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Why CZs Are Not Classics

Discussion in 'Bike Reviews, Questions and Suggestions' started by PatB, Aug 9, 2010.

  1. I’ve just realised that it’s now 2010 (always a bit slow on the uptake me) and so I should mark the 20th anniversary of my purchase of my first “proper” motorcycle. I think it might be time to bash out another review of a bike that many Netriders won’t even have heard of and almost certainly won’t get the opportunity to own. If they’re lucky anyway.

    Way back in early 1990 (can 1990 really be way back?), I was looking to finally take the UK two-part motorcycle test and upgrade from my faithful but rather slow Honda C90 Step-Thru. In anticipation of the event I began to look around for a suitable mount so I wouldn’t end up rushing into the first deal I was offered once I had that lovely pink bit of paper that said I could have a big boy’s bike.

    I was, of course, chronically skint and already possessed of eccentric tastes in vehicles. The skintness not only dictated what I could buy but, combined with my age, lack of experience and domicile in the most criminal city in the UK, also dictated what I could afford to insure. Ultimately, like most poverty stricken UK riders, what I could afford to insure as my post-test bike was a 250. As I wouldn’t be able to afford more than Third Party Only, it would have to be a grotty 250, but that didn’t matter because practically all 250s were ageing ex-learner bikes from before the 125 limit came in, so they were all pretty grotty. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy anything else anyway, 250s being virtually worthless once their function as learner bikes had disappeared.

    Luckily for myself and similar penniless masochists, the lovely people of Czechoslovakia had, a decade or two earlier, provided us with a solution to our biking problems in the shape of the CZ250. Available in Sport :)lol:) and the rare and desirable Custom (an importer produced special edition with Ace bars, bikini fairing and fibreglass “race” seat unit) versions, this little Commie two-stroke twin bore a number of striking similarities to Villiers powered British grey porridge of the late 50s and, sold at heavily subsidised prices, had been quite popular in a British market that didn’t really know any better at the time. Consequently, there were quite a few examples around, pretty much all with low mileages and for less than a hundred quid.

    Well, there had always seemed to be plenty around until I actually started looking for one to buy, when the local supply appeared to temporarily dry up, leaving me with the choice of either a rather sad, Tri-ang blue Sport with bent forks for seventy quid, or no bike at all. On the upside, it ran well, with nearly 30,000 miles on the clock, suggesting that it might have avoided the quality control issues that had dogged so many of its comrades, so I bought it and dragged it home, resolving to worry about getting hold of replacement fork legs another time.

    With the beast safely tucked away at the back of my dad’s house (I was living in a third floor bedsit at the time, so the C90 was living on the street and I had nowhere to put an untaxed and unroadworthy machine), I began to check it over (no puns please) and was, in some ways, pleasantly surprised by what I found. It had newish Siamese Rubber Co tyres at both ends, so that was one expense I didn’t have to worry about. The fully enclosed chainguard had ensured that the chain and sprockets were pretty much perfect, helped by the clever, if environmentally irresponsible, system of allowing petroil spillage from the carb to drain into the chaincase, ensuring that the chain was constantly fed with a supply of two-stroke oil. Although the paint looked like something from a 1950s pedal car, it was thick and hadn’t allowed rust to spread from the scrapes the bike had received in its fork-bending bingle. It also appeared to have been applied over a proper primer, even on the frame, where contemporary Japanese manufacturers seemed to be under the impression that a light blow over with a rattle can on rusty bare steel was adequate protection from an English winter.

    There was almost no exposed plastic on the bike at all apart from light lenses, cable sleeves and seat cover. Sidepanels, and mudguards were thick, nicely formed steel, the sidepanels being held on with substantial threaded fasteners rather than pop-in, pop-out, snap-off plastic pegs. The instrument housing was a beautifully die-cast lump of aluminium which appeared to be powder coated (this on a 1979 bike!) and which held a speedo, three small warning lights and the rather odd combined ignition and light switch. Similarly, the hand controls were nicely made and incorporated indicator and dip switches in lovely, rounded, art-deco housings, also in ally.

    The welding and foundry work was all gorgeous, and the quality of materials was superb. Even on a neglected 11 year old bike, the engine casings showed no white fluff, the chrome on the exhausts was pristine and rust was confined to areas where the paint had been scraped off. I don’t remember finding or causing a single stripped thread or seized bolt throughout my ownership.

