Using and Abusing a Jawa Cross 90
Editor note: Mark Zweig of Janus Motorcycles has been sharing stories from his younger riding days, and we’re grateful for the glimpses back into his moto yesteryears. As Mark recently told us, “I wish I had made more photos of those old bikes. Photo development was expensive back then for us, and we spent all of our money on our motorcycles.” So we’ll share what photos Mark has, and supplement where we need to with shots of similar bikes that he sends us, from an age before smart phones with built-in high quality cameras.
When I was about 13, I bought myself a brand new 1972 Jawa “Cross 90” (that’s what it said on its sidecover) from Don Heida at Heidacycle in Fenton, Missouri. It listed for $275, about the cheapest new 90 one could buy at that time, and I paid an extra $20 to get some new Nitto knobbies on it in place of the stock Czechoslovakian rubber that it came with. Total price was $295 out the door. I even still have the bill of sale for it in a box in my garage attic somewhere!
It was a strange-looking bike by most any standard, but I liked it. The frame, gaitered forks, and swingarm were all painted fire engine red; the tank, black, with chrome sides and knee pads; the gigantic headlight bucket and side covers were black with gold lettering; fenders and high-mounted exhaust were chrome. Its two-stroke, single cylinder, 90 cc engine was hung off the bottom of a solid backbone frame and just kinda stuck its sunburst cylinder head out there to hit a rock or something.
The speedometer was stuck in the headlight shell, as was the case with many European bikes back then, and the needle would bounce around in a 20 mph range. It was like it did dual service as a tachometer! Everything on it was odd. The horn sounded like a croaking frog. The ignition switch was in the sidecover. The seat was a mile long. The taillight looked like a Lucas unit lifted from a comparable era British bike. It had motocross bars, but the lever bases were welded onto them so if you fell over you might break a lever.
No turn signals, no electric start, no battery, and no oil injection kept it real simple. No side-mounted kickstand either. It had a centerstand only!
That summer my buddy Marshall Clark had a grandmother that his dad “sprung” from the retirement home for two weeks so she could “play house” in her old home in the country outside of Linn, Missouri. She was in her 80s and had dementia, but was in pretty good shape physically. His dad asked Marshall and if we could stay there with her in the old farmhouse ourselves during that two weeks. He would haul our bikes down for us too, so we’d have something to do. Naturally we jumped at the chance for two weeks in the country with our motorcycles and no real adult supervision.
What a fantastic time we had- such memories! For two weeks in rural central Missouri, we had our motorcycles, his a blue Honda CL100 and mine the Jawa, a couple cartons of cigarettes each, his Tarytons with the charcoal filter, mine Marlboro red and green, and we just lived wild and free.
An early poster ad for the Czech brand Jawa 90, “Prospekt” edition. Love the socks and sandals the guy is wearing!
We slept in the finished attic of the old mouse-infested Victorian farmhouse and loved it. Marshall’s granny cooked every meal for us and we had iced tea with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She could never remember my name, just referred to me as “that boy” for the entire two weeks! During the day we would ride our bikes. We had gravel roads for miles and miles, and the occasional trail or field to ride all day long. We could ride into Linn on our bikes and no one said a thing about it. There, we’d buy copies of the Weekly World News or Mad Magazine to read at night, or when we were taking a break from riding and just laying around smoking in our attic room. We had an old AM radio we got working and at night could listen to stations as far away as KAAY Little Rock and WLS Chicago. We had a black and white portable TV we could occasionally get a single channel on. Life was good!
We’d ride our bikes all day every day. I think we put more than a thousand miles on each of them during those two weeks, blasting past the pig farms you could smell two miles away like the one Marshall’s Uncle Bernard (that’s pronounced “Burn-erd”) and his Aunt Zelda had. Aunt Zelda made the best pink cakes we had ever tasted.
We practiced our best Gene Romero style flat-tracking
One of the best times we had during those two weeks is when we created an oval dirt track in a grown-over field near the house. We found an old metal bed frame that we turned upside down and tied with a rope to the luggage rack of Marshall’s CL100. I stood on it for weight while he dragged me behind the Honda using our invention as a crude brush hog. Once our track was laid out, we practiced our best Gene Romero style flat-tracking, fantasizing we had Triumph 650s instead of the little bikes we had.
Unfortunately, shortly after the creation of our track, I broke the throttle cable on that Jawa (such a cheap setup!), but my older brother Steve went to Heidacycle for me and got a new cable down to me immediately. I also bent the swingarm on the Jawa somehow during a fall, but it was a simple matter to take it off and beat it back straight. Let’s just say it was easier to do than it should have been. Eastern bloc metallurgy wasn’t real impressive!
Shortly after we got back home, I traded that Jawa back to Heidacycle for a used ‘67 Honda CB160 with a new set of trials tires and a $24 set of “XO” scrambler style high straight pipes with “Snuff or Nots” in the end of each of them. Heida was asking $175 for it but he swapped me even-up for the Jawa. I turned that 160 into a dirt bike and even rode it in an enduro race once. But that’s a story for another day!
Pretty close approximation to the bike of that memorable summer, except mine was the “Cross” version, not the “Trail”.