The German firm MZ has been making motorcycles since 1922. We decided to test one of its latest offerings the Baghira, but in order to really test its enduro creds we had to throw it out onto the dirt.
You may not even be familiar with the oldest German motorcycle company on the planet, but we are. It’s called MZ and it’s been building and racing motorcycles since 1922. With a combined 45 world and GP championships to its credit, it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about building an off-road weapon, or at least they used to. That posed the question everyone wants to know: How good is the MZ Baghira enduro? That’s what we’re here to find out.
After sampling the supermoto version of the MZ Baghira earlier this year, we patiently waited for a test unit to become available, and when it did we gave it hell. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the test, let’s take a look at the history of this particular machine.
Back in 1994 MZ introduced two new liquid-cooled bikes to their line-up that utilized the Yamaha XTZ660 Single as a powerplant. The Skorpion Tour and Sport models with their Seymour/Powell-designed double-beam steel frames paved the way for the creation of the multi-purpose Baghira models that would be released two years later. A 1996 investment from Hong Leong of Malaysia allowed MZ to develop the Baghira as a replacement for the single-minded Skorpion – with the intention of revitalizing their role in the international motorcycle marketplace. The Baghira was, and still is, available in two different versions, the Enduro and Supermoto, the latter known as the Mastiff. They turned out to be just what MZ needed to claim a share of the European enduro and burgeoning Supermoto markets.
Fast forward a half-decade and the Baghira line-up is still going strong. When we first got a taste for this bike it was in full supermoto trim, with 17″ wheels, Dunlop race-rubber, a larger brake up front and an aftermarket exhaust system. I spent a good couple hours blasting around the short rack at Firebird International Raceway after which I acquired a taste for bikes of this flavor. There was also an enduro version equipped with the larger 21″ front and 18″ rear wheels wrapped in 60/40 OEM tires. It turned out that both were equally entertaining on the track, but it got me wondering how it would do in the dirt.
The Baghira needed a little work to get ready for the dirt, which included a set of knobby tires and some handlebar and lever adjustments to better accommodate stand-up riding.
The first month testing the Baghira was spent on the stock multi-purpose tires, commuting on my favorite back roads. It also pulled double-duty as our support mule for some photo shoots, which gave us a chance to experience how it performed on the street before we really put the spurs to it. After a few hundred pavement miles were logged it was obvious that the enduro version was a truly user-friendly motorcycle. The riding position is very comfortable, the suspension is plush and the brakes were powerful yet predictable. It is pretty tall so shorter riders will have to get used to tippy-toeing at stop lights. The motor is pretty bland overall, though, with not much in the way of a powerband to work with. Instead it churns out a linear dose of power that never really peaks or drops off. Add into the mix a fairly decent range from the 3.3-gallon tank with 1-gallon reserve and a host of user-friendly switchgear, and it has all the necessary stuff to be considered a decent streetbike.
My main concern was that the bike doesn’t have a considerable amount of low-end grunt, since the majority of the power is diluted by tall gearing. It’s a good thing it makes nice usable torque low in the rev range that never really fluctuates too much. All that was left to do now was find a perfect place to toss it into the dirt.
When the invitation came from Oregon Motorcycle Adventures to join them on their 400-mile Oregon Back Country Discovery Route tour, the Baghira test was on. The first big change we had to make was installing a set of DOT-legal Dunlop knobby tires so that traction wouldn’t be an issue. Then we adjusted the bars and levers to accommodate more stand-up riding than butt of the seat, cleaned the air filter and made tracks to the other side of town.
We got an excellent opportunity to test the Baghira’s off-road chops when we took it on the 400-mile Oregon Back Country Discovery Route tour. Along the way we were able to ride through some breathtaking scenery.
When the pavement ends the fun really begins on the big black Baghira. It is tall, but that’s the price you pay for decent ground clearance. Plus, with the added weight of all the street legal goodies and gadgets and the extra brackets MZ uses, this thing is a tank. Good thing the deceptively-mellow motor is up to the task.
Powering the Baghira is a liquid-cooled 660cc single cylinder DOHC 5-valve motor. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That’s because it’s the same motor Yamaha has been using for a long time, most recently in its popular Raptor ATV. MZ claims the Baghira produces a surprising 50 hp at 6500 rpm. The reason it comes as a surprise was that it does not feel that strong. In OEM trim, the gearing is pretty high for dirt use. This thing has a tough time getting the front wheel up both on the road an off. When you’re on the street it’s no big deal, but on the dirt it is. A few times I hit some crazy-ass rutted-out road and was unable to loft the front wheel over the obstacle. As you all know, this can be a pain in more ways than one.
