There are some bikers who still laugh at the mere mention of MuZ, or MZ as it was formerly known under the old communist DDR regime..
Those days ended when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Yamaha engined, 660cc powered Skorpion is a bike that pleasantly surprises almost everyone with a mind open enough to ride it.
Torquey, nimble and lightweight, the Skorpion is a beautifully balanced sportsbike that has one achilles heel – a 110mph top speed – which dents its sales potential. The truth is that even though most bikers rarely go faster, the Skorpion´s performance seems inadequate.
It is still one of best low budget fun bikes around however. Try one sometime.
A stylish and cleverly designed, sportstser for those who value single-cylinder simplicity and economy above out-and-out speed. So said Roland Brown on the arrival in 1994 of the MuZ Skorpion Sport.
’Our biggest advantage is speed,’ says MuZ boss Petr-Karel Korous, puffing on his trademark large cigar and with his leathers unzipped to the waist as, from his perch on the Calafat pit-lane roof, he watches a group of Skorpions being caned around the twisty Spanish circuit. ’Speed of reaction. We are very quick to put ideas into production.’
He’s not joking. As we speak, barely 15 months have passed since the first prototype Skorpion was unveiled to a rave reception at the 1992 NEC Show. Even more impressively, it’s only 19 months since London design consultants Seymour Powell veterans of Norton’s F1 rotary, numerous Yamaha projects and non-bike stuff ranging from kettles to high-speed trains began work on the machine that brings the revived and renamed former East German MZ firm storming belatedly into the Nineties.
Since then the prototype has not only been designed from scratch, and built by Dave Pearce of Farnborough chassis specialists Tigcraft. It has also been converted to the racebike ridden to a handy seventh place in last October’s Donington Singles international by Mike Edwards. And most importantly it has been adapted for mass-production with numerous modifications, not least a change of engine from aircooled Rotax to the watercooled five-valve unit from Yamaha’s XTZ660 Tnr.
Perhaps inevitably there’s a slight sense of disappointment on clocking the production Skorpion Sport (its unfaired but otherwise similar sister is called the Tour), which can’t quite match the supremely horny look that made that first prototype everyone’s star of the NEC. Changes made for reasons of practicality or legality mean the production bike’s fairing is a little taller, its seat unit bulkier, its silencer longer. The Yam lump’s radiator and plumbing also detract slightly from the raw simplicity of the original design.
But this is still one cleverly constructed and seriously minimalist motorcycle, and one that looks lean, light, modern and totally unlike anything the old MZ firm could have produced. Final dry weight is 174kg, which means the Skorpion has the edge on BMW’s F650 single, which scales 189kg with a full tank. (To put things in perspective, the MuZ weighs slightly more than Bimota’s 904cc DB2sr.)
The frame is very much the Skorpion’s central feature, its pair of 50mm diameter steel main tubes holding the bike together both mechanically and visually. It’s braced with thinner tubes at the steering head, from where small plates run down to support the solidly-mounted motor and the rad. The rear subframe is secured by bolts, and like the box-section swing-arm is also made of steel.
Unlike the prototype’s frame, which used aviation glue to join the main spars to the swing-arm pivot sections, the production version relies on conventional welds. ’We are sure that glue would work but our deadlines did not allow enough time for the thorough testing needed,’ says Korous. ’And we also had to consider the public’s possible adverse reaction to such technology.’
Suspension is provided by a pair of 41mm Paioli forks and a vertically mounted Bilstein shock, the latter worked via a rising-rate linkage and adjustable through four preload settings. Wheels are three-spoke 17-inchers wearing 110/70 front and 150/60 rear tyres. A four-pot Grimeca caliper bites on a single 316mm disc up front, with a 240mm disc and two-pot caliper at the back.
Much of the rest is pleasingly simple, from the rather large but very readable instrument console which includes an analogue clock to the tank and seat, which blend neatly and are made by Acerbis of Italy. Clever touches include footrests that can be swapped between two positions: generally high for the Sport, low for the Tour. There’s also potential for adjustment in the seat which, although fairly low at 77cm, can be lowered still further by an alternative pad.
