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lawnmowers and kettles to motorbikes for Norton and Yamaha, it did little to prepare them for a rundown MuZ with its outdated product line.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
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    (Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

    Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principle Geotechnical Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup