After exploring MZ’s origins behind the Iron Curtain and back in time to DKW, Nigel Shuttleworth now tackles a distinctly sticky subject. Why would you buy and ride a commie stinkwheel today?
After exploring MZ’s origins behind the Iron Curtain and back in time to DKW, Nigel Shuttleworth now tackles a distinctly sticky subject. Why would you buy and ride a commie stink wheel today?
So why would you want to buy an MZ in 2017? I’m talking about the Deutsche Demokratische Republik two-strokes, not the later MuZ four-strokes, although some of those are highly desirable and were made to the same quality standards as any equivalent make in the day. Old ES and TS models are VMCC eligible, they’re a lot cheaper to buy than a Brit equivalent such as a Bantam, Fanny B, James or any other Villiers-engined machine, and MZ spares are cheap and plentiful. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a Triumph Tiger Cub or an Ariel Arrow (had one back then; in fact I also had a Leader) or a Bantie but I’m a poor pensioner so cheap is the first consideration.
Brit stuff comes pricey nowadays, even in bits in boxes. I also like winter projects. Nothing too serious, like a complete nut and bolt strip down and cutting the wiring loom out, perhaps more of a ‘refurbishment’ job. I actually trained and worked as a motorcycle mechanic for a while in my yoof but I’m old and lazy now. I just like a bit of a hobby to get me from under her feet for a few hours every once in a while.
When Gumtree said there was a 1986 MZ TS125 less than ten miles away, for sale at not a lot of money, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at it. The owner removed a tarp from rather a sorry little lump standing forlornly by a lamppost to reveal a bit of a curate’s egg; good in parts. The most obvious problem was a large dent in the tank from when the MZ had been knocked over by a car as it turned around in the narrow street. The driver left the scene without leaving a note, of course. The bike’s frame and engine had been repainted several years ago and would clean up, but the tinware and chrome weren’t brilliant. The owner, a research scientist, told me that the engine didn’t work although he’d had a new battery and spark plug fitted. I later found the invoice, and he’d paid £189 to a local workshop to get it running, and it still wouldn’t go.
We haggled and eventually settled on £325, half the advertised price. In view of the unresolved non-running issues and the dented tank it was probably fair to both parties. The Chinese say ‘if the deal is good for you, and it’s good for me, then it’s a good deal.’ Great philosophers, the Chinese!
Back in the garage, I began a thorough inspection and compiled a to-do list. Engine first. If I couldn’t get it going then there wouldn’t be a lot of point spending money on the tank and paintwork. Plan B would be instigated: strip it and sell as spares on eBay. The known problem with MZs is that their crankcase seals go hard and leak if left standing for a while, especially out in the street. However removing the engine is only a forty minute job – although, as I don’t have a bench, floor level is only sufferable for about ten minutes at a time. I have to stand up, get my wife to massage my back and moan a lot.
The other areas for attention included the carb, which was full of green snot (modern bio-ethanol fuels degrade very rapidly when stood for anything over six weeks), and the ignition system. I noted all the parts I needed and telephoned Phil Speakman at the MZ Shop. Phil is past president of the MZ Riders’ Club and there is nothing he doesn’t know about two-stroke MZs in all their various forms. With next-day delivery, the rebuild could start.
Putting it all back together, I noticed that the fins around one side of the head/ barrel joint were darkened with traces of oil. There is no head gasket on an MZ, the alloy head sits straight onto an iron liner. I spent hours with valve grinding paste on a sheet of glass with the head in my hand making circular motions. I intermittently cleaned off the paste and checked the head on another sheet of glass against the light, until it was dark all the way round whichever way I turned it. Putting the head back on dry, all that’s needed is very careful torquing down, doing ‘opposites’, to no more than 12lb/ft. The studs are M6 and very, very easy to strip.
Then I set the ignition timing. The carb was carefully reassembled with its correct float height, the throttle slide needle on the second from bottom (slightly rich in the mid-range to let everything bed in) and the engine was all ready to go back in.
