First ride: AJS Cadwell 125

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Tech Spec

Price £1898

Engine 124cc air-cooled 2-valve  SOHC single

Power 9.2bhp @ 8500rpm

Weight 113kg

Seat height 740mm

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‘All it lacks is a big twin-leading shoe front drum brake’

AJS have been around since 1909, but the new AJS Cadwell isn’t a rebirth. For 17 years the current owner has been importing 

Chinese scooters and 125s and simply applying the AJS badge – the Cadwell is just the latest of these, but it’s the first one with retro looks that are in keeping with the marque’s hallowed name.

Low bars, solo seat, alloy rims, flip-up filler cap, twin shocks and a pair of traditional white-faced clocks all look the part, with a choice of black/gold or silver/black tank and side panels. Everything is in proportion, and the illusion of a 1960s café racer works well – all it lacks is a big twin-leading shoe front drum brake. 

Underneath all this is a bog standard made-in-China 125cc commuter, powered by a simple two-valve air-cooled motor mustering a claimed 9.2bhp driving through a five-speed gearbox. It’s also one of the ‘old’ 125s, with a carburettor and non-linked brakes – from next year all 125s will have combined brakes and fuel injection along with a higher price.

I love the Cadwell’s simplicity, and the way there’s a sense of occasion as you climb aboard, helped by those lowish bars and all the retro styling cues. This is a small bike with a low seat, so it’s hardly intimidating, and the footrests are too far forward to provide a genuine café racer crouch. The engine, too, is a quiet and polite 125 that wouldn’t make much impression on a burn up round the North Circular.

It goes better than you might think though. It’s certainly not fast, but given enough time will rev right out to the 10,000rpm redline, and hold an indicated 60-65mph, feeling relaxed and unstrained. The Cadwell will even creep up to an indicated 75mph – so it has no problems keeping up on dual-carriageways. Buzzy vibes do come through at these speeds, showing up in the otherwise good mirrors, but they never get too serious.

Still, no one is likely to buy a Cadwell for motorway cruising, and fortunately it handles well, is stable at speed and tracks well through corners. The suspension is the basic spec you would expect  but it all works. Chinese-made Kenda tyres grip well and nothing touches down early. That’s backed up by decent brakes, with a very good four-pot caliper on the front.

The AJS is well put together, with nice touches like alloy rims and a stainless steel exhaust. If it doesn’t look café enough, then clip-on bars and piggyback shocks are on the options list.

Who were AJS?

One of the oldest names in British motorcycling, building its first bike in 1909. They were renowned for good single and V-twins, and single-cylinder AJSs made a hat trick of TT wins in the early 1920s. Taken over by Matchless, it became part of
Associated Motorcycles (AMC) and offered a range of bikes in the 1940s and 50s. Production ended in 1966 when AMC collapsed, but the AJS name was reborn on the two-stroke Stormer, a motocross bike built by Norton Villiers until 1974. Production was carried on by the late ‘Fluff’ Brown through the 70s and 80s, and AJS still offer Stormer spares to this day.


Nimble as a mountain bike with extra power, the Brinco could kickstart a whole new sector. But it’s expensive. 3/5 stars


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Peter Henshaw

By Peter Henshaw