The Jawa Californian 350

Under the radar

| March/April 2011

  • jawa californian
    Jawa Californian 350.
  • suzuki t250 hustler
    Suzuki T250 Hustler.
  • yamaha ym1
    Yamaha YM-1.

  • jawa californian
  • suzuki t250 hustler
  • yamaha ym1

Jawa Californian 350
Years produced:
Engine type: 343cc air-cooled two-stroke parallel twin
Claimed power: 28hp @ 5,250rpm
Top speed: 69mph
Transmission: 4-speed
Weight: 337lbs (wet)
MPG: 50-70mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $720 (1972)/$350-$1,250

Though Japan’s two-stroke triumvirate of Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha popularized the air-cooled two-stroke twin in the 1960s, its origins lie elsewhere. Yamaha famously “researched” the 1953 Adler MB250 to create the YD1 (even borrowing the Adler’s dimensions), but it was Jawa that fashioned the mold, which eventually led to development of the Jawa Californian 350.

Frantisek Janecek built his first motorcycle in Bohemia in 1929 using a German Wanderer 500cc four-stroke engine (hence Ja-Wa), and quickly earned the company a reputation for quality engineering. After WWII, with Bohemia then part of communist Czechoslovakia, the company produced utilitarian two-stroke singles, introducing a 350cc twin in 1948, the same year the nationalized company was merged with its former rival, CZ. With CZ building motocross and trials bikes, and Jawa focusing on road racing and speedway, Jawa-CZ quickly earned its competition chops.

Unlike its competition machines, Jawa’s two-stroke road bikes emphasized reliability and longevity, but less so performance. In 1966, Jawa’s aging, long-stroke 350cc twin got a makeover intended to help it keep up with the all-conquering Yamakawazuki twins. The engine got oil injection, a compression boost for more thrust, a new name — Californian — and up-to-date styling. So how did it stack up with its Japanese competition?

Although its engine displacement suggests comparison to, say, the 39hp Yamaha RD350, it’s probably fairer to compare the 28hp Jawa Californian with smaller bikes of the era. In 1972, Yamaha’s RD250 claimed 30hp and the 32hp Suzuki T250 Hustler. Both were smaller and lighter than the Jawa, so they were faster, too. A more fitting comparison might be Yamaha’s earlier 1965-1969 YM-1 (see Contenders below). But flat-out speed wasn’t what the Jawa was about. While the Japanese pretenders needed lots of revs to perform, the Jawa would still be burbling along well after the screaming strokers had been sidelined with a holed piston — a frequent occurrence if you used all their power. It was sort of the hare and the tortoise, if you will.

Though relatively sluggish, the Jawa was up to speed in other ways. The Californian introduced the “Oilmaster” system, which, like Yamaha’s Autolube, metered oil into the carburetors by a throttle-controlled pump. The fail-safe system used two cables — one from the twist grip to the pump control, and one from the pump to the carb — so if one cable failed, the engine wouldn’t run above idle, thus avoiding catastrophic damage from oil starvation.

gerald estes III
10/26/2012 11:24:45 AM

id go as far as to say except for the speedway style jawas (esso, westlakes, etc) most all the models they produced shared a common gearbox - why change a good thing? how many different machine tools would they have needed to produce something else? cz / jawa clutches were bulletproof and their gearboxes indestructable. the rpm needed to move those clunkers a different story entirely which involves ignitions and carbureators...go figure... a friend left me one very similar years ago. called it a californian - with a brown / cream color scheme. maybe it was a 250...researching something like that as a young enthusiast back in the early seventies was fruitless. it rusted solid parked behind my old mans workshop. i located somebody interested in having it...when my brother and i tried to move it nothing spun, reciprocated, what have you, so we towed it out with my truck - the chain broke. another misconception - the claimed weight of these bombs, be it dry or wet needs to have some sort of an alogrithmic formula applied which accounts for well aired specimens of dubious heritage that required zero maintenace. it took ten men and a boy (or two) to get it sorta upright on the center stand in the back of said truck; we used only baling wire to keep it upright for the 30 mile trek to its new resting place....sharing the characteristics of our extra stiff suspension settings would probably fall on deaf ears so i wont.

Mark Johnson
10/25/2012 12:55:50 PM

Only 69 mph, huh. I have seen several road tests of the 350 Jawa and each reports a top speed in the mid- 70's. Even the 1950's model with 16 claimed horsepower. Curiously the higher horsepower of the Californian over the earlier models, did not seem to change the top speed much if any.

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter