Polskie Motorcykle Warsaw concerto
A work visit to Poland last year had me looking for anything motorcycle.
My first success was a ticket to the Polish round of the Speedway World Championship where I was joined by 54,000 rowdy Poles who absolutely love the sport. I also discovered the Muzeum Techniki where there was a display of Polish motorcycles. I had no real knowledge of any Polish motorcycle brands before my visit so it was an interesting experience. A glossy catalogue (albeit in Polish) listed all the motorcycles on display in chronological order.
In overview, Polish motorcycle history was pretty much dictated by the country’s history. Poland gained independence in 1918 after 150 years of German-Austrian and Russian rule. During that time everything was imported. Independence gave both government and private businesses the incentive to design and manufacture locally. The government began proceedings by deciding to replace its military motorcycles. The other major force was a pre-WWII government policy which created a special market for maximum 100cc motorcycles (christened Setki – Polish for Hundreds) because they were exempt from government tax and you didn’t need a license to ride one. They became the most popular model and nearly every local manufacturer produced one. All was going well until the 1st September 1939 when Poland was again invaded by Germany, bringing production to a halt. Many of the factories were ransacked and equipment was sent to Germany. Many of the engineers were either killed or trans- ported to German slave camps. Then in 1945 the Red Army captured Poland and businesses restarted, nationalised under Soviet control. Various brands of motorcycle were made by either one factory or another and sometimes under the same roof. Rationalisation also meant only one major Polish engine manufacturer so many machines were very similar.
In 1956 the Poles made a stand against Stalin’s rule (labelled “Gomułka’s thaw”) resulting in the suppression of centralization of the industry and companies began manufacturing whatever they wanted. A change in government policy dropped the engine capacity for motorcycles that could be ridden without a license to 50cc which resulted in a proliferation of mopeds. Polish motorcycle manufacture shrunk then finally disappeared due to the invasion of cheap European and later Japanese motorcycles.
The earliest machine on exhibit was a 1932 Sokol 1000 (Sokol translates to Falcon). In 1927 the Polish Army decided to replace their Harley-Davidson imports. The brief was based on a Harley type frame and Indian type V-twin engine. It took until 1930 before a suitable machine was developed, designed and built by Centraine Warsztaty Samochodowe (Central Automotive Workshop) in Warsaw. The display machine was a sidecar version. Designed for the tough Polish conditions, it allowed better handling and greater off-road speed than the original Harley, while fuel could be manually injected into the heads to aid starting in -40° temperatures. The throttle was on the left and the sidecar on the right so was easy for a single rider to push through boggy conditions while under power. The engine was a 995.4cc, 4-stroke, 45 degree V-twin with 4:1 compression producing 13.2hp at 2,000rpm. It is thought that the Polish Army had about 1600 units before the 1939 invasion. Another Sokol, the 1935 600 RT M211 was produced for military and civilian use. The frame and girder fork front were similar to the Ariel raced successfully by the designer, Tadeusz Rudaswki. The engine was a 4-stroke, single cylinder, side valve, 600cc unit producing 15hp at 3,900rpm. A 3-speed hand or foot change gearbox moved the solo/sidecar version with weights of 164/239kg to a top speed of 110/90kph. Rudawski introduced innovations such as oil injection into the cylinder, oil tank in the clutch housing and rubber engine mounts. The cassette type gearbox included patented eccentric mounts for easy chain adjustment. The front and rear wheels were separate from the brake drums and so were interchangeable. About 4,000 units were sold by 1939. Representing 1937 was a sports model Sokol, the 500RS (Rudawski Sport), developed using the 600RT frame. The engine was new with overhead valves and triple valve springs and was trialled in 7.5:1 and 9.5:1 compression ratios producing 18hp at 4,500rpm and 22hp at 5000rpm. Bore and stroke of 78mm x 106mm (496cc) and although the 500RS weighed 160kg the low compression version was good for 125km/h. Telescopic front forks were next to be added but the project was stopped and only
about five prototypes were made making the display bike very rare indeed. The Hundreds Moving to the late 1930’s we find examples of the many ‘Hundreds’ made in Poland. They all shared one common element – a 98cc, 3hp Villiers unit engine with 3-speed gearbox. The 1938 Neiman 98 was made by a company who were famous for sewing machines, then bicycles and finally motorcycles. The factory was in Grodno on the then Polish border which is now in Belarus. It is difficult to say whether the Nieman design was original, based on proven models or made under license. It is very similar in structure to some English lightweight motorcycles like Excelsior. Weighing just 70kg it was good for a 65kph top speed. Another company SHL started making the SHL 98 in 1938. Owner Rafał Ekielski went to Villiers in Great Britain, to study their production flow and
