Iron Pig Tour: Across the USA on a 1970 MZ ES250/2

Riding a half-century-old MZ ES250/2 from Los Angeles, California, to New York City, New York, was not without mechanical issues but was well worth it.

| March/April 2019

The Iron Pig meets American iron: Crossing the Mojave desert.

In early 2018, I shipped my East German-built 1970 MZ ES250/2 – nicknamed “Iron Pig” – from Denmark to Los Angeles, California. Being a Gold Wing rider trapped riding an MZ, I like to carry a lot of stuff when I tour, so I equipped the MZ with a little Czechoslovakian PAV 41 trailer to carry my excess luggage. The almost half-century-old motorcycle has been my daily driver for six or seven years, and while its vintage 2-stroke technology makes it the two-wheeled equivalent of a skunk, it’s comfortable, strong and reliable enough for a cross-country trip. Or so I hoped. 

It is worth noting that this bike has been modified somewhat, including the addition of a later 5-speed gearbox, a Mikuni carburetor, modern electrics and some chassis improvements. The plan was to ride it from Los Angeles, California, to New York City, New York, and then sell it before flying back home to Denmark. Many years ago, I rode a Danish-built 4-cylinder Nimbus hardtail the other way, from NYC to LA, but on that trip I ran out of time and money by the time I reached the Pacific. There was also a lady I met on the East Coast, and one result was that I never saw the Southwest, so now this beautiful region was first on my list.

The MZ as it arrived in Los Angeles, carefully crated for its voyage from Denmark to California, the Czech PAV 41 trailer strapped on top of the bike.

I spent a week riding around on LA’s fascinating freeway system, visiting famous bike shops like Garage Company and incredible collections like the Petersen Automotive Museum. The highest point – figuratively and literally – was a flight out of Compton Airport in a World War II biplane, doing aerobatics over the Pacific. Skipping breakfast that particular morning was probably my smartest decision of the whole trip.

Down on power

After LA, the MZ and I worked our way through Death Valley, then Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, a small part of Route 66, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was in the Rockies that I met tour groups of Europeans, almost always riding the biggest, baddest rental Harley Electra Glides they could afford. Judging by the way they nervously steered these half-ton behemoths around mountain curves – or tipped them over in parking lots – methinks they would have been better off with something un-American, like a BMW G650GS.

3/16/2019 10:25:37 AM

Ed Allyn, you can play about with the cylinder head shims to lower the compression ratio. It's a bit of a trial and error exercise, but cheap and easy to do. Start with a thick one and a thin one, if that doesn't work, try two thick ones.. More exotic methods include moving the spark plug to the top of the cylinder head, or fitting a modified TS250/1 head (or even complete engine). Or you could ride more slowly and enjoy the scenery 😋

3/14/2019 9:51:27 AM

An ES was my first bike, and was pretty cool, even though it was old and didn't run too well. Very comfortable and practical, and now quite a rarity on the streets in Germany. The East Germans really learned to make the most out of their permanent lack of raw materials and money. I have read that there was a higher bike-per-person ratio in East Germany than any other country in the world, which makes sense in a country where you had to wait 15 years to have a car delivered.

3/14/2019 8:23:18 AM

This is great. I did not have time to read the article in its entirety but I love it! Especially the vintage 2 smoke and trailer. Where can I get more info about the trailer and trailer hitch?

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