The article was first published in Classic Bike Guide magazine, October 2004.
© All Rights Reserved Keith Fryer / Phoenix Photo
The passion for motorcycles can often run from one generation to another in the same family, but it's not often you find both father and son riding together.
More often than not, dad would have ridden in his youth, but given up at one point for the usual reasons, while the son discovers the fun and starts the cycle all over again. It's not that commonplace to find the two generations enjoying their motorcycling together.
So it was a pleasure to meet up with father and son Bernie and Andy Deeprose who share an enthusiasm for AJS and Matchless motorcycles, not just for riding them, but also for restoring them in their spare time. I’d previously met Bernie at a local event and the contact led to a feature on his AJS Model 18; a well presented example of it’s kind as you're ever likely to see.
Over the years they have restored many AMC machines and seen them ridden off by satisfied new owners, but Andy’s G12 was one that turned the tables, coming back to him nicely rebuilt after Bernie had sold it to make way for a Norton Dominator. Not strictly an AJS or Matchless, but Norton did become part of AMC, so it’s not stretching the rules that far.
Andy’s first British Bike was a James Super Swift, a two fifty two stroke twin that he restored and then sold to raise money for a car. He ran this for a year or two and then changed to a Honda H100 commuter bike for the ease of parking and other benefits you accrue from using two wheels in a busy town environment.
Outside of work, he helped Bernie to restore AJS and Matchless motorcycles, gaining valuable practical experience that would soon stand him in good stead. With the ever-present influence of AMC machinery in his life, it was inevitable that he should end up trying at least one to see if they suited his style.
So a G3L was found, from a friend who was unable to repair the failed big end, an ideal candidate for a novice rider of British Motorcycles.
The G3L had an interesting history, spending much of its life as a static display in a restaurant’s inglenook fireplace, keeping company with a Triumph twin. That sounds our kind of establishment. It just had to have a ‘Motorcyclists Menu’- Big Bangers with Matchless Mash? A Rocket Salad? And the restaurant would boast three Michelin Stars or better still, three BSA 'Gold Stars'.
Back to the G3L. The big end rollers had rusted, probably through standing for so long; a strip down and rebuild was the only answer. The cylinder bore turned out to be good, still on standard, so just the rollers were replaced and everything else cleaned up, adjusted and put back into good working order.
“It was a good first choice, nothing too intimidating.” said Andy. “Easy to start and reasonably light weight, it was a real pleasure, although I didn’t think the brakes were very good.” At the time of writing, Andy has only been riding for four years, having passed his test on a Honda CG125.
With the predominance of Japanese machines on the market today, it’s unusual to find a rider swapping to British machines, but the family influence certainly helped in this case.
“Dad’s had bikes for as long as I can remember, all those Matchless singles…..” It was a natural progression for Andy to join Bernie and his friends on runs, but as they were all on 500cc and 650cc motorcycles, found that “I was having to work hard to keep up, especially on the hills and when overtaking.”
He’s right on that score. I’ve found the G3L to be a strong and willing engine, but it needs a long wind up to match the easy cruising speeds of the bigger capacity machines.
Throw in a steep climb or a line of traffic to
overtake, the revs inevitably drop and it takes a good run up the scale in third gear before notching top at a point where it would still keep pulling. Meanwhile, the 650 twins are but dots on the horizon.
We’ve all been there, watching our mates surge pass the traffic and up the hill like a rocket sled on wheels, while at the back of the queue we urge the last ounce of horsepower from a stout but outclassed engine.
Bernie noted “I think all the time you don’t ride anything bigger, you’d find it to be quite adequate, but once you’ve had a bigger one, you wouldn’t want to go back down again. But they do go well for their size.” Andy agreed, “The 350 is a good starting point for a novice, certainly enough power there to start with and it’s easy to kick start and maintain.”
After a number of runs, he thought it was time for some remedial action in the form of a Matchless G12. A good choice, because of his practical experience and knowledge gained in helping to restore AMC machines; you do tend to choose what you’re familiar with, whatever your walk of life.
