Words and pictures by Simon Bradley
MZ. Readers of a certain age will immediately have images of small, smoky two-strokes, blessed with rather more function than form, that almost everyone has owned at some point. There’s a good reason why so many of us had them, too. They may not have been very pretty, they may not have been very fast. But they handled well enough, and once you managed to get them wound up they went OK.
And, and this is the important bit, they never, ever, broke down. They were also stupidly cheap. All of which added up to the perfect workhorse cum winter hack, especially if you normally relied on Italian or British engineering (and electrics) for your two wheeled kicks.
But time and technology wait for no man. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany saw availability of far more advanced, more developed and, frankly, sexier products in the East. Add to that an increasingly vocal and powerful environmental lobby that saw smoky, smelly two strokes as an abomination needing to be stamped out and the writing was very much on the wall. MZ had to adapt or, like their four-wheeled equivalent, Trabant, die.
Now MZ started off as an innovative and clever company, and while many saw the influx of cheap Western goods as a disaster, they saw instead the opportunity presented by the availability of technically advanced engines and suspension. And they made the most of it, too, with a series of bikes powered by other people’s engines that were still very competitively priced, still bore some distinct styling cues from the older bikes and were still reliable and well made.
But a company like MZ were never going to be happy using other people’s engines to get bikes out of the door, and their shareholders (a novel idea for an Eastern European company) would always be nervous about being at the mercy of another, potentially rival, firm. So they decided to build their own bike.
MZ, you may recall, built their reputation on cheap, cheerful workhorses. Their first post-reunification bikes were based on the ultra-reliable but rather agricultural Rotax 500, and the resulting Skorpion was really very much of the same mould. So when their new Malaysian financiers gave them the green light to go ahead with their own engine design, it was inevitable that they would come up with something similar.
Except, of course, that they didn’t. MZ’s first new engine for at least thirty years was going to go into a 1000cc sports bike. Well, why not?
Engineering a four cylinder engine is a major challenge, and inevitably would result in something a little bland. So the decision was made that the bike would be a twin. A parallel twin, at that – a configuration that is supposed to be an ideal combination in terms of power delivery and torque.
Balance shafts and accurate engineering took care of the vibration inherent in the design, with fuel injection and a clever engine management system looking after the power characteristics. Lots and lots of research determined that there was nothing to be gained from an alloy frame, so an elegant steel bridge secures the engine to the alloy swingarm and yokes. Suspension is courtesy of Marzocchi while brakes come from Nissin and look the same as those fitted to the Honda SP-2.
The fairing, screen, tank and seat unit are the result of many hours in the wind tunnel to give optimum cooling and protection. At least that is what we were told when we were given a presentation on the bike at the Millbrook Proving Ground.
We were fortunate enough to collect a demonstrator the Wednesday before, so by the time we go to Millbrook we had already had the chance to rack up a few hundred miles and get a good impression of what the bike is really like. And now, after having it for a week and nearly 1200 miles, I think I’m pretty sure I know where I stand. But before delivering a verdict, let’s have a look at the bike in the flesh.
The MZ 1000S is a big bike. Similar in size to a VFR, I’d say, so rather larger than a Ducati 1000DS, it’s most obvious comparison. More on that later.
Styling is distinctive and clearly driven by function rather than form. But that’s not a criticism – the MZ 1000S is a good looking bike, even in silver, never one of my favourite colours. There are myriad neat detailing touches, like the small lip around the fairing cutouts that massively increase the throughput of cooling air passing the radiator, yet it manages to avoid being bitty or fussy.
The headlight array is a clever design, managing to be both efficient and good looking, the rear light being similarly unique and perfectly adequate. And yet traces of the Eastern Bloc remain, with a massive, apparently handmade hanger for the number plate. Great for hooking your cargo net to, mind you, and not really a detraction from the bike itself. Talking of cargo nets, the 1000S has pop out hooks below the pillion seat to make securing luggage far easier.
An interesting quirk is the positioning of the silencers, which at first glance look as though they have been incorrectly fitted. The left silencer attaches outside the pillion footrest while the right goes inside. The result is a slightly lop-sided rear end but it’s just a result of the asymmetric frame that allowed the rear shock to sit next to the battery for mass centralisation.
Plus, of course, the fact that the chain is on the right instead of the left as we have come to expect. In fact, the only criticism I can find of the bike before I ride it is the instrumentation, which looks as though the speedo could be a little hard to read in the heat of the moment.
On to riding, then. The first thing I noticed was the way that everything fitted me perfectly. And I do mean perfectly. Somebody has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort on the ergonomics. The MZ 1000S is a supremely comfortable motorbike.
Pulling away reveals that the engine is reasonably smooth for a parallel twin but that it doesn’t really work properly until 3000rpm. Below that threshold there is rather a lot of transmission snatch and juddering as the firing pulses try to tie everything in knots. The clutch, though, is light and easy to use while the gearbox, which started off very notchy, got progressively lighter and more accurate as the miles increased.
