1959 123cc Jawa 355

Which classic bike would you take to the Isle of Man TT races? Phil Speakman’s 46 year old stroker saved the day – and even saw some high speed action on Mad Sunday…

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Impotent fury isn’t a particularly enjoyable experience, but to have it in front of a queue of uncaring Post Office customers who just want you out of their way makes it worse somehow. Yet, the insurance certificate for my MZ ES250/2 Trophy was clearly missing a ‘3’ from the registration number and the woman behind the counter was adamant in her refusal to tax the bike despite the obvious mistake. She cared not a jot that my ferry to the Island was leaving the following evening and I’d a whelk’s chance in a super nova of getting the amended copy through the post before then.

I could of course go on my 2003 Tiger 955i, but having just returned the previous day from a 2000 mile week riding to Krakow in Poland and back across the Czech Republic, I was sorely in need for a change. The Honda 500/4 was off the road; requiring a new rear wheel bearing and I hadn’t had a chance to give the MZ ES 150/1 a decent run on it’s new cylinder head. It had decided to spit out its spark plug (helicoil ‘n’ all !) on the way home from a VMCC run the previous month.

After a trial fitting of my Oxford sport throwover luggage the following morning (the irony of the ‘sport’ tag bringing on a wry smile), my decision was made for good or bad and at 4pm I kicked the chosen bike into life, slowly making my way down to the Liverpool pier head ready for the 7.30pm crossing. I got the first of a week’s worth of unusual looks at the end of the M62 as a people carrier full of bemused passengers looked at me, possibly wondering if I was actually intending to take THAT to the TT?

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The bike in question was my 1959 Jawa 355. A twin exhaust port 123cc single, with a delightful exhaust note on tickover and over-run that never fails to bring a smile to my face. At the docks amidst the general consensus that the road signing for the ferry was pitifully inadequate (get your bloody act together Steam Packet, you take enough brass off us), I got even more unusual looks and even the occasional ‘what is it?’ enquiry.

It was too late now, I’d made my bed and would have to lie in it, as I hadn’t got time by then to return home and swap bikes. I’d committed myself to taking a 46 year old cheap Czech commuter (with a top speed of 50mph downhill) away for a week’s holiday to the Isle of Man. The IOM TT database shows that in the 1965 125cc lightweight F Bocek did not finish, so should I be daft enough to take this gutless wonder over the mountain, it could possibly be the fastest 125cc Jawa around the Island. Now there’s a thought.

I got into Peel just before midnight due to ferry delays and after checking into my B&B I managed to get a couple of pints in the Marine pub on the Peel front which served until a civilised drinking hour. I took my jacket off to reveal my T-shirt with its large Adler logo. This attracted the attention of a chap who started chatting away to me in German. He was surprised to find out that I’m one of the few English Adler nutters and that I was riding an old Jawa. Over a couple of beers he told me about his collection of old racing photographs and after taking my address, he promised to send me copies of the photos he has of racing Adlers. Likewise I promised to send him a copy of the photo I’ve got showing the Adler Six Days Trial team of Willi Bilger, Walter Vogel and Georg A Steindl, all holding bouquets of flowers whilst sat on their three gold medal winning bikes in the 31st Six Days Trial held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany in 1956.

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The world needs more bikes with dinky cast aluminium carb covers.The next morning, over a breakfast which would take a better man than me to finish, I planned my mixed programme of race spectating and Vintage Motorcycle Club events that were listed in the excellent official TT programme, bought on the ferry. Within half an hour I’d committed myself and the Jawa to a busy week ahead of us and I just hoped that the Jawa was up to the task!

The first Saturday was a day of delays and rolling one hour start times, parked up at KirkMichael listening to TT radio. Eventually the Superbike race (the Formula 1; in old money) was postponed until the following morning and racing started late in the afternoon with the first race of the chairs followed by a couple of practice laps for the Superbikes. KirkMichael is a frighteningly fast piece of road and its obvious dangers were tragically demonstrated in the Senior race later in the week when a rider and a race Marshall were killed.

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Due to poor planning, I was trapped there for the day with no escape route until the roads opened again, not something I allowed to happen again that week. To make up for the wasted riding time, I took the bike up and over from Peel to Port Erin, a fair old climb there and back for this little motor, which convinced me even more (as if it were needed) that the last place I’d be taking this bike would be over the mountain. Even so the Jawa revved happily and parked up in darkness that night without missing a beat and my respect for it was gradually increasing.

Mad Sunday was now a race day and the roads were due to close at 1.15pm. My plan was to get to Laxey Promenade before 10.30am for a VMCC ride, planned to finish near Glen Auldyn, just outside Ramsey on the A3 road south to Peel. There, lunch followed by a private tour around Milntown Mansion gardens and its private motorcycle collection had been planned and they had kindly agreed to us watching the racing from their front garden wall.

On Laxey promenade, I queued up to sign in and as soon as I mentioned the word Jawa, the eyes of the chap signing me in opened wide. It turned out that he is the Island’s chief Jawa/CZ enthusiast and owns a small collection of Jawas and CZs from which he had chosen very a tidy example of a 250cc Californian single to ride that day, a nice machine by anyone’s standards.

