Small-engine cruisers, and we’re talking 125 here, sound like a contradiction in terms. Surely all aspiring Harleys should have an incredibly large V-twin with more twist than Twitter. Well, maybe, but this doesn’t seem to matter one iota to the thousands of riders who currently ride small cruiser motorcycles. Look around you and you’ll see a lot of them – owners will say they like the look, the style, and the fact that cruisers tend to have a lower seat than a standard roadster. This is why AJS has been offering them for years. Unlike the Tempest Scrambler, also tested here at BikeSocial, the Highway Star seen here has no link to AJS ‘illustrious past. This old British name built traditional racing cafes, singles and twins and even a motocross motorcycle, but cruisers… no. However, none of that seems to matter. The Highway Star is the latest in a Chinese-made AJS cruise line and, like its predecessors, tries to look bigger than it actually is. It is also successful. Sitting outside the company headquarters in Andover, the 125 looked almost identical to its 400cc bigger brother. Plenty of chrome, turbine-style alloy wheels and big slant-cut tubes make the right kind of statement and, compared to the 125 rivals, it even has the extra bragging rights of a two-cylinder engine. Is that enough to make him the best dog among Chihuahuas?
Price 2020 AJS Highway Star 125
The Highway Star costs £ 2,999, making it one of the most expensive 125cc cruisers. Only the Hyosung GV costs more (about £ 300 more) and all the other rivals are single cylinder jobs that are hundreds of pounds cheaper. Lexmoto’s Michigan is the cheapest of the bunch at just £ 1,650, but the AJS could still be worth its premium price, with twin front discs, a digital instrument display and that twin-cylinder engine, plus it appears to be very well assembled. . One rival to forget is the Direct Bikes Nevada 125, which can be delivered to your doorstep in a box. It costs £ 500 more than the AJS, looks like an old school motorcycle made in China and meets the old Euro 3 specification so registering it could be tricky. They even charge extra for delivery. The words ‘touch’, ‘no’ and ‘bargepole’ come to mind.
Power and torque
The Highway Star starts off with a huge advantage over its single-cylinder rivals, because the twin pistons make it sound and feel bigger than it actually is when first turned on. Backed by the big two-by-two tubes in deep, shiny chrome, you might think it was a 250 or even a 400. All pretense is gone when you release the clutch, because as impressive as the engine sounds when you start, this is still a 125. Having two cylinders doesn’t give more power than just one (though at 11bhp at 9000rpm and 7lb ft, it’s competitive) and the bike feels pretty ruthless, especially in the highest gear. However, use all five ratios freely enough and the Highway Star gets along just as well as most 125s, keeping up with city traffic away from traffic lights. There’s no rev limiter, not that I could find it anyway, and the little twin was spinning at 10,000 rpm on the rev counter. On the ring road, it reached a posted speed of 65 mph, so the motorcycle is fast enough to hold its own on larger roads. As with any 125, you want to do HGV speeds at least to be safe, and this one does. Higher speeds come with some vibrations through the seat and blurry images in the mirror, but in the city things are smoother and more relaxed.
Engine, gearbox and exhaust
Raise your hand to anyone old enough to remember the Honda CM125. For everyone else, this was a custom cruiser (as I think it was called then) from the early 1980s, and the Highway Star’s engine is descended from it. So, there are no surprises here. It’s a four-stroke parallel twin engine with two valves per cylinder and a camshaft, plus the addition of fuel injection to meet Euro 4 emissions legislation. The technology doesn’t come much more proven than this. The same goes for the five-speed gearbox, which is light but long-travel, although you can adjust the position of the lever. As for the exhaust, you know everything.