43. AJS Stormer 250cc Comparison Test
AJS Stormer. Bultaco Pursang. CZ MX. Husqvarna. Maico. Montesa Cappra VR.
When we originally discussed the idea, to the staff of the Motorcyclist, it sounded terrific.
We’d simply wring out all the 250’s and then tell the reader just how it was.
This machine is the one to have; these others are good; this one is junk. We’d be doing a great service to prospective motocross riders by discovering the ultimate weapon for success. It sounded so good at the time, but we’ve seldom been so frustrated.
We’d overlooked one important aspect of a motocross machine. The companies building the front running European models are no strangers to motocross. They’ve built such machines for a number of years, and like us, they have access to the offerings of their competition and any advancement of the art, no matter how small, does not go un-noticed.
If brand A discovers a better way to do something, you can be sure that brands B, C, D and E will soon incorporate that very feature on their machine. This continual improvement process is good for the rider but doesn’t make the job of a magazine tester, an easy one, as we soon found out.
Arrangements were made with AJS, Bultaco, CZ, Husqvarna, Maico and Montesa to supply us with a sample of their latest 250cc machine.
It was to be as sold to the customer with no special parts or pet modifications, even if those modifications had proven to be popular with the owners.
An exception to this was the silencer requirement, since some of these machines come without a built-in so the distributors supplied the bolt-on silencer of their choice.
The AJS comes with a downswept version that they now offer as an option, while the Bultaco and Maico came to us supplied with a Skyway accessory.
AJS also included their optional alloy tank in lieu of the larger fibreglass one that’s seen in their brochures and the Maico had been fitted with a set of Konis in place of the standard Girlings.
We’d have refitted the originals but the bolthole diameters had been increased for the Konis and the Girlings would no longer fit without more hassle than was felt necessary.
Otherwise, the machines were, as best as we could tell, as they came from their respective factories. The Husqvarna and the Montesa were brand new with only a couple of hours of break-in on the engines. The others had been used; several of them for magazine road tests, but each distributor had checked and adjusted them before delivery.
They were aware that our test was to include a dynamometer run as well as on-the-course evaluations, and all were invited to participate in both if they so desired.
It’s always nice to have a qualified representative along on comparison tests since should something unforeseen occur he can right it on the spot and the machine will not suffer because of any unfamiliarity with their particular machine on the part of our test crew. Throughout the test only one change was made.
One of the bikes suffered from detonation, and with our approval the needle was raised a notch and the death rattle eliminated. Such a change is an accepted adjustment and one that in no way effected our evaluation.
Other areas affecting individual performance were also taken into concideration. Since we don’t see ourselves as super-stars on a motocross course no effort was made to adjust each and every gear ratio to the course on which we tested.
Several of the machines, notably the Maico, Husqvarna and Montesa, could have done with a slightly lower overall gear ratio, but had we ridden at another course the others would have been found to be to low.
Such a change is related to riding style as well as course layout and we didn’t feel that spot-on gearing would have altered our opinions of any of the three.
Items like gearing, control layout and suspension settings vary with the individual and our assessments of these areas were made with this in mind.
The first comparison on our list was one of measurement and weight; some of the information found there is worth pulling out and noting. In a previous article we had been impressed by the Honda’s wet weight of 229 pounds and were surprised when the Montesa tipped the scales at 228. Admittedly, that’s not much of a difference but the Montesa accomplished the low weight without resorting to magnesium. The heaviest machine was the CZ, weighing a wet 256, but still lighter than the 258-pound Yamaha, again included in a previous test.
Wheelbases are all in the same area (54-56 inches), as are weight distributions. Full of gas, the Bultaco and Husqvarna carry 45% of their weight on the front wheel, the Montesa and Maico 46%, and the AJS and CZ 47%. Naturally, the inclusion of the riders weight alters these figures. How much depends on the riding style of the individual.
Of interest is the fact that of the Japanese machines only the Suzuki falls into this distribution category with 47% on the front wheel. The Honda carries 40%, the Yamaha 42% and the Kawasaki a feather-light 39%. Your guess as to the reasons for such a discrepancy is as good as ours.
A brief description of what each brand offers is in order before we get down to the actual riding impressions of each. There are nice features on every one of them and factors such as purchase price and replacement part prices will no doubt influence many as much as actual performance.
