The Match­less X has been re­vived af­ter many years of re­pose, but what’s it like to ride? Frank West­worth hits the roads of Corn­wall in pur­suit of the an­swer

Real Classic - - Contents - Pho­tos by Rowena Hosea­son

The Match­less X has been re­vived af­ter many years of re­pose, but what’s it like to ride? Frank West­worth hits the roads of Corn­wall in pur­suit of the an­swer

Start­ing is the thing. Well… it cer­tainly is for this rider. A mi­nor cru­elty of life is that al­though a bike’s en­gine need not weaken with age, the same can­not be said for the rider’s kick­ing leg.

When I ac­quired this truly hand­some ma­chine, way back when, I had lit­tle trou­ble kick­ing it over. In fact I had lit­tle trou­ble kick­ing any­thing over, from mighty high-com­pres­sion sin­gles to cans of oil in The Shed. Nowa­days, things are dif­fer­ent. When I first went to look at the X with a view to pur­chase, I kicked at it for a long time, mar­vel­ling at how well the de­com­pres­sor worked and at the fact that it sim­ply would not start. I bought it any­way, as I’d al­ways wanted one and it was af­ford­able be­cause it didn’t run.

The orig­i­nal idea was to store the ma­chine so that I could re­build it when I re­tired from full-time em­ploy­ment and could learn all about the mag­i­cal mys­ter­ies of the Match­less side­valve V-twin. Be­ing an im­pa­tient sort, I ran out of pa­tience af­ter a mere ten or twelve years or so and passed the bike to Richard Ne­gus to work his me­chan­i­cal magic – which he did, as you may have read in the last cou­ple of is­sues.

But now… now the bike is back in The Shed, gleam­ing a lit­tle and leak­ing lube not at all. It is beau­ti­ful, and Richard as­sures me that it’s an easy starter. Not so far… There’s plenty of in­er­tia in an en­gine like this. Big pis­tons and mighty fly­wheels, as is ob­vi­ous while kick­ing the en­gine over with the de­com­pres­sor do­ing its eas­ing rou­tine. That’s not a prob­lem, of course, but I was be­ing cau­tious – both for the sake of the newly re­built in­nards and my own lim­ited kick­ing abil­i­ties. Lots of tickle to the re­mote float Amal, sev­eral swings of the kicker lever, then tickle again and re­lease the de­com­pres­sor. This is the rou­tine that works best on both Nor­ton and AJS Model 18 sin­gles, which are re­ally sim­ply half of a 1000cc twin, aren’t they? And they both boast a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio than that of the Match­less, so kick­ing the Match­less should be eas­ier. Isn’t that cor­rect? Not so far. Ease the kicker up to com­pres­sion, let it rise to the top of its arc, bend the knee and jump. Pro­found wheeze from the en­gine … and from me. Richard main­tains that this is an easy en­gine to spin – he’s a more heroic man than I. Must eat more pies.

I never – al­most never use the choke on an old bike, but I do now in the hope that it will make a dif­fer­ence. I also ap­ply maybe half of the man­ual ig­ni­tion re­tard. Fuel and kick again. Same lack of re­sult. Puff a lit­tle. Kick a lot more. Noth­ing. Scratch head and think. Look at the en­gine again. Ob­serve the length of the in­let tract – the dis­tance from carb to cylin­ders. It is a long way. Flood the float cham­ber again and kick a lot more with the valve lifter lift­ing the valves. Re­peat twice more. Won­der whether the el­derly side­valve would pre­fer an open throt­tle? Open the throt­tle. Ease up to com­pres­sion. Kick.

The ven­er­a­ble county of Corn­wall is shaken by the blast from those two stacked si­lencers. I hold the throt­tle for a while, close the air lever and marvel at the way the en­gine sounds. It sounds su­perb. A lit­tle loud, but hey – loud pipes save lives, isn’t that what they say? I’ve never been able to un­der­stand that loud pipes might be life-savers, given that they’re be­hind the bike and trail the noise in your wake rather than pro­ject­ing it ahead in the sperm whale way, but it’s a good slo­gan.

Then there’s the ig­ni­tion ad­vance lever. Move the lever back to its ad­vanced po­si­tion and marvel at the in­crease in the gen­eral hap­pi­ness of the en­gine. Step back and check that oil is re­turn­ing to the tank. It is, with that slow ooz­ing drib­ble fa­mil­iar to those who ride AMC sin­gles. The en­gine is tick­ing over like the nois­i­est clock imag­in­able. Big pieces of heavy metal are get­ting along to­gether in­side the cases. There is no leaky oil and there is no smoke from the si­lencers.

