1972 CZ 380 Motocross

Vintage Motocross Bike

For an entire generation of motocrossers who have only known water-cooling, disc brakes, and linked suspension, it may be hard to realize that the motorcycle pictured here was once the zenith of motocross racing technology.

The communist Czech-built CZ defined motocross in the late 60s and early 70s. Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster each built their early legends on the CZ motorcycle brand. Once motocross took root in America it was the CZ-along with Husqvarna-that stood head and shoulders above all the other brands of the day.

The beautifully restored racing motorcycle pictured here is a 1972 CZ 380-known as the "yellow tank." In their day, CZs were regarded as superb handling motocross weapons. Hard to imagine we used to flog these beasts around a rutted out track with such severe limitations in suspension travel (all 4-inches of it).

Motocross motorcycles of the day, even the top level racing machines, left a great deal to be desired. Right off the showroom floor they all required massive modifications such as lighter, stronger rims, better designed pipes (known then as expansion chambers), airboxes (the stock CZ box was metal), shocks, fenders, etc., etc., etc.

Starting the CZ was a bit of a challenge. The stock Jikov carburetor had a valve called a "tickle," which allowed the rider to literally flood the float bowl with pre-mix. When the float bowl was full the gas would come pouring out and spill all over the engine. Then you had to carefully kick the high-compression engine through its stroke and pray the thing didn’t kick back (which could really hurt).

Yet even after you dropped some serious coin to get the bikes competitive they each had they own particular demons. Back then we all accepted these curious quirks as part of the game. Although the motorcycles were built like a brick outhouse, the CZ was not immune to serious flaws.

The two major quirks of the CZ motorcycle were a shift lever throw that literally required the rider to lift their foot off the peg to grab a gear. The second, most infamous flaw, was the CZ’s nasty habit of getting thrust into serious tank swappers in the whoops. It was caused by a combination of too much power, not enough suspension travel, geometry, and frame flex.

It was not uncommon to see a CZ motorcycle hit a whoop section at speed and immediately have the rear end get violently pitched into a series of scary, full lock side-to-side swaps. Needless to say, a lot of riders got pitched off. The pros simply learned to keep the mighty Czech bike pinned and hope for the best. It was awe-inspiring to witness-to say the least.

Suspension was so limited in this era that moto riders wore kidney belts. The belt was used to literally help keep a motorcycle rider’s guts from getting jostled about. By comparison today’s motocross machines, even in the rough, have the ride of a Cadillac.

Despite their seeming ancient appearance alongside present-day motocross machines, the CZ was, in fact, "it." When we were teens, me and my motocross buddies used to ride our bicycles all the way across town to Ted Evans (a dealership in Santa Monica) just to dream and drool over these things.

The price tag back then for a stock CZ 380 motorcycle was just shy of a thousand dollars. However, the base price was merely a start point of a dark pit of endless spending to make the thing halfway competitive. Modifications were the key.

As a result there was a plethora of really trick CZs at tracks all over the country. Polished chrome tanks, custom pipes, after market shocks and fenders all contributed to a personally customized world of race bikes that doesn’t really exist today.

Kelly Owen is the proud owner and restorer of this wonderful example of early 70s Czechoslovakian motocross iron, completely authentic, right down to the famous welded on brake and clutch lever perches.

Visit www.theowencollection.com to see more beautiful motocross machines of years gone by and to schedule a look at the collection in person.

Ron Lieback
Ron Lieback
One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007, and is currently Online Editor at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of "365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).

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