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Bike Review - Posted 22nd November 2013
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1980 MZ TS250/1

Some people say old MZs are second-class classics. Mark Holyoake says they're missing out on a good motorcycle...

I was encouraged to look for a cheap classic by Frank's adventures with the £100 AJS. My search for such a beastie failed miserably, well, the search for a British bike at that price. I assume Frank's AJS was probably purchased some time ago.* So I went for the next best thing, although 'best' is obviously a term that some people may think applies in this instance, and some may disagree…

Searching back through my grey cells one make of bike has often appeared in my life: the 'umble MZ. Back in the day I had a couple of 250/1s, an ETZ250 then followed because I thought it might be a better bike; the press at the time seemed to think so. Now I considered a Can-Am ex-army bike but something cheaper was needed. I also thought about a FannyB, Ambassador, James, Villiers and a Bantam and the like, but an MZ was cheaper - and running and... so there!

Handsome in its own way... 1980 MZ TS250/1

I happened across the 250/1 seen here and thought: why not? It had tax for 12 months and was running. Maybe there was some cheap fun to be had. This is one of those bikes I have always enjoyed... even the breakdowns! I recall clocking up some mega miles on one years ago and always enjoyed the 'wheeze-bum-bum-bum' simplicity of the bikes. They're distantly related to DKW too, and come from the 'father' of the two-stroke, Walter Kaaden.

So what have we got here? It's a 1980 TS250/1 with the speedo showing 23,000 miles or so; who knows how accurate that is. It's blessed with a patina of age and (mis)use. The exhaust is off some form of MZ and painted black, but it works so it'll do for now unless the urge to restore overcomes the urge to ride.

Still some mild fettling was called for. I changed the chocolate frogs-spawn that was masquerading as gearbox oil, fitted a new 6V battery, gave it a general check over and some new brake shoes up front (along with this mod: /techfiles/tech07071900.html). Everything else seemed in order. So I then followed some sage advice: if the engine's running, then leave it alone!

Air cleaner under round chrome cover... 1980 MZ TS250/1

I had a worrying moment when the indicators and rear light stopped working, but found it was nothing more serious than the bulbs dropping out! Put them back in and after some fiddling with pins all seems well now. I recall not being terribly happy with the ETZ. The 12V electrics were supposed to be better than on earlier models and the oil pump saves pre-mixing, but the engine characteristics seemed to suit me less well than the Supa5. I never tried a later MZ once they became MuZ or Kannuni.

So I took to the road on this 5-speed MZ with its peculiar cylinder head. The styling is 'unique', but at least the tank hold loads of fuel; the voluminous sidepanels cover the battery and air filter and in this case the coil. The brakes seem to work; the front one is improving now it's bedding in and the lower end of the mudguard no longer fouls the tyre after some fine adjustment and careful reassembly (the pliers came in handy). The bike rolls around quite nicely, too I must say.

The TS fires up as it should, with the time-honoured two prods of the kickstart lever, with fuel on and air lever thingy adjusted, and that's sticking with the 6V electrics with points. This simplicity is one of the MZ's major attractions. In some ways it's reminiscent of an older British bike in the lack of highly sophisticated electronics. I did treat it to a new NGK iridium plug (but only because they were on special offer!)

Rubber mounted motor...
Many MZs on

Once it's on the move, power seems to exist from 1500rpm. From 2200rpm or thereabouts it has more acceleration in top. The powerband between 3000 and 6000rpm really suits my style of riding. It's lovely and very different to the ETZ which felt much more peaky to me. Mind you, to find out what those revs are I had to buy a rev counter cable from eBay. £1.99. See: I told you owning an MZ was cheap! It came from a 125 or 150 so it's a bit long - but it isn't quite dragging on the floor…

The gearchange has a long movement it but seems fine snicking up and down, although occasionally on down-changes I need to let the lever centralise. Must remember it's not a GPZ-GSV-VFR type! Maybe the lever needs moving a smidgen on the shaft to raise it up for my size 8s. At least all five gears are there and it's showing no trouble as yet with third gear which I think on some older MZs can become problematic.

The TS is a light machine and good on fuel, returning over 70mpg so far. It just zips around the lanes very well; the handling is very good. A pair of replacement shocks maybe helped here. They came from eBay again; solved a leak and were cheaper than rebuilding.

In its day I guess the TS250 may have been seen as a 'townie' but out here on the wolds and near the fens it's great for nipping about seeking out windmills, watermills and canals for a coffee and a bite to eat. I recall years ago that its earlier counterpart was capable of travelling long distances without wearying the rider, so I'm looking forward to some longer rides. The seat seems comfy too and the riding position takes me back. This one has the lovely flat bars and, well… it's kinda nice really. That sort of sums the whole bike up. Kinda nice.

The chain enclosure still seems a real bonus; again eBay was useful for finding some replacement rubbers at not eye-watering prices. I haven't fitted them yet but no doubt will get around to that soon. The pre-mix in the tank isn't too much of a chore, especially as the tank cap has a useful measure. But carrying a supply of decent two-stroke is awkward on my machine - as I mentioned, the coil is under the seat. Why? Maybe to keep it out of the rain. Certainly works OK.

And the winner of the longest exhaust is... 1980 MZ TS250/1

So as a bike this MZ seems great: inexpensive and economical. it mixes the modern(ish) and vintage (well, older) schools of motorcycling in a good overall package. Two-strokes don't suit everyone, but thus far it seems to be that rare thing: a properly developed machine, made by motorcyclists for motorcyclists. Back in the day and back in East Germany, these bikes had to last a long, long time and be easy and simple to maintain. So it ticks the right boxes for these days too.

If you can't find a £100 Ajay then one of these might just do the trick. Some people call MZs 'second class classics'. Well, if they are then those same people are missing out. I say it's good fun. Classic? Who knows. What I do know is that MZs are good bikes.

*The £100 Ajay was indeed bought back in the mists of time: a decade ago when RealClassic was first launched. Frank finally completed its restoration in time for the magazine's 100th issue

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