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The Cruiser Thing

2005 AJS-Regal Raptor DD125E

This is 'The Cruiser-Thing'! Donna bought him in spring of 2009. Her Twonk boy-friend up until then had convinced her to spend her money on a succession of pretty dire Learner-Legals, that, as often as not, complete 'heaps', insisting you don't spend 'big' money on a 'little' 125, you buy cheap, fix it up and flog it on. Which would be reasonable enough IF he had owned a socket set and been able to tell the difference between a swing-arm bush and a privet hedge!

Anyway, Although he & Donna were engaged and supposed to be getting married in October that year, he was having an affair with the wedding planner, wife of Donna's best friend. So she 'kicked him out'... only he didn't go for another six months!

But, in a pique of empowerment, she bought the Cruiser-Thing. It was just four years old, suggesting it might be reliable, provided she could keep the twonk from trying to 'fix' it, or borrowing it, and returning it broken!

This had been a problem with her previous bikes. Just to illustrate, the bike the Cruiser-Thing had replaced was a fourteen year old Yamaha TZR125, which had had a string of teen-age owners all trying to 'de-restrict' it, resulting in it being far from a paragon of reliability, and with the power-valve fitted upside down, having rather weird throttle response! Like it would accelerate, then not, then accelerate again when you rolled off the throttle!

Of course such descriptions were dismissed as 'You just don't know how to ride it', especially when she fell off, when braking for a queue of traffic at a set of traffic lights, when it accelerated instead, when she tried slowing down! Then when the Twonk, 'borrowed' it, to go to work, because he'd broke his bike, and returned it with a blown head-gasket, it was because Donna 'thrashed' it ever-where, wasn't it!

So, the Cruiser-Thing showed promise, AND I have to say, that until it was nicked in the spring of 2010, probably the best Bike Donna had owned, even though she came to hate it! It was actually that disillusionment with the bike that got Donna & I together, so I have to admit to a bit of a soft spot for it. It wasn't actually 'bad' bike, and in the time Donna had it, proved remarkably reliable, it was just slow, and handled strangely.

The slowness was something we couldn't do much about. It is a Chinese bike, with a copy of the old Honda 125 Twin engine in it, as used in the CB125 Super-Dream, the CD125 'Benley' and the CA125 'Rebel' Cruiser, which this was basically a rip-off of. Even in the Genuine Honda, the 125Twin is no road-burner, with a single carburettor and just 10bhp, it just about struggles up to 60mph. For a Chinese copy, the Cruiser-Thing wasn't actually THAT bad, compared to many; it managed a galloping 55mph!

But its handling was curious. I don't rate small bore cruisers to begin with, and I'm not a huge fan of the genre in general. Idea of a cruiser is a big lolloping engine in a stretched, frame, with armchair seat and ape-hanger bars, something that's built for lazy 'cruising'. So something with a tiddler motor in it, that needs the nuts revving off it just to get it moving, and three gear-changes just to get to 30mph, RATHER seems to be defeating the point!

And, as a learner-bike, I really don't think they are that great. I can see the attraction. You cant go fast on a 125 anyway, so you might as well look cool! And the styling and often lack of capacity badging helps makes them look like a bigger bike. And the low seat, and presumed low centre of gravity, often appeals to persons of shorter stature.

BUT! The 'lazy' steering geometry and long wheel-base of a cruiser, really aren't the best for slow speed control. High wide bars and laid back riding position don't really help much either. Takes a lot of effort to make them turn, and they sort of 'flop' into corners. NOT the best thing for trying to demonstrate your proficiency through the cone-slalom on Compulsory-Basic-Training!

But, in Donna's case, also showed up another anomaly, that of the low seat making them 'ideal' for the shorter person. Yes, meant that she could put her feet flat on the floor very easily, but unfortunately, the long reach to the high wide bars, I eventually discovered was a large part of the handling eccentricities she'd been trying to describe! Basically, stretched to the bars just to hang on to them, when she came to a corner, she ended up leaning off the wrong side of the bike, following the outside handle-bar, which being a cruiser, needed a lot of positive steering to make it turn, and being wide, moved a long way!

