In a recent Shepster Towers quiz, we asked the team to name anything Czechoslovakian. Anything at all. With plenty of silence to go-around, we opened a map and realised our folly – apparently it’s not the 80’s and it’s called the Czech Republic. This didn’t make it any easier. The silence was deafening! A book-end colleague, when pressed severely with a Chinese-burn, mentioned Kafka, then redeemed himself with Budvar. So, not one of the most iconic dirt bikes ever made, then?
The now discontinued Ceske-Zavodny company built their name in the world of 1960s and early ‘70s motocross, with Belgian pair Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster setting hearts fluttering across the globe. DeCoster started his career with the company on the 250cc and 500cc models. Commonly referred to as “The Man”, DeCoster won the Gold in the International Six Days Trial, the 1964 Belgian National Championships in ’64 and 66, and the Grand Prix in 1968. DeCoster then moved onto Suzuki, and cemented his place in history as, well, “The Man”. But really, it’s Joel Robert that set steins of Budvar’s clinking. Quite simply, his record is phenomenal. Although Robert started his career at Greeves, he dominated the 250 cc Champions for six years between ‘64 and ’69. Fascinatingly, the two joined each other at Suzuki in the early 70’s, yet they seem to contrast each other immensely: DeCoster, a fitness fanatic focused on durability and physicality, and then Robert, a smoking lazy-bum putting out cigarettes on competitors’ handlebars before a race. But between them they put Suzuki on the motocross map.
So why the infatuation with effectively a single cylinder, 246 cc motorcycle generating a whopping 31hp? They have real pedigree, for a start. The first CZ rolled off the, erm, probably workbench, in 1932. Secondly the bike is extremely distinctive. CZ used red gas tanks in the late ’60s & 1970, the eye-drawing yellow tank in 1971-72, the steel coffin tank in 1973, and the flat-silver coffin tank in 1974. Thirdly it was simply the feel of the bike. To paraphrase one magazine, the CZ was a superb-handling motocross weapon. As with most illustrious names of old, CZ’s dominance left with its famous riders. Cagvia tried to kickstart the motorcycle branch of the company in 1993, but ailed and collapsed it a few years later. CZ sadly now mainly sell machine parts and tools.
When hunting for these beauties as a collectors’ item, you’d be hard pressed to go beyond the wonderful yellow tank models. Having said that, check out this amazing 1972 renovation. We’re reliably told that if you can find a twin-pipe model, grab it like a fat kid on cake. A mint-condition CZ will still reach $15k AUD, which is a ridiculous sum for something almost knocking on half a century. As sad as it is to see another great name consigned to the scrap heap, you could say CZ had it coming. According to DeCoster, they constantly struggled even when they were winning as the mechanics would sell the riders parts on the way to the races. With the emergence of Suzuki and their subsequent dominance, CZ just could not compete. That being said, I wonder how much Suzuki spent on buying Czech spare parts in the 70’s?