Grab hel­met, gloves, head out into the sun­shine and into the lanes. This is re­mark­ably un­fa­mil­iar.

Match­less did not in­tend their big side­valve V-twin to be a sports ma­chine. Some folk sug­gest that it was in­tended as a sports tourer – Match­less listed it as the ‘Sports Tourist’ af­ter its 1936 re­fresh­ment – but its long 57-inch wheel­base, cou­pled with the hefty bot­tom end per­for­mance of the en­gine, sug­gest that it was in fact in­tended for side­car work. It is no faster off the mark than the 500cc AJS 18 which sits next to it in The Shed – and al­though that handy hand­some sin­gle is some seven years more mod­ern than the twin, the war came be­tween them, and en­gine de­vel­op­ment through­out the con­flict was aimed more at re­li­a­bil­ity and eco­nom­i­cal use of ma­te­ri­als than at greater per­for­mance. So the 1939 500 ohv sin­gle was no slower than the 48 which lives in The Shed.

This par­tic­u­lar ma­chine – the Match­less X – dates from the very end of pro­duc­tion. Its en­gine num­ber – in that con­ve­nient AMC way – con­firms that it’s a 1940 model year mo­tor­cy­cle, which re­veals that it was built af­ter the fac­tory’s sum­mer break in Au­gust 1939 and the out­break of war in September of that same year. There can’t have been many of them, as AMC – like BSA and the other man­u­fac­tur­ers – were well aware of

events in Europe and the in­evitable WD de­mand for mil­i­tary ma­chin­ery.

There was an AJS equiv­a­lent too, in that fa­mil­iar AMC way – the Model 2. They’re very thin on the ground to­day, and are quite dif­fer­ent, again in that quaint AMC way. And the rea­son I men­tion the AJS Vee is that AJS did at­tempt to mar­ket a Vee sports bike – a V4 no less – but it failed to reach pro­duc­tion. Sammy Miller has the pro­to­type, I think. The other rea­son for men­tion­ing this is that AMC plainly did not con­sider their X en­gine to be a sport­ster – and they of­fered an ohv ver­sion to other com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Mor­gan. This is im­por­tant, be­cause some rare X en­gine spares are avail­able from the Mor­gan driv­ers.

Any­way, back to the rid­ing thing. First rides on an en­tirely un­fa­mil­iar ma­chine are al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing. Due to cow­ardice, mine are also al­ways short – maybe a mile or so then back to The Shed. The rea­son? I need to check whether I can start the thing more than once and that I can start it when it’s hot. Hap­pily, al­though the day was de­light­fully warm and sunny, Match­less parked the twin’s mag­neto at the front of the bike, so it doesn’t cook. Stable­mates AJS, on the other hand, used a mag­dyno which they sited be­hind the rear cylin­der, where it would roast nicely. This is of course an en­ter­tain­ing re­ver­sal of their rel­a­tive mag­neto po­si­tions on AJS and Match­less sin­gles. Why? I have no idea. In any case, the X is eas­ier to start when warm than when cold. This is good. Par­tic­u­larly in the sum­mer, and es­pe­cially when rid­ing back and forth over the same stretch of lane to get a half-de­cent pic to prove that the bike ac­tu­ally runs!

So. What’s the ac­tual rid­ing thing like? Richard Ne­gus has re­vealed the en­gine’s in­ner­most se­crets, so I don’t need to do that. In­stead, let’s fire it up again. This is not a small en­gine, and as I said be­fore, there’s a lot of in­er­tia in­volved. For this rea­son I pre­fer to start it while stand­ing along­side, rather than from the sad­dle. This in­volves putting the X onto its main­stand – which is not a cen­tre­stand, un­hap­pily. This is a rear stand, as was usual back when bikes had rigid frames.

Rear stands should be easy to use, once you’ve got the hang of how they work. In this case, the X is heavy and has a long frame, so two things to make the nerves jan­gle with the un­happy idea of drop­ping the plot while mon­ster­ing it onto the stand.