After all, in order to ride regularly one must keep the machine running and various parts are inevitably in need of replacement due to wear or errors of judgement out on the track.
AJS is a name that’s been around off-road racing circles since it began. Way back the Ajay was a four-stroke single that had few peers. Today it’s a two-stroke single with a string of off-road victories.
The engine has a “square”, 68 x 68 mm bore and stroke, that pumps out a wide powerband that’s useable from about 4,000 rpm all the way up to 8,500, a limit that is controlled by the engine itself since on the dyno it just refused to rev any higher and yet didn’t shake or vibe as though it was about to self destruct. The dyno recorded a maximum horsepower of 22 at 7,000 and a maximum torque reading of 17.2 ft/lbs, at both 6,000 and 6,500 rpm. The absence of big jumps in the dyno figures generally relates to a smooth tractable machine, and this proved to be the case with the AJS.
AJS Stormer 250cc & 410cc Alloy Tank Version / 1973
The engine is fitted with a 32mm Amal concentric carburettor. Drive to the four-speed transmission is by chain in the left side case, the right side of the crankshaft turning the magneto. Shifting is very positive, the right side mounted lever has an up-for-low pattern, which is foreign to most American riders and inevitably received a comment. Naturally, familiarity with the machine would avoid the initial confusion but it is still felt that the pattern should be reversed even if the lever stays on the right. While the engine offers little in the way of unique features, the chassis makes up for it. It is indeed unique, incorporating proven geometries with a concentrated effort to get the mass on the engine/transmission unit as low as possible.
They succeeded to the extent that a side view of the machine reveals a strange open space between the cylinder head and the underside of the fuel tank. It would seem that the designers located the unit in relation to the rear wheel and then rotated it around the countershaft sprocket to a point at which the engine is as low as they can safely get it. Then the small-diameter frame tubes were bent around the existing components. The visible small tubing attaches to a larger-diameter backbone tube beneath the gas tank that extends all the way back to the rear of the tank where it picks up the wide hoop that supports the seat and mounts the top of the rear shocks.
A tubular swing arm incorporates a chain guide and brake anchor arm, and is pivoted at the frame on an eccentric for chain adjustment. The rear units are Girlings, and the tyres Dunlop with both fenders made from aluminium. Up front the forks are robust looking and support the axle in front of the tubes, as is also done on the Maico. This allows a steeper steering head angle without sacrifice of trail, and since the Ajay and Maico possess extremely predictable steering. It could be one of the features missed by their competition. Both brakes are in conical hubs and work very well, powerful enough to stop fast, yet predictable enough to be used when leaning over.
All the controls work effortlessly, and while the seat is rated as the most comfortable of the machines tested, the handlebars are a strange bend that seemed to draw criticism from all who rode her. Other criticisms included a roaming air cleaner cover that, because of its flexible nature and singular attachment screw, can rotate around the screw and expose the air box to the open air.
It happened to us a couple of times, and had it gone unnoticed the engine could well have inhaled dirt and dust. On the bonus side is the lowest price of $1095 and some really low parts prices, particularly the usual big bucks item such as a piston. At $19, the piston is over $11 cheaper than the next cheapest, the Husky, and a whooping $24 less than the most expensive, the CZ.
AJS Stormer 250cc & 410cc / 1973
Bultaco may not have as long a history as AJS but it’s a history full of successes in competition. In fact at this very moment a Bultaco 250 in the hands of American Jim Pomeroy is dazzling the European motocross people. He won the first round of the World Championship series in Spain earlier this year with a machine almost identical to the one we tested and continues to run right near the front in the following rounds.
Year after year Bultaco continues to improve their basic machines without resorting to major redesigns. The engine units in all models are so similar that it is actually surprising that one concept can be so successful in so many forms of motorcycle sport. They’ve won road races, desert races, dirt track races and motocross races, as well as dominating international trials events for years. And it’s all been done with one simple, but super-efficient engine design.
The latest version of the Pursang uses vertically split alloy crankcases that house the forged flywheels and five-speed transmission. With a bore of 72mm and a stroke of 60mm the engine showed a maximum horsepower of 24.8 on our dyno test. Usable power comes in at about 4,500 and hangs on until 8,000, providing a smooth, soft kind of power that’s easy to get on the ground.