    On the downside, the fork yokes appeared seriously weedy, the styling was something of an acquired taste, CZ having been going through a square period at the time of manufacture, the quick detachable rear wheel (allowing the wheel to be removed and replaced without disturbing chain adjustment) wasn’t particularly, both cylinder heads were warped, the wiring, although intact and functional ,was a bit flimsy and I really was going to have to do something about those forks eventually.

    Apart from servicing, the first order of business was to sort out the leaks from the cylinder head joints. Pulling the heads was simplicity itself as they were only secured with three nuts each, a fastening system that had probably contributed to their warpage. Off with the heads, up with the barrels, stuff rags into the crankcase mouths to catch any bits of piston-ring and it all came apart beautifully. Slightly less beautiful was the fact that there were neither head nor base gaskets in the thing, their place having been taken by what looked and smelt like a mixture of treacle and cowshit. After cleaning off the worst of the mess I checked the head to barrel mating faces for flatness with a smear of engineer’s blue and found that, as suspected, the heads resembled Pringles. I concluded that the head nuts were probably massively overtorqued in an attempt to get some sort of seal and, with only three to a relatively thin head, the result was inevitable.

    Not long before, I’d read an article by Royce Creasey on lapping cylinder heads to barrels using valve grinding paste, so I applied some and set to work, swivelling the heads on top of their respective barrels for ten minutes, rotating them 180 degrees, followed by another ten minutes of swivelling, another rotation and so on. After an hour, I had an incipient repetitive strain injury, but I also had two flat cylinder heads, so the sore wrists were well worth it.

    A new base gasket was cut from the cover of a telephone directory and I splashed out on a pair of new aluminium head gaskets from my local CZ dealer who was, surprisingly, still in business. Exhaust ports and piston crowns were cleaned, rings checked and found to be acceptable and the whole lot went together as easily as it had come apart. A polish of the points and a check of the timing showed all to be well, so with new plugs in I fired it up. Well, one cylinder fired up anyway, the other remaining stubbornly dead. A single carb seemed unlikely to cause a fault on one cylinder so I turned my attention to the ignition. Pulling the plug caps in turn and kicking the engine over revealed that both coils could make me say “Ow****thathurt” even at modest revs, so that wasn’t the answer. Swapping plugs from side to side saw the fault follow the plug. Hmmm. A dead plug brand new from the box. So began my lifelong suspicion of NGK plugs.

    Once I’d got a reliable spark on both cylinders, it fired and ran perfectly, with a nice smooth tickover, hot or cold. Even in sub-zero temperatures, with a tickle of the carb it always went second kick, for as long as I owned it. However, it seemed a little smokey, even for an Eastern Bloc stroker so I thought I’d have a look in the exhausts to see if they needed a decoke. They did. Well, not so much a decoke as a deporridge, as each silencer contained about a litre of evil black goop with lumps in it; a mixture of carbon, unburned fuel, two stroke oil and condensation. I managed to spill some on dad’s paving and I’m assured that the stain is there to this day, after 20 years in the English weather. Putting the silencers back on was fun too. CZ utilised a large O-ring to seal the silencers to the downpipes. I found it to be impossible to insert downpipe into silencer without dislodging the O-ring from its seating. After an hour or so, and having lost both O-rings into the grimy depths of the mufflers, I gave up and filled the joint with silicone sealant, which continued to work perfectly until I sold the bike.
    Shortly before I gained my full licence, I found a pair of used forks for sale locally and the whole thing was good to go.

    Once I’d got the vital piece of paper that said I could step directly from my C90 onto a ZZR1100, should I be able to afford the insurance, it was time to get the Bouncing Czech on the road. The examiner’s signature was barely dry as I abandoned the poor little Step-Thru to its fate and swung a leg over a real bike to take it for its MOT (Roadworthy). It was a revelation. Big, heavy, powerful and turbine smooth in comparison to what I was used to, the CZ made me feel like the boss of the street, with its 17 crankshaft horsepower and the peculiar gurgling rumble that it made at tickover.