Cou­ple of swings – with an un­usual amount of throt­tle, too; as much as would

make the ohv AJS 18 spit back in ir­ri­ta­tion – and the en­gine crack­les into life. It is not quiet – ex­cept me­chan­i­cally. Hel­met, gloves, change sides and lift the ma­chine off the stand. Re­mem­ber (this time) to make sure that the stand is firmly gripped by its clip. If you do not do this, the thing can fall and clat­ter about on the road sur­face, giv­ing hap­less pi­lot a se­ri­ous dose of the great­grieftheengi­nes­goneban­gi­tis, which none of us needs.

And off and away and onto a few ma­jor roads. The clutch is very light, and the dry de­vice op­er­ates very smoothly. As does the gear­box, al­though it is se­ri­ously slow in op­er­a­tion, as is usual with Bur­man boxes. Up into first, in the AMC way, and trac­tor off to­wards Devon.

First thoughts? This is very com­fort­able in­deed. A per­fect rid­ing po­si­tion. The low speed steer­ing is very vague. The girder fork is not the light­est of its type and it feels as though it wants to flop to one side – ei­ther side will do. In turn, this tends to make the rider over-com­pen­sate, which makes the bars flap around a lit­tle more. Just ac­cel­er­ate – that’s the best thing. The loose­ness van­ishes by the time you’re ready to shift into sec­ond – around 10mph in this case. This ma­chine does not have tall gear­ing. Not at all.

Sec­ond gear whines a lit­tle, and third, avail­able below 20mph, whines loudly enough to be clearly au­di­ble. Not a con­cern, just some­thing to lis­ten to as you pre­pare for the great shift into top. Be­cause the lower three ra­tios are low, I’d ex­pected there to be a big step into fourth – top gear, but there isn’t. It is per­fectly easy, and per­fectly pleas­ant, to be in top at 30mph. In fact, this is an amaz­ingly flex­i­ble top gear. Rid­ers of other el­derly side­valvers – sin­gles as well as twins – will be fa­mil­iar with this, but it’s so long since I last rode one that I’d for­got­ten the charms of the long top gear. The X will pull top from around 23-25mph with ut­ter charm and smooth­ness. Whether this mat­ters at all … I’ll leave that to you to de­cide.

The lo­cal road to Devon is down­hill at first, giv­ing a brief il­lu­sion of great ac­cel­er­a­tion. Hills have two sides, of course, and I’m de­lighted to re­port that the X romps up hills in that long top gear. The en­gine sounds a lit­tle like a heavy dumper truck, much bark and crack from the si­lencers, turn­ing every head as it passes by, and run­ning sur­pris­ingly smoothly. My mod­ern ma­chine is a V-twin, so I’m not sure why the smooth run­ning was a sur­prise – then we hit se­ri­ous vibes at around 45mph and I re­mem­bered that my Amer­i­can be­he­moth mounts its en­gine in rub­ber, like some of the best Nor­tons.

Eas­ing the throt­tle eases the vibes, but this is no use if you want to ride faster than 50 or so. En­tirely on your be­half, gen­tle reader, and please re­mem­ber that the en­gine has new pis­tons and main bear­ings, I pushed the speedo nee­dle as far as 60mph while head­ing down an­other hillock. That was enough. Quite enough. Back in 1937, The Motor Cy­cle re­vealed that the X was per­fectly happy cruis­ing at over 60mph. OK, rid­ers then were made of sterner stuff than I. The same rider claimed that the X would clock 80 – I can­not imag­ine this, frankly.

Maybe things will speed up as the en­gine runs in – we will see. Or maybe the truck pis­tons in­side are not the same weight as the orig­i­nals? That seems likely.

Now, this reads as though I’m un­happy with the ma­chine, which is en­tirely not the case. I am sim­ply try­ing to write it like I rode it. The en­gine, which is the very def­i­ni­tion of re­lax­ation when run­ning below 50mph, sim­ply did not want to rev harder than 60 … which brings us to the brakes. Again, that 1937 tester re­marked that the X had good brakes. Times change. The es­cape clause would be to write that the brakes match the per­for­mance – when a scrib­bler scribes that they’re be­ing gen­er­ous or disin­gen­u­ous. In fact, the brakes are fine so long as you don’t need to stop in a hurry. So… out on the Cor­nish B-roads and head­ing for Devon, with clear sight­lines and lit­tle traf­fic, they’re fine. They work. They work well enough for planned changes of speed, for cor­ners, for junc­tions. Trac­tor with a bale im­paler heads out of a sud­den farm gate? Not so great.

