Today I’m going to look at some of those rare motorcycles I have crossed paths with over the years that do things just a little differently. They might not be the fastest and they certainly aren’t the most expensive, but they all do something just a little bit differently. Depending where you live you might well not have come across some of them, but there should be at least one or two you can find wherever you live.
Whether they are from a smaller brand without the benefit of a good distributor network or were just a niche motorcycle made in small numbers, they all have that “what’s that” effect on fellow riders.
They break the mould in different ways, but they do all bring something a little different to the table when compared to your average bike.
All are exceptional bikes in one way or another and most come in at relatively affordable prices too. One thing is for sure, you are unlikely to see many of them, regardless of where you live.
MZ 500RS Silver Star
First today is the MZ 500RS Silver Star and the even more rare Red Star. 1996 was the year that the Malaysian corporation Hong Leong took control of the company and relaunched the iconic MZ brand from the ashes of Moto Muz.
Always known for their 2 strokes they had begun to use Rotax engines in a few select models.
The company was in difficulty with a poor distributor network, but with the 500cc Rotax engine they had a way forward. The engine had its roots in the old 500 used in the Armstrong CCM British army bikes, and took other parts from the first generation air cooled Aprilia Pegaso 600 engine.
Not powerful or particularly fast, this bike did have strength in depth, with plenty of torque on tap. It was a typical no frills MZ design and makes some of the modern retro bikes look a bit silly in my opinion. This was what has now become known as a Pre Retro design similar in style, but a little more utilitarian than the Honda GB500. Practicality won, with big mudguards and a fully enclosed chain. The Rotax engine is an easy lump to work on too.
I had the chance of one of these a few years ago before I had ever heard of them and through a lack of knowledge let it slip by. A decision I do regret. Just like the market at the time it was made, I guess I just wasn’t quite ready for it.
This was one of the bikes that bridged the gap between the MZ 2 stroke years and the launch of the Minarelli/Yamaha powered bikes like the Scorpion, Mastiff and Baghira. The Silver Star was launched first, followed by even rarer Red and Green Star variants. All were built in very small numbers, so don’t expect one to come along very often, and you will likely find more of the Silver Star model than the other two.
They are very much worth a look.
Derbi Mulhacen 659
Next on the list we have a motorcycle I am 100% guaranteed to butcher the name of, so please forgive me before I start. The Derbi Mulhacen 659 is a motorcycle the subscribers in Holland and Germany will know more of than anyone else. That is where to look if you think you want one. When I first came across the bike I will be totally honest, I just didn’t really get it. Then, when I was on tour in Spain I visited the Sierra Nevada mountains and it all clicked.
Even the little Vstrom felt big on those tight and twisty mountain roads. The Minarelli/Yamaha 660 single was retuned to make around 50HP and fitted into a really beautiful lightweight chassis.
The whole bike weighed just 160kg or 350lbs and the design was full of tasteful little touches everywhere.
This was a period when Piaggio group had taken control of Derbi. They brought an Italian spark to the table and gave Derbi a free hand to design an all new motorcycle. What they came up with was the biggest bike in the history of the brand.
The Mulhacen was designed by Klaus Nennewitz, who came to Derbi after being involved in creating the Tuono and Falco at Aprilia. They were built from 2005 to 2007, but only sold in small numbers. However, it was a range topping bike for Derbi and they threw everything they could at it to make the design great.
Lightweight, sleek and agile, it was the perfect steed for carving your way through the Sierra Nevada’s or any other twisting mountain pass.
With a flat tracker influenced, Supermoto style ride, and Scrambler-esque design it is another bike that I think was ahead of its time.
Released today who knows if it would have been a bigger success.
CCM 644 Dual Sport
The third bike on todays list will be known better by the riders from the UK, but even here it isn’t a common bike. The CCM 644 Dual Sport was a bike that was perfect for the American market but the company was small and strapped for cash so they didn’t have any budget left for marketing by the time the bike had been built.
They were supplied complete with a set of Super Moto wheels and brakes along with a standard 21 inch front 18 inch rear wheel combination for hard enduro. It was a bike that truly represented the brand and was built around all the lessons Clewes Competition Motorcyces had learned over the years about how to build a great off road bike. It was a breeze to work on with the rear subframe just hinging out of the way to make access for any maintenance easy.
The Classic DR650 engine had been used to replace the earlier Rotax version used in the 604DS, and everyone knows how dependable both engines are so they can both be great bikes.
It rolled in with a dry weight of just 137kg or 300lbs and the engine was tuned for 53HP and 53Nm of torque. Paoli front suspension and a WP rear shock meant it really did have fantastic suspension compared to most of its competitors and all plastics were Acerbis. It even got Renthal bars as standard.
The downside of this bike was its vibration, and a less than consistent build quality. This meant it wasn’t unusual to just find bolts sheared off when you started to do any maintenance. This made even some of the Italian bikes look low maintenance. Better high tensile bolts make a big difference but this bike will never be a smooth operator.
It had plenty of power with a theoretical top speed of around 110mph or 177 kph, but you needed a grip like iron and balls of steel to get there. After 80mph the handling got very sketchy on the road and the steering, which is sharp and precise off road, becomes vague and inspires no confidence at all.
However, this did improve if you swapped to the Supermoto wheels and it did reward the riders prepared to push it into the corners, but its light weight and aggressive geometry meant it was always less than happy when travelling in a straight line.
If you got a good one they were great bikes, but don’t expect the sort of dependability you would get from a standard Dirt Pig, they are a little bit more of a hooligan than any DR650 could be.