    Once I had the vital documents, it was time to start clocking the miles up, which the bike seemed quite willing to do, but which turned up a few niggling points. For a start, the front brake drum was oval, which I didn’t realise until it came close to dumping me on my ear at low speed in a car park when it locked up unexpectedly. Fifteen quid to my local dealer for a used wheel and half an hour setting up the twin leading shoe brake and I had some very respectable stopping power. Certainly better than the assortment of weird, cable operated discs that contemporary stuff like CB200s and Z200s had. Until it blew over in a storm one night and the drums filled up with water anyway, which led to a few very exciting seconds and a trip through a fence. Water cooled drum brakes don’t work very well folks.

    My first longish run, over the Severn Bridge into Wales, showed that the little beastie could hold 75 on the speedo on level ground without much sign of strain. Hills and headwinds knocked it back a bit though, becoming a serious impediment to progress if they demanded a change from top down to third in the very wide ratio box. The same trip also revealed that the left hand fork leg leaked, as it anointed the knee of my jeans with the 10W30 I had pressed into service as fork oil. The fork seals lived in steel caps which screwed to the tops of the sliders. They were quite cheap, but when I went to change them, I discovered that the fork leg was tapered, preventing their removal from the top and requiring the removal of the bronze sliding bushes from the bottom of the leg instead. Lacking the facility to get these off, I just drained the remainder of the oil from the leaking leg, put 20W50 in the other and continued to ride the bike like that, as the handling didn’t seem to be adversely affected.

    The gearbox took a bit of getting used to after the semi-auto on the C90. On the CZ, the gearlever doubles as the kickstart and triples as a clutch lifter (overriding the handlebar lever). It’s quite clever but results in something too long for a gearlever, too short for a kickstart and with insufficient movement to give the fine clutch control necessary. However, I can’t speak too ill of it, as I became quite adept at squeezing the lever in with my heel, hooking it up and over into kickstart position, starting the bike and letting the lever flick back over, with it’s weight and momentum dropping the bike into first, before letting the clutch back in to give, with good throttle coordination and a bit of luck, a very rapid takeoff as a bit of a party trick :cool:. Mind you, it also resulted in a few impromptu wheelies when I released the handlebar clutch lever with my boot still resting on the gear pedal. I’d give it some gas, puzzled as to why we weren’t going anywhere, realise what was wrong and, without thinking, shift my foot, whereupon the heavy flywheels would pick the front of the bike up quite smartly.

    The electrics were, as I’d suspected, a bit feeble. The headlamp was a nominal 35 Watts, so it was a bit better than the C90’s glow worm, but not much. The dynamo put out a rather lethargic 75 Watts, which was barely adequate to keep the battery charged in winter use. The indicators often didn’t and the wiring was even more fragile and prone to corrosion than the stuff Suzuki were so fond of, with insulation made from a strange, chewing gum based material. No I don’t know if the pink was fruit flavoured or the green tasted of peppermint. The handlebar switches, attractive though they were, tended to collect water and require regular cleaning. Given their simple design and big, screw down terminals, this wasn’t that hard and took about 3 minutes to do both sides, but it would have been nice not to have to. The front brake light switch had long since dissolved but the rear was very enthusiastic about its job, to the point that it would get up at 3am on rainy nights to light the brake light and run the battery flat in time for me to go to work. It left me stuck more than once, but eventually succumbed to corrosion and, I’ll swear, the fact that the Bakelite that made up its interior was soluble in WD40.

    As winter approached, I fitted an old Avon handlebar fairing that I’d picked up for a tenner at an autojumble. In pink fibreglass and with Flash Gordon styling, it looked a bit weird but it kept the frost out of my eyebrows on cold mornings. It did nearly kill me one night though, when, under heavy braking, fuel sloshed past the filler cap seal that I’d been meaning to replace, collected in the fairing and then, as I accelerated again, blew back up the inside of the screen, spraying me in the eyes, causing me to have to remember where the road went until I managed to stop. Well, it was only marginally darker behind my eyelids than in a world illuminated by 35 Czechoslovakian Watts. Just an awful lot more painful.

    As the weather became colder, the torn seat cover started to make itself felt. The water in the seat foam would freeze solid overnight, leaving me sitting on an ice cube on my way to work. On arrival, I was amused, in a pained sort of way, that the seat was still solid, but now had a frozen in imprint of my buttocks. A cheap, universal, elasticated seat cover prevented further water ingress but drying the seat out proved impossible in an unheated bedsit in an English winter, so I had to put up with a frozen arse until spring arrived.

