During the 1950s, under the leadership of racing engineer Walter Kaaden, Motorenwerke Zschopau GmbH, otherwise known as MZ, developed a breakthrough exhaust system known as an expansion chamber. Unfortunately for MZ their factory rider Ernst Degner fled East Germany and headed straight to Suzuki. One year later Ernst won Suzuki their first world title along with the honour of being the first Japanese manufacturer to hold one. As far as stories in the world of motorcycle manufacturing go, they don’t get much more scandalous than that!
The story behind this MZ ETZ 250 two-stroke cafe racer isn’t quite as juicy as that one, but it’s certainly not lacking tribulations. Built by Martin Tzscheuschnerand and the crew at Kraftrad Noeda in Thuringia, Germany the little MZ challenged them well beyond their estimations.
Martin and his team of 6 spend most of their time servicing motorcycles for customers, but occasionally they turn their hand to customisation. In the case of this 1985 MZ ETZ 250, Martin was at first very reluctant to work on the former GDR built bike.
Martin had been coerced into buying the MZ by a seller who had left it collecting dust in his cellar. Not knowing quite what to do with it Martin relocated it to Kraftrad Noeda HQ where it sat patiently waiting for its turn. Then, 4 years ago, the team decided to start tinkering on the MZ with the goal of using it as a testbed for their ideas. “After the thing was in the corner for two years, I wanted to see what ‘Western Possibilities’ could come from an ‘Easter Moped’,” says Martin.
“It looked impossible to turn the bike into a cafe racer,” Martin recalls. “The MZ is too high in the front and the wheelbase too short. The fork is also not easy to adjust because the MZ ETZ 250 doesn’t have a traditional top clamp.” To get around these issues Kraftrad Noeda fabricated a custom set of triple clamps that allowed the adjustment they required. They then extended the swingarm by 7cm to increase the footprint of the bike. This solved their first 2 issues but it lead to several new ones.
“Due to the swing arm extension the original shocks were much too short and we couldn’t source a suitable replacement anywhere,” says Martin. The only option was to once again fabricate a custom solution. For this, they sourced a set of YSS shocks which were milled down to length. The bike then sat right, but the swingarm angle left the chain rubbing against the frame. Things were quickly snowballing. “We considered our options again, tinkered, milled a guide roller and after several attempts, made it fit!”
Performance improvements to the MZ ETZ 250 cafe racer include a complete engine overhaul that saw capacity increased to 300cc. The team also fabricated a custom exhaust which Martin admits was their third attempt. “After trying both an aftermarket sports exhaust and a self-made one we created the final design using fragments of a KTM 300 set up. These went together with some laser-cut stainless steel that we rolled and welded” Sitting on the end of the Frankenstein system is an aftermarket muffler that’s tucked neatly beneath the tail.
The bikes new bodywork is a mix of reclaimed parts and custom fabricated components. The new tank is a Yamaha XS500 unit reshaped to match the geometry of the ETZ frame. This also meant relocating both the filler and fuel tap. The rear cowl is a custom piece made from sheet metal and designed to mimic the lines of the XS500 tank. To create a bit of negative space in the frame the side covers were deleted and a K&N filter installed to replace the airbox. The battery and exposed electrics were then relocated to inside the tail unit. To finish things off a slim front fender and windscreen were shaped from steel.
Martin has also confessed this MZ ETZ 250 isn’t the first he’s owned. It is in fact his fifth since 1986 and the colour he’s chosen for this one is a homage to his first MZ. With a team of staff, access to modern fabrication machinery and plenty of time to tinker, Martin’s created an MZ that would make Walter Kaaden proud; and it’s put a big smile on our faces too.