A café racer that ticks all the boxes for style, AJS could be on to a winner here. Can you be a ton-up boy on one of these? Well, it is still a 125cc.
Pulling up to Holt Motorcycles to pick up our test bikes (including the Modena that Brett was reviewing) we had our first look at two classic stunners from an iconic British brand. AJS have been around for years - but were among the first to outsource their manufacturing to China in search of bringing quality bikes to the UK market at a reasonable price, but also keeping their ideas in line with their past. So, if you’re looking for a 125cc Cafe Racer that is true to British Heritage then the Cadwell Clubman will definitely grab your attention.
At first look the Cadwell Clubman is clearly a café racer, so it’s all about the incredible style, but was there more to it than meets the eye? We thought it looks the part, but will it perform…
Taking the bikes back to familiar grounds in south Norfolk, I initially had thoughts of me compressing the forks so much that the small frame would snap in two and I’d come to a screeching halt – it’s a small motorcycle in both size and power, outputting a max 9.9BHP and weighing 113kg. So in all honesty I wasn’t expecting anything from this bike in terms of performance. In fact, I was a bit anxious to get the first ride over and done with.
After spending a good half an hour prepping for this first ride and chatting with Brett about the stats and style, I rode away thinking I knew what it was all about; expecting to just go through the motions. I’m happy to say that nothing could be further from the truth. We rode through the town and into the countryside, and it’s those exact roads where I got my first glimpse into something unique.
The more time I spent on this bike, the more I fell in love with it – which is just as well because the promo blurb says “you WILL fall in love with the Cadwell.”
Is that a promise or a threat?
Style, and loads of it.
Style is king for the Cadwell Clubman, and it has plenty of it. You really do feel like the coolest kid in town with all the looks and double-takes you get whilst riding around - not bad for an entirely standard 125cc.
The tank and paint finish look great in the sleek black and gold finish - but it is a fingerprint magnet, so be ready to keep on top of cleaning. On close inspection some of the finishing and plastic parts (brake light housing for one) does show the lower price point – but I’d straight away look at aftermarket parts myself, whether it’s AJS OEM parts or eBay specials!
So it does show some minor flaws, but there are other nice touches of detail to really balance it out, such as the engraved AJS logo on the fork clamps - a huge positive for me. Some other parts really add to the classic style to remind you this is a modern take on a classic: the stainless steel exhaust, spoked wheels, kick starter & classic dash cluster. Plus the exhaust note from the stainless steel pipe is exceptional as you find the higher revs; from a low flutter to a raspy growl with higher revs.
Cafe Racers like the Cadwell Clubman are captivating and full of character. The Clubman edition is packed with this charm and more. It has a few extras, including: USD forks, twin rear shocks with oil reservoirs, side racing-number-holders, a clubman padded seat with white piping and true clip-on handlebars. Extras that - included at £300 more - do well to give this bike more personality.
Speed & Power
The 4 stroke air cooled motor is admittedly small, yet getting off the mark feels good with decent torque (no indicated values) with max power sitting at around 9.9BHP at 9000rpm. There is a balance shaft to decrease unwanted shaking from the single cylinder engine, something I found that works well to keep the ride nice and smooth.
Just don’t get one of these expecting to be blown away by raw speed and power, you’ve got the dedicated sports bikes in the 125cc motorcycle category for that (but with far less style!). The engine does the job, and there isn’t a noticeable drop off in power until you get past 40, and for a bike that can just about reach the lofty heights of 60, that’s not too bad! No sign of the ton-up boys here for speed, but you can just about match their style cruising around town.
Don’t get me wrong, back roads are a load of fun on this - the balance shaft really does keep the bike feeling responsive and controlled on the road with little to no vibrations at low-mid speeds, and this is a bike where keeping the revs high and in the sweet spot gives you the most fun. All in all, it really felt at home on some twisties. As the Clubman is only 113kg wet, with a matching short wheelbase at 1330mm, you can throw it around with confidence in the responsive yet firm ride.
Perhaps the best part of this bike for me is the very solid and reliable 5 speed gearbox, clicking into gear is easy – and you can find neutral first try, every time! Thanks to the light clutch as well, it’s so easy to ride especially for newly passed CBT riders. The power delivery is gentle enough and the gear ratios are all tuned in w
Brakes & Stopping
Brakes work exceptionally well, at the front there’s a huge single disc with a single disc at the rear. The Cadwell Clubman is Euro 4 compliant - meaning there is CBS - which does a great job to inspire a lot of confidence for stopping the machine. The levers are really solid and reactive – now that may be a silly comment on the face of it, but the front lever and foot pedal are built to feel extremely robust and responsive, and when you press down on the foot brake the brakes are instantly there for you – no desperate pressing to find where this brake pedal starts working with a corner rapidly approaching!
