Motorcycle Classic: MZ TS 250/1-“Neckermann macht’s möglich!”

A real motorcycle for only DM 2690.00? To good to be true? A commi-bike mingling with the likes of  Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki plus Italian and British bikes in the West? And it is brought to you by a mail order house? Trust the slogan: “Neckermann makes it possible!”

All the product information that the Neckermann catalog provided was the above picture of the bike’s right side with key features and specifications. It highlighted the top speed and the price. That’s it. Clockwise:

  • Two panoramic mirrors
  • elastically suspended tachometer and speedometer with odometer, easy to read
  • 179mm headlight with asymmetric low beam
  • sporty telescopic fork with 185 mm of travel
  • horizontally ribbed aluminum cylinder for high high output
  • 244cc 2-cycle engine, 17 hp at 5400 rpm, elastically suspended
  • 5 speed transmission, fast and easy, low noise shifting
  • fully encapsulated chain by patented MZ enclosure.
  • rear swing with struts and 105 mm travel
  • turn signals front and back
  • wide, comfortable double bench with built in tool box and on board tools
  • 17.5 L tank, 1:50 mixture.

English speaking riders were treated to this TV commercial:

The severely redacted history of the bike is this: After WW II the DKW factory assets were used by the Allied for war reparation. The blue prints of their RT 125 bike went to Britain and the US and the production equipment – together with a team of engineers – went to Russia. The folks in Zschoppau were left with a gutted factory and the determination to get going again. They first produced the RT 125 again, then in 1956 the name changed to Motorradwerk Zschoppau, short: MZ. They made single cylinder bikes of various displacement up to 250cc.

And there was also this very BMW-esque boxer twin, but still two-stroke and with 350 cc.

The first iteration in 1956 had a single cylinder 2-cycle engine with 4 speed transmission in the same housing. The frame featured an Earles type fork in the front and a swing in the rear. The “E” stands for Einzylinder (single cylinder), the “S” stands for Schwinge or swing fork.

The 60’s Trophy version had  a large front fender and a unified headlight housing and tank. It made the bike look front heavy. In my opinion it does look like an “Ersatzauto”, honest to its mission.


For 1973 this model was updated to MZ TS 250 when it received a parallel tube frame with a long travel telescopic fork, no doubt to make it look more modern vis-a-vis Japanese bikes. It made 19 DIN hp at 5700 to 5900 rpm and 2,5 kpm torque at 4800 to 5000 rpm. While it is still kind of crude it does have good proportions.

The next upgrade 1976-1980 was called MZ TS 250/1. It received a 5th gear.. Cooling was enhanced with larger horizontal ribs. When West Germany reformed the insurance classification from displacement to horsepower ratings the engine was de-tuned to 17hp for that market which was a whole lot less expensive to the owner.

The bike was revised once more and named ETZ . Most importantly, it received a front disc brake. It was produced until 1991 when the reunification cut off the East Block customer base. A Turkish outfit purchased and moved the whole production facility to Turkey where it had its very last stand under the name Kanuni.

The closest I ever came to an MZ TS 250 was on a cold Sunday early Spring 1975 or 76. Willy and I went on our first ride of the year on the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse. We noticed a bunch of bikes in a parking lot and stopped to see what’s up. One rider had a flat tire on his Honda CB 250. There was no chance for him to get a new inner tube on a Sunday. I kind of twisted Willy’s arm to go and pull an inner tube off a bike in his collection. I stayed at the parking lot guarding the disabled bike while Willy and some guys went home to fix the front wheel. Soon the rrring-ding- ding of a 2 cycle engine cut through the frosty air. This guy on the yellow MZ TS 250 stopped and struck up a conversation. He was a strange fellow, scrawny, about 40 years old with a slight speech impediment and a lot of enthusiasm for cheap “DDR” bikes. I think he considered himself as the in-official spokes person of MZ in West Germany. Not only could he rattle down all the advantages of the MZ he also knew exactly what the motorcycle dealers with their chrome laden multi-muffler Kayahondasukis were all about: pull lots of money out of your pocket!

