MZ Baghira Enduro – 2002
I have to start this road test with a confession. I’ve actually owned an MZ – in fact I’ve owned two in my long career as a motorcyclist. Why should that be a confession?
Well, let’s be honest, for many years MZ was a marque associated with cheap and cheerful commuter bikes. Bikes with single-cylinder two-stroke engines that produced a distinctive ring-ding engine sound and a cloud of blue smoke to go with it. They came with a paper bag for the owner to wear over his head.
Now all that has changed. Glenn Le Santo swung his leg over the exotically named Baghira to find out if the MZ factory really has come into the new age.
After the re-unification of Germany the East German firm was introduced to the full glare of capitalism and modernised. The products were dragged into the late 20th Century and the Baghira, with its Yamaha-derived 660cc four-stroke engine is a perfect example of the continuation of this progress.
The first thing you notice when you mount this bike is how bloody high it is. I’m a six-footer and if you want to ride the Baghira Enduro you’ll need to be tall. If you don’t have the luxury of excess inseam then look at one of the lower seat models in the MZ ‘street-moto’ range instead.
But this is the off-road model and as such it can justify the 930mm seat height to give it the necessary ground clearance and suspension travel for work in the dirt. Once you’re underway it won’t hamper you, but should you need to put your feet down, or paddle the bike around in a car park, you’ll feel that altitude.
The next thing that’ll strike you is just how many quality names there are on this machine. WP Suspension, Pirelli tyres, Yamaha engine and Italian Grimeca brakes. The bike is dripping with the motorcycle equivalent of designer labels.
And it’s no parts-bin hotchpotch either; the parts all fit together and work together well. The build quality is excellent, including stainless steel pipes and silencer; the bike doesn’t feel like a budget machine in any way.
On the road this initial impression is reinforced, the big 660cc liquid-cooled, single cylinder motor, chunters away happily. If the engine looks familiar that’s because it’s been seen previously in a number of road and off-road Yamahas. It’ll pull from low down and it’ll also rev willingly all the way to the ton!
It’s not silky smooth, but what do you expect from a big single? At the same time it’s no jackhammer, and even flat out you can still hold onto the handlebar grips. Anyone who’s ridden a single from the distant past, such as any BSA 500, will know that this is progress.
The suspension is biased for off-road work. Push it hard and the long travel forks will start to wander. Even when riding it as a road bike, and there’s something about this bike that makes you want to really ride it, the handling isn’t alarming. You learn to read the feedback and I actually found it fun taking the bike to the edge and getting the suspension walking around a bit.
It made a refreshing change from riding a bike with more performance than I can possibly use on a country road.
The Pirelli MT60 tyres are well suited to road use, allowing silly lean angles and only start to drift if you really take the p***. Riding around on a country back road is great fun on the Baghira. Conversely, they are absolutely hopeless on anything more than a little mild off road stuff. Riding up a hard-packed farm track, on a surface made up of stones in dry chalk, the tyres gripped pretty well.
But on grass or loose mud the rear tyre just spins up and the front goes wherever it pleases. I soon got into trouble when attempting to get the bike up a mild slope for photography. The rear refused to grip and we had to manually haul the 170kgs bike up the slope.
A pair of more dirt oriented tyres might be a better idea on a bike with an ‘enduro’ label.
The Grimeca brakes feel a little wooden at first, but this is has a lot to do with the long 280mm travel off-road suspension. When you pull the front brake lever in hard the bite from the single front stopper causes the suspension to dive like a submarine being shelled by a destroyer. This robs the rider of the ‘brick-wall’ effect you get squeezing the lever on any modern sportsbike.
But actually the bite is there, and the Grimeca is doing a good job, you just have to re-calibrate your braking brain to cope with all that suspension travel. The rear brake has plenty of power and a surprising amount of feel, very useful for pushing the rear end out on the loose stuff.
While the suspension is specifically tuned to off-road work, it can actually be very useful on today’s appalling roads. The front forks and single rear WP shock soak up the all-too-regular cracks and potholes thrown at you on any English country road. I didn’t get a chance to take the bike into the city but I reckon it would make a great commuter bike as long as you have long legs for getting your foot firmly down at greasy junctions.
The seat height might give some a touch of vertigo but being able to see over traffic can be a great safety aid in town riding. Again, the suspension will be useful for coping with those potholes and the brakes are plenty powerful enough for dealing with the ‘sorry I didn’t see you’ brigade. The punchy engine gives plenty of poke for the traffic light grand prix and the 100mph top speed is plenty enough, even for a bit of dual carriageway commuting.
The super-light clutch and sweet five-speed gearbox further aid the bike’s ability to cope with fun or work rides.
The engine, which comes to MZ courtesy of Yamaha, is a gem. It’s surprisingly quick on pick up and revs pretty hard for a 660cc single. Reliability is proven; this motor has been around the block and back.
Twin pipes exit from the five valve head to help the engine dispense exhaust gasses efficiently. This multitude of valves plays a big part in the engine’s ability to rev and generally breathe deeply. Although hard-mounted in the steel tube frame, the vibration is well within the comfort zone thanks to a single balancer-shaft deep in the motor.
A 500 mile day might give the rider a bit of white-finger but the thinly padded and steeply angled saddle would have beaten your butt and balls into submission long before that happened!
The MZ Baghira has a growing band of bikes competing for its market segment, not least of all a collection of alternatives within the MZ stable. The Street Moto version would better suit those who have no intention of ever taking the bike off Tarmac. With smaller wheels, shorter suspension and thus a lower seat height it’ll also be a wiser choice for shorter riders.
How does it compare to the competition from other marques? The answer is simple; it doesn’t have the kudos of a CCM or a KTM in the growing ‘SuperMoto’ class, but it does have the build quality and on price it wins hands down.
Overall length/width/height: 2300mm/850mm/1290mm
Wheelbase: 1530 mm
Castor angle: 28 degrees
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