The Forgotten Czech Motorcycle Brand Jawa Deserves Your Attention
In the US, Indian and Harley-Davidson understandably dominate motorcycle culture. But even today, as the Hayabusa’s situation demonstrates, the industry is strongly linked to Europe. And just like in the States, not every European nameplate enjoys widespread recognition. For every Ducati and BMW, there’s a Soriano and a Condor. Though, as Royal Enfield has shown, a faded star can rise again. And that seems to be happening with the Jawa motorcycle brand.
Jawa’s motorcycle history
Like the similarly-obscure Tatra, Jawa is a Czechoslovakian company, Bonhams reports. It was founded in 1929 by one Frantisek Janecek, using plans purchased from the German Wanderer brand. That’s where the ‘Jawa’ name comes from: ‘Ja’ from ‘Janecek,’ and ‘Wa’ from ‘Wanderer.’
Pre-WWII, Jawa’s most successful motorcycle was the 175cc 2-stroke 175. And even after WWII, the company’s affordable 2-stroke bikes were extremely popular. By 1976, Jawa had sold 200 million bikes, Bonhams reports. My father grew up in Poland during the time of Communism, and he confirms that Jawa motorcycles were some of the most-durable bikes available at the time.
In the 50s and 60s, Jawa began acquiring other motorcycle brands, such as CZ and Eso, Bonhams, and Mecum report. It also started competing, both in speedway—the European analog to flat track racing—and ice racing.
The Jawa 500 DOHC model, Silodrome reports, was one of the most successful 1970s racing bikes. It weighed less than 190 pounds, but its 494cc single-cylinder developed 60-65 hp. One of the most-successful speedway racers, Ivan Mauger, won several World Championships on a Jawa bike, Iron & Air reports.
Also, much like Ural and BMW, Jawa offered sidecar-equipped motorcycles, Bike-urious reports. One of the most popular was the Jawa 350, powered by a 343cc two-cylinder 2-stroke making 25 hp. That engine also powered the Velorex 16/350, a vinyl-covered 3-wheeled Czech microcar, Classic Driver reports.
The new Jawa bikes
The 2-stroke Jawa 350 has been so popular that it’s still in production today. And alongside it, Jawa makes several 4-stroke 350 OHC bikes. However, the Jawa name appears on more new bikes than that, RideApart reports.
There are 2 Jawa motorcycle companies currently doing business. One, Jawa Moto, is based in the Czech Republic. But the Czech-based company also licenses its name to a company based in India owned by Mahindra. That’s the same Mahindra which got into legal trouble with Jeep over the Roxor UTV. And, rather confusingly, both the Czech and the Indian Jawa bikes are sold in the Czech Republic, RideApart reports.
Similar to Royal Enfield, Jawa’s Indian-built motorcycles focus heavily on a retro design, albeit with modern tech. Both the Jawa 300 Classic and the Forty-Two use a fuel-injected 293cc single-cylinder engine, rated at 27 hp and 21 lb-ft. They also have a front disc brake and a rear drum brake, with ABS on the front one. There’s also the bobber-style Perak, with a 30-hp 334cc single-cylinder. And RideApart reports Jawa is developing an electric bike that could offer 125-155 miles of range.
Pricing and US availability
As of this writing, neither the new Czech nor Indian Jawa motorcycles are available in the US. However, the brand could expand here shortly, as Royal Enfield did. If it did, its bikes would likely be similarly affordable. In India, the Jawa 300 Classic costs the equivalent of $2200. That’s even cheaper than the Honda Super Cub.
Classic Jawa motorcycles, though, are a bit pricier. A trailer-equipped 1966 350 sold on Bring a Trailer in June 2020 for $7100. Some of the Czech brand’s moto-cross bikes are cheaper, such as the 1958 250cc one sold at a 2008 Bonham’s auction for $3328.
However, Jawa’s ice racing and speedway motorcycles are fairly collectible, due to heritage and rarity. Mauger’s own 1977 bike sold at a 2017 Bonham’s auction for $22,695. Mecum has auctioned 2 other ones, reporting that only a handful still exists in the US.
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