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4th February 2005

Opinion: AMC Anorak Part 5

Frank Westworth attempts to expand his knowledge about AJS and Matchless 650 twins and their Royal Enfield equivalent...

Do you ever get the feeling that you are the only person who is marching in step? That somehow all the other occupants of the old bike world are somehow living in a different space-time continuum? Maybe it's just me, but I have been enjoying some entertainingly surreal reading recently, and it has suggested that all the AJS and Matchless machinery I thought I knew well is somehow atypical of the breed.

This is quite strange, not least because I've been fortunate enough to ride lots of AMC machinery over the last (mumble) years and have ridden several versions of the same model, some of these for what passes for high mileages in these dark days. And, like lots of folk, I enjoy reading about the bikes I ride. I like to read about them not least because I like confirmation that my own impressions are accurate, and in case I'm thinking of changing a bike I'm familiar with for another with which I am completely inexpert. I am of course completely inexpert about most things, but you know…

An AJS 650 yesterday.Take, for example, that very fine motorcycle universally known as the AJS 31. In case you had somehow forgotten, this is a 650cc twin of gentle demeanour and restrained styling.

AMC built all of their motorcycles to a very high standard of fit and finish, and what they may possibly have lacked in exciting engineering they made up for with a certain considerable robustness, which in turn allowed them to suffer fools gladly.

Well, if not exactly gladly, then with the sort of rugged tolerance which has made them one of my favourite marques since only slightly after the allegedly Harley-riding deity was a lad. And I have owned a lot of them.

An embarrassing lot, in fact, and there are at least three in The Shed at the moment. If you added the number of Matchless G12 machines which I've owned and ridden, then the number of AMC 650s which has passed through my hands over the last (mumble) years is probably approaching twenty. Or maybe more. I'll have to think about that.

And I've ridden great, heroic mileages on most of the various variants, too, from a 1959 multicoloured Matchless version, right up to a 1966 Norton-forked model 31 AJS, passing rapidly by sundry CSRs (as you should), a couple of CS bruisers (it's the seats that do the bruising) and ignoring all those fitted with Norton twin engines.

So I know my Ajay 650s.

And I know my Ariel 650s, as well, for reasons far too long and far too tedious to recount here - although anyone looking at The Toastmaster Saga in the 'Bikes' section on this excellent site. This is important, because although I know my Ariels and my AMC twins, I know sweet Felicity Arkwright about Royal Enfield twins.

Which is relevant, because I had been considering adding an Interceptor to the fleet of wheezing warriors which conspire together to make The Shed's floor a slippery stained trap for the unwary. And how do I learn about an unfamiliar motorcycle? That's right; I read about it. Have a banana.

AJS Stuff on

An AJS 650 engine, 'vibrating like an Ariel Huntmaster'. One that's been in a fire, perhaps.Comparative tests are the best. And so I sat and read a comparative test of an AMC and an RE twin. It was baffling. I was baffled.

Why was I baffled? Because the AJS 31 which the tester was describing was plainly some inferior make of motorcycle, and not an AJS at all. The machine in the photos was indeed an AJS; I had actually been friendly at one time with its owner and had borrowed it for a time while my own machine had been enduring some trifling repair work, and although it had its faults - every 1961 AJS has its share of tiny imperfections - the tester's complaints about it included none of them.

But Mr Ace Reporter commented upon the handling, which he described as 'average'. He commented upon the brakes, which he also described as 'average', and he commented upon the performance, comparing it unfavourably to a Triumph 650 - although I noticed that he never specified exactly which Triumph 650 he was referring to.

Mr Ace Reporter also remarked upon the availability of spares for the AJS, announcing to a stunned reader (me) that Monobloc carbs were unobtainable, that the forks were weak and that spares for them were rare as rocking horse leftovers.

This was good news for me, because I have a few pairs of Teledraulic forks lying about The Shed, and I also have several new Amal Monoblocs, which as ani fule no are available new from several sources. The gent was plainly spouting rubbish.

This was a tad disappointing, as what I wanted to learn was how well a 700cc RE compared to a more familiar model. If I couldn't trust Ace Reporter's judgement of the AJS, could his view on the Redditch Eccentric be any more use? I read on…

The RE, I discovered, was 'lusty'. Does this mean that it dribbled a bit whenever a handsome young lady strolled by? It also, or so he claimed, leaked a lot of oil. Were these two features connected, I wondered? I also gazed long and hard at the shiny pics of the RE and could spot not one spot of misplaced lube. Puzzling. I could sense the approach of bafflement.

I read more. The Ajay's gearshift was excellent (it is) but the RE's was slightly better, due to the neutral finder. What? The Albion gearbox is famous among its admirers for the sloth and clashing of its shift. It genuinely needs to be fitted with a neutral finder, while the AMC box does not.

My terminal collapse came with the revelation that while the Enfield engine was smooth enough, by virtue of its massive construction, the AJS twin engine 'vibrated like an Ariel Huntmaster', probably because of its third main bearing. What? WHAT!

I have a familiar Ariel Huntmaster in The Shed as I type; it is pleasantly smooth in operation, as most all-iron twins are. It is certainly smoother than any of the bigger RE twins which I have ridden (they are not many, but enough), and… and…

By this stage apoplexy was imminent and I feared for my cardiac integrity, so I gave up with the idiot's scribbling. All of a sudden I understood that if I wanted to learn more about RE twins then I was going to have to go and talk to some owners (email is a wonderful thing). And quite at once I remembered that back when I was in nappies AMC refused to let journalists - like me - have their bikes for road tests. I now know why...

If Jan Saudek had ownder a pink Ajay...


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