“Forget them! This is your next bike!” He gently slapped the tank of his “Emm Tsett” (pronounce the “T’s” real sharp – we are proud of our consonants!) “Go to Neckermann and buy an MZ!” There was no other bike that could win him over. “But spare parts…” I muttered. “No problem! Neckermann has them all.” “No shop will help me….” “You don’t need a shop. They are so simple,” he countered. “Are they lasting?” “Sure they are! I run 1:33 mixture, not 1:50 and I raised the main jet needle by one notch. They only made those changes because of the environmental regulations. That kills the engines. Mine lasts!” Then he pulled the lid off the fuel tank and there was a string with a measuring beaker dangling from it. “This is how I make my 1:33 mixture. I fill in 15 L of regular and add that much oil. That’s it. Done.” Then he showed me some tools and spare parts he carried along.

I have to say he ran a good argument for the MZ. But a strange fellow he was standing there next to his bike in his grimy trench coat. I can still picture him in my mind as he started the engine with one kick, clicked it into 1st gear and rrrrang off with a slight bluish contrail of smoke exiting the muffler.

“For men who know how to ride!”

Was it as good as he said? I will never know from personal experience. However, the interwebs are a great source for such info, much more so than the one page ad in the Neckermann catalog ever was.

Here are some comments I collected on the internet:

Steven Kearney wrote: “For reasons best known to himself, Twin No 1 decided to go dispatching and in 1979 bought himself a new Supa 5 for about £500: all black and chrome, just like a Vincent (ahem). It seemed like an excellent bike right from the start, and we couldn’t believe how bright the lights were. The whole bike displayed a quality of functional concept and execution and was pleasurable to ride too.
It might have been simple but it was also refined.

If you need this point demonstrated, try a CZ 250 from Czechoslovakia, a country then operating under the same socio-economic system as the former East Germany. The CZ was of similar specification: 250cc two-stroke single, petroil mix, intended for rugged transport. You’d imagine therefore that the two machines would be pretty similar to ride: not a bit of it. The designer of the CZ clearly intended that nobody should ever get any pleasure out of riding it – and he succeeded!

[stuff cut…..]

The big weaknesses were the electrics and the front brakes. Despite the glowing (no pun) account above, the electrics were just not up to the job, providing weak lights and virtually no horn – an almost fatal combination for dispatching. I can only assume that a combination of continuous town running and accumulated dirt and corrosion in the wiring harness caused the lights to fade from their original brilliance.

The single leading shoe front brake wasn’t strong enough for city dispatch work; in fact, both twins complained that it was downright dangerous. The Supa 5 remains, however, the most rust-resistant bike I have ever seen.

The shortcomings mentioned above have been largely overcome with the ETZ250, which boasts a disc front brake and 12-volt electrics. With over 30,000 miles, no main bearing faults were reported. It has an autolube system but I’m not sure if this is the reason.”

This guy shows there is nothing on an MZ that couldn’t be fixed with a healthy dose of attitude:

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Unread 02-01-2007, 09:25 PM
andoulli's Avatar
Senior Member
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 1,678
Default Re: 74 MZ TS250

Yep I had one, and that is my Yammie 550 Minimum in the background with the RWL Dunlop Qualifiers, so *****in!
Now here is the scoop on the TS250. Run for the hills, sell the sunbritches! Just kidding, not really, hahaha? Mine was a 1974, and this photo was taken in 1992. I bought this thing with 200 miles on the clock for $200 in 1991. The previous owner was a serious wrench and he worked out most of the bugs, emphasis on most. I have no idea what the top speed was, it would get way squirrelly at anything over 58 mph. Expect the generator to have a short in the wiring, which, if you can find it and insulate it, will make this a somewhat usable scoot. There is a little door at the back of the seat where the tools live. Never open that door, you might find the tools. If you are lucky and get it running, I would l consider moving to the former East Germany, where you can probably make a decent living fixing these things. If you decide to give up on fixing it, the eight foot long exhaust can makes a passable gutter downspout and the fork tubes can be use as pipe cleaners. Amazing how the chain will last almost forever in it’s totally enclosed housing, long, way long after you have lost interest in the thing. Great bike though :>(
Oops I forgot, I had a kryptonite lock for it, which as you can see in the photo, I never used, duhhhhh! One morning I got up and discovered some basstard stole my lock and left the bike.
Uri Crashovitch