Employ the well-known MZ starting routine: four kicks with enrichment lever fully back and ignition off to charge the crankcase. Then ignition on and she lit up first kick! Well, ‘smoked up’ might be a better phrase here. Wide grin of self-satisfaction.
I could now move on to other departments, such as the brakes. These were never really very effective on an MZ as the cable disappears into the front hub and the lever is too short to give an effective pull. The headstock and swinging arm bearings were also on the list, along with the electrics, again never really very good with 6V (sings ‘candle in the wind’). I decided that now would be a good moment to MoT and tax her before tackling the cosmetics. Unfortunately this is when I came across a bit of a problem with the paperwork – the engine number in the V5 didn’t match the one on the crankcase!
When I’d collected the bike I was given two large box files stuffed full of invoices, past MoTs, several instruction books and a lot of other guff. When I started delving I found a few invoices and a service book for another MZ of the same year but registered in Kent, whereas invoices to other previous owners all seemed to indicate Liverpool as my MZ’s home town (well, the frame that is). That led to another thing: further research revealed that a previous owner had transferred the registration C??? KOP from yet another bike sometime in the past. Well, you would do, if you were a Liverpool supporter, wouldn’t you? I eventually worked out that the Kent-registered TS125 had kindly donated its engine to my MZ frame. With help from the DVLA, quite a lot as it happens, we got it all sorted with a correct V5C, an MoT and tax all in the space of three weeks.
Tank and sidepanels next. Unfortunately as the dent was right on a corner of the petrol tank it could not be taken out easily and I began the search for a replacement. Although the MZ Shop carries almost all cycle parts and engine spares, the tin bits are a lot harder to source here in the UK. I did find a tank on the internet but it was off a field bike in pretty poor condition and the seller wanted £90 for it. Add the postage and that was a third of what I paid for the whole bike! By this time I had joined the MZ Riders’ Club and, at the monthly meeting of the Stafford section, someone told me to search on German eBay. Wilf Green imported 14,000 TS125s over the fourteen or so years of production, and most of them are now in our kitchen utensils, so the UK is not the best source of parts. However, Zschopau churned out nearly a quarter of a million of this model, mostly for the home market, so the advice I received to look to Germany made sense. I found exactly what I needed in a classified ad; a secondhand tank in very good condition at €30. A few ‘my hovercraft is full of eels’ messages courtesy of Google translate (although Christoph always replies in perfect English), and for an extra €11 he DHL’d it next day. Brilliant! However it was orange and I wanted to return the MZ to its original colours which the V5C stated were black and silver. So started one of the most frustrating weeks I’ve ever spent in the garage. When I was young and doing up a bike (mostly because I’d thrown it up the road and spoiled the nice shiny paintwork) Nitromors took off the old paint and a couple of cellulose rattle cans put the colour back into its cheeks. Not with today’s paint stripper, oh no!
Unfortunately our beloved and highly respected health and safety (that’s an ironic joke) has forced Nitromors (there are other brands available but all are equally as ineffectual) to remove the active chemical from the list of ingredients and it doesn’t strip paint any more. I followed the instructions to the letter: apply a good thick coat all over the tank, leave for eight hours, then another coat and the paint will drop off before your very eyes. Only it doesn’t. I might as well have gone to the bathroom cabinet and taken out the tube of KY jelly. It would have had the same effect; make the tank nice and slippery but leave the paint untouched. In the end it took a Black & Decker and a wire brush at 7000rpm. Three days later we had a paint-free tank.
Rattle-can paint has also been emasculated by H&S. It’s no longer petrol-resistant cellulose but is acrylic-based and melts at the first sniff of benzene. A couple of drips from the Morrison’s Standard 95 nozzle and the tank bubbles and blisters – salad dressing would do just as well as today’s rattle cans. So unfortunately the more expensive professional epoxy paint job is the only choice.