    It was still winter, though improving slightly, when a few stressful circumstances combined to make me feel the need to make a run for Newcastle, at the other end of the country, to be among friends for the weekend. It would have been a fairly tough run at that time of year anyway, but I decided, against all good sense, to make the trip up overnight on the Friday, returning on Sunday.

    Wearing every item of clothing I possessed, along with my leather jacket, under my enormous canvas and sheepskin winter riding coat, I set out at about 10pm. By 11, I was frozen stiff and unable to feel anything below the knees and had covered maybe 50 miles of a 350 mile journey. By 12 I was hoping to crash just so I wouldn’t have to ride any more. Fortunately, at that point, the lights of the next motorway services hove in view and I pulled over to take stock. Getting off the bike proved to be a challenge, given that my legs apparently ended some eighteen inches above ground level and given that the bit of the services’ car park where I’d stopped was coated in ice. After falling over a couple of times with the bike on top of me, I managed to get it onto its stand and hobbled, slithered and, when all else failed, crawled over to the welcoming warmth of the building.

    I don’t know who invented the hot-air hand dryer, but they deserve a gong for services to frozen motorcyclists. The graveyard shift cleaning staff were treated to the spectacle of a large and heavily bundled figure, complete with helmet and RAF goggles, lying on his back on the floor with his boots beside him, legs extended up the wall with the blast from one of the dryers directed up his trouser legs. Damn but it felt good. Agonizing as the circulation came back but good nonetheless.

    Now that I knew I’d be able to thaw out, I elected to continue, stopping at every services for more hot air up the trouser legs. It was slow and miserable but doable. I attempted to banish the thought that, in less than 48 hours, I’d have to do it all again.

    A hundred miles or so from my destination, I began to become aware that all was not well with the little twin. Despite the arctic temperatures, excessive throttle openings resulted in the onset of the metallic rattle of detonation. It would gradually get worse until I was forced to stop and rest it, then I could continue again. My progress slowed to a snails pace, punctuated by stops to let me warm and the engine cool. Muzzy with lack of sleep and the onset of hypothermia, I was unable to even think of starting to troubleshoot the problem, so I had little choice but to keep going.

    I got there, eventually. It was a pretty good weekend, all told, with much consumption of fermented fluids in warm environments and similar merriment. The CZ dozed at the kerb, forgotten until the time came to get moving on the return trip. Past time actually as the prospect was so uninviting that I kept putting it off until the grey, mid-afternoon sky told me that I’d better go now, or I’d never make it in time for work on Monday.

    All went well, initially. It was marginally less cold, the bike seemed to have stopped pinking for no good reason and the traffic was relatively light. I actually made decent time for the first 20 miles or so. Then, overtaking a Transit up on a long sweeping climb, the pinking came back with a ferocity which made my teeth jangle and, before I could do anything sensible, like roll off or get the clutch in, it locked solid with the unmistakeable shriek of lots of small bits of metal becoming one large one. Time to admit defeat and call the AA, who obligingly took me home in a succession of vans and trucks with excellent heaters, so it wasn’t all bad.

    Dismantling at home the next day revealed scored pistons with the rings welded into place, but surprisingly little damage to the bores, considering the ferocity of the seizure. The cause? Well, I found that the screws holding the top on the carb float chamber were loose, so I do wonder whether the fuel had been frothing with vibration and leaned off the mixture. No other explanation suggested itself.

    I took the opportunity to have the barrels bored to take Jawa 350 pistons and the heads opened up to suit, giving me a capacity of 305 cc. I can’t remember now what it cost, but it was surprisingly little, even for my meagre resources. The figure of sixty five quid all up keeps waving at me, inclusive of all machining, pistons, rings, gaskets and small end rollers. Putting it all together was interesting. The CZ small end bearing consists of a dozen or so loose rollers in a bush in the small end eye of the con-rod and running directly on the gudgeon pin. Getting them out without dropping them into the crankcase is a nerve wracking business, even with rags stuffed in the crankcase mouth. Getting them back in requires an unobtainable special tool. Well, unobtainable if you can’t lay hands on half an inch of half inch copper water pipe anyway. Pleased with myself, I put it all back together and started the running in process.

