It might not be the razor’s edge in motorcycle technology, but Glen Cavers loves his AJS
In 1950, a brand new single-cylinder, 500 cc AJS 18S motorcycle rolled off the British assembly line. After 62 years, it’s alive and well and under the care of Glen Cavers at his home near Erin.
“The AJS has been with me since I bought it in boxes in 1970, with the exception of about 14 years from 1995 on where I sold it to some friends,” said Cavers.
“(It was) a move that I regretted for many years. but I now have it back.
“I like to ride it, not just look at it and the bike has done several hundred miles this year to rallies and on rides.”
AJS, short for A.J. Stevens & Co. Ltd., started making motorcycles in 1909 in Wolverhampton, England and during the 20’s and 30’s was known for building some of the fastest, most prestigious bikes on the market, including overhead cam V-fours.
It was a reputation forged by setting 117 motorcycle world records between 1909 and 1931, when the company fell on hard times, went bankrupt and was purchased by Matchless.
In 1938, AJS became part of a group called Associated Motorcycles.
Since 2002, AJS have distributed a range of 124 cc to 300 cc Chinese produced road bikes in trail, roadster and custom cruiser styles. Their main market is Learner Legal 125’s. Bikes. AJS Motorcycles Ltd. also sell Stormer/Villiers Starmaker spares and Classic Competition Accessories.
As the British navy once ruled the waves, Britain also reigned over the motorcycle sector. So much so, there was little heed paid to a Japanese piston ring maker named Soichiro Honda when he started grafting war surplus two-stroke motors onto bicycles in 1946 and selling them as affordable transportation.
What eventually happened was that Honda, and other Japanese bike manufacturers, got exponentially better while British technology stayed relatively stagnant. Cavers, himself, also owns a Kawasaki.
Yet, he continues to love his AJS, despite its idiosyncrasies.
For example, Cavers has to turn the fuel tap on when starting his manual model 18S.
He then has to “tickle the carburetor”, retard the spark, and use the compression release to get the piston at the correct point before
kicking the bike over.
“You can do it in a split second,” insists Cavers, “once you know what you’re doing.” The biggest challenge is to remember to shift up for low with the right side shifter which is completely opposite of modern bikes.
Although history tells us the British might have lost the battle to win the motorcycle market, their bikes have certainly not been forgotten. In fact, vintage U.K. models occupy three of the spots in a recent list of the ten most expensive motorcycles in the world.
A 1928 Royal Coventry Eagle came in at number nine. A Vincent Black Shadow, (the most coveted bike of celebrity motorcycle aficionado Jay Leno) was listed at number four.
Coming in at number two is none other than a rare 1954 AJS Porcupine E95 racing motorcycle. Only four came off the line, to begin with, and it has been estimated the bike could bring in close to $750,000 US at auction.
As well, one cannot dismiss the nostalgia factor that surrounds British bikes. Cavers has experienced it, first hand.
Taking the AJS to a recent show, he was approached by a gentleman who asked him to stop by a red pickup truck in the next field and see the man’s father, who appeared to be in his late 80s,and confined to a wheelchair.
Cavers recalled the man being gruff at first, but his demeanor changed instantly when he realized Cavers was astride his AJS.
“He suddenly sat up in the seat and had a huge smile on his face,” said Cavers. (He) started to tell me about owning four Matchless motorcycles in his younger days. He told me how he had switched parts and made his 350 into a 500, which is quite easy with these bikes.
“Matchless owned AJS at that time and the bikes were almost identical except for the badges. We had a nice talk. Then he grabbed my hand and gave it a big shake. This contact made the whole day worthwhile.”
Written by Dan Pelton