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12th January 2005


Winter Rides 2 - VMCC New Year's Day Run on an MZ

You probably have a long list of Things To Do before a winter ride. Phil Speakman reveals that he's always (well...) prepared to Be Prepared...

In my welcome pack from the VMCC, the calendar of events shows a New Year's Day run from Leek Market Square in Staffordshire. It is entitled the 'Hangover Run' so it would appear that I do meet the prerequisites -- being in possession of both a valid membership and an equally valid hangover.

Other than filling up the bike with 30:1 two-stroke mix, that's all the planning needed before I set the alarm, lock the front door, kick my MZ ES 150/1 into life, unlock the front door, switch off the alarm, pick up gloves and sunglasses before repeating the whole process (with the exception of kicking the MZ to life as it's pop-pop-popping away merrily) again.

The plan is to head from Rainhill, down the A57 through Warrington and out the other side on the A50. I am utterly convinced that once through Knutsford, Leek will be clearly signposted so I haven't even looked at a map to see exactly where Leek actually is! I'm always seeing signs for Leek as I'm riding towards the Cat & Fiddle, it must be one of the most signposted town in the UK. I've got an hour and twenty minutes to get there and it's near Stoke or something, so what can go wrong?

At some point, someone in a drawing office in East Germany looked at this and said. 'Yes, that's just how I want it to look.'

Now I actually have a map in front of me, I can see my mistake. I should have made for Macclesfield and then headed south. As it is I'm heading south via Holmes Chapel and Congleton, swearing into my helmet at not actually having seen one single bloody signpost for Leek. Still, it's a lovely clear morning and the MZ is fair rocketing along at a steady 60mph or so, with that lovely little deep bass growl of one of Hermann Weber's finest. This little two-stroke unit construction single provided motility during the post war era to much of the world. Don't believe me? The DKW RT125 engine (that this is based on), became the design for all IFA (later renamed as MZ or Motorraderwerke Zschopau) 125s and 150s, BSA Bantams, Harley-Davidson Hummers in the far east as well as the DKW RT125, early Moto Morinis, the Soviet Moska and even the Yamaha YAI. We are talking a lot of bikes here.

This engine has done just over 600 miles since I had a complete crank overhaul and new main bearing and seals fitted. Now it's run in, it is lovely and free-revving and willing for work. The rest of the bike was rebuilt completely over the previous winter and spring and looks immaculate, if I say so myself. However I'm not being precious with it and have used it through both salt and snow this holiday season, just ensuring I wash the bike thoroughly at the end of each ride. It was designed as utilitarian transport and who am I to argue with its original remit?

Anyway enough of the history, I still haven't found Leek but I'm sure I have seen signposts for it from the A500 or the A50 through Stoke. So I follow the signs for Stoke but realise too late that I've been funnelled down the M6 south route -- just where I don't want to be. Good as these bikes are, they are a little slow for motorways and I feel very vulnerable in the inside lane with little or no power available should I need it in the event of, well... an event really! Still, it's only one junction so I lean forward, keep it about 60ish and the New Year's Day traffic is completely wagon-free, so I'm never forced to venture out from the inside lane once.

Form and function weren't speaking on the day this lot was designed. It works much better than it looks. Unless it's windy.As I reach the end of the A500 into Stoke, there it is, Leek 11 miles via the A53. I've no idea what time it is, but the events calendar states noon and it must be knocking on about that now. I suppose I could pull over and look at my phone, but I'm pretty sure the two minutes charge that I gave it from completely dead this morning would be less than useless and it would have shut itself down again. Are we spotting a theme here, with respect to prior planning?

The A53 has sodding speed cameras every 3' 6", so I can't 'make progress' officer. Still, at least it's mostly 40mph and I arrive (via one or two U-turns) at the Market Square, just in time to get my lid off, get told the rules about the rider behind the leader stopping at each change of direction to point the way, until they see the tail rider.

The rider bringing up the rear on a rather nice Sunbeam S7 (or S8?) did tell me the name for these rules, but for the life of me I can't remember them. He did have an impressive moustache though, if that helps?

The ride out of Leek takes in some beautiful, single width country lanes as we head (I'm later told) towards the direction of Buxton. Don't ask me where we went, even when we got there I had no idea where I was or how I got there, or even how I was to find my way back out again on my own.

All I know is I enjoyed the convoy immensely, with the MZ having more than enough turn of speed to keep up. Indeed, with the right gear changes and willingness to be revved, the MZ was belting along with the 70's BMW in front of me with no effort whatsoever. For a little bike, it's a fun ride and handles like a dream.

The only problem I notice, as we climb and the wind picks up, is that the large front mudguard, within the Earles front suspension, and the headlamp cowl make the front end a very large sail area. The occasional blast of side wind can be a little unnerving to say the least and I find myself at times gripping the bars quite firmly.

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Bar end indicators? Check. Kneepads? Check. Cast frame? Check. Cast centre-stand? Check. Yup, it's an MZ.Eventually we disappear through a tunnel (where I give it a handful just to hear that aforementioned growl) and out into a lovely valley (please feel free to contact me and let me know where I've been, should any of you recognise the description [Is it Austria, South of Graz? RealMart]) where a tea shop provides sustenance by the side of a river.

My stomach is extremely grateful for this, as I've not had any breakfast as of yet, due to my morning's worth of detailed preparation, yes I think that was the reason. Come on, you must have spotted the theme by now? Here's a clue, look at the introduction!

One sausage roll doesn't stand a chance, but two mugs of tea do at least provide some token resistance to my appetite and now feeling a little more human, I start looking at other people's machines.