    It was immediately apparent that the jetting of the primitive Jikov carb was not suited to the big bore engine. Flat spots abounded and the plugs were much paler than I would have liked on a newly rebuilt lump. The only larger main jet available was several sizes up on the original. I stuck it in and now had a bike that would bog, foul plugs and could empty a tank of fuel in half the time it once took. Thus began a period of several months, during which I fiddled with the carburetion, largely to no avail. There are those who will tell you that cleaning carb jets with anything harder or sharper than a brush bristle will ruin them. Bollocks. I stuck all sorts of hard, pointy things through that original main jet in an attempt to richen it up just a bit, only to be repeatedly confronted with The Bone White Plugs of Doom when I tried a plug-chop. Eventually I got things sort of bearable with the big main jet, the needle dropped all the way and playing with the float level. The float level was supposed to be non-adjustable but I outthought the bastards and left the brass float out in the sun. The resulting heating expanded it just enough to make a difference to its volume, thus lowering the fuel level in the float bowl :D.

    The only other area to give significant trouble was the front end (again). As I’ve said, the forks, or more accurately, the yokes were very flimsy and even falling over (which it did regularly ‘cos the stands were so awful) would result in the forks twisting and requiring correction. Correction in this case being to hold the front wheel between the knees whilst turning the bars in the desired direction. It took worryingly little force to move it all about, although the lack of rigidity didn’t seem to hurt the decent but fairly wooden handling.

    It was when this handling began to deteriorate and loud clonks became audible when passing over bumps, that I investigated the steering head bearings. When I took the top yoke off and dropped the forks out, one of the lower bearing races fell out in three rusty pieces, whilst the balls that should have been there were nowhere to be seen :shock:. Unless that’s what the brown dust was, I suppose. Not to worry. Parts were had, off the shelf, for 8 quid and fitted in a few minutes, along with half a can of Castrol’s finest HMP grease.

    Oh yes, there was one other thing. The fully enclosed chaincase was split horizontally into two parts held in place with a single bolt at the rear. When the tags that bolted together fatigued off, the lower half of the steel chaincase dropped onto the chain and was carried into the rear sprocket, locking the back wheel at, fortunately, 20mph and causing me to come to a halt tat the end of a long, wiggly black line :shock:. The thought of it happening at speed (which it would have been had it lasted another ten minutes) still makes my blood run cold. Pushing the bike the 250 metres home whilst holding the back wheel off the ground was fun, as was releasing the twisted remains of the chaincase, a process that involved extensive use of a four pound hammer and a broad vocabulary.

    The big advantages of the bike mainly stemmed from it being so utterly undesirable. Even in Bristol no-one wanted to steal it, which put me a long way ahead of my more popularly mounted contemporaries. And spares were never a problem because, as well as good dealer back up, complete strangers would sidle up to me in petrol stations and offer me shedfuls of dead ones for free. By the time I sold it I had three or four other bikes’ worth of parts stashed in various sheds and lockups around the city, none of which I'd had to pay for and some of which may very well still be there :D.

    All in all, the little beastie served me faithfully for a year, before I got bored with 17bhp and was seduced by the arm stretching power of a mate’s CB400N, along with the erroneous belief that a Jap bike would require less fettling. Well history has shown how well that turned out. The CZ went to a bloke who wanted to use the engine in a buggy. I still feel guilty :sad:.
  2. Great yarn, you really ARE a masochist, aren't you?

    Remember the CZ/Jawas very well, family friends in Adelaide in the mid-50s went on their honeymoon in an outfit of the same brand, came home claiming that their sunburn was actually WIND-burn from the speed of the bike. Strangely no-one believed them !!
  3. Great write up mate. I love hearing stories like these. I may have to do one myself when I get old enough to remember all the details!
  4. Ahahaha, wait till Devery reads this.

    I spent a few hours watching him pull apart his burnt-out clutch the other night.

    Out of interest, does yours have the same beautifull headlight with the key mounting in it? Very art deco. One day I'll build a bike around that...
  5. Thanks for the very entertaining read. Not sure that you supported your title, though. Why is it not a classic? Unique design, good build quality, loads of (for want of a better word) character and lots of associated interesting experiences.. Merely being an awful motorcycle wouldn't disqualify it in my books...

