Motorcycles in Cuba

Cigars and old American cars — but what about motorcycles?


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Cuban motorcycle enthusiast Toma Rey Gutierrez and his circa-1972 Jawa 250 twin

Cuban motorcycle enthusiast Toma Rey Gutierrez and his circa-1972 Jawa 250 twin.

Photo by Josh Withers

A month prior to President Barack Obama’s December 2014 announcement to mend U.S. ties with Cuba, a country we have embargoed since 1960, I travelled to Havana as part of a cultural exchange.

Arriving in Cuba, the effect economic restraints have had on that country was clearly evident by the visible testimony of 54 years of decay. As soon as the awe of the multitude of old 1950s American cars wore off (many powered with Chinese diesel engines), my eyes were drawn to the funky old socialist motorcycles navigating the streets of Havana, a sidecar attached to nearly every one.

One of the first to catch my eye was a chrome tanked, East German, 1970s-era MZ (Motorenwerke Zschopau), and it was followed by many more. Most appeared to be the TS250 model, and most seemed to carry one, two, or if fitted with a sidecar, three people. The engine is a bulky single-cylinder with blocky cooling fins, but the headlamp shell is gorgeous, with an integrated speedometer similar to a 1960s BMW.

Czech Jawas from the ’70s and ’80s seemed to be popular motorcycles. During my travels in Cuba, I stumbled into the town of Hershey. Between 1920 and 1940, Milton Hershey had a thriving sugar factory here. The old factory looks completely abandoned and desolate, but on further inspection, I realized that among all the deterioration, people still work there, using the factory’s 70-year-old machinery to fix old trains.

While talking with some of the machinists and welders, I happened across an old Jawa with a German sidecar. The owner, Toma Rey Gutierrez, came out, and with my limited Spanish we began chatting about old bikes. I showed him photos of my old BMWs, and he was happy to pull out his circa-1972 Jawa and show it to me.

Ural motorcycles came to Cuba in 1973, initially supplied by the Soviet Union for military use, but available to the public starting in 1975. In Havana, Urals are almost always equipped with a sidecar.

turbohans
12/10/2015 3:34:56 PM

Nice article. I'm getting close to retirement and have been looking into a bike tour of Cuba but not sure if I would like what they had to offer as a ride. Maybe that will change soon.....


markj
6/18/2015 8:32:00 AM

One of the most common Jawas ever made is the 250cc single, which has dual exhaust pipes. This makes the uninitiated think they are looking at a twin. As far as I know Jawa never made a 250cc twin but they did make a 350cc twin. The sister company CZ did make a few 250cc twins. Just like to get the facts right.






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