Like the Ajay, the transmission is chain-driven off one end of the crankshaft and the pointless ignition off the other. The most obvious changes from earlier Bultacos is the large square cylinder and cylinder head, a necessity to get rid of the increased heat that goes along with increased horsepower. Fed by a 32mm Spanish Amal and wet foam Filtron air cleaner, the engine is a very compact unit fitted with a left-hand kick-starter and a right-hand shift. However, the down-for-low pattern is easily mastered and while in the case of the Ajay the shift lever location was criticised, the Bultaco’s is livable even for riders nurtured on Japanese machines.
The frame itself is tubular with a large front downtube that splits into two smaller diameter tubes that run beneath the engine, around the swing arm pivot and up to the front of the seat. Here, the seat and fender support loop joins with the main frame to form a very rigid looking unit. The triangle formed by the tubes from the swing arm area and the main loop houses a giant air box for the replaceable filter element. Fibreglass side covers on each side serve a dual role in the form of the number plates.
This is all very neat and tidy. The rear wheel uses a conical hub and is mounted in one of the most robust swing arms of the bunch. Large snail-type chain adjusters are used to locate the wheel and a chain guide attaches to both the swing arm and the rear brake anchor arm. The front wheel has a new all alloy conical hub that, together with the backing plate, spokes and alloy rims, weighs all of 7 pounds. Both brakes work well and are easy to use when leaned over. While both fenders are fibreglass we found them to be far from unbreakable. An unplanned flip, broke the front one without bending the forks or doing any other damage. Fibreglass is also used for the fuel tank.
The tank is narrow and tapers towards the rear to the same width as the front of the seat. The seat itself is best described as a board-with-a-nail- in-it. The seat base has a sharp hump right where the rider wants to sit and the only way to avoid discomfort is to slide either to the front or rear. During the test we were given a newer Pursang seat brought into being by popular demand of Pursang owners and the difference was remarkable. Till then it never occurred to us that something as seemingly insignificant as a seat could so drastically increase lap times. All the controls, both hand and feet – work smoothly and contribute little, if any, to rider fatigue. The price of $1195 puts it $100 up on the Ajay but still $100 under the next one up the price scale.
The name CZ has been synonymous with motocross for more years than most of us like to remember. And for a machine that has undergone only minor changes over the years, it’s a credit to those responsible for the original design that it has been so competitive for so long.
Certainly there have been continued improvements aimed at staying competitive, but the machine’s concept has remained the same, good low speed power and superb handling through a strong chassis and very low centre of gravity. The power unit is simple piston port two-stroke that proved to be the lowest revving engine of the six tested. Our dyno test showed us that the engine need never be turned over 6,000 rpm, and that it refused to go over 6,500rpm even if you wanted it to. Such low operating revs are bound to pay dividends in the reliability department since even the CZ’s maximum horsepower output of 22.2 is developed at a leisurely 5,500rpm, a whooping 2,500rpm less than the highest horsepowered Maico.
The compact crankcases house both the crankshaft and five-speed transmission with prevision for the magneto on one end of the crank and the primary drive gears on the other. The straight cut gears are extremely noisy, causing us to check the oil level after just a few minutes riding. There was adequate oil, and the whining of the gears became less of a concern the more we rode.
The shift and kickstart levers share a common shaft on the left side, the kickstarter having a positive detent to keep it in against the case when not in use. A thoughtful feature that eliminates the annoyance of a kickstart lever that folds out and gets in the rider’s way. Shifting is effortless and positive with every shift, and clutch pull can be accomplished with two fingers. Up top, the large alloy cylinder mounts to the crankcases in what many might at first feel is an old-fashioned manner.
Instead of long through-studs from case to head, the cylinder has a base flange that attaches by means of four short-studs. The head is then bolted to the top of the cylinder, a practice that has all but disappeared in the last ten years, its advantages apparently being overlooked by many manufacturers. The through-studs do actually make a stronger package, but the short studs and base flange allow the cylinder to grow during running without distortion. It just grows up and the bore stays round. With long studs, the alloy and steel studs grow at a different rate, inviting bore distortion and the possibilty of seizures.
