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Monday, 5 September 2011

Old flames: Part 7 - 28 (or thereabouts!)

Make yourself a big mug of coffee and make sure you've got plenty of time - this is going to be a big one!

The CBR had been sold and I had my 'winter bike', an MZ TS 250. When I had moved to the flat where I was staying a couple of years before, a guy who lived upstairs owned this. When he replaced it with a BMW, he had given it to a friend. I'd mentioned to him that I was looking for a winter bike, and he got back to me saying that I could have his old MZ for nothing if I collected it from the other side of Glasgow. Only problem was that the new owner had forgotten to add oil to the petrol and seized the engine.
I got a friend with a trailer to collect it, and set to work fixing it. The seizure wasn't too bad, and I managed to free the piston by removing the head, placing a piece of wood on top of the piston to protect it, then whacking it with a hammer! The piston freed easily enough so I took the barrel off to survey the damage. There was no damage to the barrel, and the piston cleaned up easily enough, leaving only the rings to be replaced. This was still in the era when East Germany had a communist government, so spares were cheap, and the rings were 75p each!! I replaced them and reassembled the engine, fitted an new battery and chain, then fitted a set of Honda indicators and handlebar switch unit from my 'box of spares', and the bike was back on the road for only £30!
It was a bit rough and rattly, but it went and I had transport. One bonus was that it had been fitted with a Honda front brake (CB 250/350 K series), which was a huge improvement over the standard MZ brake. In truth, dragging your feet on the ground was better than the MZ brake!
When I started thinking about this post, I decided this was my 'Jazz Bike', as at the time I was developing an interest in jazz, and jazz concerts would play a role in my ownership of this bike, starting with my first ride on it to a concert by George Melly in Edinburgh.
The bike wasn't too bad although it was a bit scruffy with vinyl stuck over the rusting chrome tank sides, but any scruffy and rusty bits were soon treated to a coat of Hammerite. I also found out that the rear frame tubes under the saddle had the same inside diameter as the outside of standard electrical steel conduit, so I found a couple of lengths in a scrap bin, cut them to length, and pushed them up the frame tubes. I held them in place with a couple of self tapping screws and bolted an old topbox to them. Voila! Instant luggage carrying ability! Around this time I joined the MZ Riders Club where such modifications and liberal use of Hammerite were the norm.
I rode the bike to work every day for about 2 years, although city traffic highlighted the main failings of the TS - Poor electrics (you want the ignition, headlight, AND indicators to work at the same time?), no tickover, a dreadful clutch and the world's most crunchy gearbox.
Back on the jazz theme, on the way home from a Courtney Pine concert the already very rusty silencer called it a day and a large chunk of metal fell off the side of it, turning the MZ into 'The World's Loudest Motorcycle'. I patched it up with a tin can and an exhaust bandage, but the hunt was on for a replacement silencer before MOT time. I was told of a bike shop in Stirling that was breaking an MZ, and ended up buying the whole bike for £30. This one was the later TS 250/1 model, basically the same as the TS but with a much better 5 speed gearbox and a horizontally finned head, which had a better machined combustion chamber (better running), and a central sparkplug (easier to set the timing). This bike was a non runner due to faulty crankcase seals and various parts had been robbed from it, but it was worth the money for the silencer alone. When I got it home I swapped various bits onto the TS, and made one good bike out of the two.
I was going through a particularly bad time in my life at this point - no money despite having 2 jobs (the good old 80s, eh?), this led to no social life and scrimping to get by; I was also attacked twice within 6 months, once an attempted street robbery where I successfully fought off my teenage attackers, but suffered a broken rib. And a second attack where I was struck on the head with a hammer, which left me not feeling 'right' for a couple of years. I was also suffering from depression, although it hadn't been diagnosed at that point.  I completely neglected the bike, never washed it, and just did enough work to keep it running. that's why it looked like this:

I even went a holiday on it, camping round the Highlands for a week.

Through the MZ Riders Club I found out about the much improved current model, the ETZ 250, and set out to find one. At the time, MZs were very rare in Scotland due to hopeless dealers, but after a year of trying managed to find one near Perth. It would turn out to be a very long relationship with this bike.
When I bought it, it was 2 years old, was in reasonable condition (well, nothing that couldn't be fixed with some Hammerite!), and the disc brake, 12V electrics, and oil pump made it a much better bike to ride than the TS.  I fitted a pair of Krauser panniers I had bought cheaply, and it was ready to go.

This became my sole form of transport, and over the next 12 years I did 120,000 miles (200,000 km) on it. I went to work on it, went holidays, went to lots of rallies, and even used it for shopping. When I got married, we even went our honeymoon on it!
Occasionally, I would buy another ETZ if it turned up cheaply enough and use it for spares (I had at least 4), I once bought another TS 250/1, fixed it up and sold it, and once when buying spares arranged with  breaker to buy any MZ he got in. This let to me owning at least 10 ETZ 125s, a TS 125, and even a Simpson 50. I was also given a TS 125 by a passer-by who saw my MZ and asked me if I wanted another one!
I became very active in the MZRC, went to lots or rallies, rebuilt and sold the ETZ 125s, and learned a lot about MZs. To be honest, I can't work out how many I owned, but it must have been about 20.
When the crankshaft went on the ETZ after 120,000, I bought another complete bike and swapped engines. The rear engine mounting plates on the ETZ cracked (a common problem on high mileage bikes), and as these pivot on the swing arm mount, you have to remove the swing arm to replace them. Unfortunately, the pivot had rusted in place and the frame bent before it would come out (another common problem), so I put the good engine back into its original bike and rode it.

