The Iron Pig: 1969 MZ Motorcycle

It's function-over-form aesthetic earned it the name "iron pig," but MZ motorcycles were a fine working tool and one of the few vehicles designed primarily to ride with a sidecar attached.

| September/October 2011

1969 MZ ES250/2
Claimed power:
19hp @ 5,350rpm
Top speed: 62mph
Engine: 243cc air-cooled 2-stroke vertical single
Weight (dry): 520lb w/sidecar
MPG: 28-42mpg w/sidecar
Price then: $2,000 (est.)
Price now: $2,000 - $4,000

In the late 1950s the role of motorcycles was changing. Not just utilitarian transport anymore, bikes were being ridden more and more just for the pleasure of riding. One of the few brands that kept making motorcycles that were about function first and foremost was East German Motorradwerk Zschopau, commonly known as MZ motorcycles. 

In the former East Germany, there were few options if you wanted your own transportation: Trabant or Wartburg cars, or MZ motorcycles, all of them based on pre-war DKW two-stroke technology. Adding insult to injury, there was a 10-year waiting list for the cars, even if you had the money to buy one. Motorcycles, on the other hand, were somewhat easier to get, as long as you wanted one built in Zschopau, East Germany.

A Fine Working Tool

Evolved from the previous ES250/1 model, the MZ ES250/2 was introduced in 1967. But where its predecessor was round, the ES250/2 was an angular beast, which may be one reason East German motorcyclists claimed the “ES” stood for Eisen-Schwein, or “Iron Pig.” Indeed, only a Communist Politbureau could have loved its looks. Yet MZ motorcycles were snapped up as fast as they were built, both behind the Iron Curtain, where few other vehicles were available, and in the West, where they could be bought at prices significantly lower than any other 250cc motorcycle.

There was more to it than low price, though. First and foremost, MZ motorcycles were a fine working tool and one of the few motorcycles designed primarily to ride with a sidecar attached. Practical details abound. The rear chain runs in separate rubber tubes, ensuring long chain life. The brake arm is placed on the inside of the front brake plate, and the ignition key has a position to the far right that lets you bypass a dead battery and draw juice for the spark plug directly from the generator. The bike also features a large tool kit, much like that of a contemporary BMW motorcycle.

While the Teutonic style was a major change, the ES250/2’s engine was only slightly improved from the earlier version, and could in fact trace its DNA back to the DKW 250 from the late 1930s. The clutch was still on the left side of the crankshaft, rotating with it instead of being geared down like on most other motorcycles. The spec sheet claimed 19 horsepower at 5,350rpm, and the promised mileage was 36mpg with the sidecar. Presumably this was at normal speeds, because personal experience shows that ridden hard this will drop to 28mpg.

Tom Kelly
8/31/2011 6:42:01 PM

If you liked the Iron Pig check out NSU motorcycles. The all could take sidecars..The sidecars are very rare.. Im working on two engines ... one for the NSU replica 1953 Renmax.. the other for the Bench Racer.. Pics to follow.. The bench racer will have a sidecar...Tom Kelly

Paul Higginbotham
8/29/2011 11:01:37 PM

I owned an ES 250/2 for 2 years in the mid 70s. When it ran well it was smooth and relaxing, even at motorway speeds of 65mph. However, once in a while it would have a dramatic change in character. On left hand corners, while accelerating in 3rd gear it would sometimes shake its head like a demented foal. No amount of bracing elbows against tank would stop it. The only way out was to brake hard, in which case it would shake so violently that the front wheel would leave the ground until we were going less than 15mph. Or, you could wack the throttle open. The latter only worked 50% of the time so I usually took the cowards way out and braked. New bearings didn't have any effect so I just avoided accelerating out of left handers. Another occasion it nearly killed me was towards the end of a 120 motorway stint when the back wheel locked up solid. Thinking it was a seized engine I grabbed the clutch but the wheel was still locked. I hung on until I was "only" doing about 30mph then luckily skidded onto the hard shoulder. When I picked the bike up it was still running and no sign of the "lock up". So I remounted and it ran fine for the next 20 miles or so. Later examination of the motor showed that the plastic cage holding the balls in place on the counter shaft had broken up. Replacing all the bearings with aircraft grade, stainless steel caged SKFs made the engine run with a nice "zinging" noise but may confidence had been irrevocably shaken and I sold her on as soon as possible.

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