British motorcycle brand AJS brought a range of its machines to the UK’s biggest motorcycle show, Motorcycle Live, at the end of 2022. Once known for its competition machines, the marque now specializes in 125cc learner bikes and scooters, with plans to move up to some 250cc offerings sometime in 2023.
The 125s make use of the stalwart Yamaha YBR 125 engine at their heart, which is then cradled in the neo-retro styling associated with classic British bikes of days gone by. They offer disc brakes, Euro 5 compliance, eye-catching style, and the MSRP is typically less than a monkey bike. It’s not difficult at all to see the appeal, is it?
So, what’s the story? Is this yet another case of a zombie brand brought back to life, as hungry ghosts of intellectual property rights past? Let’s dive in.
The original AJS was founded in 1909, known then as AJ Stevens and Company. Fans of motorcycle racing history may recognize the name from seeing it all over the lists of Isle of Man TT competitions, way back at the beginning.
Racing success was one thing, but once World War I hit, times got tougher for people and companies alike, including AJS, which was bought out by another British motorcycle racing great, Matchless. By 1967, it became part of Norton Villiers—and that’s when a man called Fluff Brown entered the picture. He was AJS’ competition manager, and even helped design the Stormer, which was released during the Norton Villier years.
Brown’s great love was scrambler and motocross bikes, and when the Norton Villiers company began to collapse, went on to buy AJS away from it. From there, he continued to sell spares for the Stormer—and in 2022, it’s still a family business run by the Browns. At first, AJS started importing Chinese bikes into the UK and selling them under different names, before eventually putting it all together and having new AJS designs fashioned that are made in China but fully supported in the UK, complete with warranties and spares.
“Chinese bikes definitely got a bad reputation when they first hit the UK market, but I don’t think it was one that they deserved,” Nick Brown, son of Fluff and current managing director of AJS, told Bikesure in 2017.
“The problem was that people were importing cheap bikes to make a quick profit, but not backing that up with the spare parts and service that the bikes needed. So, when something went wrong, you couldn’t get your bike repaired – and people took to thinking the bikes themselves were bad. If there’s a good supply of spares, like we offer at AJS, then there’s no reason for a Chinese bike to be any different to a Japanese one – after all, even the YBR is manufactured in Chongqing, China,” he added.
In 2022, AJS offers the Cadwell 125, Tempest Roadster 125, ’71 Desert Scrambler 125, and Tempest Scrambler 125 motorcycles. On the scooter side, there are the modern stylings of the Digita 50 and Firefox 50, as well as the classic look of the Modena 125, which bears a heavy Italian influence. The 250cc machines, if all goes according to plan, should make an appearance sometime in 2023.