Consequently, after following her around a lot, trying to work out what was going on and why the bike wasn't working for her, I swapped the handle-bars. Also swapped the risers they were mounted on. That lowered the bars by almost an inch on the yokes, the replacement bars, by about another inch or more. They also changed the pull-back angle, and put the grips closer together, but I accentuated the effect by cutting the ends out of the grips and sliding them up the bars, leaving an inch of chrome bar sticking out the end to look like a bar-end weight! That, and a little twiddling of the brake and clutch levers to get the angle on the bars better, and similar adjustment of the gear-lever and brake pedal, transformed the bikes handling, and JUST as Donna was beginning to like it.... it was stolen!

But, as an experience with Chinese bikes, we have to say, that it was FAR from being the night-mare to live with many suggest. To be fair, it was one of the better built ones. It was built under sub-contract for the BSA-Regal group, who applied some better quality control to its construction, and marketed it under the AJS badge, with some sort of after-sales support. It wasn't one of the many Fly-By-Night E-Bay specials arriving in a Crate for you to put together and register for yourself.

The quality of finish wasn't wonderful, but then it wasn't THAT bad either. This example lived outside in all weathers and was used all year round, by Learners, and picked up a fair few dents and scratches, and some surface rust, that usually polished out when Donna was feeling like giving it some TLC! It didn't go red rusty over-night, as some people suggest Chinese bikes do, and to be fair, I've heard people grumble about similar failings on European bikes!

Only real gripe was that the original drive chain was rather weak. Probably the original when Donna got it, and past its best, but it needed frequent adjustment, and finding a replacement was difficult.

I better qualify that. Difficult for a 'Newbie' on the phone, or net, trying to order a chain by saying "I have a 2005 AJS Regal-Raptor 125, and I need a new drive chain". She got the response "Sorry, we dont list a kit for that model, have you tried the place got if from or a Main-Dealer?"

THAT I think illustrated a big problem with Chinese bikes, or 'exotics' in general. If its out of the ordinary, you need to have a bit of 'Know-How' to be able to live with them. Main-Stream parts suppliers and the like aren't really geared up to deal with them, and when they can make money much more easily catering to the main-stream, often cant be bothered to try. You need to know some ins and outs, and the 'specialists', or the people that CAN be bothered to be helpful.

In this case, it was a pretty simple thing for me to sort, remove the old chain, count the links, go to a dealers and work out the chain gauge, and get them to cut a length of 'stock' from roll, and add a split link! Sprockets would have been a bit more tricky, had they needed replacing, but again, knowing the right people to talk to, could have identified one by comparison, or if REALLY desperate had a 'special' made up by one of the specialists that cater for the classic and custom market. Its NOT insurmountable, its just not easy, BUT if you are a Newbie, it CAN rather make the learning curve a bit steeper than it need be!

Other parts were more or less easy to get hold of. Zip on the pillion back-rest cover had burst. That never got properly fixed. A part was available, but it was the whole sissy-bar assembly, from the AJS-Regal distributor, and it was a rather significant sum of money. Having the cushion re-upholstered by one of the custom specialists was also rather exorbitant, so it was down to needle and twine, or removing the back-rest all together.

Anyway, the Chinese-Bike experience was not one Donna wanted to repeat, when it was stolen. Personally I think that they can be useful little bikes, if you know what you are contending with, and don't have too great an expectation of them, but unfortunately most people that buy them, unfortunately do have fairly high expectations, don't have the 'know-how' to contend with them, and as often as not, buy one purely because its cheap, and then don't have or wont spend the money to look after it properly. That syndrome effects Japanese and European Learner-Legals just as badly, but is more exaggerated on a Chinese bike, that's even cheaper to begin with!

So, we went looking for a Honda..... enter 'The Pup'!

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