Remembering My 1967 Jawa 350 Californian


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1967 jawa californian 
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.

johnny conley
7/15/2011 10:45:59 AM

Why wont they build any light street scramblers anymore. Man take that suzuki 650 single some retro styling !!

lee wilcox
7/14/2011 11:54:29 AM

Absolutely the best bike I ever owned. A 1972 model purchased in the Panama Canal Zone. Even a poor sailor who was bad at math could figure 70mph and 70mpg. Started every time and I believe it would have run forever. However, I found out that salt water would not compress as well as pistons while at the beach. A little stream I had to cross turned out to have no bottom and the bike was almost in the pacific. I pulled it out but it was ruined. So if you and your lady friend ever seek some seclusion on the beach and the tide comes in and goes out, be sure to recheck the depth of any streams before you cross. I remember an absolutely troublefree bike that deserved better.

7/14/2011 9:53:31 AM

My first bike was a black and chrome 1964 Jawa 350. Although I remember it fondly, I would never trade any bike I have had since then for it. I had it for about a year right after I turned 16, and it was in the shop as often as it was on the road. One unusual feature I remember as clearly as I do any on my current bikes was the combined shifter/kick start lever. To start the bike, you would push the shifter shaft inwards towards the case, then pivot it back until it was rotated about 110 degrees, and it became the kick starter. As you might imagine, using a slender shifter lever in such a way tended to bend it a bit. I also recall the nearly total lack of rebound damping in the forks, so they would constantly top out on dirt roads. I finally sold it for the same $200 price I had paid for it a year earlier, and bought a 1968 Yamaha 350 (YR2C). Now that was I bike I'd love to have again! Still, the Jawa was a good bike to learn on, since the performance was very mild, and I was forced to learn a lot about cycle maintenance. Fond memories, yes, but today's bikes are better by far.

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