that soon there would be no magneto spares left at all. I bought and sold several CSR twins in the 1970s, buying cheap mag-sparked non-runners and fitting a points / coil arrangement, usually stolen from a passing Triumph. I wish I’d kept all those mags.
They were dark days, days of industrial strife, social upheaval, elevator heels and glam rock, with the price of an AMC motorcycle accurately defined by its Model Number; you could get a decent G80 for £80, which was bit of a push on a weekly wage of about £50, although I did turn down a couple of G2s at £2 because they were plainly over-priced.
Still the debate raged on. There were no new twin pistons, I learned from the only publication worth reading; The Jampot. Someone wrote in with a rumour that they’d seen a roadster single fitted with Norton forks and with a Norton oil pump buried at the throbbing heart of its engine. This could not have been true; it was plainly an omen of doom. Where was Bicycle Repair Man when we needed him most?
Meanwhile, sundry spares crises came and went. The Club held occasional Spares Days at confoundingly obscure locations in somewhere soaking called NottsanDerby, printing incorrect dates in the magazine to ensure that only the really faithful could get to stand about in a leaky scouts’ hut (you need to be careful with the punctuation there) gazing at oozing piles of iron G3 barrels bored to plus-120 to accept pistons from a Fiat car which had never been imported into the UK.
Still the debate raged on. On the cover of The Jampot there was a picture of a Matchless which carried its G80CS engine in an oil-bearing frame. Pure fantasy, a made-up photo; BSA had only just tried that, and look what happened to them!
So what did you choose? Did you go for a single or a twin? And why, given that both were plainly doomed? Or did you suffer from A Lapse? Did you buy a Triumph? I bought a Bonneville. It was horrid. Then I bought a G9, then a Model 20, then a 31, and … but what did you buy? Did you buy a BMW, seeking solace in the peculiar twin single engine and reliable electric foot?
But that was Then, and this is Now. Now all Ajays and Mattresses are classics, packed with new millennium technology which will ensure that no G3 will ever lunch its big end while cruising at 35mph on a club run, and running on new millennium lubricants which will ensure that any 650 can be revved to 3500rpm without spitting the end off its crank. There’s nothing to choose between all the models. All the classic mags (bar one) tell us that all AMC bikes cruise forever at the ton, use no oil and sip at their unleaded like reformed alcoholics.
How did you choose your own classic bike? Tell me, quick, I have some bikes to sell…