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Bike Review - Posted 27th October 2013
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Jawa 350 Classic

A new Retro model joins the Jawa two-stroke range: the perfect moment to explain how the classic motorcycle marque came to adopt its unusual kickstart/gearchange arrangement...

A new Jawa two-stroke is now available in the UK - and it's styled to look a lot like an old Jawa; one from the 1970s, in fact. The new Retro model (if you suffer from cognitive dissonance then don't dwell on the concept of the 'new retro' for too long) uses the firm's well-proven, straightforward 350cc air-cooled twin engine, as seen in the Classic, Military and Sport models.

'Surprisingly successful...'

Along with the rest of the range, the Retro shares a suitably updated specification, so while it looks like it might be ridden by a long-haired hippie wearing flares, it benefits from all mod cons including a front disc brake, electric start, electronic ignition and so on. While most current café racers have abandoned any attempt to provide a practical form of all-weather transport, and exist only to be ridden on sunny Sunday afternoons, the Jawa Retro harks back to its utilitarian roots with a fully-enclosed chain, fork gaiters and crash bars. These don't look in the least out of place with the bread-bin petrol tank featuring chrome panel and rubber kneegrips, and the old-fashioned dual-seat complete with white piping.

The result is surprisingly successful, making the Retro the most visually appealing model in the Jawa range. It's also a serious contender on both performance and price. There are few 350 models to compare it to - an unofficial import Enfield 350 single produces around 5bhp less than the Jawa. The recently-released Royal Enfield café racer retro, the Continental GT, produces 29bhp at 5100rpm and 44Nm at 4000rpm, while the Jawa outputs 23bhp at 5250rpm and 32Nm at 4750rpm. Bear in mind that the former is a four-stroke 500 single and the latter is a two-stroke 350 twin, and then consider that the Jawa weighs just 150kg while the Enfield tips the scale at 185kg.

We suspect that the Jawa Retro would give the Continental GT a run for its money on A- and B-roads… and OTR prices for the Jawa start at £3295, a whopping £1800 less than the Royal Enfield RRP.

However, if you choose to buy a Jawa then it will take a little getting used to. RC reader David Mace has been running and riding a 2010 Classic for a couple of years. Initially he struggled to understand why Jawa use a single lever to operate both the kickstart and the gearchange, a design adopted in the early 1950s which persists to the present day. Job Grimshaw, seen here on his 1951 Jawa, explains…

RC reader David Mace, yesterday...
Jawa Spares on Now...

This puzzle reminds me of the story of the hole drilled in the bellmouth of the carburettor on the works Manx Nortons in their heyday. One or two of the racing lads, who were always inspecting the works bikes for mods, decided to drill a similar hole on their bikes to see if it made any difference. It turned out to be just to hook the chain in for the rubber bung which kept dirt out of the carb when at rest! I am assured this story is true. So the answer to the Manx puzzle - and the Jawa lever - is not really technical but just a matter of practicality.

The Model 11 250cc Jawa was designed in the early 1940s in secrecy behind a false gable end in the stores. This was during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in the Second World War and at great risk to the team involved. It had a top speed of 65mph, patented teles, plunger rear suspension, streamlined headlamp nacelle, streamlined engine, patented enclosed carb (both later seen on Villiers engines), coil ignition and a four speed gearbox. The square tube frame was later seen on DMW machines. The wiring ran through the frame, and the stub handlebars were later adopted by Excelsior.

Concentric gear change and kickstart...

But the most important feature to our story was the concentric gear change and kickstart a la BSA Bantam, or to be more precise the DKW RT125, as seen in the picture. DKW had patented this design and eventually contacted Jawa with regard to coughing up some funds. So the Jawa designers had to think of a way out without a complete re-design of the gearbox. The answer was a single shaft and gear pedal which pushes in to release it from the gear selector and then back to engage the kickstart.

Et voila! A magic and relatively cheap modification. I have heard but cannot confirm that some of the late Model 11s had this single lever, but it was certainly used on the later swinging arm, rear enclosure 353-02 and 354-02 models from early 1956.

So why has Jawa continued with this till the present day?

Why not? It works well and looks neat. The lever is bigger than a normal gear change but in practice this makes no difference.

And while we're on the subject, this gearchange is much berated by some. If the automatic clutch is correctly adjusted and you don't use the clutch handlebar lever when changing gear (some riders find it very hard not to), then you will get fast, clonk-free changes every time. Just feather the throttle a little and pop it through!

UK Jawa range: www.jawamotorcycles.co.uk
Words: Rowena Hoseason & Job Grimshaw
Photos: Job Grimshaw, F2 Motorcycles

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