Following the success of its Tempest Scrambler 125, A.J.S. has decided to take things a step further with a bike inspired by its 14th place finish in the legendary Mojave Desert race in 1971.
Riding an A.J.S. Stormer, A.J.S. competition manager Mike Jackson brought it home against an incredible 3200 racers, tackling a gruelling 190-mile course of deep sand, steep dunes and a snowy mountain pass. And while the new ’71 Desert Scrambler might struggle to handle such tricky terrain, it’s still got plenty going for it to help entice riders young and old to part with their hard-earned cash.
As you’d probably expect, given its ties to a seriously capable racer, the ‘71 Desert is the most off-road capable of the range. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be winning any rallies – after it shares plenty with the Tempest, though there are enough differences to help make it a different proposition entirely.
That’s partly because the factory has made a whole load of tweaks to help its prowess in the dirt, from repositioning the footpegs and adding a stronger rear brake pedal to fitting an upswept stainless steel-wrapped exhaust and a slimmer fuel tank. That said, it’s still a compact little bike with the same 780mm seat height as the Tempest – and anyone over 6ft tall is likely to struggle to get comfortable when stood up on the pegs. It’s much better to think of it as a funky street scrambler – and then you’ll probably be surprised by just how much fun it is to ride on the trails.
And it is fun. A lot of fun. It’s the bike I rode the most of the two – partly because of how good it looks; partly because I didn’t have to worry about bashing the exhaust on rocks and ruts (like I did with the Tempest); and partly because it felt much more like a traditional scrambler should.
It uses the same Yamaha YBR-derived 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine as the rest of the A.J.S. Heritage range, and like I said before, while it’s nothing really to write home about it, it’s pretty perfect for the little bike. I’m used to blasting about on much bigger, more powerful machines, but I found my groove quickly and thoroughly enjoyed bombing about on B-roads and back lanes without feeling like the bike was wanting.
Just like the Tempest, it was softly sprung enough to soak up all but the worst of the chewed-up Lincolnshire roads and bound over lumps and bumps off-road without bottoming out – and yet I had no trouble trying to get it settled under heavy braking on my way into a corner either. Basically, it handles well. What more could you ask for? It stops well, too, and even my most ham-fisted of braking manoeuvres did little to unsettle it. That’s good news for learners.
If I was 17 again I’d be seriously thinking about splashing the cash on this bike. It might not have quite the same level of refinement as something from one of the big names in the game, but what it’s missing in polish it more than makes up for in character and neat, well-thought-out touches – like the handy tool box which comes strapped to its side, the Kenda tyres, and the kickstarter. I’m quietly hoping A.J.S. sticks a 250cc engine in the same chassis and a 19-inch wheel up front, because that would surely be an absolute hoot.
The Desert Scrambler
Engine: 124cc single-cylinder SOHC, air-cooled
Power: 9.5bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 7lb-ft @ 6000rpm
Frame: Tubular steel
Suspension: (F) Telescopic forks (R) Twin shocks with pre-load adjustment
Brakes: (F) 300mm disc, linked (R) 210mm disc, linked
Wheels/Tyres: (F) 110/70-17 (R) 130/70-17
Seat height: 760mm
Weight: 126kg (wet)
Fuel tank: 13 litres
Warranty: 24 months
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