You know the one about nostalgia not being what it used to be? I’d argue that in the case of the Indian two-wheeler market, the reverse is often true – nostalgia is almost exactly what it used to be. The prime example of this is Royal Enfield, which continues to manufacture motorcycles that wouldn’t look out of place if they were to be time-warped into the 1950s and ‘60s. These machines (which look determinedly retro, but have been given technological updates) sell in their hundreds of thousands every year, so clearly someone’s doing something right – and the buying public has a soft corner for sepia tints. Other examples (among others) are Vespa, which makes popular, old-school scooters (and Lambretta, which will return with its scooters to India in the next couple of years), Triumph (with its Bonneville range of motorcycles), Harley-Davidson and Indian (with, well, everything) – and now Jawa.
The Jawa is an almost exact replica of the original bike
You already know the story behind the much-loved brand’s resurrection, but I’ll give you the précis. Three enthusiastic men – Anand Mahindra, Anupam Thareja and Boman Irani – got together, decided that it would be an excellent idea to bring back the Jawa name, formed a company called Classic Legends (which also has the rights to two other legacy motorcycle brands, Yezdi and BSA) and next thing you know, three Jawabadged biked were ready for the market – the Jawa, the Forty-Two and the Perak (the last named will be launched later this year). For Mahindra, it was almost a no-brainer, since he already had a motorcycle engine available (from the intriguing-butflawed Mahindra Mojo) and a manufacturing facility to go with it, in Pithampur, MP.
I must confess that since I’m a pretty diehard fan of most things retro, you could perhaps reach for the salt shaker when I tell you that the new Jawas look bloody fantastic. The Jawa, in particular, can almost pass off as being an exact replica of the original, much-loved 2-stroke motorcycle of yore, which is a good thing, because its ancestor was an iconic piece of design. If you’re a child of the 1980s (as I am), you’ll remember these hardy bikes, with their unmistakable, percussive exhaust note, as being everywhere, and quite likely being a part of your family, or the bike on which you learned to ride. The Forty-Two is also a looker, with wider handlebars, a different headlight, mirrors and instrument pod and a shorter front fender; with both bikes, you get a range of attractive colours to choose from. On the basis of looks alone, I’m sold.
The bikes available during the test ride were pre-production units, but even then, look a little closer and, although overall quality levels are good, a few issues become apparent. The side panels are angled such that they break the forward-leaning flow of the rest of the design; had they been canted forward a few more degrees, thing would have been perfect. The finishing is a little off, with things like misaligned pinstriping and tail-lights. The old-school instrument pod, in which the speedometer spins clockwise, has a digital odometer, but no trip meter, clock, gear indicator or side-stand-down indicator. The fuel gauge is tiny, and it’s hard to decipher how much dinosaur juice you have left in the tank. On the Jawa, the angle of the speedometer, sat atop the headlight, makes it difficult to see it while you’re riding. Officials claimed that these were issues that would be ironed out in the production bikes, but I do wish that they’d given us those bikes in the first place.
At the heart of the matter is a 297cc, single-cylinder, fuel-injected and liquidcooled engine putting out 27 bhp and 28 Nm of torque. As I mentioned earlier, this engine comes from the erstwhile Mahindra Mojo, a bike that promised much but didn’t quite deliver. Before you ask, no, it hasn’t just been taken out of a Mojo and slapped on the Jawa’s frame – it’s been reworked both internally and cosmetically, and tuned principally for low and mid-range shove. It’s also been worked on to produce an exhaust thrum, with bass notes, that’s deeply satisfying, especially on the Forty-Two; these bikes sound even better when one of them passes you. It would have been impossible to reproduce anything approximating the original bike’s audio track, but I can live with this one, thanks very much. Oh, and here’s a cool extra – you can modulate the exhaust note yourself, by moving the decibel killers in the twin exhaust pipes forward or back, with a special tool (or removing them altogether, for the full two-fingered salute to the authorities).
The Forty-Two has the same engine and chassis, but with different handlebar, headlight and instruments
Get on the bike and you’ll notice a couple of things. One is that the riding position is lower than you’re likely to have experienced on other bikes; the other is that the seat, though broad, is on the thin side. In terms of ergonomics, most riders will find these bikes perfectly acceptable – only those pushing six feet in height may find their knees sitting a little high. Fire up the engine and either bike settles into a bassy idle; a precise shift into first gear and you’re off. During the media ride, we had to first traverse a couple of kilometers of dirt road, full of loose soil, stones and potholes, in order to reach the highway, and on this section, the bikes showed they were up to the challenge, with good ground clearance and a very controllable nature on the loose stuff.
Once out on the highway, the Jawas continued to impress, feeling very planted in a straight line. The engine helps propel the bikes fairly quickly to around 90 kph, but after that, progress up the speedometer isn’t as rapid. In any case, the sweet spot on these machines is somewhere between 80 to 100 kph, at which speeds they feel ready to carry on all day. Beyond that, vibrations begin to set in via the handlebars, footpegs and seat, so although you’ll quite easily see an indicated 130+ kph on the speedo, you won’t really want to hold that velocity for extended periods of time. The throttle response is crisp, but drops a bit at lower revs when you’re attempting to pull away; this, however, is something that can be fixed before the bikes hit production.
When the road narrowed to a single carriageway and began to wind upwards, I was pleasantly surprised by the handling abilities of either bike, given their rake angles at the front forks; they’re light, flickable and go where you point them, with no fuss. The single 280mm disc brake up front offers good stopping power, but I do feel that a rear disc brake should have been present on a bike at this price point, rather than a drum brake (which works acceptably). As long as the road surface is smooth, the ride quality is on the acceptable side of firm, but when you encounter rough roads and paver blocks or cobblestones, the thin seat lets rather too much of the goings-on through to your rear end and back, so you’ll likely want to swap out the OEM seat and fit one of your own, with more padding.
Over the course of about seven hours of riding both models, over all kinds of road conditions, I came away feeling that the Jawa and Forty-Two were very enjoyable motorcycles, with genuine, old-school character, smashing looks and enough performance to keep most bikers happy. They’re not perfect, and I’ve mentioned what I feel are niggles, but if most (hopefully all) of them are ironed out, they’ll truly smack it out of the park. Welcome back, Jawa – it’s nice to see you again.
297CC SINGLE CYLINDER
RS. 1.55/1.64 LAKH (EX-SHOWROOM, FORTY-TWO/JAWA)
WHAT WE LIKE
Fabulous looks, old-school charm, handling
WHAT WE DON’T
No rear disc, ergonomic quirks, thin seat, stiff ride
Performance – 4/5
Design – 4.5/5
Handling – 4/5