Reader-submitted rides, reviews and stories
Brooks Townes and his 1967 Jawa 350 Californian.
I put thousands of trouble-free miles on my 1967 Jawa 350 Californian. I bought it new from an old high school buddy, Jawa evangelist Leonard Coffee in L.A. I flew down from San Francisco to fetch it at Coffee’s shop, then rode it home up the coast. A little south of Big Sur the engine seized. I tire-squalled to the side of the road and let it cool while I pondered my situation, then it started right up again. It never even burped after that for all the years I owned it.
Some buddies with Matchless 500s, Bonnevilles and such made fun of my goofy looking ring-a-ding motorcycle. One day those same guys wanted ego photos of themselves jumping their bikes over the top of a steep hill in Marin County. The poppers made it up and satisfyingly airborne, the Bonnies did a little worse. The fat guy on a Honda 350 couldn’t make it to the top, let alone get air. On the way out there, picking my way up a single-track, I told the guys to ride on ahead; I’d take my time since I had expensive cameras in my backpack.
After lying in the grass shooting up at my pals in the air, I put the cameras down and, not expecting much, tried the hill on my Jawa. That sucker fishtailed and dug in and shot up that hill and we lofted waaaaay up in the air at the top! I had no idea it would do that, and my pals from then on gave my Jawa new respect. We surmised it was the CZ influence that made it so good.
Then, smoking the twisties up Mt. Tam north of San Francisco one week-day afternoon, I caught up with a Gypsy Joker on his chopper. I wasn’t sure how those guys took to being passed, especially by something with big white fenders and puffing blue smoke. After awhile, I’d had enough watching him drag sparks through every turn at a snail’s pace, so I goosed it and took him on the inside of a sweeper, then kept the heat up to put some space between us. I’d just eased off when the rear tire blew in a left-hander, sending me half-sideways off into the gravel, where I put the bike on the stand and waited.
The Joker wallowed around the last bend and blatted to a stop next to me. He jerked his thumb back, indicating the pillion atop his rear fender. I shoved the Jawa’s big key into my pocket and got on. We rode two-up back down the mountain, his head lower than my chin. We passed cars on the double-yellow, the side of my right shoe brushing a couple of front fenders when we pulled back into our lane. If it was my time, it was my time, I figured, and I started enjoying the ride. A highlight was his engine seizing at about 50. He just pulled in the clutch and we coasted quietly on down the hill. Half a mile later, he popped the clutch, the flathead fired, and on we went. We went to his house at the bottom of the mountain, kicked through beer cans in the living room, grunted at a guy waking up on the couch, retrieved the keys to a Ford Ranchero, went back up the mountain, horsed the Jawa into the trucklet and drove to my house. Nice guy.
Like a dummy, I sold that bike when I ran off to sea a few years later. I still have this photo of it from that day we jumped our bikes, but I sure wish I still had the Jawa!