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Simple Concepts: Bultaco and Jawa

It’s not a big motorcycle
Just a groovy little motorbike
It’s more fun that a barrel of monkeys
That two-wheel bike
We’ll ride on out of the town
To any place I know you like
-Beach Boys, Little Honda

Okay, admittedly, that 1964 ditty may not have the best-written lyrics, but it does capture the joys of riding a lightweight, go-anywhere motorcycle. Such bikes – single-cylinder dual-purpose bikes that were cheap to buy, run and maintain – used to be the mainstay of the motorcycle industry. The passage of four decades may have clouded our memory of the slow, buzzy reality of riding these bikes everyday, but still, (to paraphrase another Beach Boys hit) wouldn’t it be nice to get one more ride on one of those brands you may remember from the good ol’ days . . . like Bultaco or Jawa?

Our imaginative and prolific designer friend Oberdan Bezzi thinks so. Here’s his latest take on what a modern-day Bultaco could be. Bultaco, a Spanish builder of lightweight competition-oriented on and off-road machines, went out of business in 1980, but Sherco (best known for trials bikes) bought the name in 1998. There is no word of building a revival Bultaco, but if Sherco did, Oberdan has this vision of the “Picador” (keeping the Bultaco tradition of naming bikes after bullfighters), using a sturdy 400cc four-stroke single that’s economical, friendly and easy to use. Seventeen-inch wheels and street styling make it more of a city commuter than an off-roader, but inverted suspension, wave rotors and radial-mount Brembo calipers mean it’s a little more serious than a “groovy little motorbike.”

One blast from the past that hasn’t disappeared completely is the Czech firm Jawa. The noisy two-strokers used to terrorize motocross courses worldwide until cheaper, faster competition from Japan forced them into obscurity. But the 80-year-old factory is still churning out bikes, although the awkwardly styled machines could use some updating. Oberdan has a plan for them as well: This Jawa Californian is his idea of a refreshed street scrambler to cash in on the Iron-Curtain-Retro craze that’s sweeping the nation. Oh, you didn’t hear about that? You were probably deafened by the sound of 160-hp race-reps roaring by. No matter, says Oberdan; “maybe a motorcycle shaped like a motorcycle that’s simple, inexpensive, and can carry you to the sea with a guitar slung over one’s shoulder, can be enough?”