Bike – September 1979
Written whilst I was dividing my time fairly equally between London and Los Angeles (where I worked for Motorcyclist magazine – a publishing revelation to me), this was an only slightly tongue-in-cheek poke as the escalating cost of then learner legal sub-250cc bikes. The red revolution never happened of course, but there were some decent Commie machines, most notably from East Germany (MZ and Simpson), and some utter dogs, too, most notably from Russia (Voskhod and Ural anyone?).
WHILST FULLY APPRECIATING that some pretty strange doggerel has found its way past the sub-editing department of Bike magazine (the trick is to blithely assure the Editor that you sent your copy days before the deadline then, while he’s tearing his hair out wondering where the hell it’s got to, send it off on copy day with two Green Shield stamps and a childishly scrawled address on the envelope, so that it goes straight out of the In Tray to some incredulous typesetter), I must ask you to take the following very seriously.
I’m convinced that the Iron Curtain motorcycle manufacturers are going to take over the UK market within a matter of; well if not months, maybe within the next decade. Rubbish? (Or some stronger expletive?) Nah, figure it out for yourselves. Whilst our fledgling phoenix of an industry struggles to stuff a few more Bonnevilles and AJW Pointers (A dormant, pre-WW2 marque that resurfaced in the ‘70s with Italian-engined lightweights – MW) down the patriotic public’s neck, the eminently more sensible, decorous and reliable Japanese product which we have over the years drawn to our bosom like some sort of favourite orphan, has priced itself out of the market. Or almost.
The pound depreciates against the yen and suddenly we’re looking at massive retail hikes that put a fairly ordinary 250cc twin into the 800 quid bracket. (Happy days – MW). Why, four years ago a Honda CB250 went out the door with your wallet some 500 pounds the lighter. And it’s not just inflation, ’cause an MZ250 Sports has gone up just 25% in comparative retail cost during those same four years, but it’ll still hit you for less than half you’d pay to get a Honda 250 Dream proudly wearing a set of L–plates.
Which is almost where I came in. A magazine with which I am associated –and which the publishers of Bike, in their infinite wisdom, are somewhat coy about having mentioned in These Forthright Pages (WhichBike? – MW) – paced a CZ250 twin against a Yamaha RD250. Before you laugh your frocks off I will happily admit that the Yam was significantly faster than the CZ; it also dumped all over it in the braking department and scored tops in handling and roadholding. But then the CZ returned far more frugal fuel consumption, demanded less from your bank account when it comes to replacing worn or smashed parts and cost several hundred pounds less to buy in the first place. I can tell you’re still not impressed.
Well, when I was knee high to a gnat’s bollock, everyone and his kid brother ran BSA Bantams, or, if their parents owned chip shops in the suburbs, Francis-Barnett Plovers. Hire purchase was a dirty word in most households and, in any case, 25 notes would get you a damn fine example of British motorcycle engineering, albeit fifth–hand. But whilst these smokey little 2-strokes were as dull as Ex-Lax in their virgin form, we had Mr Reed’s Tuning For Speed as our bible.
Jeez, my first bike, a rigid frame Bantam if you please, was hardly in the garage before I had the files down its exhaust tract and a bigger carb stuck on the other side. Me and a pal, now sadly vegetating into his second marriage on a housing estate up north I hear, used to spend our evenings in preparation for the Saturday afternoon Grand Prix at the local slag heap, on his Greeves (his dad was a ‘motor trader’) and me on this snazzy gold-and-white Banti. With little money, less expertise and a lot of luck we wrought all sorts of nonsense on those bikes with, in my case, a massive seizure on turn two of our infamous dirt oval. One big bang and I was on my arse wondering where I could buy a decent used 250,
The notion of adding a few more BHP to your CB4OOF in the privacy of your own shed is fostered only by those with BSc (Eng) or a decent lathe. Which is perhaps just as well for the Piper Engineerings and Mochecks (Both then tuning parts suppliers – MW) of this world, but such specious reasoning bypasses the very real world of simple 2-strokes.
See, there is little to prevent you or me tinkering around with a CZ175 single, an electric drill fitted with a roto-file and a bunch of Jikov jets and coming up with four or five more horsepower. And of course it’s a low bucks operation. Don’t scoff, I’ve recently ridden just such a machine and nearly scared myself onto the verge of a particularly fast corner. Sure, this specific machine had some slightly more expensive alterations applied to the suspensions, but the basic engine tuning was no more adroit that6 your average backyard Bimbo could manage. Here in America you can get all sorts of hopped-up heads, barrels and gear clusters for literally dozens oft 2-stroke singles and twins, including‘ CZs… that’s of you’re too dumb or lazy to see ‘to your own sucking and breathing), and I see absolutely no reason why some smart UK outfit shouldn’t start Offering hot stuff for Commie ironware.
CZ have already cashed in on cosmetic avarice with their 250 Custom which, whilst it performs like the rather drab machine that it is, looks decidedly hotsie-totsie. So why don‘t they go the whole hog and offer a 13:1 head, twin carb version with matt black expansion chamber exhausts that‘ll have future Z250 owners falling over themselves at traffic lights? You don’t have to be dull to be different, after all.
We have witnessed the Russian, Polish and Czech car manufacturers slowly coming to grips with what the capitalist opposition are up to (there is even the threat of a Polski sports car on the horizon, believe it or not), to the point where at least two friends of mine whose wisdom in such matters I only question after several drinks, are actually driving around in Ladas, having recently forsook their Mazdas and Marinas (well, they weren’t that close friends). And with Jawa fielding works road racers, however embarrassingly, and MZ already producing a 5-speed 250 single that hits an honest 85mph, can we not speculate that the factories themselves might not already have their hammers and sickles wielded over some secret prototypes designed to hit the Japs where it hurts most – at the Sunday morning drag-offs and subsequently in the dealers’ showrooms?
Don’t laugh again, there is a plethora of irate Oriental bike owners who are incensed by the lack of parts available for their machines and the expensive strings attached to them. There are even more who are having to settle for a second or third-hand Suzuki or Yamaha (with all the attendant pitfalls) when they’d much rather go for new. An MZ with the right spec. and the right looks could tug their heart strings like nobody’s business.
Naturally the EEC fans amongst you will be screaming “Italian” at the tops of your voices by now, but take a look at what’s available in the under 500cc field, and take a look at the prices. Big Italian bikes might well score over the Jap stuff on both price and performance, but their 125 and 250cc machines are over-priced and/ or antiquated when objectively sized up alongside their oppos. I’ll tell you this much, riding a Suzuki PE175 around London was a whole lot more fun than you might think, and if CZ came up with a sharp-edged single in a slightly more sanitary mould, then even I’d think no more than twice about buying one.
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