Random Jawa Stuff on eBay.co.uk

Employing a large-handed midget to hold the cylinder head and barrel in place avoided the need for costly bolts.The ride northwards started well, but we soon split up and I ended up on my own amongst the quiet roads surrounding Bride and Andreas, north west of Ramsey. Eventually I briefly rejoined a small group from the VMCC back in Ramsey, only for a Policeman directing traffic to split me off from the group again with one flick of his wrist.

In Parliament Square I simply followed the crowd whilst looking for the signpost to Peel which was eluding me.

Warning bells start ringing loudly when I notice a line of cones across the oncoming carriageway; ‘Christ I’m in the Mad Sunday one way system’ I thought; knowing that by now I had no choice but to carry on.

The seriousness and pure stupidity of what I’d just done hit me at Ramsey hairpin.

I was taking a 46 year old 125cc Jawa over the mountain on Mad Sunday!

It was a good job I was wearing a full face lid, as I’m sure I must have turned the colour of boiled **** !

I tried to keep to the left and out of the way as much as I could but briefly my grim mood of determination lightened as I kept the throttle nailed to the stop in third at Gooseneck. Above me a wall of smiling faces followed a nutter’s progress in, through and out of the bend, then off up the mountain leaving a pale wisp of blue smoke in my wake. I can’t put into words just how those smiles and the occasional shout of what I’d like to look back on as ‘encouragement’ cheered me, and it’s now become a fond memory that will stay with me for ever.

I had no choice but to rev the poor little single to within at inch of its life, all the way up in third. Fourth gear just wasn’t a luxury I could afford during the climb, as I was riding as close to the nearside bank as I dared at times whilst always trying to keep it as near to 40mph as possible. Bikes were passing my right shoulder at speeds well in excess of 100mph and for some reason I ended up telling myself that all that fuel would be having a lovely cooling effect on the barrel and piston and that I had absolutely nothing mechanically to worry about. There was precious little else I could think of to encourage myself, if the truth be told. Talk about clutching at straws?

Eventually the approach of Bungalow brought me and the little Jawa much longed for relief, as this marked my escape route down past Sulby Reservoir via the A14, back down towards Ramsey and my original destination. Unfortunately the traffic over the mountain had been stopped due to an accident ahead of us and all the riders were being diverted down this route, so I was still mixing it with the knee-slider nutters, but on a steep downhill route containing the occasional tight switchback and with only 1950’s drum brakes and little in the way of engine braking. Oh joy, oh happy day!

Back at the planned meeting point I arrived just before the roads were closed, only to find that I was too late for lunch. The VMCC had been through the buffet table like a swarm of locusts and a cup of tea and couple of slices of fruit cake were all that remained for this latecomer, although in fairness I did decline one lady’s very kind offer to rustle me up a sandwich.

Whilst admiring the Milntown Mansion gardens, the private collection of pre war machines and the other bikes that had taken part in the run, I noticed that my Jawa was getting a fair old bit of attention. This it turned out was mainly due to its unit construction twin port single motor with Flash Gordon styling, a fully enclosed chain and a headlamp nacelle that brought forth comments about its similarity to the Triumph Tiger design. A friend of mine in the MZ Riders club states confidently that Triumph copied this idea from Jawa and not the other way around. So does that also apply to the tinware at the rear end, often referred to as the ‘bathtub’ I wonder?

After my misguided little jaunt that morning my respect for the bike had increased enormously and once John McGuinness had won the Superbike race; it started on its usual third kick once the inlet manifold has been flooded using the tickler. On the return journey to Peel, it occurred to me that I must have clocked up somewhere near 170 miles since I had left home and I should seriously think about filling it up again. By the time I got back to Peel I still hadn’t needed to flick the fuel cock to reserve and I just manage to shoehorn 10 litres in at 25:1.

So this bike had done three big petrol-gulping climbs at full throttle and spent much of the interim time at full throttle on the ups and downs of the Peel to KirkMichael road (as there just isn’t any other way to ride this type of bike), yet it had covered approximately 180 miles on just over two gallons of fuel.

What a belting little machine!

On Monday whilst browsing through a bookshop in Douglas, I came across a book showing a photograph from the 1950s of a lady working on the Jawa production line assembling a bike similar to mine. It crossed my mind; that it was quite possible my bike had actually passed through her hands all those years ago. If it had, I don’t suppose for one minute that she could ever have dreamt that it would still running and taking a Lancastrian on his holidays 46 years later.

No tin shortages when this bike was made.

By the time I returned home on Wednesday evening after the sidecar race B, the Jawa had completed another three days worth of journeys up the length and breadth of the island. The itinerary included another VMCC run from Ramsey, another couple of lengths of the Island, with us clocking up at least three hundred more miles together. In all this time it only needed push starting once, due to my over enthusiastic use of the tickler when it was still warm and didn’t need it. It rode faultlessly through the dark with a usefully strong headlamp beam and sat happily ticking over under full electrical load with no problems whatsoever.

When I consider just what I paid for this little bike 12 months ago and just how much fun it gave me over the TT week, I can’t help but think ‘what a bargain’. To me it’s a shame that small bikes don’t seem to get the glamorous coverage in the classic press that their larger stablemates do. I enjoy riding bikes both large and small, but there is just something special about the real sense of achievement in completing a fair old distance on a little two-stroke that puts a smile on my face every time. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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