in May 1938 bought the rights to manufacture the Villiers 98cc 3hp engine. Not only documentation, but also equipment was brought from England. Rafal designed a frame of pressed channel sections and castings held together with screws. At 78kg, it was a little heavy and underpowered but was solid, reliable and competitively priced against the imports and local Sokols. In 1939 SHL were about to export to Turkey and they were working on a 200 and 350cc Villiers-powered machine with full suspension when the war came. The final 1938 exhibit was a Perkun 98. Warsaw Society Factory (WSF) Perkun initially specialised in boat and industrial engines. Struggling with the global recession in 1936 they employed a new manager, Jan Waskiewicz, who decided to build motorcycles using a tubular frame with friction damped single spring, trapezoidal pressed steel fork and a rigid rear. Initially their Villiers was imported but they built their own engine eventually. Weighing 70kg, the Perkun 98 was introduced at the Poznan International Fair in May 1938. Moving to 1939, on display was the Podowka 98. Powdoka translates to ‘Horsehoe’ as the company initially made horseshoes and nails. They imported their Villiers engine and also contracted to manufacture the Baker (James) frame under license. It was recorded that the Polish Army also used the Podkowa 98 for dispatch riders. Mass production started in the end of January 1939 but was stopped after about 130 units were built. Only 21 are known to survive today. The other 1939 exhibit was from the Sokol family and the last designed by Rudawski. Testing included 10,000km of continuous road use. The resultant Sokol 200 M411 was introduced just before the war broke out and the first unit was purchased by the son of the then Polish Prime Minister. The lightweight frame was made from ‘U’ shaped sheet steel section screwed together to form hollow sections. Frame flex allowed the rear wheel to move somewhat like suspension which they patented. The front fork was pressed steel with friction dampers and a single central spring. It was powered by a rubbermounted 2-stroke 199cc engine, producing 7hp at 4,000rpm. Weighing just 100kg, it was good for 85km/h. In August 1939 it famously made it 1986 metres up to the top of Polish mountain Kasprowy Wierch (Kasper Peak). Parts for 800 were made but only 78 were produced and this is one of the very few in existence.
Post war kickstart – badge engineering
The first post war exhibit started with a 1947 Sokol 125 M01. The Red Army takeover started the country manufacturing again in 1946, Sokol being the first Polish manufacturer to start production. Prewar leftover frames from the SHL factory were used and the resultant identical machines were badged either Sokol or SHL. The Sokol 125 took the M01 model number while the SHL became the SHL M02. They shared a new 125 (S01) engine patterned on the DKW RT125 with a 3-speed foot operated gearbox and 6V alternator. 203 motorcycles were built before the pre-war supplies were drained. A new expensive imported seamless steel tube frame copied from the DKW was developed to continue production of the Sokol, while the SHL frame retained the original, less expensive pressed metal design, both made at the CWS factory in Warsaw. Deemed too expensive, the Sokoł 125 was discontinued in 1950 and the SHL M04 became the only motorcycle available on the Polish market. The next exhibit jumped to the 1954 SHL M05. The front suspension was now a telescopic fork. Weight of the motorcycle was about 80kg and the top speed, 67kph. Around 12,000 units were produced in this one year. A sister 1954 exhibit was the WFM M06, one of the most popular motorcycles in the history of Poland. Slightly improved from the M05, production finished in 1966. It was cheap but
tough enough to handle post-war Polish roads. The 123cc 2-stroke single now produced 6.2hp at 4900rpm and gave the 96kg machine a top speed of 80km/h. The other 1954 exhibit was the WSK M06. This model was a twin brother of the WFM M06. The Wytwórnia Sprzetu Komunikacyjnego (WSK) factory in Swidnik near Lublin started motorcycle manufacture because the WMF factory wasn’t able to meet demand. This example was one of the first WSK motorcycles made when assembly began in September 1954. Mass production began in earnest in 1955. WSK continued to produce motorcycles until 1985 and in this time they produced a record 2 million motorcycles.
For something entirely different the next exhibit was a speedway bike, a 1955 FIS. The FIS was born out of the initials F for Fedki, I for Izewski (the engineers) and S for Stalowcy (their race club). The reason for building the first Polish engine for a speedway motorbike was to make them more affordable and racing more competitive. The engine was patterned off a JAP and produced by WSK in Rzeszów. It made its debut on April 30, 1954. At its official trial the FIS set a new track record and the machine was adopted by all Polish speedway riders. The 497cc single, produced 43hp at 6000rpm and propelled the 92kg beast to 100km/h in around 3 seconds. 1956 was represented by a Junak 07. This was a more contemporary motorcycle, much like the early Sokols and probably because some of the original Rudawski team were involved. Translated, Junak means Brave Young Men. It was the only 4-stroke domestic motorcycle manufactured in Poland after WWII. It was developed as a 500cc for heavy military use but ended up 350cc. It was first shown in 1954 but it took until 1956 to produce 30 units. The unit construction 349cc engine produced 17hp at 5700rpm and propelled the 165kg machine to 115kph.
