AJS K9

Af­ter climb­ing an ex­tremely steep learn­ing curve last month, vin­tage vir­gin Paul Miles is ready for his day of reck­on­ing. Bring on the Ban­bury Run…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Paul Miles

Af­ter climb­ing an ex­tremely steep learn­ing curve last month, vin­tage vir­gin Paul Miles is ready for his day of reck­on­ing. Bring on the Ban­bury Run…

Ban­bury then. Leav­ing home at 5 am with the old dog safely lashed to the trailer. It’d been dry all week and the AJS was ser­viced, be­fore be­ing pol­ished to within an inch of its life. Fifty yards from my house it started to rain, a per­sis­tent driz­zle that only stopped five miles out­side Gay­don mo­tor mu­seum, the assem­bly point for the Ban­bury Run.

Pulling into the car park, ex­pertly manned by vol­un­teers, I looked around and saw dozens – no, hun­dreds – of other old mo­tor­cy­cles. This re­ally made quite a sight and sound as they were be­ing fired up and read­ied for the start. I un­loaded the K9, which was now ut­terly cov­ered in filthy road spray from the jour­ney, and did my best to clean it up be­fore rid­ing down to the reg­is­tra­tion and assem­bly point. We each had an al­lo­cated space and start time, with the old­est bikes be­ing the ear­li­est starters.

The car park filled and even­tu­ally there were close to 500 mo­tor­cy­cles ready for the off, with the youngest of them be­ing a mere 88 years old. Ma­chines ranged from mu­seum qual­ity ex­ot­ica to bikes with such a heavy patina that ‘rolling barn find’ would be too gen­er­ous a com­ment, yet here we all were.

I’d only rid­den the AJS for about thirty miles in to­tal and was get­ting a lit­tle con­cerned about the 50-mile route. Turns out it was to be more like 70; I’d been put into the longer, un­timed cat­e­gory. Eek. The re­ally old stuff, pre-1915, had the choice of a shorter run al­though many elected to test them­selves in the longer route. These were mostly push-start ma­chines with leather belt drives and only one speed. Mad­ness. Oth­ers set them­selves the task of stick­ing to a timed sched­ule; hard enough on a mod­ern ma­chine, but on a cen­tury-old clunker with no speedo or trip me­ter fit­ted and un­der penalty of dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion if caught us­ing a sat­nav? Bonkers.

My start time ap­proached and we were sent off with a cheery wave by the pres­i­dent of the VMCC in groups of about six. A num­ber of RealClas­sic friends from the Face­book group were look­ing out for me, so I promised to strap not only a Dorset flag, but a pi­geon to my bas­ket for ease of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. I had a ton of tools, a moder­ately filthy bike and a non-fly­ing bird with me. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

Pad­dling up to the line, I started my en­gine first kick! The warm glow of sat­is­fac­tion was soon sur­passed by the hot en­gine as we waited for the off. And waited. And waited. I be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence that feel­ing we all dread – I should re­ally kill the mo­tor… but if I do will it ever start again? Es­pe­cially in front of a crowd. Erring on the side of me­chan­i­cal dis­tress, I kept the AJS run­ning and we even­tu­ally had our mo­ment in the lime­light.

The side­valve slogged up and out of the mu­seum grounds and I just fol­lowed the other bikes. At this junc­ture, I should men­tion that we were is­sued with a route map, the so­called ‘tulip’ plan. It would be rea­son­able to as­sume that a map may al­most be con­sid­ered as cheat­ing, but in true Ban­bury tra­di­tion, there were no mileage cal­cu­la­tions in­cluded. So, an in­struc­tion like ‘Left turn sign­post Up­per Drip­ping ½’ meant turn left at the halfmile sign ONLY, ig­nor­ing any oth­ers.

At the, erm, high speeds we trav­elled at, mis­takes were oc­ca­sion­ally, OK of­ten, made and through­out the run I en­coun­tered large groups head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to me. At least one of us was wrong. That aside, the first half of the run was a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence, stick­ing mostly to B-roads and pootling along at some in­de­ter­mi­nate speed.

The road­side ca­su­al­ties be­gan to mount, though, and I passed dozens of fine old steeds and rid­ers stranded by the road­side. In­ter­est­ingly, the shiny bikes seemed the most com­mon type to fail, most reassuring as I looked at my filthy K9, thud­ding faith­fully on­wards. An­other harsh les­son: you don’t stop to of­fer as­sis­tance on the Ban­bury as there are re­cov­ery ve­hi­cles. In­stead, the eti­quette is to give them a friendly wave while sail­ing past. All seems a bit cruel, if I’m hon­est.

About half­way in, I found my­self on a fast A-road and won­dered why they’d sent us here. The an­swer loomed ahead: Sun­ris­ing Hill. It looked fast and sweepy, so I gave the AJS its head (I’m try­ing to make about 35mph sound heroic here; cut me some slack) and built up as much speed as I could. It was all go­ing so well un­til I spot­ted a crowd, clus­tered around a seem­ingly in­nocu­ous right-hand bend.

Ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me that where there’s a crowd, there’s a catas­tro­phe and sure enough, the bend was very tight and steep­ened up at the apex. Bike, rider and pi­geon went from max­i­mum speed to a stand­still in about fifty feet. How em­bar­rass­ing. Just about man­ag­ing to keep the en­gine run­ning, I found the su­per-low first gear and pulled slowly away, the ironic ap­plause ring­ing in my red ears. The hill was tough on the AJS, a com­pe­tent bike al­beit with an in­com­pe­tent rider aboard. What chal­lenges it must rep­re­sent to the re­ally old stuff I can only imag­ine.