I was riding this through town to work, hence the 'day-glo' topbox with extra brakelight on top. We also went a holiday to Ireland on it.
Around this time I decided I would build a really good ETZ with all the modifications I'd like to see, so started collecting bits. Through the breaker I got a crashed Saxon 125, so learned how to weld so I could fit things like the alloy footrest hangers from the Saxon. I also welded on pannier mounts, and decided to use the (better) Saxon electrics. I had also bought a BMW saddle, so modified that to fit, and along with a whole host of other mods, built my 'super' ETZ. I had bought an ETZ 301 (turned up at right price), but didn't really like it.

Although I liked the improved mid range pull of the 301 engine, the frame was based on the smaller ETZ 125 model which meant it was a bit small for 2 people. Also, being shorter, the bike became a bit 'flighty' at speed, and was upset badly by carrying luggage. So, out came the engine and it went into the super ETZ.
Eventually, the super ETZ was finished, and I have to say I was quite impressed with what I had built.

Paintwork was Plastikote 'Periwinkle' and 'Creme de la Creme' - mmmm, nice! It was a pleasant bike to ride and probably was as good a 2 stroke MZ as you could get.
Just around the time I was finishing this bike I got a job that paid TWICE what my previous job had paid, plus a company car! I'd always like the MZ Skorpion, so started looking for one. I had originally intended getting a Tour, but an example of the usually much more expensive Traveller came up so I bought it.

This was one of a batch of white Travellers that had been bought by the CSM training school. When the training school went out of business, the bikes were sold off. I found one, fitted larger 40 litre panniers (rather than the standard 30 litre), bodged a rack to fit, and the following summer my wife and I went for two weeks in France, (where the pictures above and below were taken).

 Me with the bike in La Rochelle - yes, it was hot!

I had been slightly apprehensive about buying the Skorpion in case I didn't like it, but after the France trip I was hooked, so did a lot of work on it over the following winter, including having it resprayed Diahatsu 'Mica Silver'. It's not really clear in photos, but although the bike looks silver, there's a purple sheen which can be seen when the light hits it at the correct angle.
I also welded up a proper rack and replaced a lot of the nuts and bolts with stainless. The following year I went to the Emmenrausch Rally at the MZ factory on it, with a friend riding my 'super ETZ' Report of that trip on my website here.
As I rarely rode the super ETZ after that I sold it to a friend who painted it matt black and silver (no taste!), he then sold it to M@TD who rode it to work for many years before selling it. A couple of months ago it was for sale on Ebay, now painted green in that strange 'faux army bike' look so favoured my some MZers. Shows I must have done the job right if it's still going 12 years after I built it!
I continued to ride the Traveller, and my wife and I went to France for our holidays on it for the next 5 years, until her declining health meant she couldn't go on it.

Over the years it's been to Ireland on numerous occasions, as well as a trip to the French Alps with a group of friends.

In Luxembourg on the way to the Alps

Over the years it's had various mods, I'll write some posts about various of these.
That brings my 'old flames' list nearly up to date. A couple of years ago I bought another white Traveller (the price was right). I haven't ridden it as I'm in the process of tidying it up, repairing cracks on the plasticwork, and general small jobs it needs. More on that bike later.


  1. Cheers Norman, that is one hell of a post.


  2. I'd just intended starting to write about my MZ 2 strokes and split it into a number of posts, but it took on a life of its own! I'm on holiday at the moment and half way through decorating my living room, so it was sanding woodwork to prepare it for varnishing or writing my blog. You can see which won!

  3. And I'm glad it did.


  4. Holy crap! Attacked with a hammer? Good grief, I hope the perp was caught. Was robbed once at gun-point but was not injured physically, but it did sour me on life in the city for a while...
    Must say, now I know more about MZ's then I thought I ever would. You certainly have had a few. MZ's just aren't seen around here. Course I might have seen a modern one and not known it. I like the idea of a big single. Have never owned a modern one. Maybe someday.

  5. Afraid not, Larry.
    As for MZs in the US, a small number of the 2 stroke models were imported for one year (1974), so are very rare. There is a shop importing bikes and bits from Cuba in Miami:
    The later 4 strokes were imported for a few years, then the importer disappeared overnight abandoning owners with almost no spares. They usually have to send here for parts.
    You should try a modern single, they're great fun. Try to find someone with a BMW F650, probably the most popular big single in the US, and take it for a ride. Be warned though, the 'feel' of a big single becomes addictive!

  6. Don't know how I managed to miss this on.....
    Good post, managed two cups of tea with that one!
    Just thinking about my MZ 250 and how lucky I was getting a "sorted" one, and its been a good runner as long as you don't expect too much from it. One small problem I have now is if going over 55 there is a small amount of oil coming out the gearbox filler plug, I suspect the oil seal on the left is starting to go, whats your thoughts?


  7. If it starts OK and runs reasonably at low revs then the seal's probably OK. Oil from the filler plug is quite common (probably just oil flying about inside the gearbox.) On my silver ETZ I pushed a piece of plastic tube into the breather on the filler plug and fed it up under the saddle. No oil got far enough up the pipe to leak out the end.
    If your LHS seal starts to go, you can usually smell petrol in the gearbox oil.
    Unless it gets a lot worse, I wouldn't worry about it.