As I watched a practised leg bring the combined gear/kick lever back, first pressing it into the engine cover ever so slightly and then lightly kicking the motorcycle to life, I wondered, ‘Why the hell did I sell my Roadking?’ That one act embedded into these Czech-origin motorcycles was enough for what they call FOMO these days to descend upon my mind. To me, though, it’s always been a thick curtain weaved from regret that results from letting go of a motorcycle for good. Or perhaps it was for the worse. Anyway, the beautiful motorcycle being kicked to life here was a Jawa Californian, a motorcycle that had once been the inspiration for many daydreams while my Roadking was being rebuilt. But those dreams were shelved in favour of a safe and straightforward restoration. Ah, well.
What I wasn’t prepared for on this day, though, was falling hard for the tiny Yezdi Jet. I’d ridden one many years ago, and this maroon example of miniature two-wheeled Art Deco design had me hooked all over again. And then my eyes went back to the Californian, and I realised that this day was going to be a lesson in bisected distraction, my mind the hapless ping-pong ball between the two machines. And that was before smoke kept wafting from the exhaust tips of the motorcycle even after it was turned off, a sight so captivating that I forgot to take a video of it. That’s how you know you’ve got something worth watching, no?
The recently-restored Californian looked straight out of a sales brochure — yes, I checked all the ones I could find online. And the Jet wasn’t exactly untidy, either. By the way, both belong to Roshan Kamat of Bangalore, a man who ostensibly wears many hats, but prefers swapping them for a helmet as often as he can, especially since he happens to be a co-founder of Gear & Throttle House. His well-populated garage is quite varied, but these two stood out the most. In the Californian’s case, a lot of it was down to the PAV 40 trailer hitched to its rear. It’s rated for 90 kph, but watching it catch some big air, behaving like a one-wheeled dirt bike as Kamat rode through narrow residential lanes concerned me enough to forget which gear I was in on the Jet. And with three speeds in its box, the little two-stroke kept running out of breath even on the short runs between Bangalore’s liberally installed speed breakers.
Out on the main road, whenever Kamat grabbed a big handful of throttle, the Californian loudly purred away in a sweet-smelling cloud of twin-pipe smoke. Meanwhile, I felt like a tortoise caught in a stampede, but the Jet was plenty cute so the surrounding traffic tolerated its lack of speed. And, in contrast to its lack of velocity, it made a racket at 40 kph that’d make a coked-up flock of seagulls proud. As you’ll see in one of the photos in this story, the Jet was far narrower than me; whenever I went into a gap, I wondered if I’d get wedged between two rickshaws and the Jet would continue without me. And so I resorted to a lateral version of a racing crouch, trying unsuccessfully to compress myself to fit into the distance between the Jet’s handlebar. I could almost hear Kaizad laughing in the car behind, and I heard him loud and clear when we stopped for photographs.
Now, most people I know use the names ‘Jawa’ and ‘Yezdi’ quite interchangeably, and there is an ample tradition of confusion to justify that to some extent. However, the Jawa here was never sold in India, while the Yezdi was never sold
anywhere else in the world. Imagine that — one of the most beautiful mopeds ever made was made in Mysore and only sold in India! This Jet was a Series B example so it featured a 60cc motor, while the Series A had a 50cc one. Talk about a performance upgrade. And it’s a step-through only if you have legs like twigs; it’s very much a swingover, though for a tall person, it can also simply be a walk-over.
With its left-mounted Kickstarter and exhaust, whether intentionally or otherwise, the Jet clearly announced its Eastern Bloc origins. And these were just two endearing differences in this unique machine. The motor made around 4 bhp, but those horses were wheezing with … the Jawa here was never sold in India, and the Yezdi was never sold anywhere else in the world 250cc of grace, simplicity and two smoking pipes The same traits here, too; but in 60cc single-pipe form!
Old age, especially with my 90 kg on board. And even that didn’t make the Jet any less entertaining to ride. It’s always a given when you’re riding a machine that’s 30 kg lighter than you are. To live up to its name, though, it needs a transplant; a proper 100cc reed-valve motor with a 5-speeder and I’ll be the first in line to pick one up… and working brakes, too, please. Do disc brakes come in Deco style as well?
Which brings me to the way it looks. The Jet was as quaint and distinctive as they come. The spotlight was firmly on that cute little petrol tank, and I lost count of the number of times I indulgently patted it as you would a puppy. That headlamp nacelle tried to bring some authority to its presence, but that got a few pats as well. However, if I ever got one, instead of that Communist Solemn Red, I’d paint it bright yellow and white, and let the Jet outdo the morning sunshine on any Sunday. Kamat informed me that a Jet in this condition would demand around Rs 1.5 lakh, which makes a lot more sense as a runabout to my 2T-infused brain than an electric scooter. And it’ll do around 70 kph, too, making for a range of about 350 km.
On the other hand, the Californian’s scratchless beauty — but mostly that trailer — immediately negated any hope of riding it myself. My previous experience with such a setup ended with the trailer crashing down on its side on many occasions which is a painful memory to this day. So, I was quite content to take in the Californian’s beautiful lines, so similar to the Yezdis we have in India and, as I was surprised to discover, still setting off plans in my head. Kamat said that he’s spent around Rs 4.9 lakh including the cost of the imported 1970s bike for the restoration, and that’s quite the packet.
I could read ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ on many of the parts on the bike, and I imagine that’s where most of the cost came from. The petrol tank will be familiar to many people, though the chassis, the suspension, the side panels, and the bigger wheels are different to what Indian Jawa-Yezdi riders are used to. There’s a steering damper, too, and those upswept exhausts complete a rather fetching profile. I couldn’t help but feel that it’d look right at home in the place it was named after. An easygoing 250cc engine good for 125 kph, proven bones for veering off the beaten path, and a musical sound which could wrap a smoky bow around the whole scene. No wonder my mind kept trying to Photoshop that trailer out of the picture so that I could imagine it leaning on its side stand on the Pacific coast.
Machines like this cause great envy, I tell you, and they’re also dangerous provocations for a garage that’s already bursting at its seams. But I’d like a Jet, really; after all, it won’t take up all that much space, right? And I already have a Yezdi D 250 Classic that’s mighty close to the Californian in appearance for the most part. Never mind the Californian, how about a Konkani instead?