Mysore’s Jawa Connection

Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy grew up with the Jawa, an iconic brand with a cult icon status.

The great outdoors are calling, especially at a time social distancing is the norm. A great bike can help you reconnect with nature and yourself and the iconic Jawa bikes, known as the king of the roads, can help you go places.

Jawa has its roots in Mysore, where the factory was originally located, and became a pride and joy for the community and a source of job-creation for two decades. So much so, the second Sunday of July is celebrated as International Jawa Day, honoring the two-stroke vehicles that once ruled the streets and racing tracks and earned a reputation for being simple, rugged and unbreakable performance machines.

After being shut down in 1996 in accordance with environmental laws, the Jawa bike has recently been relaunched in a four-stroke avatar by Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group; Boman Rustom Irani, chairman and MD of the Rustomjee group; and Anupam Thareja, founder of Classic Legends. Production resumed in 2018 with a whole new range of motorcycles in a facility in Madhya Pradesh.

Irani is happy that the new bikes have retained the design ethos of the original.

Ambika Sharma, founder and managing director of Pulp Strategy, who has gone on trips across India on a two-wheeler, says, “A lot of us grew up with the Jawa… With a cult icon status it can be counted among the likes of Harley 750 (if not for its engine capacity).”

Looking Back

The Jawa motorcycles are among the most iconic motorcycles brands in the world, and Mysore shares some of that respect, given that every Jawa – and Yezdi – motorcycle in the world was produced in the Ideal Jawa Factory in Mysore from the 1960s. František Janeček, who bought over the motorcycle division of Wanderer, a German company, had founded the Jawa Moto company in 1929 in Prague. Janeček put together the first two letters of his name and that of Wanderer to come up with the moniker Jawa.

Farrokh Irani and his nephew Rustom Irani, Indian businessmen, began manufacturing Jawa motorbikes in the Mysore factory in collaboration with the Czech company.

An old advertisement for Yezdi.

“They later went on to produce their own Indian model, Yezdi, which was a runaway success,” says Vinay Parameswarappa, founder of Gully Tours, which offers experiential tours in Mysore, Bangalore, Coorg and Kochi. “Jawa and Yezdi are both prized possessions among bike collectors today.” He pointed out that to celebrate Jawa Day, a huge rally is held in Mysore every year.

Bike Bytes

The Jawas and Yezdis motorcycles produced by the Ideal Jawa factory, Mysore, continue to be highly sought after by collectors all over the world. The rise of communism in Czechoslovakia and the socialist ban of import of automobiles into India in the mid-50s threw up a challenge though.

The Iranis partnered with Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the last maharaja of Mysore, a keen racing enthusiast, to set up the Ideal Jawa factory.

Advertising veteran Ambi Parameswaran describes the company’s new products:

“Rajdoot was more like a staid farmer’s motorcycle, and the Bullet was preferred by rustic, landed folks; those wanting young, urban, fast and cool bikes had Yezdi and Jawa.”

The bikes also earned a reputation in the international racing circuit. In the next two decades Indian motorcycling was dominated by the Czech bikes. In 1974, the bikes were produced under the brand name ‘Yezdi’ after the Iranis ended their partnership with Jawa. The facility also had a state-of-the-art R&D facility where they also produced some indigenous variants under the Yezdi brand. About 2,200 workers used to work in the company at its peak. This was a dream job for many Mysoreans.

The Two-Stroke Challenge

During the 90s, when India opened its market, Japanese bikes entered the country, and the Yezdis began to lose out. The Yezdi two-stroke engine was banned under new environment laws and the Ideal Jawa Factory shut down in 1996.

Jawa Motorcycles’ new 42 model.

Raian Irani, the former CEO, says, “the two strokes were fantastic for maintenance, because of the smaller number of working parts but they were not as fuel-efficient as a four-stroke, and a lot of the fuel got lost in the exhaust process even when it was unburned. This was causing a lot of pollution, because mixing oil with petrol as in a two stroke causes the oil to produce a lot of smoke when burned. Despite many efforts by the management and the technicians at Jawa to try and produce a four-stroke engine, it never worked out, and the product lifecycle came to an end.” Jawa however has always been one of the most famous bikes in the world.

New Vistas

While the Jawa has been relaunched in a four-stroke avatar in a production facility in Madhya Pradesh, the new bikes have been designed to capture the legacy of the original.

“They have kept the lines and design concepts so close to the original that most people thought that the new bike was the old one but of course it’s a four stroke with good stopping power with disc brakes,” says Irani.

The online community today is stronger than ever before, and Jawa owners continue the legacy. The Jawa Factory is just a memory for Mysoreans, but it is a part of the city’s history and truly the pride of Mysore.

“I guess a lot of the relevance of the new Jawa is the legacy that has been left behind,” says Irani.

Harley vs. Jawa

The Jawa bikes were a rage between the 1960s to 1980s because they were sturdy, durable and powerful, the only alternative being the Enfield. It was the oil crisis in the late 70s and 80s combined with these bikes’ bad fuel economy that saw to their downfall.

Sharma says, “ For motorcycle performance, a closer comparison is the Enfield 350 and 500. With Harley exiting the country, Jawa trumps Harley Davidson from a support and long-term availability perspective.”

Gokul M, an avid biker and publicist based in Bangalore, says it is hard to compare Jawa and Harley Davidson.

“I happen to own both bikes and can say the Jawa is more like a workhorse and has good power and was used by milkmen in the past,” he says. “The Harley is a leisure bike. It is something you take to go places – and it is certainly a dream to own one.”