Message Edited by andoulli on 02-01-200708:31 PM

Message Edited by andoulli on 02-01-200711:18 PM

On a German forum someone asked about the bike’s long distance capability . “Alexander” replied with some detail, then summarized: “Die Grenzfahrdauer wird durch die Leidensfaehigkeit des Arsches bestimmt.” Translation: “The long distance limits are defined by tolerance for suffering of the arse.”

You will not find any complaints about the strength and stability of the frame. This parallel tube frame has proven itself in International Six Days Trophy competition with 6 world championships. The lower top tube doubles as air intake snorkel.

The front drum brake was consistently bemoaned for its lack of performance. Barely adequate performance can be achieved with painstaking maintenance of the cables and other moving parts. As a result many have used the disk set up of the newer MZ ETZ 250 to upgrade their older machines. The duplex brakes of other bikes have also been transplanted.

This post in confirms that it was a design flaw:

Everybody knows that the Supa 5 front drum brakes are rubbish. Don’t they? But why? The front brake is the same size as the rear one, and that can lock the wheel. I’ve had a play and think that I have solved the problem…

When examined, the front brake seems well made. It looks rigid and is surely big enough at 160mm. Two things struck me:

1: The actuating arm and cam is half on before the lining makes contact with the drum.

2: The back plate is a close fit on the spindle so it doesn’t allow the brake to centralise [sic] within the drum. (This last one may be a red herring as I carried this mod out first and although the brake improved, it was not the full solution).

He had the shoes relined, put the brake in a lathe and trimmed things to size with this result: “Out on the road, the bike is transformed! The efficiency is fantastic, as good as a disc. I could make the front tyre squeal with a two-finger application at 30 mph, and the rear wheel was becoming airborne.

It is actually surprising to me that the comrades at MZ never bothered to improve this brake if it was that simple: provide a little clearance for self centering and change the cam.

And here are a few passages of a road test written by Wolfram Riedel and published in “DER DEUTSCHE STRASSENVERKEHR”, Vol.9/1973, page 298-302:

We have to admit that we took stretches of rough roads always at higher speeds than normally. The TS chassis imbues a sense of safety even when other vehicles have long assumed more moderate speeds in order to take care of tires and suspension parts or to maintain contact with the road surface……The long traveling and truly excellently tuned telescopic fork affords very precise wheel control even on roads that are not worthy of the term….. Fuel consumption values were 5.6 L /100km city, 6.4L/100 km Autobahn and 4.9L/100 km highway. Of course with a relaxed highway ride it is quite possible to get by with 4L/100 km.

The gear diagram as found in East German magazine “DER DEUTSCHE STRASSENVERKEHR” shows a well chosen pattern. Take it to the apparent red line at 7500 rpm and you hit the next gear close to the engine’s maximum torque of 2.5 kpm (18 lb ft).

It is safe to say that the MZ motorcycles were a huge success in the East Block countries and many developing countries. It was not so successful in Western economies where riders looked for glitz as much as functional values. In all MZ produced about 2.5 million motorcycles until it all ground to a halt when the Berlin Wall tumbled and the Eastern European customer base was cut off.

To this day I think that the MZ TS 250/1 could have been or should have been the alternative to the 1956 BMW R 26 I owned. From all I have learned researching this article this machine provided the joy of a quality ride with rugged simplicity, a high level of reliability and economy. On the other hand it might have exposed me to the snickering of fellow riders with their snazzy Japanese bikes and monthly payments who were as biased about the MZ TS 250/1 as I was. – A bike from the communist East, purchased through a mail order house, and promoted by an excentric 40 year old fellow in a grimy trench coat.