From the Eastern Block to the East End, MZ has come a long way. But can the firm's new MZ1000S sports tourer really take on the likes of VFR, Sprint and ST3?
The last time I rode anything with an MZ badge on the tank, it was a ratty old two-stroke commuter that smoked like a chimney and had the disturbing habit of leaving various parts littered behind it on the road.
This image may be what first springs to mind whenever the name MZ is mentioned, but it's a reputation that the company is trying to shed. The smoky two-strokes were banished to the back rooms when the Berlin Wall fell down, while the company turned its attention to large capacity four-strokes. To be fair, it has been making the four-stroke 660cc Baghira supermoto for a while now, but it's the new MZ 1000S and its 1000cc parallel twin engine that the company is planning its future around.
My first impressions of the bike as it is unloaded out of the back of a van aren't that bad. Despite looking like an extra from Dr Who, I actually quite like the MZ's angular features. A few in the office were a bit more cruel and said the rear end looked like it has been reversed into a bollard while the front reminded them of a bad '80s take on what a future bike may look like. But looks are subjective anyway, as I keep trying to tell the girls I meet in nightclubs.
Sitting on the bike and, despite the large chunky controls looking like they are designed for people with club hands, everything seems in place and it's quite refreshing to see an analogue speedo again instead of a digital one. Hit the starter and... shit, I've broken it.
Rather than turning the motor over briskly like most other bikes, the starter struggles like hell, sounds like it's about to break, then fires the motor into life. My first thought was a nearly flat battery, but it did this even after a long ride, so I guess it's just how it sounds and that's part of the bike's character.
With the motor running, I was pleasantly surprised by the MZ after a few miles. Although it feels a bit crude, it actually rides quite well. The handling through traffic and at low speed is quite good - a bit top heavy in an Aprilia Falco type way that can make it flop slightly into roundabouts - but overall, the bike feels very light at low speed and handles well.
The problem is the motor. The parallel twin is rougher at low revs than a night out in Croydon and it judders at anything below 4000rpm, which isn't too good through town. You may say this is just characteristic of a twin, but even Ducatis are reasonably smooth low down now and only really start complaining below 2000rpm. With the MZ you have to be in the right gear, not a single one too high.
Out of town and with the speed picking up, the MZ starts to improve. The seat is very soft and padded and the riding position is very comfortable. Once above 4000rpm, the engine becomes smoother and is actually quite fast and responsive, without too many vibrations. Add a few fast corners into the equation and the MZ fails to bat an eyelid on smooth corners and handles well. Until you hit a bump.The suspension looks quite trick with its inverted forks, but it seems to get outfoxed on bumpy corners and doesn't really feel up to the job. Some corners I rode had a foot-wide bit of overbanding and every time the front hit it, I was never sure whether it would let go or not. It didn't, but the resulting shock sent through the suspension to the bars was worrying and should really have been damped out by the forks. I'm sure a a bit of fiddling would sort this out, but as it starts to rain I didn't get the chance to try.
And while I'm having a moan, I might as well mention the brakes. Yes they work, but they just feel wooden and not that powerful. Like brakes were four years ago: missing some initial bite and requiring a strong pull on the lever to get the most from them.
Overall, the MZ 1000S feels a bit crude. It's a capable motorcycle, but nothing special. When the competition consists of the superb VFR800, Triumph Sprint ST and sporty Ducati ST3 or ST4S, the MZ is more of an interesting break from the norm. It doesn't have the same quality feel about it compared to the VFR and the Triumph's motor is miles better. Also, with no official importer - just dealers buying the bikes directly from the factory - I worry a bit about the aftersales care. A dealer assured me that the Germans are typically efficient and will dispatch parts within 48 hours, but what are the chances of finding an MZ dealer when you're touring Europe?
Then there's the price. It's more than a VFR800, Sprint ST and even more than the Ducati ST3! And finally, if you do buy an MZ for £7999, how much is it going to be worth two years down the line?
The MZ isn't a bad bike, but it needs to be cheaper than the others. It's an interesting bike, a talking point, but not one I would choose compared to the competition.
1994: More traditionally known for its two-stroke bikes, MZ launches the four-stroke single Skorpion Tour. Using a Yamaha XTZ660 motor the bike has a tubular steel frame, box section swingarm and cast wheels. A Sport version is launched alongside and is basically the same but has a half-fairing.1996: The Sport and Tour are joined by the Traveller. A touring version with a full fairing.1997: A supermoto is added to the range. The Mastiff uses the same motor as the Skorpion but is supermoto styled. A more enduro version called the Baghira is launched alongside the Mastiff and is identical bar styling and enduro wheels and knoblie tyres.
Honda VFR800: £7849 The current king of sports touring. The VFR is a top tourer and an excellent back road play thing. The tank range is a bit poor mind.Triumph Sprint ST: £ 7149 Surprisingly good triple from Triumph. Really good handling, lovely engine but build quality is a tad suspect.Ducati ST3: £7495 New for this year, the ST3 uses a new three-valve head. Great motor, good handling and a decent fairing. The ST4S has uprated suspension and motor for £8695
TYPE - SPORTS TOURER PRODUCTION DATE - 2004 PRICE NEW - £7999 ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc POWER - 112bhp@9000rpm TORQUE - 72lb.ft@7000rpm WEIGHT - 210kg SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm FUEL CAPACITY - 20L TOP SPEED - 140mph 0-60 - n/a TANK RANGE - N/A
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