There are the usual array of British singles and the occasional Vincent twin, but to be honest I wouldn't know a Gold Star from a gold tooth. I find myself looking at a 60's Honda and a VW Beetle-engined Dragonfly combination [a WHAT? Horrors. RH] that must have taken some doing. Indeed most of my time is spend discussing Jawas (I've got a 1959 Jawa 355) and MZs with just one or two other members.

I confess that I like turning up on unusual machines, so I can see me expanding my collection to include a DKW RT175, maybe a Zundapp, an NSU Super Max and hopefully one day a Pannonia combination from Hungary. I can't wait to get my Adler MB200 back on the road -- that should stand out somewhat. What is it about two-strokes and me? I can only put it down to it being the smell of my childhood, cadging 'backies' off 'big boys' who rode old scramblers around a piece of rough wasteland called Stovies, which has long since been levelled and grassed and hence is completely devoid of any interest to kids these days. Being brought up in the 70s, we still had the elements of danger on our playgrounds which have all but disappeared in these days of the risk assessments and litigation. Happy days, eh ?

I find myself admiring a pre-war flat tank Sunbeam just for the engineering and girder forks. I've promised myself that one day I'll get a pre-war Scott and whilst that may fulfil my need for something very old and British I'm afraid it won't satisfy my love of the smell of Castrol R in a four-stroke. I really must get my second garage built, but I'm afraid the new bathroom definitely comes first.

Caption Contest, perhaps?Surprisingly my lack of preparation has had one positive result, that of my digital camera still being in my jacket pocket. That allows me a few snaps of various bikes and, one in particular of a bold little robin who takes a shine to the rear offside indicator of a BMX R1200GS.

He seems quite happy with me only a couple of feet from him as that is how they obtain a lot of their food, by sticking close to big lumbering things like us and wild pigs which go about disturbing the ground and unearthing insects and grubs.

One chap steps up and accuses my bike of being a CZ, then says 'Oh no, it's an MZ' but claims it reminds him of a CZ! Why, I have no idea; as it looks nothing like a CZ. Then he starts slating CZs for reasons best known to himself.

However my Jawa 355 was built by Jawa but I believe it was assembled by the CZ factory during the early stages of their merger, so he's not making any friends here. Maybe if he ever rode either of the bikes he has just disparaged, his tune would change. Many a sceptic of MZs had their mind changed by a ride on a good TS250/1 Supa 5 (yes, I've one of those too).

Gradually people leave and I realise that I'm one of the last still there, with possibly the furthest distance to travel back. I've enjoyed a few good chats, so much that until now I hadn't noticed the glowering clouds above. I kick the MZ and it stutters a little as I leave, as I haven't given it time to warm up again. Once under load, it soon sorts itself out and I follow my nose out of the valley until I see a sign for Leek just as the rain starts. Now normally I could stop and put on my one-piece waterproofs, with the obligatory rain dance. You know, the one where you hop around in a circle trying to get your second boot in the other hole, followed by the demented Border Collie impersonation where the right-hand sleeve takes on the role of a tail that just can't be caught. However, the waterproofs are somewhere at home along with the electricity that I can hear my phone crying out for.

The rain gets heavier through Macclesfield and the wind is becoming more than an occasional problem. I head out of town on the Knutsford road and I can't believe the coincidence when my enjoyment of a little series of fast sweeping full throttle bends are ruined for the second time that week by the bike dying -- until I flick the petrol cock to reserve. How have I managed to run out of fuel twice within the same 200 yards within the same week? I pull into a filling station at Chelford and am forced to buy another litre of 2-stroke oil and stick in five litres of fuel at 25:1, as 200ml is easy to measure from the marks on the side of the bottle. That's another opened bottle of oil for the collection in my kitchen which bears oleaginous witness to my lack of forethought. I could of course use the small bottle of oil in the tool box cubby hole in the offside panel, if I had remembered to bring the key for it...

I settle back on the bike with my customary unsightly bulge in my jacket which occurs on many of my homeward journeys. At least the comparatively slim bottle of Shell oil deforms me less than the chunky bottle of Castrol I bought earlier in the week.

It really is bouncing down now and as I head into Knutsford it looks like there has been a convention of tree surgeons in town. The howling wind has littered the road with dead wood, some of it large enough to spit me off if I'm not careful. The rain is bouncing a foot off the road and the wind is driving sheets of rain at me from my left. My leathers and my boots are completely sodden by now so it doesn't really matter; it's the electrics that concern me. Over Christmas I replaced the original voltage regulator with a solid state unit from MZ-B, so this is as good a test of it as anything, with the lights on and driving rain.

Once out of the shelter of buildings, the wind decides that I am probably the best sport that is to be had. I barely dare to take the bike above 35mph, the gusts are that strong. At times the wind hits me head on and the bike loses 5mph almost instantly. Eventually Warrington brings with it the welcome relief of a built up area and the inherent protection the buildings provide. With a little nod of recognition to the fine statue of Oliver Cromwell (he used to be my boss, during my Civil War re-enactment days), I follow the signs for the A57 past the BT telephone exchange.

Fifteen minutes later and I am back in Rainhill, feet so frozen that standing is painful and resembling a drowned rat. I put the MZ round the back and smile happy that it never missed a beat throughout some atrocious weather. Not bad for a cheap little Eastern Block commuter. I look up and above me the sky is blue and the bloody rain has stopped, can you believe it? Everything comes off in the kitchen and I pad upstairs for a dive off the soap box and the bliss of hot water. Not for long though, that bike deserves a good wash and polish before it gets put away.

It's the least I can do given my woeful lack of preparation, yet the MZ got me there and back in a typical, no frills no nonsense way that I expect from these addictive little machines. For those non-converts out there, please be warned: riding an MZ for the first time can be a life changing experience. For the converts reading this, you know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you?

Happy MZ Rider?

Here's that picture again. Does it look any better now you've read the story?

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