Easy riders straddle the Berlin Wall: David Lancaster admires a stylish combination of British ingenuity and German economy

If, two years ago, you had asked most motorcyclists what MZ represented, chances are they would have said cheap, noisy, asthmatic two strokes made in deepest East Germany and ridden by penny-pinching night shift workers in the Midlands. And the verdict would have been a true, if slightly harsh. For 30 years, shielded from economic realities by East Germany's generous state umbrella, the small factory in Zschopau produced bikes that inspired few but served thousands with simple engines, dated cycle parts and unrivalled economy.

Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 one of the most remarkable fairy tales has taken place at MZ. The ugly frog has changed into the handsome new Skorpion, stunning the 1992 Motorcycle Show, winning the BBC Design Awards and hitting showrooms at pounds 4,500.

The bike is the result of co-operation between a London design consultancy, German accountant turned entrepreneur and Japanese motorcycle firm struggling against a harsh exchange rate and a worldwide fall in sales.

When Peter Karel Korous took over the remains of MZ, he rechristened it MuZ and cast around for a 'flagship product' to re-establish a once proud sporting heritage - lost in 1961 when MZ's star rider, Ernst Degner, took advantage of his minders' enthusiasm for the racing and defected during the Swedish Grand Prix. Degner appeared in Japan six months later clutching a bundle of drawings and engine parts. Two years on, Suzuki swept all before them in racing with the help of technology supplied by Degner. He killed himself 20 years later, unable to reconcile himself with the price of his dash for freedom.

But it was the virtues that made MZ so successful in the Fifties - lightness, simplicity, pragmatism - that designer and motorcyclist Richard Seymour looked to when Korous approached him in early 1992 looking for his flagship. 'We knew it was a massive challenge,' said Seymour, one half of partnership Seymour-Powell. 'We had to design a bike, in a very short time, for a client unlike any we had worked with before.' Although over 11 years the company, with 18 staff based in a converted chapel in Fulham, has amassed an impressive CV, including lawnmowers and kettles to motorbikes for Norton and Yamaha, it did little to prepare them for a rundown MuZ with its outdated product line.

'In fact, it worked to our advantage in many ways,' insisted Seymour. 'The Skorpion had to be economical to produce, simple to make and maintain and if you like be 'the essence of a motorcycle' - and no more.' The discipline suited the company and the times. 'It's a European motorcycle and the most adventurous bike designs today, such as Ducatis, are the antithesis of a world product, in the manor of contemporary Japanese motorbikes.'

A 'culturally specific' motorcycle may sound alarm bells amongst the cynical, but the few success stories of late have all eschewed the God of performance. A Harley Davidson is as American as you get - chrome-laden, overweight and loud, while Italian Ducati has refound its niche by building lightweight, V-twin powered sports bikes that handle better than rivals and, crucially, are painted red.

The Skorpion is maybe more eclectic - it has a Yamaha 660cc engine (stamped 'MZ'), Italian running gear and British styling - but its swooping lines are unlike anything on the market. Richard Seymour is also keen to trace another blood line; to the heyday of British biking when the space and fuel efficient single cylinder sports bike, epitomised by BSA's Goldstar and Velocettes, took young guns to and from transport cafes in good-looking discomfort. 'The bike is really the first of its type for 15 years, an effective antidote to overcomplex machinery.'

Not everything is as Seymour hoped: the prototype's sub-300lb figure mushrooming to 374lbs on the production line; the swap for a Japanese engine, over the Austrian Rotax, has upset some purists, and ever more stringent noise and emission regulations have seen the silencer grow to ungainly proportions - while the prototype's bold use of aircraft technology glue bonding has been lost in the real world of production.

These details can take little away from Seymour, and his talented assistant Adam White. Where Japanese monolithics think of product development times in years, the unlikely alliance of a cash-strapped German firm needing something to sell quickly and British ingenuity has produced a stunning motorbike in just 14 months. MuZ is predicting sales this year of 3,500 units, with perhaps twice as many for 1995. Seymour has swapped his Honda RG30 for one.

Seymour-Powell has not stopped developing new bikes for MZ. There are persistent rumours of a new project, using the same specialist frame experts Tigcraft, but with a bigger, more powerful engine. The Yamaha unit on the Skorpion - with a sophisticated five-valve cylinder head - puffs out 48bhp enough for sub-five second 0-60mph times and a top speed near 110mph, but short of what hard-core sports riders are used to.

When a new bike does comes along, you can be sure it will subscribe to what Seymour calls the three 'Ss' that guided the Skorpion's birth. 'One S is for simplicity,' he explains patiently, 'one is for sustainability and the last one stands for, er . . . sense.' Sense? Seymour is uncharacteristically lost for words. 'Well, it actually stands for sex.' And he's right.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all