AJS Stormer 500cc. Vic Eastwood. 1973.

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46. AJS Stormer 500cc / Silent Might

Ken Heanes rides the AJS prototype dirt shifter.

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How well does the works AJS motocrosser perform? Is a 500cc two stroke too much to handle or will it eventually figure in the over-the-counter ready to ride raceware?

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Ken Heanes – Mr ISDT, he was also a dispatch rider, with Fluff Brown, in the Royal Engineers.

After a look around the details of the AJS reported last month, we get four-stroke exponent Ken Heanes to ride Eastwoods’s prototype. Here Ken talks to John Robinson after the test session.

R – How did it go Ken?

H – Well, first, I’ve been a four-stroke man all my life and my impression of any two-stroke is that it’s too buzzy, it’s too smelly and it’s too noisy. Well here’s one that wasn’t noisy and I liked it for that. It’s also the first two-stroke I’ve sat on that I could fit into – the seat, footrest and handlebars certainly suited me. As for business, yes it was buzzy, but it had a great amount of bottom-end-power. It is a full 500cc I’m told, it certainly got the low-down power and seemed as quick as most of the things I’ve had a ride on.

R – Vic says the engine is more like a four-stroke power as far as the characteristic go.

H – Yes it is. It almost has the characteristics of a four-stroke; it’s certainly got the pulling power. As far as riding it goes, the gear lever and brake were on the wrong side for me, but I soon got accustomed to it…. after one or two “moments”…. rushing around the gravel pit I did change gear with the brake lever once or twice. Anyway, we ran it in the gravel pit in which Vic practices, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I found it very good on choppy ripply sand and on very bumpy going with cross gullies the back end was exceptionally good. If I’ve got any point of criticism it’s that I found the front end too heavy, I felt that the steering could be improved. It seemed very heavy on cornering and wanted to hold on to the ground. Vic of course, rides a motorcycle differently to me, and it may well suit him. He said I wasn’t the first to criticize this though, and he was thinking about doing something to the forks. That was about the only thing I could criticize it for. Over hard ruts it’s really good. It doesn’t jump about, it’s dead straight, and the more you power it on, the straighter it goes, which is one thing I like about a bike.

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R – Yes, this is what Vic said. He also said it was good on slippery surfaces – chalk and things like that.

H – I didn’t get a chance to ride on that sort of surface but I would think it probably is. Because it’s a five hundred you can drop it to nothing in a gear then open it up and get away. This, once again, is the characteristic of a four-stroke.

R – What is the motor like?

H – It’s good, it comes in with a bang, but it’s useful power. It will also pull a high gear, which rather surprised me – unlike most two-strokes which you have to buzz all the time.

Here was a two-stroke, which you could stick in a high gear and chop it across the rough stuff.

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R – Would you say it was fast?

H – I would say it was quick. I would say it was very quick on long straight stuff – it’s as quick as you need.

R – How did it feel in a long series of bends when you’re continually picking it up and laying it down again?

H – That was when I found the front end weighed heavy. I don’t know what the machine weighs, but I thought it was a bit heavy.

R – Maybe it’s the weight distribution rather than the all up weight.

H – Yes, it could well be that.

R – Going back to the motor, what did you think of the rubber mounting?

H – I did like that. When you’re revving it hard the vibration doesn’t come through the handlebars.

R – I should think that’s very important in a long race – vibration could be very tiring.

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H – Yes, it’s most important. This is a good thing I would have thought – like everything else, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been thought of before. It’s also a good idea to have the exhaust pipe cut in half with the flexible joint – on most two-strokes in a long race the silencer and exhaust pipe break up. I thought this was a particularly good idea and it’s obviously been done to eliminate that.

R – How about the brakes? Vic told me that he finds he has to use them more and more as the racing gets tougher – how did you find them?

H – I found that I could manage that all right. I think he thought the brakes weren’t good enough. This may well be so for a Grand Prix rider, but for me they were perfectly adequate.

R – How would you sum the AJS up?

H – It’s a comfortable, manageable machine, possibly the front end steering could be improved. It’s the two-stroke with the nearest four-stroke characteristics I’ve ever ridden.

R – How does it compare to, say, the BSA for handling and rideability?

H – I would still prefer the BSA, personally, but that is purely a personal thing. I would say that in mud the four-stroke is still the better bike, but on a grassy circuit, as we have in the Southern Centre, I would say the AJS would be unbeatable.

R – What does it seem best suited to, slow corners or fast ones?

H – Fast ones. It suited fast corners better, on the slow ones it comes down to the weight on the front again. It did make my wrists ache on slowish corners.

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R – How does it handle jumps, does it rear up quickly or what?

H – Jumping? I’d have said it was ok, it did have a tendency when it left the ground to try to turn over backwards, I found. And every time I took off, it always jumped to the left – you often seen pictures of Vic in mid-air with the back trying to come round to the front. I felt that might be a characteristic of the rubber mounting.

R – You think it might be distortion at the swinging arm mounting?

H – Yes, but I don’t think it would be a problem once you got accustomed to it, knowing that when you hit a bump it was going to go sideways a bit, it would be all right.

R – It certainly makes for more interesting photographs, if nothing else.

H – Another thing I liked about it, of course, is that it’s British.

To sum up, I liked it first and foremost because it’s British, secondly because it had four-stroke characteristics, it suited me for size, and it wasn’t noisy.

R – Could you suggest any other modifications, which might be necessary? Is it strong enough for example?

H – I think it’s strong enough. The footrests Vic has on it suited me, but then again I don’t think they would have been strong enough for an open-to-centre runner. Still they were made with Vic in mind and, of course, he’s not hard on a bike.

R – One thing I had my doubts about was the Isolastic type mountings – on the Commando’s they can lose their adjustment, and allow play in the swinging arm.

H – I think it will be strong enough, although possibly they will need replacing occasionally.

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R – And if it isolates the vibration it must be a good thing, from the fatigue point of view.

H – Right. Essentially it’s a bike you can buy, paint your number on, then go out and win.

R – Do you think this is a machine for the clubman, or is it strictly for the professional, a GP rider’s bike?

H – No, a clubman could win anything on it, providing he was a good enough clubman! But quite frankly in this country at the moment there are only a handful of people who can ride the bloody things well enough. Vic Eastwood can ride it, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for anyone.

R – Can you see a market for it then?

H – I’d say it’s an ideal purchase, both for GP’s and open-to-centre racers. This is a competitive machine and Vic’s proving it’s a winner…

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