Cylinder bore is 70mm, the stroke 64mm, identical to the Montesa and .040 inch off the Husqvarna in both dimensions. Fuel is supplied by a 29mm Jikov carburetor that has a generous air filter hidden in an air box underneath the waterproof vinyl side covers. Several of our test riders had previous experience with CZ’s and all felt that this particular carburetor was a vast improvement over earlier ones in as much as the engine carbureted well from an idle right up to maximum.
The rugged-looking chassis situates the engine very low, the centre line of the crackshaft actually being a little below the axles. The rear shocks are not adjustable and heavier riders could well feel that they would need replacement. The front forks work, offering a soft ride but still managing to absorb the hard jolts found on most motocross courses. Both brakes are predictable, although the welded-on clutch and brake lever brackets were felt to be a bad feature.
The suggested price is $1299.
Husqvarna has been at motocross for a while too, although their basic engine unit was discarded last year in favour of the new, improved version they now offer. Left hand shift, five speeds and generally a slimmer look make the Husky different and yet still obviously a Husky.
Of all the machines, only the Montesa rivals, the Husqvarna, when it comes to detailing, and obvious attention to the small things. Every nut on the machine is a lock nut; every component is finished as though the machine were being prepared for a custom show. It’s understandable why Husky riders are clannish, there’s a pride of ownership even if you never ride the machine.
The engine developed a maximum 23.7 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and was bettered only by the CZ in low rpm power. This comes from a bore and stroke of 69.5mm x 64.5mm very close to the CZ’s dimensions. Primary drive is by gear off the left end of the crank, and like all the rest, the magneto is driven off the other end of the crank.
A five-disc wet clutch drives a close-ratio five-speed transmission that has the down-for-low shift lever mounted on the left side but has facilities for moving the lever to the right side for those who prefer the old Husky system. The usual one-kick starter lever is also mounted on the left.
As with all previous Huskys, the entire engine is heat-dissipating black in an effort to keep it running cool, as well as looking nice. A 36mm Bing carburetor has a large diameter air filter attached directly to it and accessible through a cover on the right side. While the machine comes equipped with a dry paper element, replacements are Filtron wet foam units.
Chassis details are much the same, as previous machine’s, notable items being lightweight fabricated fork crowns and an upswept exhaust system, the only one of the machines to have the expensive pipe up and out of the way of damage. With the AJS you have the neat choice of either way, our test model having the down pipe.
The frame consists of a large diameter single downtube that splits to two smaller diameter tubes beneath the engine. A backbone extends from the steering head under the very slim gas tank and down past the swing arm pivot. A rear frame section forms the seat and 3-way adjustable Girling shock mounts. Unlike the Husqvarna’s, of several years ago, the frame is one welded unit, the older bolt-together versions being a thing of the past.
Riding position is important in motocross and the first time you throw a leg over the Husqvarna it feels right. Nothing bumps your ankles or forces you to sit any other way than comfortably. The seat is long, although a little hard, and combines with the rear taper of the tank to make it easy to move fore and aft with ease. We’d heard some criticism of the flat, smooth footpegs but found no justification for it. They’re angled a little to suit stand uo riding but we never found our feet slipping off as we’d been led to believe. On both sides, the brake and shift levers were easy to find and use whether sitting or standing. The new “dog leg” Magura clutch and brake levers were the most comfortable of all tested, forcing us to wonder why everybody doesn’t use them.
Big-handed riders may not care but those of us with smaller digits tire quickly when forced to roll the throttle hand around the grip to get to the front brake, with the Maguras the reach is less than a fingers length.
Both wheels are lightweight and have adequate, if smallish brakes. The fenders are “crash-proof” plastic, and while we didn’t have an occasion (at least with the Husky) to put them to the test, they could be twisted and squeezed by hand and gave no indication of being fragile. If you did crash hard enough to smash one we’d bet that there’d be a lot of other expensive damage before fender replacement. New price is $1369, a whooping $274 more than the Ajay, and more than all but the Maico, but replacement parts prices are right in line with most of the others.
Top eliminator when it comes to maximum horsepower, as well as highest priced at $1468, the Maico offers a slightly different approach to the ideal motocross mount.
Function has obviously taken precedence over appearance as a sales tool, and all who rode it agreed they’d rather have it that way. Its track record speaks for itself, when it comes to performance and probably will for some time to come. Like Bultaco, Maico have stuck with one basic engine design for a long time, enlarging this very basic 250 to 360, then 400 and finally 501cc. If it works and stays together as a 501 there’s little doubt that the components can hang together under the pounding of an engine half that size.
