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6th December 2005

AJS & Matchless Alternative Rally

Inflatable sheep, missing gearbox bolts, Yorkshire hospitality and a 600 mile ride on 50 year old motorcycles, in October. Duncan Moss braves the AMC Club's alternative annual rally...

When compiling a list of the most sensible activities for an October weekend, camping in the Yorkshire Dales probably appears a long way from the top, or alternatively you could say a short way up from the bottom. The additional proposal of using a classic motorcycle as the preferred means of transporting yourself and all of the associated paraphernalia should ensure it fails to register on the list at all.

This is what it's all about...

Welcome to the AJS & Matchless Owners Club Alternative Rally for ridden classic motorcycles only…

On a grey Friday morning I managed to time my arrival at Dave Chantley's spot on the chime of 9am, our agreed leaving time, having spent longer than anticipated applying my extensive collection of bungee straps to the luggage on my bike, and missing the promised brew up for an early arrival. The plan for the day commences with a joint Hampshire and Wa-Hey Valley section assault on the first 100 miles of the motorway system to the Watford Gap Service Station on the M1, where we had arranged to meet Les Ward on his G15CS and complete the remaining 180 miles as a three bike convoy.

The desired trouble-free first leg of the journey did not materialise as we arrived at Watford Gap with a broken sidestand spring (I knew those extra bungees would be useful) and, more worryingly, a missing gearbox top bolt. Dave proceeded to advise me that if the bolt was inserted from the primary chaincase side I would only be missing a nut instead of the whole bolt.

I sulked and asked for my bungee back.

With impeccable timing Les appears within minutes of our arrival time while I am laid on my back pinching up the bottom gearbox stud and rooting through the emergency tools and 'just in case' spares for inspiration, which arrives in the shape of a screwdriver, fuel pipe and some cable ties (an absence of sticky back plastic means no Blue Peter badge for me though), which when carefully inserted wedge the top of the gearbox against its adjuster and prevents further movement.

*...No, *this* is what it's all about.

Les advises me that if the bolt was inserted from the primary chaincase side I would only be missing a nut instead of the whole bolt.

I thank him politely for the advice.

During our beverage break we meet an Australian who originated from Woodford, a former Matchless owner who, having only been back in the country a short while, is now heading off course on the M1 instead of on track on the A1. Road maps are interrogated and a revised route to Wisbech established. During further discussions he produces a notebook where he has recorded the details of a pair of mad Englishmen on Matchless G3s who are heading to Yorkshire for a camping weekend who he met during a previous map reading session. His view of the English is reinforced when he learns of our destination. Just before we all depart the world suddenly becomes much smaller as he adds our machines' details to his note book and takes a photograph of the bikes for his friend, TC, back in Australia, who coincidently has a long standing monthly article in the 'Jampot' the AJS&MOC magazine.

We had not lightly selected the M1 as our primary route but had decided to trade off more challenging and potentially interesting roads against a simpler route with reduced travelling time so as to avoid aggravating Dave's 'condition'. I am please to report that the actual ride up was nowhere as bad as I had initially feared. I could still walk and feel all of my appendages at both of the stops and only two lorry drivers had been eager to demonstrate their king of the road status.

It was as we passed the Nottingham junctions, with Dave's leading AJS Model 20 regularly nudging 70mph while overtaking, that it occurred me that as the first sections of the M1 were opened in 1959 it was actually contemporary with our mounts, and was maybe not such an absurd choice of route after all.

'Using a classic motorcycle as the preferred means of transporting yourself and all of the associated paraphernalia'... including caravans?

After arriving at the rally and signing in, we meet up with Rob Swift, Ian Farrington and Ray Farmer from the Hampshire section who have taken the drive/ride travel option and still managed to cover a respectable two-wheeled 80 miles from their drop-off point on a rigid Matchless G3L, AJS Model 8 lightweight and AJS 500 twin. They also impart their combined wisdom about inserting bolts from the left hand side. As compensation for this advice I reassure them that I will not tell a single person about their motoring misdemeanours and disappear off to find any groups of two or more to impart this knowledge to.

Now that looks better.
Random AJS Stuff on

Daylight is starting to fade and the camp site is filling up fast as we pitch our tents. I can hear wheezing sounds emanating from Dave's tent, I enquire after his health and am reassured to hear he is ok but disturbed to discover he is inflating a sheep. I decided not to question him further and head up to the bar for the two rally essentials, beer and hot food. The rest of the evening is spent in the specially erected marquee under the warmth of two patio heaters refreshing old acquaintances and empty pint glasses.

Everything you need for a sumptuous feast can be packed into one Craven pannier.

Saturday morning announces its arrival with the gentle sound of rain which, providing it is only the world outside that is soggy, is a soothing sound to a camper (I was dry and soothed). The allocated section of campsite had expanded overnight to accommodate late and Saturday arrivals and now looked like a damp tented Glastonbury field with added motorcycles. Eager to test various clothing manufacturers 'waterproof' claims the rain decided to hang around for the day's 60 miles run to Kilnsey Trout Farm and the Theakstons Brewery. An added bonus of the rain was the accompanying mist which limited visibility. I am however reliably informed that we rode past some great views. As is the way of things just after we returned to the campsite the sun broke through the cloud and gave the promise of a clear sky and consequently dry cold night.

If I recall correctly from the statistics given in the Saturday night awards, the rally was extremely well attended with some 130 visitors travelling a combined total of some 16,000 miles to be there (an impressive average of 120 miles each). The Yorkshire section had really gone the extra mile with the awards and presented the winners with some beautifully crafted mini (as in size not the car) Jampots in purpose made brass labelled wooden caskets, well worth enduring the 620 miles of the furthest travelled winner.

Trying to hide at the top of the photo doesn't work if you're wearing dayglo...

A mid-morning Sunday departure was followed by an uneventful ride home which was almost completely devoid of lorries and saw the return 285 miles completed at an average speed well in excess of 50mph and in a travelling duration of 10 minutes less than the outward leg. Isn't it amazing the things these bicycle speedos can record?

...unless you jump into the river, of course.

Finally I would like to say a personal thank you to the Yorkshire section for all their efforts in organising a most enjoyable rally and Phil in particular for trying to source a replacement bolt for me (I finally used a modified tractor clutch stud from a John Deer outlet and can recommend their 'we will see how we can help' attitude).

The 2006 Alternative is already on the top of my things to do list for next October, is it on yours?

See for more information about the AJS & Matchess Owners' Club

Click here for more pictures.

NB: Jampot = Nickname given by The Motor Cycle to the rear suspension units fitted between 1951 and 1957 because of their shape, and not because you could keep preserves in them

The recipe for a perfect October weekend?


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