Un­like the steer­ing, which is pre­cise and ac­cu­rate, and frankly a dou­ble de­light – dou­ble be­cause it com­bines with the en­tirely groovy han­dling. This is not a very light ma­chine – 435lb is quoted – but it’s ut­terly chuck­able. Nice new mod­ern rub­ber on the wheels (ribbed Avon up front, some­thing called a Hei­de­nau on the back) and a re­ally rather re­mark­able set of girder forks com­bine to in­spire ut­ter con­fi­dence. There’s loads of ground clear­ance, the ma­chine is slim and a high pro­por­tion of its mass is at or below wheel spin­dle height, all of which makes for se­ri­ously ag­ile bend swing­ing. Mid-bend bumps are not a prob­lem, be­cause there’s no rear sus­pen­sion to lower the frame un­ex­pect­edly, and you can brake away mer­rily mid-cor­ner. That is prob­a­bly the only good fea­ture of the brakes.

All the other rigid-framed bikes in The Shed – two sin­gles and a twin – have tele forks, and al­though those are more fa­mil­iar to this rider than the X with its gird­ers, once the Match­less is rolling above walk­ing pace its forks work very well. They’re pretty good qual­ity, too, with forged links rather than the steel stamp­ings of­ten seen on con­tem­po­rary girder de­signs, and with a pair of check springs to as­sist the main spring when the go­ing gets bouncy. They’re also well en­dowed with dampers, with the usual lat­eral fric­tion damper mounted on the top yoke be­ing com­pli­mented by a pair of ver­ti­cal move­ment dampers of a very sim­i­lar de­sign. If you’re ea­gle-eyed, you might spot that one of the lat­ter has bid for free­dom at some point. The knob is there but the in­nards have es­caped into the Lin­colnshire coun­try­side.

Gird­ers al­ways feel heavy to me, com­pared to the more fa­mil­iar tele­scopic forks. How­ever, fa­mil­iar­ity is the key word here, and by the time a few miles have wafted away be­neath the wheels it all starts to feel nor­mal, some­how. I played around with the steer­ing damper, aim­ing to dial out the low speed twitch, but once I’d been suc­cess­ful much of the fluid cor­ner­ing had gone, so I loos­ened the damper again and just ig­nored the faintly un­com­fort­able walk­ing pace wob­ble.

The ver­ti­cal damp­ing is fine, even with just a sin­gle damper and with that tight­ened up only enough to hope­fully dis­cour­age its in­nards from dis­ap­pear­ing into the Cor­nish hedgerows. As loads of rid­ers know al­ready,

a de­cent girder works very well, and al­though the tele­scop­ics of the im­me­di­ate post-war days are more fa­mil­iar, in fact they work no bet­ter. They’re cheaper to make and neater too, re­quir­ing rather less main­te­nance. Girder forks have sev­eral grease nip­ples, which are ig­nored at your peril. I once bor­rowed an WD M20 BSA while my AJS was off the road, and it was pro­foundly and mem­o­rably ter­ri­ble. All the bushes were badly worn – sev­eral squad­dies and sub­se­quent skint civvies plainly did not ap­ply grease guns dur­ing their ten­ure – and its han­dling was atro­cious. My specs are rarely rose-tinted about these things.

But the key to this bike, as with most, is its en­gine, its pow­er­train. The gear­box is a de­light, with well-spaced ra­tios and a slow, steady, en­tirely pre­dictable ac­tion. It whines, but so what? The en­gine is very in­ter­est­ing. For starters, it pays to re­mem­ber that this is no Vin­cent V-twin. It is a side­valve, its per­for­mance is mod­est. The orig­i­nal com­pres­sion ra­tio was 5.4:1, which sug­gests that it was in­tended for the long slog rather than the short sprint. And that’s ex­actly how it feels on the road, al­though I have no idea what the cur­rent com­pres­sion ra­tio is. It pulls very well within its lim­its, and is, well, in­ter­est­ing!

The bot­tom end has two con rods shar­ing a crankpin, as you’d ex­pect, while the small ends are handed to keep the two bore cen­tres in line with each other, rather than stag­gered as on other V-twins. Lubri­ca­tion is glo­ri­ously ar­chaic, with grease (ap­plied no more fre­quently than 500 mile in­ter­vals, in­sists the hand­book) eas­ing the hard life of the valves, while the tra­di­tional slug­gish feed from the ro­tat­ing plunger pump to es­sen­tial ar­eas of the bot­tom end can cause quite con­sid­er­able panic when start­ing the en­gine af­ter a month left stand­ing. Why? Be­cause oil can take an age be­fore it starts to drib­ble back to the tank, ter­ri­fy­ing the on­looker with the idea that there’s none in­side the en­gine, some­how.