By a stroke of luck, one of their friends had a G12 for sale. Peter Holmes had brought the Matchless from Bernie in 1992; Bernie had brought it with a restoration in mind, but had been tempted by a Norton Dominator that had caught his eye. So Peter took the Matchless and did his own restoration job on it, his very first one.
“We quite liked the bike because we knew what Peter had done to it,” said Andy. Checking the bike’s history shows that it left the factory on the 8th June 1960 for the showroom of F H Brackpool & Co in Forest Hill, London.
It stayed there for seventeen months, when the dealer registered it as a sidecar combination in November ’61. There are still two holes drilled in the rear brake pedal for linking to a sidecar brake. A year later, November ’62, it was sold to its first of ten owners, Leonard Elias of London SE12.
Despite the number of owners, the bike had only covered thirty two thousand miles by the time Peter started the rebuild.
The engine was in good condition, with the pistons, cylinder bore, big end shells and centre bearing all as standard, confirming the recorded mileage. Peter fitted new rings and shells and the frame and metalwork was stoved black.
Chrome parts were replated and the wheels rebuilt, as were the front forks and rear girlings. It was back on the road in ’93, resplendent in its new finish and rebuilt engine.
Few things give that satisfying glow like a restoration well done, especially when it’s your first one. Peter kept the bike for nine years, during which time his collection of motorcycles increased and his storage space shrank in proportion, so something had to go.
This was perfect timing for Andy, not only was the G12 just what he was looking for, but another friend needed a good reliable classic single, like a G3L, for example. The Cosmic Supply Company was working well on this deal, with all parties having their needs satisfied in one fell swoop.
After some settling in mileage, Andy found a couple of minor problems with the G12, which were easily rectified. Despite Peter having fitted new plates, the clutch proved quite heavy and prone to snatching, possibly as a result of wet sumping and the oil being absorbed by the plates.
A new set from the club spares scheme cured that problem. And the new rear brake drum had worn oval within five hundred miles, so Andy found an original component to replace it, no problems since.
The only electrical fault was a failed rectifier, which he replaced with a solid state version. And for peace of mind, he updated the original alternator with a modern Lucas one. Nothing wrong with the original, just some wise preventative maintenance.
Two thousand miles later, the twin is running smooth and sweet, nicely sorted and looking good. I was certainly looking forward to the test ride; as I’d had a steady run of AMC motorcycles over the past few months, a mixture of light and heavyweight singles and a solitary twin, an AJS 600cc Model 30.
All fine bikes, each one a credit to its owner. But how would this one measure up? Would it keep the Matchless flag flying high? At the top of the mast, as it turned out.
Some bikes give you an instant hit, others take a while to leave an impression. Andy’s G12 was one of the former. From the easy swing, one kick-start engine to the smooth, light clutch and throttle, to the excellent gearbox, it was like Bernie’s AJS – a confidence inspiring ride.
A quick check over my shoulder to confirm a clear road, then a short burst of revs through each of the four gears soon had me cruising at a steady fifty on just a whisker of throttle opening.
‘Relaxed and rumbling’ would best describe the feel of the engine, completely unstressed at our current pace. The duplex frame held the bike straight and tight on the eastbound road and the front and rear suspension could be felt working over the bumps and ripples, absorbing the impact without disturbing the stability of the ride.
And what a comfortable ride too, thanks to a generously proportioned dual seat with a decent layer of firm foam padding. Yep, it’s that time of life when the standing quarter times and top speed aren’t necessarily the very first things you look at. Important, for sure, but there’s a lot more to travelling quickly that sheer speed.
Take the seat, for example. It’s a decent, long -distance seat, this one. Why? Well, some have foam layers that flatten right down to the steel base within minutes, but that’s not the case here.
To cover the long miles you need a combination of engine and cycle parts that work with you, not against you and a firm, not hard seat, with plenty of legroom to the footrests is high on the list of essentials.
That doesn’t mean to say I don’t enjoy, for example, clip ons, rear sets and a seat with board like qualities that lets you read every ripple of the road, it’s just the usual horses for courses. For distance work, I’d rate this G12’s set up the better option. A touch on the firm side, but all the better for it.
So the big Matchless was clocking up plenty of brownie points as I rounded a sharp left bend and headed north for a mile or two before stopping for the return run.
