Two-stroke roadsters were never more popular than in the third quarter of the last century. In this country, long-established Villiers was well placed to take advantage of the post-Second World War demand for affordable personal transport – supplying numerous assemblers and manufacturers – while BSA and others made complete machines. The pattern was repeated across the continent, with Italian makers in particular producing stylish small motorcycles and scooters.
And then Yamaha and Suzuki burst onto the scene offering performance and sophistication never previously seen – or expected – in strokers. Their 125s more than filled the ride-to-work void left by Bantams and Captains, and their quarter-litre jobs belied their modest size with quite incredible levels of performance.
Soon, even those rocket-ships had been eclipsed both in capacity and performance, and the future was looking bright… It was too good to last. Two-strokes had always been somewhat inefficient, but it didn’t seem to matter much when petrol was cheap, and pollution was a fact of industrial life. In the 1970s, though, fuel costs soared, the environmental movement got underway, and twostroke roadsters were quite suddenly out of favour in the developed West and the Far East.
In between those regions, though, the Iron Curtain obscured a Communist mini-world where things were little changed. Luxury was only for the elite, and environmental worries still took second place to the provision of economical personal transport. If that meant the market would be dominated by small two-strokes, then so be it. Russia made some – sporadically marketed under westernised names like Jupiter – and, more noticeably, MZs were produced in East Germany, while CZs and JAWAs were turned out in Czechoslovakia.
CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) was especially successful, and although little known in the West at the time, it actually became Europe’s second-biggest manufacturer in the 1950s. Communist rulers might have despised capitalist countries, but they weren’t averse to earning some of their currency, and a fairly low-key marketing operation saw some CZ (and their sister company JAWA) motorcycles appearing in Britain and America. They were kept in the public eye by political initiatives resulting in fairly successful and innovative racers, and by regular domination of their classes in the high-profile International Six Days Trial (ISDT).
Even more noticeably – as far as the everyday motorcyclist was concerned – technological know-how from the ISDT machines was fed into scramblers which dominated the scrambles scene in the mid-1960s. With regular television transmission of these events, and live spectators numbered in tens of thousands, few could continue to be unaware of the Czechoslovakian machines. Naturally, punters knew their roadsters had limited commonality with those competition bikes, but it was obvious that CZ was a factory with considerable two-stroke know-how, and the ability to make tough and practical motorcycles.
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