TAKEN FOR A RIDE
When Scott and I met up for the G3LC’s test ride, I brought my own rigid AJS Model 18, so we could swap machines and enjoy the experience together. We thought it would be fun to compare the different characteristics of these two brilliant old classics. I was pleasantly surprised at how diminutive and light the Matchless felt between my legs. Yes, we all know trials bikes should be light and small – yet this jampot-equipped sprung model doesn’t look quite so petite when posing next to my rigid AJS.
The LC has a seat height of 31 inches (I measured it). Low by modern standards but taller than many machines of its time. When seated, both my feet were flat and securely planted with knees comfortably bent. I soon discovered I was able to manoeuvre this lightweight simply by exerting knee pressure on the petrol tank. I’m no seasoned off-roader
– far from it – but I could certainly feel the logic of this model’s ergonomics. The wide bars definitely have the pretty little LC turning on a sixpence.
Most G3 owners can feel really confident about the 350’s starting ritual. Warmed up, just one kick resulted in the LC purring like a domestic tabby anticipating its breakfast. Scott assured me that, even when cold, the Matchless only requires a tickle of the carb in order to fire up first or second prod. Blipping the throttle provokes a mellow but purposeful growl from the Armours hi-rise silencer. I was raring to go! The clutch is deliciously light and the B52 gearbox is the consummate performer – although when we rolled out onto the main road, my first and second gear selections were a tad crunchy. Let’s score this as pilot error, because as soon as I blipped the throttle during every gear change, the box decided to behave. Before long I became aware of a large gap between third and fourth gear, and I began to wonder if I had misheard Simon’s claim of having converted the box to road use. Perhaps I was accustomed to the gearing on my own AJS 500?
An unexpected characteristic of the 348cc all-alloy competition engine is the complete absence of tappet chatter. In my experience this goes against the grain, and I began to suspect that Simon had worked some mysterious magic to achieve such silence. Up to 55mph the engine delivers smooth and punchy power – in fact, I could have sworn I was driving a 500. Bore and stroke is 69 by 93mm and the engine develops around 18bhp. I noticed that the manual advance and retard was very sensitive to its position, which suggests a well set-up engine and deadly accurate ignition timing (and maybe some more mystical trickery).
The Lucas ammeter showed a positive charge on every outing, so we had a healthy dynamo. Simon is well-practised in the dying art of magneto / dynamo winding. Carburetion was spot-on and not once did the engine misfire or the carb spit back during our excursions. Several long descents produced no hint of banging in the exhaust under engine braking either, and I was soon bristling in admiration at the faultless performance of this definitive off-roader.
Another big plus on the lightweight Matchless were its 7-inch drum brakes. Powerful and progressive, they worked extremely well and outshone the pathetic anchors on my AJS. The combination of a light chassis and stiff suspension meant that the Matchless remained utterly composed at all speeds, and the front fork action was exemplary in comparison to my own Ajay’s bouncy Teledraulics. (So much so that I’ve scheduled a front end overhaul for winter). But it was the LC’s rear suspension that really improved the ride, and the jampot shocks trumped the rigid in this respect.
The LC’s minimalist sports saddle proved to be comfy at all speeds. The rider doesn’t pogo around like a punk rocker OD’d on Red Bull – as is the case on my Model 18’s rather springy saddle. The LC handles bendswinging with composure, and the knobblies gave no cause for alarm during spirited rides; excellent grip was provided at all times. And although the LC couldn’t quite keep pace with the AJS on some A-roads, we both agreed that the former proved to be the smoother and better handling motorcycle, and by quite a margin.
Limited by its 350 capacity and 18bhp output, 65mph is pretty much the LC’s limit – although we did gallop to an easy 60mph during one sprint. Between 30-55mph, the Matchless G3LC is king for comfort and relaxed riding. It’s great fun to ride: ideal on Sunday classic road runs or, if you’re addicted to classic trials, then the G3LC is pretty much perfect.
Scott feels much the same about it. ‘Riding the Matchless is a sheer joy,’ he said, ‘although I feel I haven’t covered enough miles to get used to the gearbox – I keep crunching gears. In my opinion speed is not the LC’s best attribute. However in the handling stakes, the LC is perfect. I would describe everything as being “tight” and the Matchless feels like a brand new motorcycle.
‘ This G3LC is nicer to ride than my own jampot G80, and is better suited to quiet country roads where you can ride at a relaxed pace in top gear. As it’s a 350, I found it hard to keep up with Stuart’s rigid 500 on occasion. Conversely, on twisty country roads the 350 felt the better and more relaxed machine to ride. The Model 18 can be quite harsh over uneven surfaces and intimidating on back roads that are riddled with potholes. The rigid AJS really shows its age when up against the much nimbler LC. The competition model gets my vote for looks, suspension, brakes and handling.’
Scott and the Matchless. Sitting pretty indeed
Right: Comp singles have rather more ground clearance than the roadsters, fairly obviously. Equally obviously, they need extensions to the centrestand legs to compensate. Most comp riders threw the stands away, of course
Above: Original paint is always a minor delight. You might just be able to make out the brush marks in the pinstriping, a relic of one person’s skill a long time ago
Although of a different bend to the roadster bars, these are hardly extreme. Neat original dealer transfer can be found forward of the fuel filler
Above: Dunlop rubber trials saddle is surprisingly comfortable, Stuart reports Right: It is truly rare and unusual to discover a machine of this vintage which retains its original toolkit. Comprehensive kit, too, complete with a set of circlip pliers
One of many fine original features is the QD headlamp