With the standard seat in place the Skorpion’s clip-ons and mildly rearset pegs gave a sporty but reasonably comfortable riding position. The aggressive feel seemed almost out of place when the motor, which is unchanged apart from an MuZ-stamped clutch cover, fired up with its typically gentle duff-duffing from the big silencer behind my right boot. The Yam lump is a five-valve sohc unit, with a 660cc capacity from dimensions of 100 x 84mm. It’s a pretty competent powerplant, though hardly one to get hardened sports-bike riders overdosing on adrenalin.
Straight-line performance was… well, pretty much what you’d expect of an untuned, 48-horse motor pushing slightly more weight than it has to in trailbike mode (the XTZ weighs 169kg dry). There was juddery but usable grunt from about 2500rpm, and from three grand onwards the Skorpion pulled cleanly till it ran up against the sharp ignition cut-out just past the 6800rpm redline.
Vibration from the balancer-shaft motor was noticeable through bars and seat at most engine speeds, but the Yam motor is smooth for a single and the vibes were never annoying on the track. The motor’s soft nature meant there was no need for frenzied use of the five-speed gearbox, which wasn’t the Skorpion’s best feature. The green Sport that I rode most (alternative colours are yellow and black) had a habit of jumping back from second to neutral, though other bikes gave no such trouble.
As for top speed, the stock Tnr is good for about a ton and the Skorpion’s better aerodynamics would give the German bike a little bit extra, particularly with the pilot tucked behind the tinted screen. One of the launch bikes chugged up to an indicated 95mph on the short pit straight, with more to come, but another seemed strangely reluctant to get above about 90mph. A couple of the bikes were development hacks that had seen a fair bit of hard use, which might have explained the difference.
Handling was as stable and predictable as you’d expect of a light and rigid-framed bike, though not quite as effortless as I’d hoped for from a sporty single from the firm that produced a string of world-beating two-stroke racers in the Fifties and Sixties. Rake and trail figures of 26.5 degrees and 107mm of trail are conservative (most modern sports bikes have less than 25 degrees and 100mm respectively), and although the Skorpion steered sweetly it didn’t have quite the instantly flickable feel of a super-sharp sportster.
It still hustled through Calafat’s tight turns respectably rapidly, though, despite slightly soft forks that would have been better suited to quick road riding than tackle-out racetrack attack. Some adjustment would have been handy, but naturally that would have cost money. The shock worked well, giving good feedback even under the radical angles encouraged by super-grippy Metzeler MEZ1s. There was heaps of ground clearance, too at least once the footrests’ hero-blobs had been unscrewed.
Braking from the four-pot front Grimeca was also very adequate, though again perhaps not quite as eyeball-rotatingly potent as I’d envisaged and in the heat of track battle one bike’s brake got very spongy. Perhaps MuZ would have been better off holding this launch on the road. After all, BMW would never have launched the F650 on a racetrack and despite its sporty styling the Skorpion is closer in specification and price to the Funduro than it is to, say, Ducati’s forthcoming Supermono race-replica.
Boss-man Korous is certainly quick to stress that even the sportier Skorpion model is not intended as a race-rep. ’It’s an all-rounder as well as a sports bike,’ he says. ’The market for this type of bike is much larger than for a pure sports machine. We hope to sell 3500 Skorpions this year, so we have to appeal to a wide audience.’
It’s difficult to argue with that sort of logic, however good it might have been to have seen the Sport built as a racier, higher spec and inevitably more expensive machine. The original hard-and-sexy Skorpion concept may have been watered down a touch for mass consumption. But this is still a stylish and cleverly designed little bike that is an amazing achievement when you consider where MuZ has come from in just two years. At £4550 (£55 more than the Funduro) it has plenty to offer for riders who want a sportster but value single-cylinder simplicity and economy above out-and-out speed.
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Engine Air-cooled single
Claimed power (bhp)
Compression ratio 9.2:1
Transmission Five speed
Front tyre 110/70 x 17in Metzeler MEZ1 radial
Rear tyre 150/60 x 17in Metzeler MEZ1 radial
Front wheel 3.00 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel 4.00 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front suspension 41mm telescopic Paioli, 120mm (4.7in) travel
Rear suspension One Bilstein damper, 130mm (5.1in) wheel travel, adjustments for preload
Front brake four-piston Grimeca caliper, 316mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Grimeca caliper, 240mm disc
Top speed 95 mph
Fuel capacity 18 litres
Current price £4,550