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1st October 2004

Pride of ownership. You can't beat it.Opinion: AMC Anorak Part 2

Frank Westworth has been digging through his photo albums, digging out AJS and Matchless memorabilia for fellow AMC Anoraks...

Why do you ride your old bike (it could be an AJS or a Matchless or even one of those other marques; let's not be too elitist here)?

I know, I know; you ride it because it's great to ride. Unlike anything else (Norton F1, Brough Superior, Honda Pan-European, so forth) that 1957 Model 16 is plainly tops in the smiles-per-mile stakes. Compared with anything else, it is just The Best. It plainly out-handles any old featherbed Norton, out-styles any old Bonneville, is faster than anything built post-war and is entirely free to keep running. Oh well, maybe some of these, at least…

I'm always dead amused when folk attempt to justify their bizarre choice of riding machinery. Oh come on; choosing to ride a bike today which was obsolete when it was built and which was built by a manufacturer who went out of business when today's Prime Minister was wearing short trousers and we all had hair is hardly sensible, particularly when that arcane clatter-iron costs at least as much as a decent Suzuki or whatever's your modern poison!

I sometimes try to do the justification shuffle myself, and always end up feeling faintly bemused as I listen to what I come out with: 'It reminds me of my lost youth…'. Oh really? 'I've always wanted one of these' (add the improbable bike of your dreams here: Matchless Silver Arrows, the odd Model X and an AJS 7R are always good) 'but I could never afford one when I was young.'

The camera never lies. FW is now only four feet tall.Oh yes? Bought a new CB750 / BMW, did we? In 1969 (when we were young, had hair, so forth) the price of a new 750 Honda would have bought you a couple of G50s and a black Model X for Sunday worship.

How's about; 'I had one just like it, and want to re-live the pleasure it gave me…'. That is one of my favourites, and I hear myself bleating it with depressing frequency. At the VMCC Founder's Day, in fact, I heard myself announcing to a profoundly disinterested bunch of Men With Beards (and therefore probably Velocette owners) that I'd recently bankrupted the cats' holiday fund by purchasing a 1947 Matchless G80. Why, I chortled, I rode a 1948 AJS Model 18 when I was busily making a hash of my A-levels, and I've always wanted another. Ho ho; isn't life strange, so forth.

What utter tosh. Tosh most profound in fact

The AJS I rode back in 1971 was a dreadful old nail. It cost a fiver, which back in those days of failing empire represented a scary proportion of my personal wealth (and which I probably borrowed from mum) and the previous owner had run it on TVO (Tractor Vaporising Oil, for the non-agricultural of you; a marginally combustible fuel with an octane rating of about 3). It had a BSA dual seat and a Norton silencer, and I should at this point like to state that I loved it dearly and it bred me a passion for AMC machinery which has lasted me, man, boy and android, until the present day.

But that would not be entirely true.

My AJS made me an object of some derision. Only those chums who were worse off than I (and in richly rural Taunton, that was a low number of friends indeed) rode bikes with less cred than my Ajay. My Ajay, for example, stank of the chicken poo with which it had been deeply coated as it stood for a couple of decades in farmer White's barn. When the engine was hot, for example, the smell travelled faster than did the Ajay, which meant that all the glasses on the bar of the Full Moon were empty when I arrived. There are many hidden expenses involved in motorcycling…

I hated being an object of fun. Or at least I did when I was 17. I'm used to it now. Years of riding AMC machinery has resulted in a thick skin. Ridicule, as Adam of the Ants so profoundly observed during my second childhood, is nothing to be scared of.

That AJS did however introduce the concept of reliability into my motorcycling life. Whereas I was grown accustomed to setting out on my first bike (a Panther) with only a ten percent chance of arrival, the ancient Ajay always got me where I was going. I think. Or maybe the vibration from the all-iron engine got to my memory?

Even my girlfriend hated it. Largely because of the smell, which reminded no-one of Chanel Number Anything, but also because it had no rear suspension, and had instead a rigid dual seat, which was sore punishment for her slender teenage posterior. Or so she said. Although she did leave me for a man with a Wolseley, which might mean something.

So why would I buy a similar (if plainly inferior, due to its being Matchless rather than noble AJS) machine 23 years later? Do I want to rediscover my lost youth, to recall an age of poverty, spots and embarrassing odours? Is it the bike I had always wanted, the bike I should have bought instead of that mighty 4-pot Honda?

Ignoring the fact that I never did buy that Honda, or indeed anything new until almost all of the British bike industry was long-buried, I have to reveal that I have never hankered after anything from my youth, not even the similarly youthful gurlies, truth be told, and certainly not the teenage angst that went with them.

Nope. As we're telling the truth, my memory of that distant Model 18 told me that it was a cracker of a bike to ride. To ride on my own, away from the gurly grumbling and the peer group plonkers whose dads could buy them new Commandos. My memory remembers rides up into the Quantock Hills, to Minehead to eat a sandy ice cream, and to Woolacombe to watch the ocean do its stuff. Most of all, I remember that it made me smile, and I wondered whether it would do the same today.

Guess what?

It does.

Still Smiling?

What a fine upstanding hedge.


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