At the top of the hill, lunch was taken and I met two other rid­ers from my lo­cal VMCC sec­tion. We agreed that rid­ing to­gether the rest of the way was the right thing to do and, apart from a few con­cerns about run­ning out of petrol (flat-tankers don’t hold much fuel, the K9 just a gal­lon and a bit) and in­creas­ing dif­fi­cul­ties find­ing sec­ond gear, the jour­ney

back was rel­a­tively un­event­ful. Not re­ally sure about the point of send­ing all these old bikes through Ban­bury town cen­tre, mind you. The lo­cals couldn’t care less and the un­for­giv­ing car driv­ers made it a tense and un­pleas­ant part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.

When it be­came ob­vi­ous that we had nearly ar­rived back at the mu­seum fin­ish, speeds in­creased and the last few miles be­came a hi­lar­i­ous ‘race’ to the line. Imag­ine, a dozen bikes and rid­ers with a com­bined age of a thou­sand years or there­abouts, at­tempt­ing dar­ing over­tak­ing ma­noeu­vers. Pleased to re­port, the hon­our of AJ Stevens re­mains in­tact.

Back in the car park, sign­ing off and get­ting my com­peti­tor’s mug, I thought about the day. It was very long, with a fair old jour­ney just to be there, but the ride it­self was more than mem­o­rable. 70 miles on a mod­ern bike is noth­ing, on a 1960s clas­sic it’s a pleas­ant jaunt, but on a vin­tage ma­chine it felt like 300. Get­ting up (or safely de­scend­ing) a hill is cause for mi­nor cel­e­bra­tion and big ’un like Sun­ris­ing war­rants a pat on the tank for the faith­ful bike. When did you last do that on a mod­ern ma­chine?

Rid­ing a proper vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle is a new chal­lenge for me and presents a steep learn­ing curve. Rid­ing an older bike can be

de­mand­ing in it­self, but throw in vari­ables such as to­tal loss oil­ing (too much and it fouls plugs and fills the sump; too lit­tle, it blows up), fric­tion throt­tles and a need to con­stantly jug­gle the air and mag­neto levers to achieve the hap­pi­est place for the mo­tor – all these things ex­pand that in­volve­ment about five-fold.

Add to that a paucity of spare parts and the need to be ex­tremely hands-on re­gard­ing main­te­nance, and I’d be re­miss if I didn’t tell you that run­ning a vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle can be quite de­mand­ing. But the re­wards are enor­mous. I’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence any­thing on two wheels that com­pares to coax­ing a very old mo­tor­cy­cle along, ac­com­pa­nied by other geri­atric smok­ers. I now re­gard bikes from the 1950s as mod­ern, with lev­els of us­abil­ity al­most akin to a 2018 Honda. Al­most.

Should you buy one? If you can af­ford a vin­tage ma­chine, and they’re not get­ting any cheaper, have room to store it, the where­withal to look af­ter it and, im­por­tantly,

the op­por­tu­ni­ties to ride it along with other old drip­pers, then yes, go for it. I prom­ise you won’t re­gret it. Check your lo­cal VMCC or Sunbeam MCC sec­tions for vin­tage-only events. These groups would also be ideal as a first point of con­tact for en­quir­ing about ob­tain­ing a bike and ad­vice on look­ing af­ter them.

Or, if you re­ally can’t jus­tify the lux­ury of an­other bike in the shed, but want to ex­pe­ri­ence them, sign up for a VMCC train­ing day in­stead. For a mod­est fee you can try a whole ar­ray of two-wheeled relics, away from other road users. Foot and hand change, lever throt­tles, all at your dis­posal to play with. And, if it rains, you’ll be go­ing so slowly you don’t even get wet!

The AJS has a per­ma­nent place in my shed now and in fact, I’ve just sold two post-war ( WW2) bikes in or­der to fund an­other vin­tage ma­chine, this time a V-twin. I’ll show those pesky Amer­i­can bikes what real power looks like, this one might touch 50…

No fet­tling is too last minute in Ban­bury World

In case you sud­denly find your­self in­spired on the day, machin­ery is avail­able for pur­chase. Some of these fine ma­chines are more suit­able for the event than oth­ers, of course

Even ex­otic machin­ery is pressed into Ban­bury ac­tion

‘Gentle­men, start your en­gines!’ It pays to over- rather than un­der-lu­bri­cate the older en­gine

Par­tic­i­pants use some truly un­usual ma­chines, too

Some rid­ers pre­fer to ride in typ­i­cal pe­riod gear…

Colo­nial ma­chines are also oc­ca­sion­ally ob­served in the park­ing ar­eas

Fi­nally, ready for the off! Oh hang on, need to fit the cru­cial yel­low gloves

‘Press this, squeeze that, pull on the other thing, and don’t for­get to turn on the oil tap…’ Ace Tester Miles re­ceives last-minute ex­pert en­cour­age­ment

Check­ing for last minute essentials: Hob­nobs, sin­gle malt, de­fib­ril­la­tor…

Top: The race be­gins!

Above: Suc­cess! The AJS proved re­mark­able and re­li­able. Al­ready it’s ready for next year

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