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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 2nd December 2016 2016
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MZs: Second Class Classics?

Why is it that some marques never quite seem to achieve complete classic status? KarlB considers MZ's history and his own association with MZ motorcycles

How would I describe MZs to someone who has never owned one?

Of course there is the boring factual description. East German two-stroke, Walter Kaaden tuning, blah, blah, blah. But that would not get across the unique place which MZs occupy in the world of classic bikes. MZs themselves would probably feel like Woody Allen in his film 'The Sleeper'; woken after years of sleep to find themselves displaced in a world of modern marvels, yet still with their own unique sense of humour. Or maybe they are more like Groucho Marx who would never belong to a club that would have him as a member…

1969 MZ ETS 250 Trophy. Stylish, jah?

Maybe we should take ourselves back in time to 1961 and pretend that a certain MZ racer, Ernst Degner, did not defect with his wife and daughter taking MZ's secrets with him to Suzuki, and so then MZ went on to dominate two-stroke racing in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Maybe then we would see MZ more as a classic marque with the racing pedigree it truly deserved.

Or what if MZ had remained DKW? It stood for Dampf-Kraft-Wagen or Steam Powered Vehicle originally, and only later became 'Der Knabtsche Wunsche' (The Schooboy's Dream), and later still 'Das Kleine Wunder' (The Little Wonder). Maybe the name MZ would be more accepted in the big classic show, as Aermacchi is, or some of the other more nondescript Euromarques.

1968 ETS250. Where do I start...

But why do MZs now occupy the garage space of someone who was a teenager of the Seventies, when Fizzies ruled the streets and Brit iron was boring iron? As an all-knowing pimply apprentice, I remember scorning the chap who trundled into the Shell Stanlow oil refinery car park on his MZ TS250; yet I also came to appreciate that he made it in every day, on time, come rain or shine. A small glimmer of appreciation for this bike must have burned inside even then.

A gaggle of machines came and went for this youth of the seventies and so, like the old fella's MZ, the years trundled by: Jap, Italian, Spanish, even a few Jawas and CZs (no Brit bikes, although I did scrounge a fair few rides on Bonnies and Tridents and the odd, very odd BSA), until eventually I found myself abroad and riding USA's finest as well as few more Jap irons. Coming back to the UK (as all expats tend to call it) I discovered that the insurance companies took a dim view of my time abroad 'only thirteen years officer', and decided to treat me like a novice rider, bugger! Better get a small bike to get my no-claims back.

An MZ ES250/2 Yesterday.

As luck would have it the great cosmic conveyor belt had rumbled forward and placed a nice MZ ES150/1 in my path; the owner was my friend Grenville of MZ Kent Ivicata fame (he was the section rep of said local branch). Perfect! A lovely model in good condition with original motor in a box and replacement fitted (so fettling was assured) and so began my association with MZs. The ES was treated to an update of its electrics to 12-volts, from MZ-B who provide a massive spares service for all the older MZs. When you think that over 450,000 of these things were produced worldwide you can see why there are still spares available. The Earles forks and light weight provide handling which I have not seen bettered on a street bike.

Of course this was only meant to only be a way back into bigger bikes. A year later I needed something sub-350cc. The conveyor belt inched forward and another friend offered up her MZ ETZ 251, as she had acquired a Kawasaki GPZ500 making the ETZ unloved and shoved to the back of the garage. A quick think: simple two-stroke single with discs and 12-volt electronic ignition, it had to be! So MZ number two entered the KarlB stables. Now although I was to put quite a few miles on this reliable machine, we never quite jelled. Something wasn't there. I decoked the exhaust using the reliable caustic soda and spud method, which improved the overrun no end. But something was lacking. It felt like a Yamaha 250 I had owned back in the Seventies, which had been tuned for top end, only to lose out on mid-range.

Eventually a year later I came across a Yamaha XS650 and found myself back in big bike land, or so I thought. A Yamaha XJ600 also joined the stable as I wanted a middleweight four to play with. So I thought the ETZ had to go. I wasn't riding it and when I did I wasn't enjoying it, unlike the ES150 which was, and always is, grin inducing. A fellow MZedder wanted an ETZ so off it went to a new home.

All the young dudes...
Random MZs on Now...

That week, a browse through eBay saw me looking at an MZ TS250/1 super five (as in five gears). Now lots of people had said that these were the best 250s MZ had ever made, they race them you know, etc… So why the later ETZ update, I pondered. The conveyor creaked, slowly inched forward again and I found myself the owner of a 1980 TS250/1. It ran, but poorly. Replacing the ignition with an electronic kit and fixing the big hole in the inlet rubber transformed it. It sang along, it was all the previous 250 had not been. It felt perfectly in tune and it ran with hardly a trace of vibration. It was as if the hand of Walter Kaaden himself was wafting it along, and it handled. A pity then that it didn't stop so well, but the transplantation of a complete ETZ front end solved that problem.

So, am I hooked on MZs? Well no, not in that sense (the only bike I have ever truly been hooked on and still desire is a Ducati 250 Mk3), but I am impressed enough to keep them. Indeed the cosmic conveyor inched forwards once more and now I am the proud owner of yet another TS250/1. This one needed a bit more tinkering before it hit the road again. Although its paintwork and brightwork suffered the ravages of being out in the rain for the last ten years unloved and unused, it is mechanically sweet.

They are tough little bikes these MZs. They have enough character to be English, enough sound engineering to be German and enough 'sod you, I am who I am' style to be Italian. Plus they have a reputation that makes them non-classics which means they are cheap. What more do you need if you are a motorcyclist in the riding sense and not the collecting and coveting sense? My MZ ES150/1 took second place at the 2005 Ashford show category for 'overseas bikes' and that will do me. First place would have put the prices up! Second place means I can keep on riding and enjoying.

Long may MZs come in second!

*********

Karl's second placed MZ ES150/1

Photos: KarlB and Phil Speakman


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