Riding the 1950 AJS 500 cc single cylinder motorbike

Biker Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

BACK IN the 1970s, I owned a 1950 AJS 500 cc single cylinder motorbike. I loved that bike then and I love it now; I’ve still got the bastard of a thing. It seems rickin’ fuduckulous that, as a 17-year-old, I owned a 22-year-old motorbike, while today, as a bloke in his late forties (Oh, alright then, early 60s) I own the same bike, only it’s now a 70-year-old motorbike.

I love that thing, that’s for sure.

I thought I was pretty damned cool, being a teenager in Sydney in the 1970s and owning a classic bike. Sadly, only me and a few mates believed they were classics, to the rest of the great unwashed populace, our classic British singles and twins were just old pieces of junk. Oh yeah? So where’s all your fancy, electric start Kwakka 9s and Honda friggin’ 4s now, ya nancy boys?

A youthful spirit, an old AJS and a lot of mates who possessed powerful thirsts for beer and good times, a sure-fire recipe for a misspent youth. That old Ajay carried me to and from some great parties, and like the new Harley-Davidson adverts, the destination wasn’t as important as the journey. I have so many fond memories of the times I spent on that bike, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but here’s one Saturday night’s journey that sticks in the mind:

I don’t remember a great deal about the earlier part of the day, or how we even ended up at the party, but there we all were at Goz’s place. It was a top floor unit with a balcony overlooking Dee Why Beach. I recall nothing much happening at the party so it must’ve been a relatively crap do. I think Goz had moved in with his girlfriend and it may have even been a housewarming party so a fun embargo was imposed by the Minister of War—you know what sheilas are like—poor old Goz would’ve been ‘only following orders’.

I was leaning on the balcony sniffing the bracing sea-breeze and staring lovingly at the light and love of life—my beautiful AJS.

It fairly glistened in the moonlight/street-lamps. I’d only recently given it a ‘freshen-up’. It was done up as a custom café racer with clip-on handlebars, rear-set footpegs, skinny alloy front mudguard, and a Dunstall fibreglass racing seat. My baby was painted black and two custom features set it off: firstly, the chrome spokes in the wheels absolutely sparkled as you passed under streetlights; and secondly, the Ajay was treated to a lick of chrome flames on the petrol tank. That’s right, I’d had the entire tank chrome-plated, then had well-known custom painter and hot rodder Rick Pacey tape out some long, slender flames and painted the rest of the tank in dark black. Me, I thought it looked sensational, although many a purist cried ‘sacrilege!’ World famous bike artist Alan Puckett walked over to it in the pits of Amaroo Park racetrack and declared, “That’s beautiful—I love it!” and that was good enough for me.

But anyway, staring at the Ajay wasn’t making the party any heartier, so when Blossie and Skraps came up and said they were leaving, it was a good enough excuse to get some fresher air.

Blossie was a strange unit. He’s not around any more, God rest his soul, but back then, his style of drinking was to keep mostly under control while power-guzzling through copious amounts of beer almost to the point of passing out, then without fail, would disappear for about an hour. We worked out he was finding somewhere quiet to have a sleep because, on his return, he’d be a new man, awake and alert—he’d ‘blossom’ like a spring flower. ‘Blossom’ probably wasn’t the best nickname for an overweight Triumph rider with a big moustache, but ‘Blossie’ suited him fine.

For some strange reason, both Bloss and Skraps were without their motorbikes, Lord knows why.

“Give us a lift home, mate,” Blossie pleaded.

“Giz a lift home too,” Skraps added.

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go!”

Within minutes, we stood by the Ajay which leaned proudly on the gutter. See, I had this really cool arrival trick I would perform. All I needed was a handy gutter at regulation height, I’d glide in very parallel with aforementioned gutter, slicing it in nicely and at exactly the right time, lean slightly to the left. The old Ajay would prop perfectly in the gutter with my feet still on the pegs. In one fluid movement, I’d step off the bike and commence walking without all the frigmarole of putting sidestands down and shit like that. It was probably a much more impressive thing in my own mind than anyone else’s, but I enjoyed doing it and nobody got hurt.

Rather than do the sensible thing and run a shuttle service, it was decided that I would take both passengers in one trip. After all, both Blossie and Skraps lived up on Beacon Hill (Sydney’s highest point) and as we stood discussing the merits of the plan at Dee Why Beach (sea level) it all seemed perfectly logical. If you rode a motorbike on a Saturday night in the 1970s, you were going to get pulled over and booked no matter how many passengers; taking both passengers at once halved the exposure.