Electrics are as ba­sic as you’d ex­pect. The Lu­cas mag­neto, driven by chain, is con­ven­tional, with a cam­ring ground to suit the 50° fir­ing in­ter­val of the V-en­gine. Lights are lit by a Lu­cas dy­namo – as­sisted in this case by an early 12V con­ver­sion. The vast head­lamp is fairly bright but has lit­tle in the way of a beam, and com­bined with the tiny rear light would make this rider ner­vous about mix­ing it with mod­ern traf­fic af­ter dark. Great lights for sunny days, then.

Which – at the risk of up­set­ting some – is the story of the mighty Match­less. It’s an en­tirely en­ter­tain­ing ride, for short dis­tances on sunny days, when a chap de­mands a break from re­al­ity and stuff. It sounds great, the start­ing knack is eas­ily ac­quired, it is con­sid­er­ably com­fort­able, packed with charisma and steers like a dream. This is a 77 year-old mo­tor­cy­cle, a fact which needs to be re­mem­bered. It’s not just an old bike – it’s a very old bike.

When I ac­quired the X– a very long time ago now – I thought it would make a great cruiser for my re­tire­ment. It would of­fer a care­ful al­ter­na­tive to mod­ern ma­chin­ery for the fa­mil­iar rides of my leisure time. That was the plan. And it would do that. But the vi­bra­tion and brak­ing put me off. Vibes I can live with, but… The brak­ing pre­vents me pack­ing a pair of sad­dle­bags and head­ing for more than a day’s ride. And this is a re­flec­tion on how I have changed, not upon the bike. It’s the sim­ple ac­cep­tance that what would have been per­fectly OK a decade or two back is no longer ac­cept­able. The X is to­tally en­ter­tain­ing to ride. It’s ab­sorb­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing, strangely strange yet oddly fa­mil­iar to a life­long AMC fan. I ad­mire those rid­ers who cover enor­mous mileages on their an­cient, prim­i­tive mo­tor­cy­cles … but in truth I can no longer pre­tend that I want to be in their num­ber…

Left: Lubri­ca­tion on these en­gines is sim­ple enough: no plumber’s night­mare this

Below: De­spite the lowly com­pres­sion ra­tio, , the X en­gine’s 990cc can make it a chal­lenge to ki ick up. Still, at least it warms a chap on a chilly mor rn­ing

Above: A thing of won­der. Cast iron bar­rels anda heads, painted heroic black to aid the coolin ng. Pol­ished dome on the pri­mary chain­case en ncloses the dry Bur­man clutch

It’s a trea­sure, a truly great sur­vivor of the 1930s. The brick, by the way, is sim­ply to hold the plot up­right for the pho­tos. The side­stand is very sta­ble, but leans at quite an an­gle

The sin­gle carb is mounted quite a long way from the in­let valves. It can take sev­eral kicks to pull fuel into the cylin­ders. This is what the valve lifter’s for, of course

One Bur­man heavy­weight gear­box. It’s slow in ac­tion and whines a lit­tle, but the shift is typ­i­cally ac­cu­rate, the ra­tios well cho­sen

‘Pie crust’ oil filler cap is a pe­riod de­light: the smaller shiny thing is the cover for the oil tank’s fil­ter

Right: There may be baf­fles in­side the si­lencers. Then again, there may not. Rear stand clip is a good thing to use, too

Right: Lots to look at. The lit­tle brass thingy is an in­spec­tion lamp, while the chrome cover hides the hole for a clock­work clock, which in this case we do not have

Step­pin’ out…

Above: Huge head­light is both 12V and de­cently bright. It has no no­tice­able beam how­ever. You might be able to ob­serve how one of the fork dampers has shed its fric­tion plates, too

Left: Girder forks work very well, un­like the brake, which is im­pres­sively fee­ble

Above: En­gines typ­i­cally run badly if their oil sup­ply is cut off. Ex­pert re­builder Richard Ne­gus wired this one open, as it had al­ready wrecked the en­gine once

On the road again. At long last…

Forged links adorn the forks, as well as a pair of check springs and a pair of fric­tion dampers. No 1930s econ­omy drive here

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.