The 1958 exhibit was a Motorower Rys (Motorower translates to Moped and Rys to Lynx) – the first-ever moped manufactured in Poland by Wroclaw by Zaklady Metalowe Wroclawiu. It was a beautiful design with telescopic front and friction damper swinging rear fork. Powered by the local SM-01, unit construction 2-stroke single 49.8cc engine producing 1.6hp at 5600rpm, and fitted with 2 gears, they were produced until 1964 and many were exported to socialist Cuba where they are still used today. Also in 1958, after six years break, SHL production was reactivated in its original factory, Huta Ludwików. It was the result of “Gomułka’s thaw” allowing manufacturing freedom. 1959 was represented by an Osa M50. Translated it means The Wasp which coincidently shares its
name with Vespa (‘Wasp’ in Italian) and was very similar in design. Made by WFM the Osa was released in February 1959. It was the only Polish scooter, and, although expensive, it sold well. Comfortable for two people it had big 14 inch diameter wheels and was powered by a 2-stroke 148cc S-06 engine with the cylinder lying horizontally. Representing 1960 was another moped the Motorower Komar 230 (Komar translates to Mosquito), an original Polish design. It was designed and manufactured by the ZZR (United Bicycle Factory) in Bydgoszcz and resembled a bicycle with its tubular frame and pedals. Initially fitted with a Simson Suhl 2-stroke engine from the GDR, the 1960 Komar 230 was fitted with an upgraded SM-02 version, still a 49.8cc 2-stroke producing 1.5hp. In 1961 alone about 4,000 Komars were sold, which represented more than 30% of the moped market. Everyone rode Komars – postmen, clerks, youngsters, adults, the working class. In 1968, production constituted 98% of the country’s 2-wheeled vehicle market. The Komar was manufactured until 1983. The 1961 exhibit was the SHL 11 which was introduced to the market that year. It had an Earl’s fork front end, enclosed chain case and was the first Polish motorcycle produced with an engine capacity of 175cc; a single cylinder, 2-stroke producing 9hp. Over 180,000 SHL M11’s were made. In 1962 the Escorts Group bought a license to manufacture the SHL in India. It was called the Rajdoot and was made there until 2005.
A little bit fancy
A most interesting and supposedly the ultimate SHL was the next exhibit, a 1968 175cc Gazela M017 (Gazela translates to Gazelle). The engine designation W2 was developed in cooperation with the Technical University of Krakow. They took the previous S32 engine and optimised the porting, increasing power by almost 50% and torque by over 33%. It was the first Polish motorcycle equipped with battery ignition and alternator. They also included provision for a later update to electric start. The 12 volt system was interesting as combined two 6 volt batteries connected in series. The Gazela showcased the developing Polish skills with large deep sheet metal pressings which enclosed the motorcycle. The chain was fully enclosed and there was even a ‘patent pending’ hinged cover over the fuel filler, which was part of a huge cowl that extended forward to encase the headlight. The wheels were covered in deeply valanced guards and the leading link forks had pressed metal covers encasing the sprung dampers. The rear swing arm was also pressed metal and had adjustable rear shock absorbers. This was an expensive motorcycle at almost twice the price of similar machines. Production ceased in 1970 and it is reported that 50,000 were sold – the last WFM motorcycle as the company moved on to manufacture trucks. 1974 was represented by the Motorower Romet 750. In 1971, ZZR merged with another bicycle company and created the brand name ‘Romet’ for their moped products. From that time, the Komar became the ‘Romet Komar’. The frame now had a telescopic front end and swing arm rear. The area between the wheels was opened up by moving the fuel tank over the rear wheel, making it more women and kid-friendly. It used a new improved 50cc S- 017 engine, allowing the pedal assist to be removed. A motorised trolley version for transporting goods was also developed. The 750 was manufactured until 1976.
Last motorcycles and mopeds
1985 was represented by a WSK 125 KOS (which translates to Blackbird). The WSK M06 B3 series began production in 1971. Production of the KOS began in 1979 powered by a 123cc, 2-stroke single. The machine on display was the very last one off the production line on the 30th October 1985 and was gifted to the Museum. It is reported that 41,540 units were made between 1979 and 1985 and this was the last motorcycle made in Poland. The last exhibit was a 1988 Motorower Chart 210 (which translates to Greyhound). It was introduced in 1988 and designed by a separate team of engineers in the Romet factory who dared to be different and worked secretly until the first prototype emerged. The result was more motorcycle than moped and it sold well because of its reliability, modernity and performance even though it was almost twice the price of the original Komar. Powered by a modern 49.8cc, 2-stroke single sourced from the Dezamet company, it produced 2.8hp at 5800rpm. It had larger brakes (125mm), and the Chart was loaded with features like a battery, electronic ignition, direction indicators and front and rear brake lights. It was a very comfortable moped thanks to the use of oil-damped suspension with 140mm of travel. Over 80,000 were produced before all Polish motorised twowheeled manufacture halted in 1994. The Museum is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Warsaw.
MAIN & ABOVE The two rooms of the Polish Motorcycle Exhibition in Warsaw.
BELOW The last motorcycle made in Poland, the 1985 123.5cc WSK Kos (Blackbird).
LEFT Poster depicting Polish Motorcycle manufacturers.
ABOVE & LEFT 1937 496cc Sokol (Falcon) 500 RS.
1935 995cc CWS MIII (Mark 3) later to become the Sokol 1000 (Falcon 1000).
497cc JIS Speedway bike from 1955.
1958 175cc SHL Gazela M17.
1956 350cc Junak M07.