With only one helmet between three people, it was never going to look legal but as Skraps and I both possessed helmet exemptions, Blossie wore my Cromwell pudding basin bash hat, so at least some of the legalities were present.

With Ajay kicked in the guts and revvin’, I scooted right up onto the petrol tank while Blossie flopped onto the seat.
At a pinch, the seat was good for just the rider; if you got lucky with a skinny chicky babe, she’d fit, but nought more. So Bloss fairly took up the entire seat. Then Skraps stepped onto the pillion footpegs, stayed standing and held onto my shoulders as we pulled away from the gutter. There was none of this muckin’ about with back streets, either; it was three-up, straight onto Pittwater Road, the main drag of Dee Why, and blasting through the traffic.

The sonic boom from the noisy megaphone exhaust rattled the shop windows and frightened small dogs but I was doing my duty by ensuring my mates got home safely.

Making the big turn into Warringah Road for the long climb up to Sydney’s highest point, something hilarious occurred. If you know your ‘real’ motorbikes, you’ll know they don’t have blinkers so hand signals are the go. As a ‘real’ bike owner you’ll know that left hand signals are easy, while signalling to diverge or turn right is a pain in the arse, what with the throttle and front brake to worry about as well. So, if ever a ‘real’ bike owner is a pillion passenger on a mate’s ‘real’ bike, it’s common courtesy—nay, a moral duty—to give the right turn signal for the rider. So when a three-up AJS turned right, nobody could miss the signal, as three arms shot out and pointed right simultaneously.

We swooped onto Warringah Road, onwards and upwards with the throttle on the stop. Drunken pedestrians, hoons in cars and even a bus driver were whoopin’ and a yahooin’, cheering us on, because, well… it must have looked pretty funny. It all seemed pretty normal to me from where I was perched up on the tank with my feet dangling on the road and occasionally raising a leg to change gears with my heel. Skraps was even assisting with the changes which would’ve been very hard, as he was still standing on the pegs, unable to sit down, as the fibreglass hump on the Dunstall Racing seat was way too flimsy to take his weight. Besides that, Blossie had fallen asleep and the only thing holding him in place was Skraps’ arms, which were locked onto my shoulders. Blossie’s head was rolling aimlessly around in a human safety harness.

As luck would have it, Skraps’ house was well before Blossie’s but we were on a roll. Besides, if Skraps wasn’t there, who would hold Blossie in place?

After doubling back from Blossie’s and depositing Skraps at his home, I did the only logical thing and headed back to the party.

As the Ajay thundered down Goz’s street, you wouldn’t say the joint was rockin’ but at least the lights and music was still happening.

Ready to pull of my ‘Cool Entrance Trick #7b’, I sliced the Ajay into the gutter at a very gentle angle, applied the brakes and killed the motor. Bike and rider were as one, with rider still seated, hands on handlebars and feet still pegged to the pegs. The Ajay sat poised against the gutter and I thought I’d executed another cool entrance. That was right up until the time both bike and rider toppled as one. The end result would have been most embarrassing had anyone been there to witness the faux pas. I was still seated on the Ajay, crouched in the riding position, but both of us were horizontal on the soft grass outside Goz’s unit block.

But worse was to come when I realised I was completely trapped. There was no damage to the bike, none to me, not even a twinge, but I was well and truly stuck. I’m no squealing little girlie-man, but I could not move the bike off my knee. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: Step 1: Lie on you left side on some lush grass and bend your knees. Step 2: Place a heavy object (not necessarily a 307 lb AJS motorbike but something equivalent) directly on your left knee, then, Step 3: Try to get up.

I tried everything possible to extricate myself to no avail. No mechanical advantage, no purchase, no grip—no nothing! I was bloody well stuck.

It was about 20 minutes of lying there feeling like a dickhead when I heard Goz’s voice waft down from the balcony. “Are you alright down there?” he called.

“No,” was the only answer I could think of.

“Want some help?”

“Yes.”

Within minutes, Goz was lifting the Ajay from me and I was free.

What went wrong? How would I know, but I knew one thing—while I was seeing some mates home safe, a few more late arrivals made sure the party was just getting into its stride and well… the beer in the tub wasn’t going to drink itself.

Biker Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

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