Pausing for a moment just to listen to the engine, it was ticking over steadily through a pair of short but stylish silencers, mechanically quiet with the good old ‘Big British Twin’ trademark snarl under acceleration.
The bike was certainly in very good order, even the speedo needle recorded the pace without the St Vitus dance that afflicts many of the old Smiths units - I had to look twice to make sure it hadn’t stuck.
It’s Norton clutch gave no cause for concern, the old stickiness had gone completely, the plates needing just a light stroke on the lever before changing gear on the excellent AMC box. Andy rates it “Better than the Burman gearbox on my 350, it’s a much quicker change.”
Bernie chipped in “Same as on our 500, which can be a little bit slow by comparison. You sometimes feel that you’ve lost a few revs by the time you’ve got the next gear. The AMC box just feels that bit quicker, it’s got a good clutch as well.”
So were there any downsides to the big Plumstead twin? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. It’s not a rip–snorting sportster and its classic but understated looks means that some will pass it by for a more rakish ride.
But as a motorcycle for the long haul, in terms of ownership as well as miles, it makes an offer you would find hard to refuse.
A good engine, with a plentiful spares supply, comfortable to ride and easy to maintain, it would be a rewarding motorcycle to own, by whatever measure you’d care to use.
Andy’s taken to Matchless twins well enough to start building another, ”A CSR look alike. I can’t fault the engine on them really, you just twist the throttle and they really go, always willing to give that bit more.” It sounds a decent project too, a ’62 G12 engine with a nodular crank and duplex frame. Not that it’ll replace the current one, “That’s part of the family,” said Andy.
And one benefit of being in a motorcycling family is that you’ve always someone to talk to about bikes without a glazed expression creeping over their faces after the first sentence. “It happens at work with me,” Bernie laughed, “they just fall asleep.” Andy said “It’s a good thing for us really, we’re both into riding and building motorcycles, it gives us plenty to talk about.”
The future looks bright for AMC in this corner of Sussex as they both plan to continue riding and restoring for the foreseeable future. Some other marques will no doubt come and go, but it’s the Plumstead motorcycles that remain closest to their hearts.
Problems & Solutions:
Andy had a few teething troubles with the big Matchless; here's a summary of the problems and how he put them right:
Heavy clutch, difficult to operate and snatched on take up. Andy discovered that over time, oil had drained down from the oil tank and into the sump (wet sumping) and had found it's way onto the clutch plates. This caused them to swell and affect the previously smooth operation.
An on–off tap was fitted to the supply oil line and the contaminated clutch plates replaced with new ones. A note of caution here, as taps on oil lines need to be turned on as well as off! It's a subject for another article at a later date.
Rear Brake, worn oval, reducing braking power. Brake drum replaced with a new old stock item.
Failed Rectifier, faulty item replaced with a modern, more reliable solid state version.
Alternator, low output compared to modern types. Replaced with a high output Lucas item. Done more for peace of mind than anything else.
Spares were sourced from the excellent scheme run by the owners club, contact details after the specifications.
Four stroke, air cooled, twin cylinder. Bore & stroke: 72 x 79.3mm
Lubrication: Dry sump
Amal 389 Size: 1 1/8”
Primary drive: Single row chain ½” x 5/16”
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Gearbox: AMC four speed
Final drive: Chain, 5/8” x 3/8”
6v / battery / alternator / coil ignition /
distributor & points
Frame: Cradle type, duplex front down tubes.
Front Suspension: AMC teledraulic forks
Rear Suspension: Girling units with clevis fitting.
Tyre size front: 3.25” x 19”
Tyre size rear: 3.50” x 19”
Brakes front: 7” sls
Brakes rear: 7” sls
Dry weight: 420lbs
Fuel capacity: 4.25 gals
Oil capacity: 5 pints
Top speed: 95 (est)
Fuel consumption: 55mpg
AJS & Matchless OC:
Unit 3, Robinson Way
Telford Industrial Estate
14 Lodge Road, Atherton
M46 9BL U.K.
AMC Classic Spares
Steven Surbey & Linda Surbey
Tlephone: (+44) 01462 811770
Fax: (+44) 01462 851035
Some more pictures to end with: