Monday, October 27, 2014

Searching for Jawa

Being interested in old motorcycles, the Czech Republic for me means Jawa and CZ. Jawa is well known for its 350cc two stroke twin that they have produced for decades. Jawa has also been well known for its methanol burning speedway and grass track bikes, but there is much more to Jawa than that. CZ, the 'other' Czech manufacturer used to be synonymous for fast motocross bikes, as well as simple 250cc two stroke singles. The collapse of the iron curtain changed all that. Many of the former east european motorcycle factories couldn't adapt, or not quickly enough, to the new situation. Factories that used to be the biggest in Europe like MZ have completely disappeared. The Jawa speedway section is now a separate company that has no links to the Jawa selling road bikes. CZ has disappeared as well. But what about Jawa? Do they still exist, and if so where are they and what are they doing?

Jawa is a motorcycle factory with a long history. Frantisek Janecek started his motorcycle factory in 1929, using a propriety 500cc engine from Wanderer. Wanderer was about to stop production as he thought competing with BMW in the looming recession was impossible. They combined forces and Jawa (JAneck WAnderer) was born. They made a whole range of smaller capacity motorcycles for the man in the street. Less well known perhaps is that Jawa made, in my opinion, in the 1950s one of the most beautiful 500cc 4-stroke twins ever made. Jawa used to be a big factory producing a range of motorcycles yet when I started motorcycling they only made the 350cc 2-stroke twin. So what had happened? The introduction of the damned Austin Mini, that's what happened. With the introduction of the Mini, the man in the street could suddenly afford a car and as a result many motorcycle manufacturers ran into financial problems. 

I know there are quite a few people that love the Mini, I'm not one of them. Especially not when I find myself in a traffic jam full of cars. If all the people in front of me would be riding bikes, we wouldn't have a traffic jam… and more importantly I wouldn't have been in it! Sir Alec Insigionis is in my book responsible for the disappearance of many motorcycle manufacturers and the creator of many more traffic jams. 

There wasn't much wrong with the Jawa 350, there just wasn't as big a market for it anymore. Later in the 1980s, a whole new market was created: motorcycles as luxury items. If that was an improvement or not remains to be seen. The newly created market wanted excessive sports bikes, or mega cruisers or big luxurious tourers. Jawa didn't have anything in that segment, nor did MZ or CZ. They had always made sensible motorcycles and as their market share had diminished they didn't have the money to design any of the above.

So what happened to Jawa? Well, quite honestly? I don't know. There is a Jawa website, or seems to be, which would indicate they still exists. Problem is that it isn't clear if it is an official website or not. If it is then it certainly hadn't been updated for a long, long time when I wrote this as the latest 'news' on the site dates from 3 years ago. Looking around the web I found a few websites from Jawa distributors, but this could be new old stock. Strangely enough the website for Jawa in Estonia is more up to date than the Jawa factory one and even shows models with a Rotax engine which aren't on the Jawa website, which again makes me wondering if this was the official website or not. Looking up the actual address wasn't easy, but when I did find it; Google Earth showed me a small disused farm shed…. The once majestic original Jawa factory building is further south but looked quite derelict as well. Still I tried to contact them but received no reply for my efforts. It's a shame as I was really looking forward to seeing the Jawa factory, but making a 400 km detour for a factory that might not even be there seemed somewhat pointless.

I'm also not sure if Jawa is all that popular in the Czech Republic as we saw the grand total of 1 Jawa while we were there… and that was a moped. Still there is more to the Czech Republic than Jawa. Skoda for instance… and they are absolutely everywhere! Like in Poland, we took the smaller roads in the Czech Republic and were rewarded with winding narrow roads through villages where time seemed to have stood still. The only thing that spoiled the image were the drivers… Lewis Hamilton would feel scared here! In fact even Maldonado drives sensible compared to what we saw the Czech drivers do…!

Just a bit further on we were shot at… from an old Skoda! We had followed this iron curtain built Skoda for a while, as Mike thought it was a funny car, when suddenly it sort of backfired! A huge bang, followed by a brown cloud came from under the car… perhaps rust? Another big bang followed, Jeanette thought she saw a flame underneath it (a Skoda Dragster I presume…:-) and then it sputtered back to life again… crawling slowly up the hill. When it had finally dragged itself to the top, it sort of hopped around the corner and disappeared. The bang from the Skoda felt like something had hit my helmet… very strange, until I realised it was Mike's UClear that had picked it up, and the bang I heard actually came from the speakers in my UClear :-)

The days are now definitely getting shorter, the nights colder and as we had left quite late from K+K Motorcycles it was getting 6 in the afternoon before we arrived at a campground. We found quite a few campgrounds were already closed. Europeans are softies and as such don't camp anymore in September…! Mike had found a campground that was open, which was strangely enough named an auto camp, Autocamp on the hill in fact (N49.54422 E16.29303). We sort of thought it would be setup for the typical small European van campers, but found a kind of boy scout youth camp… complete with youth. Hmmm. It was late, cold and we decided to give it a try… The owner said we could camp here but wondered if we definitely had to stay in a tent… Strange question, until he offered us two of his cabins for the same price as he would normally ask for one tent…! Ok, easy choice then :-) The cabins are small and simple but proved to be an excellent choice. We had two beds, electricity, light and… no need to setup the tents.

The youth wasn't real quiet… just as well we were in a cabin. At least it dampened the noise somewhat. 65 Czech teenagers make a lot of noise :-) The next morning we found the bikes covered in ice! Definitely time to move on if we want to ride the mountain passes in Austria, Switzerland and Italy before they close them!

Our temporary home, two cabins for the cost of one tent spot! Thanks to Autocamp On the Hill!