The brakes are absolutely fantastic, offering bags of feel and the sort of retardation that an earlier MZ rider would only have achieved by running into an unlit skip. In town, the MZ is nimble, narrow and comfortable to move through traffic. The mirrors, which blur at low revs, clear and stay clear above 3000rpm and afford an excellent view. They are also still narrow enough to allow proper filtering and can be pulled back flat for those narrow gaps.
The horn is excellent, too, so the MZ 1000S makes a pretty decent town bike.
But you don’t buy a sports bike. or even a sports tourer, for town work. Out of town on the open roads, the MZ is a revelation. The fully adjustable suspension is very well controlled, straight out of the box without any fiddling, resulting in a bike that handles bumps very well, even cranked over and under power, while remaining comfortable. Again I am reminded forcefully of the Ducati 1000DS.
Like the Ducati, the MZ responds equally well to the tucked in and tidy or the hanging off like a gibbon approach to cornering, though turn-in feels rather sharper on the MZ, allowing a more aggressive approach. In fact, as we got better acquainted, it became apparent that this new MZ gets better the harder it gets ridden.
Clutchless gearchanges, which seemed out of the question while touring around, become perfectly reasonable when pressing on, and the free revving engine makes overtakes a doddle. The MZ 1000S seems to be most at home on fast A-roads, ideally with lots of roundabouts. Which explains why I was grinning so widely after getting home from Millbrook.
And from today’s photo shoot in Sussex. The handling circuit at Millbrook, while subject to a rather low speed limit, allowed us to get the most from the handling (hence the name, I suppose) in a controlled environment. Weird riding on something that looks exactly like a road but isn’t one – same signs, road markings and so on but nothing coming the other way and marshals on hand for when it all goes wrong. Brilliant place for taking photos, too.
The speed bowl showed that 100mph is totally effortless on the MZ, but that came as no surprise. In fact I suspect that slightly lower gearing might make the already responsive MZ even better, as well as losing the low rpm judder (or at least making it easier to ride through). The engine is revving so slowly at 100mph that you are never going to get to full power in top unless you’re on the Autobahn. And even then you’re going to need a big run-up.
However, ignoring of of that, there are very few ways I can think of to cover ground quicker or in a more relaxed way than the MZ 1000S. Although the term ‘deceptively quick’ is something of a cliche, it’s an appropriate one.
While we’re on the engine and transmission, it’s worth pointing out that the MZ 1000S makes a decent amount of power. A very decent amount indeed – the 115bhp quoted feels about right and comes in smoothly and progressively though there is a delightful kick towards the naughty end of the rev counter. Despite being happy to rev, the MZ sips fuel like a very frugal thing, doing a comfortable 200 miles a tank though the reserve light comes on with over 6 litres left to go.
Probably not a bad thing, though, because the MZ is not a light motorcycle and I wouldn’t fancy pushing it a long way, even with an empty tank. The gearbox came in for a bit of criticism at first as it is rather, um, positive in action and can be a little hard on the toes. But as we put on more miles the gearbox got better and easier to use, while the occasional touch transmission snatch seemed to become less frequent, too.
In this job, as you can imagine, I get to ride quite a few different things. The MZ gets the award for the most attention any bike has got when I’ve parked it up. Because wherever we went, people wanted to look at it and ask about it.
It’s a unique looking bike, a unique sounding bike (thanks to some nifty exhaust plumbing and careful work on the firing order) and I suspect will remain reasonably exclusive. MZ offer as wide a range of colours as you can think of as standard, and will do any colour you wish for a small extra charge, which will add to the unique appeal of the bike. There is also a vast range of accessories either already available or on the way, including touring gearing, a taller screen, fitted hard or soft luggage, heated grips, a GPS installation and so on.
In fact, talking of awards, last year the Ducati 1000DS won our inaugural Bike of the Year award. The MZ 1000S is certainly a contender for this year’s award, doing everything the Ducati does at least as well and some things notably better. It really is a very, very good motorbike.
But that’s partly the problem. Because those of us who remember MZ remember them as cheap bikes, while those who don’t remember them from before don’t associate this seemingly new brand with anything at all. And the MZ 1000S is not a cheap motorbike. At just under £7000. it’s priced near the top of it’s market segment.
It is, in all probability, the best bike in that segment. And it is, almost certainly, worth every penny of that price. But it’s up against some serious and well established competition.
Are you brave or different enoughto run against the herd?
I hope it is the sales success it deserves to be, because there is no doubt in my mind that this is by far the best, most enjoyable sports bike (as opposed to race replica) that I have ridden this year.
- Probs with mz moskito 125 cc?
- Buy 1995 MZ MuZ Silver Star Classic 500 Custom Rotax on 2040motos
- Industriewerke Ludwigsfelde – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- First Ride: 2004 MZ 1000S – Road Tests: First Rides – Visordown
- MZ motorcycle and two-wheeler work GmbH / Label name (GDR) – Economy-point.org