Although they weren’t too bad cosmetically, I decided to have the two side panels painted at the same time to complete the return to the original paint scheme, so the paint stripping started all over again. A local car body shop agreed to spray the tank and panels for not a lot of money. They sprayed the filler/primer undercoat and I collected the three items to flat them, then returned the tank and two side panels to be finished in 2K gloss black. I had to wait a couple of
weeks until there was a car job in black going through the paint booth so Paul didn’t have to set up just for my tiny bits of tin. The end result is a lot harder surface and deeper finish than the factory would have produced thirty years ago, so it does lose some authenticity. But I was never looking for a show winner, just a winter project which would yield a useable motorcycle at the end. And that’s exactly what I’ve achieved.
I’ve done a thousand miles since the refurb and the MZ is running very well. I’ve seen 60mph on the clock, which is at about 5500rpm in top, and it cruises nicely at 50 with very little vibration. At 500 miles I carried out some plug chops and dropped the needle one notch which immediately improved the mid-throttle response and it also now revs out to 6000 in the gears. The four-speed box is a little agricultural and needs a firm hand (foot, I should say) to ensure it goes cleanly through to the next gear, although neutral is easy to find – for which there’s a nice bright yellow light in the clock. Oh, and as its the ‘Sports’ model it has a rev counter as well as a speedo.
The brakes are surprisingly effective and they’ve now passed through two MoTs without any bother. The one matter which still collects an ‘advisory’ every year is the lighting; being 6V there’s not enough juice to get it all the way back to the rear light cluster. Wink left or right indicator: wink all including the rear and brake lights. Well, at least car drivers take notice of a small motorcycle winking for Christmas. They stay well clear until I’ve made whatever manoeuvre I’ve set my mind on, although no one else knows whether I mean turn left, turn right stop or go!
There are other motorcycles in the garage but the MZ is my preferred choice for the two mile nip into town. It’s easy to park, goes around and through traffic and, yes, it does actually attract quite a lot of interest. On several occasions I’ve come out of the bank to see old boys muttering ‘I ’ad one a them stinkwheels, go on forever.’ In total my TS125 stands me in at £605 including the initial purchase. It was great fun to do up, even with some frustrations thrown in from time to time. It starts well (fourth kick) and runs very well.
Two months ago I mentioned how MZ owners used to be the butt of everyone’s humour. But as an affordable classic, and MZ is no joke.
Right: The rev range is quite limited, from about 4000 to all of 11bhp at 5750rpm. It ticks over nicely at 1500rpm and the gears go in with a nice solid clunk. The engine is surprisingly smooth with little vibration and it’ll buzz along all day at...
Running. Now for a little hooliganery
Quality everywhere. MZ singles sold well in the UK, mostly because their high quality did not reflect their low prices
Right: The DDR had access to bauxite so a lot of parts were cast alloy and very good quality. Steel was sourced from the USSR and was rubbish (probably not even that good!). Today all the alloy spares are easy to obtain but you can’t get panel work,...
Left: More cast alloy; the entire rear subframe is made from it. This is a bit of a weak spot as the rear lights earth back to the battery through the alloy subframe which connects to the pressed steel front frame. Where they connect, electrolytic...
Left: The suspension actually works, even when it’s pretty old and the mileage is high. Although the springs are exposed, the damper rods are not. And this is the simplest adjuster ever Right: There’s more good quality alloy in the wheels, with both...
Left: The lights – 6V – are a little marginal by today’s standards, so problems earthing them do not help in any way Right: A gathering of the (MZ) clan. Nigel’s TS125 at the 2016 New Year VMCC gathering at Leek
MZ kickstart procedure is three kicks with the ignition off, enrichment lever fully open (it’s not a choke) to charge the crankcase with air/fuel and then ignition on. It starts first kick even in the coldest weather. Nigel has never got used to the...