Halloween Horror: Costa’s CZ 250 Scrambler

My first real motorcycle, a Czech-made 1978 CZ 250 Scrambler, was so horrific it marked me for life – literally. It ran so poorly, and I learned so much trying to keep it running, that I made a career out of repairing motorcycles.

I bought the bike new in 1980 from Motosport Plus in Montreal. Former road racer and then owner of the long-defunct dealership, Mendy Radbord, was only too glad to be rid of the bike since it had been haunting a dark corner of his showroom for two years. It cost me $749. Years later when I told Radbord that he’d sold me the bike, he remembered it — and humbly apologized.

I don’t have a photo of it, but it looked just like the one in the picture here, except mine was red and had a different gas tank. It was a single-cylinder, two-stroke dirt bike that claimed 34 horsepower, and was actually explosively fast. When it ran.

Beneath its teardrop-shaped aluminum fuel tank, which was not the usual coffin tank of CZs in those days like the one in the picture, was a carburetor made by Jikov — phonetically similar to the term for male self-indulgence, which wasn’t accidental. The fuel mixer was equipped with a “tickler” that had to be stimulated until it ejaculated fuel, indicating the bike was now ready to be kicked to life. The bike had a factory-installed Preston Petty Monster Mudder front fender, and its Barum tires were, I think, made of plastic.

The bike’s makers had such faith in its ignition system that they drilled the head for two sparkplugs, so when one fouled, you just swapped the wire to the good plug—until that one fouled, and then you had two plugs to change.

The kickstarter, which was mounted on the left side, would often skip teeth—and I swear I still feel the pain in my left knee as it tried to bend backward. Once fired, it emitted a terrifyingly sharp “dang, dang, dang” sound from its rattly exhaust. It vibrated so much that the buzzing coming through the handlebar felt like an electric shock worthy of jolting Frankenstein’s monster to life.

The paralyzing vibration also shook loose any fastener that meant something. The small screws holding wire fasteners and small brackets were never affected; it was the bolts holding things like the engine in the frame and those that kept the swingarm swinging that usually departed. I remember a friend once asking if the reason the engine pivoted in the frame when I put the bike in gear was because of some kind of handling-enhancing design. No, it was just that three of its four mounting bolts had bolted.

Motokov Canada was the Canadian distributor of Jawa and CZ motorcycles. The company was located right on the side of the Metropolitan highway in Montreal, and I bought a moped with the sole purpose of taking me there weekly for the parts my CZ had ejected somewhere in the trails. The guy behind the counter and I were on a first-name basis, and I think he felt sorry for me because he’d sometimes give me parts at no charge. The distributor may have brought only three of these cursed motorcycles into the country, yet I had to be one of the doomed souls who’d actually bought one. Somehow, I wish I still had it.


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