    *Discalimer: I have never ridden, seen or in any other way experienced a CZ. My only knowledge comes from this post and a subsequent google search to find out what the heck a CZ was.
  6. Yes, I had to do that once. The back brake cam went over centre in heavy traffic and the resulting need to rev its potatoes off and slip the clutch to get enough drive to reach the safety of the central reservation gave me a set of friction plates that had turned to evil black goo and a set of steel plates that were a lovely cheerful shade of blue.

    My daily rider didn't, but ISTR one of my spares bikes did. If you ever go to the UK I'll give you the address of the lock-up where I last saw it if you want to chance looking after a decade and a half :D.

    I agree that the round tank models look really good. A shame they largely dropped that styling in about 1977 and the later square tank jobs are far more common. Apart from, as you note, the 350 which escaped the treatment but which is relatively rare. Not sure why. I guess it was up against the closely related but more familiar (in the UK at least) Jawa 350.

    It's not so much that CZs are bad in any absolute sense, but compared to their contemporaries they are rather unexciting, suffered from poor quality control from the factory and have enough limitations and niggling faults that they are difficult to improve past a certain point. When I got my first equally cheap, equally Communist MZ250 I realized just how outdated the CZs and Jawas were. Kind of like a dull, rather outdated 1950s British bike (and the British did produce an awful lot of dull bikes as well as all those Bonnies and Vincents) but without the cachet.

    Add to that the fact that, apart from my first, I never paid for one because folk were so desperate to clear the things out of their sheds, and you may be able to see why I piss myself laughing when I see them advertised in Just Bikes as "rare classic" for sums that could get you a complete Brit four-stroke twin with the potential to be a substantially better bike.

    I liked mine, don't get me wrong. But even a new one ain't worth the $4-5k that I've seen at times.
  7. What a great read, thank you once again MrB. I can quite easily see the braking power being superior to a z200 - I sometimes think I'd stop quicker if dug my heels into the ground.
  8. #9 QuarterWit, Aug 15, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 13, 2015
  9. And here's further evidence... (Of Jame's sadness, or QW's prickery, I'm not sure)

    Anyway, James made it there and back, so I won the bet and QW had to pay up!
  10. wounds like a death rattle at the start.
  11. Nah, those are perfectly normal Eastern Bloc stroker noises :D.

    I'm disturbed by the lack of copious clouds of blue smoke though.

    Ah, my mistake, there they are now :LOL:.
  12. #13 MV, Aug 16, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 13, 2015
    Nice, I like the Safety Volleys!

    Good write up PatB, almost makes me want to own an old stroker. Almost. Maybe a jap one...
  13. I note that Devery's a right foot kicker, like many folk faced with a LHS kickstart. Oddly enough, I never had a problem using my left. Obviously there's no choice if you're astride the bike, but even when starting it on the stand, as shown, I used to find it more natural to use my left foot in a mirror image of the standard RHS starting technique. Funny how personal preferences work out.

    MZ 250s are a good option too. Anything after the introduction of the five speed box in the mid 70s is surprisingly sporting to ride, and can be improved relatively easily. Mine used to eat contemporary Jap 250s (CB250N, XS250 etc) for breakfast and could stay with a healthy, stock RD250 on anything that wasn't dead straight. The 125/150 models were nowhere near as good. The engine felt archaic and was handicapped by a four speed gearbox. Handling was good though.

    It's actually the gearbox that is most limiting in the CZs too. Four speeds, wide ratios and a relatively slow, long-travel change mean that the engine can only be tuned to a limited extent because there is no way of coping with a narrow powerband.

    Of course, there is also the point that, if you own a petroil lubed stroker, everything else you own, along with every morsel of food or drop of liquid you consume, will bear a fine but detectable coating of Castrol Super 2T :sick:.
  14. Nice lookin' CZ. What are the other two bikes? Cool 'old school' trio!

  15. SR500s them....
  16. Ahahahaha. If you're to meet us we're the least cool people ever.
  17. Speak for yourself!
  18. Yes, I checked out your blogs & worked out they were SRs!
  19. Great read Pat. Feels quite close to home and I think you sum up CZ ownership quite well.