Test Ride Review – Jawa: A viable alternative to the Royal Enfield Classic 350?
If you’re a child of the 70s and 80s and even a bit of the 90s, then you’re familiar with this shape. It was unique and in spite of the many pedestrian uses the motorcycles were put to, the Jawa (later rechristened Yezdi) offered a charm all of its own. More than two decades since the last of these bikes disappeared from our roads, Jawa is back.
The Jawa brand story
The Jawa story starts in 1929, long before Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany and then later integrated into the Eastern Bloc with the Soviet Union at its head. The brand therefore was characterised by a free spirited philosophy that lay stress on fun and style. Cut to the Indian story, Jawa offered those same brand values to Indian consumers with the 250cc single-cylinder Jawa Type 353 that was undoubtedly the most popular of all Jawas sold and the less popular but no less coveted twin-cylinder 350. That was the Jawa story through the 1970s and 80s. The company would later be rechristened Yezdi in honour of the Yazd province of Iran from where the new owners of the brand originally hailed. Another cut, this time to the present day. Brand Jawa has been sold again. This time to Classic Legends, a company run by passionate classic bike lovers with the majority stakes being owned by Mahindra. After at least two years of speculation a resurgent Jawa is ready with its products, two in fact. The Jawa that pays homage to the ever popular Type 353 and the scrambler-ish Jawa Forty Two.
“The brand was characterised by a free spirited philosophy that lay stress on fun and style”
Between the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two
There’s no difference really as far as mechanicals and cycle parts go. In either case the liquid-cooled 293cc single-cylinder engine with DOHC and four valves is the same. The engine has been developed on the Mojo platform and therefore shares the bore and stroke of that engine. The folks at Jawa however insist that the rest of the unit is new for they have changed practically everything, including the engine’s visible nod to the original 250cc single in shape and form. And of course those signature twin exhausts from the single cylinder mill. Transmission is via a 6-speed gearbox with a chain final drive.
The double cradle frame too is all new and has been developed with great care to ensure that the new motorcycle is able to offer the same kind of fun that characterised the old Jawas. The forks, raked out at 28 degrees, and the gas charged shock absorbers at the rear too are shared, as is the petrol tank, the mirrors and a whole host of other bits.
There are however two things that are different between the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two. First of course is the visual appeal of the two products. The second, and this isn’t visible at all but felt, is a difference in the riding posture thanks to different geometries of the rider triangles – the relation between the handlebar, footpeg and seat – of the two motorcycles.
Gear up to ride the Jawa
Be it the Jawa or the Jawa Forty Two, the moment you sit on either you’re left in no doubt that you’re sitting astride a machine that mimics a very retro riding posture. It’s not uncomfortable, far from it as a matter of fact, but in a sea of modern machines where you sit in the bike you sit on these. Something old, and therefore feels new today. Personally, I found the ergonomics of the Jawa better suited to my six-foot frame. The foot pegs on the Forty Two felt a little higher than they should be.
Switch gear is borrowed from the Mahindra Mojo and they work fine with all switches falling easily to the thumb. Can’t fault the quality of the switchgear either. There are however a few issues on the quality and ergonomics front of the pre-production motorcycles that we were riding. On the Jawa the headlamp mounted speedo is such that you can’t read the speed between 60kmph to 100kmph on the classically upside down meter. At least one rider had his speedo needle stuck at 160kmh, a speed that the bike can’t get up to. The mirrors on both the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two that I rode, kept shaking themselves loose each time I revved the engine hard. The other thing that turned out bothersome was the seat. It’s thin and much too firm for my liking. A couple of bikes had ill aligned tail lamps as well. Niggling issues that the folks at Jawa said would all be fixed at the start of production.
“The lack of much of a bottom end means that you’ll finding yourself working the slick gearbox in the city at crawling speeds”
Ride out on the motorcycles
Thumb the starter and you immediately miss that drrring drrring sound of the original two-stroke engine. You also miss the typical blue smoke from the twin end cans. This of course is a BS IV compliant four stroke motor. Peak output is a not too bad 27bhp and a healthy 28Nm. What’s more important is where the motor makes its grunt. Smack in the middle. The authentic looking engine has a strong mid-range and felt punchy out on the highway from Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh, our ride route. The lack of much of a bottom end means that you’ll finding yourself working the slick gearbox in the city at crawling speeds. Meanwhile the absence of a top end means anything beyond 100kmph feels strained with the machines beginning to become vibey once you get past 80-85kmph. Between 50-90kmph however both motorcycles feel joyful and eager. Delivery isn’t too linear either and the bike shows a tendency to splutter mildly when you’re riding on part throttle. Another issue that Jawa says will be sorted out by the start of production.
“Out on these roads both the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two felt delightfully light and in spite of that raked out front, quick to turn”
The last part of our route saw us ride over a narrow single carriage state highway of which the first 30km was a gloriously smooth ribbon of black that twisted its way in and out of villages and through lush fields and hillocks. Out on these roads both the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two felt delightfully light and in spite of that raked out front, quick to turn. It doesn’t take too much effort to get the bike turned in and mid-corner stability isn’t too bad either. I won’t say it will excite that little boy inside you but it will not sap your confidence either. As you push the bike harder and harder you do however get the sense that you’re not really sure of how much grip the MRF Zapper C tyres will offer. Makes you hold back a little at times. What I didn’t like is the bike’s ride quality. It felt very skittish and jumpy over rough patches and bumps, also showing a tendency to thud through potholes.
Getting the bikes to stop
A disc up front with single channel ABS and a drum at the rear. It’s a setup that drew a lot of attention at the time of the product unveil. The kind of attention that Jawa wouldn’t want. Obvious questions arose. Why no rear disc? At the ride Jawa had Rodney from Continental, a member of the team who had developed the ABS unit for the bikes, to demonstrate the efficacy of the brakes before we rode out from the Vantara Resort & Spa on the outskirts of Udaipur.
Braking for the most part was without fuss with the bike feeling stable under braking, even heavy braking. The lever action felt progressive enough and there was good bite too. And the ABS works too. Something I found out when I had taken my eyes off the road to fix the right mirror that had shaken itself loose and looked up to find fellow rider and friend Vikrant Singh stopped ahead of me! Don’t panic, just brake, they had told us. So I hauled on the stoppers with all my strength. Lots of shuddering and juddering happened but the bike stayed stable as I came to a stop. Having said that, I did feel I should have been able to stop a little earlier than where I did, right next to Vikrant.
So is it going to be the Jawa or the Jawa Forty Two?
The jury is divided on that count with a slight tilt in favour of the more recognisable Jawa rather than the more stylish Jawa Forty Two. For me, it was down to the ergonomics of the Jawa that I found was more comfortable for my lanky frame. The Jawa and Jawa Forty Two are priced at Rs 1.64 lakh and Rs 1.55 lakh respectively. So not too expensive. So are they worth it?
Well, that depends on you. If you like a stylish retro bike with lots of authentic details, and both the Jawa and the Jawa Forty Two are filled with them, that’s also fun to ride then you won’t be unhappy with either of the two motorcycles we rode. What they won’t offer you, at least the pre production bikes we rode didn’t, is that something special that will reach out beyond your heart and touch your soul as well.