Together with the AJS, the Maico’s a four-speed due in part to the fact that a five-speeder just can’t be squeezed into the existing cases, and also due to the fact that the engine’s wide powerband gets along just fine with four.
The 246cc actual displacement is accomplished with a bore of 67mm and its stoke of 70mm, the only under-square long-stroker of the bunch. In spite of this fact, the Maico still revs as high as the short-stroke Montesa and “square” AJS, developing it’s maximum of 27.7 at 8,000 rpm.
This high-revving power, plus a good, if not outstanding, range of lower rpm figures, makes the Maico a bit of a phenomenon. Long-stroke engines are not supposed to rev higher than short-strokers, but nobody seems to have told Maico. Like most, the Maico has an engine/transmission unit housed in a common set of crankcases, driving the clutch off the left end of the crank and the magneto of the right.
The kickstarter and the down-for-low shifter are both on the left. Starting is an easy chore, as is gear shifting. However, clutch operation is a little on the heavy side and the use of the clutch to shift is soon avoided. Fortunately, the gearbox seems up to the occasional abuse.
The jazzy new top end on the Maico is distinctive, and based on the dyno figures it does the job. It’s dubbed a radial for obvious reasons, and sports a 36mm Bing carbutetor, just like the Husqvarna. As might be expected, the wet-foam air filter is located in a sealed air box just behind the carburetor and under the seat.
The Maico’s air box is the biggest one of all. The frame is a double loop arrangement that goes beneath the engine to the swing arm pivot where it is joined by the rear suspension and seat hoops. A single tube runs beneath the tank, to join two additional struts coming straight up from the swing arm area, a very rigid layout.
A healthy and rather long swing arm is controlled by Girlings with 3-way adjustments. As we’ve already explained, our particular model had been fitted with Konis for whatever reason by a previous magazine while they had it under test. We’ll assume that the Girlings work just as well; they certainly couldn’t have worked better.
Long looking but smooth working front forks control the 21-inch conical hubbed front wheel that has its fibreglass front fender up under the lower crown, a feature common to all the machines tested, if not all machines now made for motocross. The rear wheel is also built around a small conical hub. Both wheels use steel rims rather than alloy, a factor that doesn’t seem to affect the machines weight since it is bettered only by the Montesa and the Bultaco.
For the first timer, the Maico is the only one of the machines with a riding position that could be called strange. First impressions are of a shorter motorcycle with the rider altogether too close to the handlebars.
This impression soon disappears once a few laps have been put under the wheels, but we admit to some skepticism before riding it. Combined with a fork lock-to-lock travel reminiscent of a road racer rather than a motocrosser, the Maico may discourage potential buyers during showroom try-outs.
Once one’s accustomed to the feel and remarkable steering control the Maico offers, no changes would even be considered. It handles a little differently, but it certainly handles. We’ve already commented on the hard-to-pull clutch, but all other controls are effortless. The seat is comfortable, the brake and shift lever are right where you need them so that the rider can concentrate all efferts to going fast.
Once he’s finished riding he’s treated to the best sidestand of them all. It’s also the longest, which enables a rider to park the machine almost anywhere. By the time some of the others find a hard enough spot for the stand to hold the machine upright, a Maico rider can be out of his helmet and gloves, and guzzling something cold.
Last, but certainly far from least, is the VR Montesa. It is definitely the newcomer of the bunch that like the Honda is challenging the accepted motocross machinery, without years of development on a basic package. All new, for 1973, having been developed during 1972 by the Montesa factory team and rider Kalevi Vehkonen. In their first year of competition, Montesa finished fourth in the 250cc World Championship, beating out all the very same famous names that we are testing, the VR incidentally means, Vehkonen Replica.
As we’ve gone through the previous five machines we’ve often mentioned the fact that the current machine is like models of years gone by. Part of the reason for this is of course, the great cost of changing an existing machine. Some changes need to be made, but starting with a clean sheet of paper is next to impossible. Montesa did almost that, and we looked forward to appraising a machine that was built from scratch to win motocross events. Also, we looked forward to comparing such a machine with the ones it was designed to beat.
