Striking a chord: A touch of retro bling for the byways and boulevards
WORDS | Michael Cowton PHOTOGRAPHY | Gary D Chapman
LATELY, I HAVE been thinking about tangible cultural heritage. Hang in there. In essence, this is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation. Examples can include traditional clothing, objects and modes of transportation. Now let us fabricate a little and take, for example, AJS as a community. Next take the brand’s cruiser range of bikes as objects and, indeed, modes of transport, and there you have it, all very tangible and cultural.
AJS is a name synonymous with a period when British bikes ruled. They sat apart from their contemporaries for the very fact that they were hip and very rock and roll, with their low-slung saddles and sit-up-and-beg riding position. You might think that times have moved on, but really, they haven’t at all, because AJS is still speaking the language of rock-mobility and remains all very British in its make-up, even if today’s bikes are imported from China.
Ah, I here you mutter, Chinese imports, but fear ye not. Yes, the UK market did undergo a period when it was flooded with cheap imports, but that came with little or no back up in the way of spares or servicing requirements. Thankfully, with that sorted, today’s riders have a better understanding of the market, and as a consequence companies such as AJS have been happy to deal exclusively in imported Chinese bikes as options for the cost-conscious, with the support to match. And, of course, with the AJS marque comes that wonderful lineage of history and heritage.
STRIKING A POSE
Now, should you be looking for a new machine boasting streamlined looks and a thrilling ride, then look away now. If, however, retro class and affordability tickle your fancy, and you want a bike for both utility and recreational use, then the Highway Star is definitely worth a second glance. This new kid on the block is AJS’s latest iteration of learner-legal machine. Whilst it pays homage to a past culture, thanks in no small part to its uber cool profile, it will sit perfectly with the first-time or more mature rider returning to the fold and looking for something that offers a stable ride, has striking looks, is relatively inexpensive, and boasts excellent fuel economy.
Squat it certainly is, akin to an elephant having sat astride it. Having said that, it’s not a straight-out-of-the-gym muscle bike. When I first squished the seat with my hands, my immediate thought was that the Highway Star was going to offer an extremely uncomfortable ride, but how wrong I was. And as I sat astride it for the first time, I loved the fact that due to its low profile I could flat-foot the bike, a definite confidence booster at stop signs and road junctions.
Look upon the bike as the runt of the 125cc litter currently on the market, and you will be doing it a great disservice, because it stands proud in a class of its own. Wherever I parked up, it elicited positive comment and silent nods of approval. Fire her up and the engine has a distinct burble. With the throttle wide open and pushed hard on the straight, however, with only minimal cylinder displacement to move the bike, I did it once only before settling back for a more sedate ride, and it was all the better for it. And as for that fuel guage, over a week of riding, that needle had hardly fluctuated. Impressive indeed.
So what’s not to like? Well, at times I struggled to engage the correct gear, especially when attempting to locate neutral as I rolled to a stop at road junctions. On several occasions I found I was still in second gear when I thought I had overshot neutral to first, so when I went to pull away, the engine would either stall or laboriously pick up speed. Occasionally it was a struggle to see the green light neutral indicator on the speedo dial due to sunlight or other factors, and it was then that hunting neutral proved to be a pure game of chance. Perhaps I need to calibrate my left boot in future.
Whilst we are on the subject of feet, the pegs are rubber smooth and look smart and the part, but they might prove to be an issue in the wet, although the opportunity to test that thought never presented itself. Also, with my feet placed slightly forwards of the seating position in true cruiser style, and relaxing into the ride, I would unknowingly place slight pressure on the rear brake pedal, causing acceleration to falter, albeit smoothly, in turn causing some confusion in my mind until I realised what I was doing.
Designed to improve rider safety, combined braking systems have been round for some time, and are, in fact, a legal requirement for motorcycles up to 125cc in Europe. With the Highway Star, by depressing the rear brake, only a proportion of the front brake is applied. Whilst it is an effective way of stopping, I found that down-shifting was enough to slow the bike rapidly when approaching junctions. What also threw me was the fact that the test bike’s speedometer was in kilometres, something that I presume will be rectified when imports begin in earnest. Anyway, when at first I thought I had the bike batting along at 80 before my mind had auto-corrected, I was, in fact, maxing out at only 49.7mph. No wonder I created the occasional tailback.
This bike is definitely made for backroads enjoyment, where I felt most comfortable. On the A roads, once it got up to speed it was fine, but it did not take kindly to hills, when I found myself constantly down-shifing to maintain any sort of momentum. Once having crested the brow and heading downhill, however, it was content to gallop away again. But then that brought into play the issue of vibration through the mirrors at anything over 60kpm, when following traffic became a blur.
SPLASHING THE CASH
For those looking to dip their toes in the world of bikes, then the choice can be mind-boggling, with plenty of nice examples out there, such as Suzuki’s GSX-R125, the Yamaha YZF-R125 and the KTM Duke 125, all over the four grand mark. If, however, bling is your thing, you have your heart set on charisma and want to to save yourself a grand in the bargain, then the Highway Star stands apart.
I love its classic cruiser profile, it looks both mean and cool in black, it inspires confidence, it’s fun to ride, it’s stable, it exudes presence, and it’s perfect for short commutes and gentle weekend rides in the countryside. No, it does not profess to be the quickest round the block, and having ridden one for a while you will probably find yourself gagging for something with more cubic capacity to park up next to it in the garage. In a roundabout way it’s akin to purchasing a cheap holiday home, something that you will happily return to on occasion and enjoy for all the right reasons. So thumbs up to AJS for opening the doors to those budget-conscious riders that hanker after a touch of vintage-style looks, tradition and cultural heritage, and are happy to rustle up around three grand for the privilege of washing and waxing, and firing up for those weekend sunset rides along the byways and boulevards. Because what we have here is the type of bike upon which you want to grab a selfie on a lonely country road and post it on social media, it’s that cool. And while you’re at it, stick the cans in your ears and tune into Deep Purple… ‘Yeah she turns me on, Alright hold on tight, I’m a Highway Star’.
HIGHWAY STAR 125
Price: £2999 inc VAT + OTR
- Engine type: 4-stroke, OHC, air/oil cooled, twin cylinder
- Power: 8.4kW @ 9000 rpm
- Transmission: 5 gears, chain drive
- Unladen Mass: 124kg
- MPG: (as recorded on the COC) 94.8
- Seat height: 690mm
- Brakes: Combined system, which applies both brakes proportionately, when foot pedal is depressed. (F) twin disc 300mm, (R) Single disc 240mm
- Wheels: Turbine-styled alloy as standard
- Tyres: (F) 110/70-17, (R) 140/70-17
- Suspension: Upside-down front suspension; twin adjustable rear shocks
- Fuel system: Delphi electronic fuel injection
- Fuel capacity: 19 litres
- Max speed: 60mph (96kmh)
- Warranty: 2 years AJS parts and labour
- Recovery: 1 year AA roadside/home-start package