Imagine for a moment that development never stopped on the John Surtees' AJS Special, featured in the July/August 2018 print edition of Motorcyclist. Imagine that very trick AJS 7R never retired from racing, but kept constantly competing over the next five decades and was consistently updated with the latest technology to always make it stronger, faster, lighter, and more reliable. Imagine what that bike might look like now, and the machine you envision will look a lot like the one you see here.

Aaron Frank at Thompson Speedway on Lightweight One Racer
Contributing Editor Aaron Frank puts in some laps around Connecticut's Thompson Speedway aboard the one-off Lightweight One racer—based off John Surtees’ Special racebike that was built in England during the 1960s.Yve Assad

In Team Obsolete lexicon this AJS 7R racer is dubbed "Lightweight One." It's basically a Super version of the Surtees Special, developed over 30 years by the most experienced and successful vintage racing team in the world. Like the Surtees Special, this bike sprang from the mind of another great racer: Dick Mann. In addition to being a gifted rider—a two-time AMA Grand National champion, Mann was the first person ever to win a "Grand Slam," or a national mile, half-mile, short-track, TT, and roadrace all in the same year (1971)—Mann was also an extremely talented frame builder, and he hand-built this bike in the mid-'80s using every trick he knew learned over many decades of racing British singles.

Team Obsolete Lightweight One Racer
Weighing just 265 pounds, this heavily modified 350GP-class racer can be ridden much like a modern bike.Yve Assad

Mann started with basic Matchless G50 frame geometry then tweaked it: a little shorter, a little lower, a little steeper, a little stiffer. The distinctive, gold-colored overhead-cam 7R engine is as exotic as a British single can be: custom titanium connecting rod, a 13:1 piston, billet flywheels, Al Gunter cam, a big carb, SuperTrapp exhaust, and, most importantly, a six-speed gearbox developed by Team Obsolete.

The basic concept was to utilize major components from the 7R/G50 chassis. The Mann frame there accepts the standard AMC fuel tank, seat, rear wheel, and Kirby fairing. The bike looks almost like a standard 7R/G50 at first glance. But a closer look reveals a compact tidiness, all credit to Dick Mann.

Team Obsolete Lightweight One Racer in action
Built by legendary racer and frame builder Dick Mann and perfected for the last three decades by East Coast vintage racing squad Team Obsolete, the Lightweight One is a hoot to race.Yve Assad

For the better part of the '80s and early '90s—the heyday of vintage motorcycle racing in America—Lightweight One was untouchable with Team Obsolete rider Dave Roper in the saddle. "Nothing could beat Roper on this bike, not even the really fast Honda twins," Team Obsolete tuner/owner Rob Iannucci remembers.

AJS 7R hand-formed fuel tank
The AJS 7R features a hand-formed fuel tank.Yve Assad

Lapping Thompson Speedway aboard Lightweight One, it’s easy to see why Roper was so successful on this bike. Lightweight One feels immediately comfortable and user-friendly, and radically different from the Surtees Special. Unlike the Special, which favors slow, deliberate movements, you can actually ride the appropriately named Lightweight machine—which weighs just 265 pounds—very much like a modern bike. You can run this bike deep into corners hard on the brakes, snap it over quickly, and use the broad, wide powerband to pull you down the next straight. It feels modern, fully evolved, and easy to ride fast.

AJS 7r Lightweight One Racer
The distinctive, gold-colored overhead-cam 7R engine is as exotic as a British single can be: custom titanium connecting rod, a 13:1 piston, billet flywheels, Al Gunter cam, a big carb, SuperTrapp exhaust, and, most importantly, a six-speed gearbox developed by Team Obsolete.Yve Assad

Lightweight One, built by Dick Mann and perfected over 30 years by Team Obsolete, is a perfect tribute to the ultimate potential of the AJS 7R as the ultimate 350GP single.