Even Montesa were hard pressed to start absolutely from scratch, although they came very close. The whole Montesa 250cc line is based on the same general engine configuration, an in-unit engine and transmission much the same as the majority of two-stroke singles. With the VR, however, they opted to retain the main crankcases and make every effort to narrow the overall-width.
This was done with a new primary drive setup that pulled the gears and clutch as close as possible to the centre crankcases. The narrower the engine the lower it can be mounted in the frame. The lower in the frame the better the machine should handle. They accomplished both. Internally, the stroke of the original Cappra was decreased, the bore increased the result was 70 x 64mm dimensions.
Our dyno test showed a maximum output of 23.5 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, but the engine had over 23 from 7,000 on up. It’s of interest to note that the Montesa had the most horsepower at 2,500 rpm and also the most at 8,500 rpm, exhibiting a range that is so wide as to be almost unbelieveable. The numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger and never drop off. The engine runs out of air before it runs out of horsepower. It peaked at 8,500 rpm, but would not run at 9,000. It definitely likes to be revved which is exactly the opposite of the CZ, and yet the on-track performance is near identical under most circumstances. One rather distinctive external feature is the stepped cylinder finning. We’re not sure why they do it, but question its performance assist.
We won’t question the contribution of the 34mm Bing carburetor, for the engine carburates from idle up to 8,500 rpm. It never seems to be off the ports. No waiting, no hesitation, it just goes when you dial the throttle on. Those narrowed primary drive gears feed power to an all-steel clutch and five-speed transmission. Shifting is positive, the lever mounted on the left side with a down-for-low pattern.
The kick-starter’s on the right side, well forward and out of the way of the rider’s leg, and usually required only one prod to get the engine going. Clutch operation was a two-fingered affiar.
The seat height of 33 inches is exceeded only by the Ajay’s 34 inches, but in spite of the height it never felt as though the rider was up in the air. Like a couple of others, the control locations seemed to suit virtually all riders, no matter how short or how tall.
An all-new chassis was built to house the highly modified Cappra engine, and those responsible for its design accomplished, light weight and rigidity in the conventional manner. A single down tube in front of the engine splits into two smaller diameter tubes to cradle the engine and then join the other main tubes at the swing arm pivot. A single tube extends back under the fibreglass fuel tank to a point just in front of the seat where two tubes from the top of the swing arm mount intersect. To reduce weight, the rear frame is constructed of even smaller diameter tubing, the whole assembly weld into one unit.
Montesa’s own front forks are used to control the 21-inch front wheel and specially designed Betor rear shocks handle the rear. A good deal of time and effort was spent on the rear wheel, even to the extent of having Pirelli design and produce a special 4.50 x 18-inch tyre just for the VR.
Fully aware of the pounding that a rear wheel gets in motocross competition, an all-new light alloy rear hub, wider than any we’ve ever seen, was created. With such wide spread lacing of the spokes the rigidity of the wheel assembly means long life for the spokes and ultimately fewer failings for the Montesa rider. Plastic fenders protect the wheels, the front one up under the forks in the MX style.
Since we’ve already tagged the Husqvarna as exhibiting the finest detail workmanship, it would be hard to claim the Montesa as such. However, it is a very close second. These are niceties from one end of the machine to the other. Features that are perhaps unnecessary from a functional standpoint but are a nice touch that makes the rider feel as though the designers were thinking of him when they built the machine. For instance, the name Montesa on the gas tank is sunk into the fibreglass where the rider’s leathers will never rub it off.
Even the fuel petcocks are unique, consisting of a little ball inside a rubber sleeve. To turn the fuel on the little ball is squeezed off its seat. Another cutey is a little vernier gauge on the handlebar mount that indicates the position of the bars. If you have the bars off, or twist them in a spill, they can be relocated to the exact same position as before. A la Japanese, the transmission oil capacity is cast right in the side cover for quick consultation, should you forget the amount during an in-field oil change.
The machine even comes equipped with small plastic front fork shields on their leading edges. Little things mean a lot, especially when you’re laying out $1315 for the pleasure of owning a new motorcycle.
Jim West / AJS Team USA
If you’ve stuck with us so far you’ve not been anymore enlightened than you would after several days of visiting the respective dealerships. Now that you know who has what, and have absorbed some of our comments on this and that, you no doubt are asking the very same question we did when we conceived this mass comparison.