Wheels & Suspension
The wheels are a good size (F:110/70-18 & R:130/70-17) and provide a stable ride that’s planted on the road – no sign of the old ‘bike tyres’ here. The USD forks and twin rear shocks look the part, but the ride is what I like to call “café racer firm” – in that if you go over a leaf you definitely notice it, but it’s not so bad that you can’t get on with it. Think of the suspension on a sports bike or car; it’s firm for a reason.
That nicely moves me on to the comfort and ride quality – being 6’4” I struggle to find any 125cc that I really feel at home on. Comfort wasn’t the greatest for me (6’4”), sat as far back in the 740mm saddle as I could. With the footpegs placed surprisingly forward and clip-ons quite low on the top yolk, I was riding around like an origami crane – though probably a lot to do with my size! But it works, and once I got used to the riding position I was happily riding around for a couple of hours at a time with no problem. Sometimes style does come at a price!
MPG & Dash
Fuel tank is 11.2L and is estimated to give 118mpg – but something that is difficult to measure considering no fuel gauge and limited dash.
Again though, it’s that exact classic “limited” style the Clubman is trying to emulate – the café racers of old wouldn’t have moaned about missing such luxuries as a fuel gauge! The dash has the basics covered with indicators, engine light, high beam and fuel warning lights – the dual, backlit marked clusters give you the basic info clearly.
Oh, also, when we finished our first ride of the two brand-new AJS bikes my odometer was reading 48 miles, but Brett’s was 29 miles… How can that be, if we both started on brand new bikes? Yep that’s right, the odometer on the Cadwell is in KM! So watch out for that on future MOTs and second hand listings.
The Cadwell Clubman 125 is the flagship of the Heritage range from AJS, and for a grand total price of £2,699 you get a very capable café racer out of the box. It’s only £300 more than the standard Cadwell, and you get those exclusive extras I mentioned earlier. Well worth the investment in my eyes. The Clubman really captures the 50s and 60s era, where riders would modify their bikes into what we all know as the first Café Racers – but does it all out of the box for you.
Day to day use of this bike will be absolutely fine for the average rider. If your ride will consist of city/town riding and back road blasts, you’re in for a treat. The Clubman has aspects of a perfect low-end learner motorcycle with style. The great gearbox, gentle power delivery and good responsive brakes really are positives here. Plus, there is a centre stand (also side stand) so maintenance tasks are no problem.
Consider though, if you live in a place where this bike will be required to spend a lot of time at max speed on A roads or dual carriageways, you may not get to enjoy it to its full potential. It’s the back roads, towns and cities where you’ll find the Cadwell Clubman 125 come to life – and this bike is really at home going from one café to another on a Sunday afternoon, funnily enough.
I wasn’t expecting to be underwhelmed by the ride on this machine, but I’m surprised by how many boxes it does tick for me. The more I rode around on this Cadwell Clubman, the more I wanted to keep on going. So, if there was a bigger version with a 250cc engine I’d probably be off to the nearest AJS dealer to find out more… (hint hint AJS). If you are more interested in a larger capacity cafe racers, then make sure to read our Top 10 Cafe Racers article.
Speaking of AJS, huge thanks to them for giving us the Cadwell Clubman to test for a couple of weeks. Also huge thanks to Jamie & Holt motorcycles, who assembled both of the AJS bikes for us (Brett’s Modena 125 which was on review also)! It’s a lovely little shop down a pretty tasty backroad, so head on down there to see what he has in stock if you’re in the North Norfolk area – there’s also some other incredible roads in those parts if you fancy it!
|Engine Type||4-stroke, OHC, air cooled, single cylinder|
|Max. Power||7.4kW 9.9BHP @ 9000 rpm|
|Fuel System||Electronic Fuel Injection|
|Fuel Type||Unleaded or E5 petrol|
|Fuel Consumption||(as recorded on the COC) 118mpg|
|Transmission||five speed, clutch & chain drive|
|Max. Laden Mass||274kg|
|Starter||electric and kick|
|Brakes||Front single disc & Rear disc (Combined Braking System)|
|Wheels||Front: 110/70-17 Rear: 130/70-17|
|Dimensions (Length x Width x Height)||2040mm x 720mm x 1060mm|
A range of accessories are available including, dual seat, reservoir rear shocks, rear luggage rack, racing style side number boards, clip-on handle bars, clubman seat and more...