Husqvarna 900 Nuda
Talking of hooligans, this next bike is definitely a contender for the Title of ultimate hooligan motorcycle. Built for just a year in 2012 the Husqvarna 900 Nuda and the Nuda R took the comcept of a supermoto and force fed it until it could take no more.
It was a collaboration between Husqvarna and the then owners BMW. They started with the 800 cc Rotax engine from the F800 and gave it a longer throw crank for improved midrange power, then tuned it for over 100HP and 100 Nm of torque. It revved out fast with maximum power at 8,500 rpm and with a dry weight of just 174kg it would launch that front wheel skyward given the slightest opportunity.
The standard model has Sachs fully adjustable suspension all around and on the R model the rear is replaced by a shiny gold Ohlins unit, but both bikes handle flawlessly with the sort of scalpel like precision you only get from a Supermoto.
It was a Supermoto of sorts, just with MORE of pretty much everything.
Bodywork was simple with no clutter and everything was very minimal. Everything except that glorious engine that is. It was a Scrambler for the twenty first century, the market just wasn’t ready for it.
In a world of “Extras” and “Add ons” the Nuda was gloriously and proudly minimal with sharp angular lines. A mixture of Scandinavian design, German engineering and Italian style. What a combination.
The sad part is that with the KTM buy out this was another bike that was culled from the line up and consigned to the rubbish heap before it had been given the time to make its mark. If only they had kept this bike in the range rather than the Svartpilen.
Highland 950 V2
Next we come to a bike with an incredible story. The Castiglioni brothers had completed the Cagiva takeover of Husqvarna and some of the disgruntled staff remained to launch the Husaberg brand. However, there was conflict. A small group of the engineering staff left Husaberg to begin manufacturing their own, all new engine and a series of totally new motorcycles. The result was the Folan engine, and Highland motorcycles was born.
The Highland 950 V2 is a bike I would love to get my hands on. Imagine if you would, that someone bolted 2, 350cc Berg engines in a V formation to make a 750 V-Twin, then did the same with the 500 engines to make an even more bonkers 950cc V-Twin. That is what you get from the Highland 950 V2.
Built from 2003 to 2008 every motorcycle was completely hand made. It would produce 85HP and 85Nm of torque in the 750cc version, and that was boosted to over a 100Nm of torque on the 950cc models. With a dry weight of just 160kg, it was pretty much world beating at the time. In comparison it makes bikes like the KTM 790 and 890 Adventure of today look positively bloated, yet it still carried a 20ltr fuel tank. It also had fully adjustable WP suspension all around so the ride was pretty faultless off road and handled road conditions better than many more road focussed bikes of the time.
Sadly, in 2010 the founder and 2 senior executives of the company died in a plane crash returning from a business meeting in Michigan. The company never recovered, and without the expertise of the founder, no more bikes were built, marking an untimely end to what may have been a wonderful success story given time.
The engine really was a masterpiece, lighter than any other large capacity V-Twin on the market. It created what was arguably the most powerful Dual Sport motorcycle of all time. Who knows what would have happened given different circumstances.
The last one I saw come up for sale was advertised at 5,500 Euros, which might not be cheap, but when you consider what you are getting and the fact it was all made by hand and you can see why. Whats more, you would be riding a piece of living motorcycle history.
Can you imagine a KTM 950 or 990 that weighed 40kg or 90lbs less?
This is another example of progress not always working in my opinion.
MZ 1000 S
Now last of the bikes on the list today is definitely not least. That bike is the MZ 1000 S and its siblings the 1000 SF and ST. These bikes marked the end of the line for this historic brand. A far cry from the small capacity 2 strokes that made them their name. The 1000cc parallel twin that powered these bikes was a completely new engine.
The MZ 1000 S came first, and was a concept drawn by Peter Naumann, who was the design engineer on the F 117 Stealth Fighter. The final production bike stuck steadfastly to the concept and you can see his masterful lines from front to rear. Who knows what it would do to radar traps.
With 117 HP and 100Nm of torque, the parallel twin wasn’t the fastest bike at the time, but the engine had a punch like a rabid kangaroo. Above the hesitation that came in around 3000rpm there was a surge of power that just kept on going.
At the time this was by far the most powerful parallel twin engine ever made. It still holds that position now, almost 20 years later, in true MZ style.
This bike was described as ergonomic perfection by some journalists at the time, and it is all set out really well. Much better than most bikes seem to be even today. You don’t need prehensile thumbs or double jointed wrists with adamantium support bars in them, or hypermobile knee joints. No bike will fit everyone, but the MZ 1000 S does a really good job of trying.
You can see the SF naked version in the video too which was an equally striking motorcyce. Love it or hate it you have to admit MZ succeeded in making something different in what had become a homogenised market of V Twins and across the frame fours.
Initially it did sell well, especially in Germany, but it wasn’t enough to save the company. The nails were already being hammered into the coffin of MZ. Finances were failing and despite many years attempting to resurrect the brand, in 2010 the gates on the factory were sadly locked for the final time.
And on that sad note, that’s it for today
I hope you enjoyed this trip into the darker corners of the motorcycle industry that sometimes get forgotten. Just because a motorcycle isn’t one of the biggest sellers or better known bikes, doesn’t mean it is lacking. Sometimes these bikes offer more than you can imagine.
I hope you get some great riding in
Ride Free everyone.
More Footage of the Nuda from Royal Jordanian