Which European 250cc motocross mount is the best?
Not the best in one aspect such as having the most power or the lightest weight or the lowest price, but the best for the job of winning motocross events. We took all six machines and went riding. We went to Indian Dunes, a motorcycle park that has two motocross courses, and to Escape Country, a similar motorcycle park in Southern California.
It didn’t take us long to realise that we’d bitten off more than we were capable of chewing. It hadn’t been quite so hard with the Japanese machines and we were confident that those evaluations would be shared by anyone who’d ridden the four bikes we’d tested. But after just a morning’s test it was apparent to all concerned that the European machines were all excellent, differing in certain handling characteristics but certainly not ultimate performance. Once we admitted this, and also admitted that each of the machines could be ridden faster than any of us were capable of, we hit on another method of evaluation.
In spite of the realisation that there was no way to honestly list the machines as the best, the next best and so on, we did admit that we had preferences. We preferred the engine of this machine and the chassis of that one. We preferred particular features on some bikes because we felt they allowed the individual to go faster with more confidence than similar features of the others. To get a better picture of what each offered to the rider interested in motcross, we went a step further.
We contacted eight riders of the type we felt would be, or were, in the market for a motocross machine of the type being tested. They were perhaps no better equipped to evaluate the machines than we were but we hoped that a cross-section of their impressions would reinforce our own. Each was selected because he’d at one time or other, owned or ridden one of the models under test, if not in it’s current form at least one that was not too far removed at the time of the feature. After allowing them to ride each machine for as long as they liked, we hit them with the questions. Since most were more familiar with one of the machines than the others we eliminated their particular one from the quizzing.
It was very interesting. In some areas there were deadlocks, or “let me ride the Husky or the Montesa again before I answer that one”. Some would ride one or two machines, rave about one in particular, then, totally reverse their preferences once he’d ridden a couple more. Some didn’t like a machine on the first go-round, then fell in love with it as their time in the saddle accustomed them to the particular characteristic that had first put them off.
The Maico created that impression with several of our testers, due mainly to its extremely positive steering. The Montesa was a double surprise to most since it is so good and also so much better than any previous Montesa. It’s so light and has such instant acceleration that many commented that they had to go easy on the gas through the bumpier sections to keep from doing out-of-hand wheelies. The reverse was true of the CZ that, while as fast as any in lap times, was just so easy to ride that it never felt as though you were going fast.
The Bultaco’s whisper quiet exhaust and soft but healthy power gave the same impression. Through out the ride-talk-ride sessions that consumed all of two days at Escape Country, certain patterns began to appear. Each machine was getting its share of praise in one area or anther, but only a few of the machines were getting all the riding. In the rider’s subconscious, if not on paper, a couple of the bikes had already been eliminated. The AJS, clearly the best value for money, sat more than it was ridden, due mainly we believe to the unfamiliar up-for-low British shift pattern.
Complaints of a hard back-jarring seat on the Bultaco were probably responsible for its idleness more than any other lack of performance, for in many of the question areas the Pursang scored high. Thumbs up for performance, thumbs down for comfort. Later, when the Bul’s seat was replaced with a softer saddle, all agreed that it was a different motorcycle, but the harm had been done, the impressions formed, and the Bultaco suffered in the overall tabulations.
We’d asked lots of questions of our “average” motocross testers, but one of them told us all we wanted to know. After they’d sweated through such hard to answer questions as which had the most comfortable seat (AJS); finish and workmanship (Husky); most precise steering (Maico); predictability (AJS, Maico and CZ); we hit them with the question any prospective buyer would ask himself, if he’d had the opportunity to ride each one as long as he’d liked, “On which machine would you do best in a race?”
This is where the preferences really count. None of the testers had much trouble deciding which one he’d take home given the opportunity. There were no double choices, each rider by then had made his pick and would back it up with statements like, “I just feel I could go faster”, or “It suits the way I ride”. Unfortunately, our democratic process didn’t present us with a winner.
Of the eight, two picked the CZ, two picked the Maico, two picked the Montesa, and the remaining two votes, went to the Husqvarna and the Bultaco.
But.. without exception, all of them, liked the Y4 AJS Stormer.
Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970