Despite the lack of snort the bike gets along just fine. If you let gearing scare you away then you’re a fool. With a little effort to tune the gearing and suspension to your specific needs, the bike is going to make you very happy. On the street it hauls all the way up to nearly 100 mph without complaint, and the lack of noticeable powerband makes it easy to ride on dirt or gravel roads. But a hard-core enduro rider needs more grunt to get out of a sticky situation every now and then. Despite a lack of arm-stretching power, there is something really fun about riding this bike that initially I couldn’t pin down.
The Baghira itself is pretty well balanced despite being so tall, and the riding position is very comfortable whether riding on the seat or the pegs. The weight is held high in this design so it doesn’t help the bike handle with cat-like agility in the tight technical terrain, but it does just fine when ridden at a fast trail-riding pace. It seems to dirt track fairly well, too, but it never really gave me confidence in the front end. It always felt a bit vague, and when it washed out (which was a rarity) it happened fast.
Suspension is woefully soft for off-road use, so if you plan on jumping the Baghira you are going to need to re-work the suspenders to your liking. But if the majority of your trail time is spent with at least one wheel on the ground, you’ll find the plush accommodations to be a major plus. That’s not to say the bike isn’t capable of being ridden hard. The fully adjustable 45mm Marzocchi fork is, like we stated, a bit too plush for off-road only duty, but it does a fine job of keeping the bike suspended along with the White Power rear shock under normal riding conditions.
When you are sitting in the cockpit of this multi-purpose off-road machine, you have an assortment of information at your disposal. The dash consists of an analog speedometer, tripmeter, indicator lights, oil and temperature warning, neutral light and odometer. Add into the mix some industry standard switchgear and you have everything necessary to be DOT-legal. The mirrors, although unsightly, are very useful. They provide a clear view of things stalking from the rear but they get in the way when the path gets narrow.
One knock we had on the Baghira was it didn’t get the front wheel up off the ground very easy. Although Ken managed to get both up off the ground right here.
Before we took off on the OMA Tour ride, the other riders were pretty skeptical of the Baghira, but by the end of the first day they were intrigued. It started innocently enough with everyone making comments about how bad-ass the Baghira looks. It was compared to a fictitious look associated with the bad guys from a 007 movie. “I expect to see a fleet of these things chasing Bond through a jungle with mini-guns and rocket-launchers equipped to the front brace,” quipped one fellow tour rider. That in turn set off a series of events that led the MZ to become affectionately referred to as the ‘MZ Abrams.’ I think they were all just jealous.
The second portion of the off-road gauntlet we ran the MZ through was the Parts Unlimited Invitation-only Colorado 400 VIP ride. Two days spent motoring around in the Rockies was enough to solidify the Baghira as a competent off-road machine. We did a lot of road riding between tight and technical single-track and jeep road riding during the 400. The altitude affected the bike’s performance, as it did with many other machines on the ride. The bike was starving for air at higher elevations, but I had no spare jets so I was forced to plod along at half-throttle during a few of our massive ascents above 7,000 feet.
The Baghira’s high profile provides adequate ground clearance for most any terrain including a shallow water crossing.
It was on the descents that the weight of the bike reared its ugly head. Its rear brake faded on one particularly long downhill section of rocky and just plain miserable single track that resulted in a nice get-off. I fidgeted with it to see if a rock was stuck or some mud was caked on, but neither was the case. I rode for a while without using the brake then after a brief stop some 15 minutes later, it was working again.
The final complaint came up on the final leg of the ride when I pinched a tube on the rear tire. However, the DOT-legal Dunlop has stiff enough sidewalls that I was able to limp along the shoulder of the road at about 20 mph for the final hour-long street ride home.
No matter what you call it, the Baghira will go anywhere you want it to. From hill climbs to water crossings, single-track to super-moto, the MZ holds its own. Hold the throttle open and the broad linear power of the ‘Einzylinder’ will get ‘er done. I hate that phrase, by the way, but I couldn’t resist. This bike really is the blue-collar answer to off-road.
No matter what obstacle it faced, the Baghira managed to hold its own, including Ken splashing it across the creek over and over again.
In the end, I realized why it was so much fun to ride: Because it’s the underdog. No one expects to see a bike with blinkers, mirrors, lights and passenger pegs successfully navigating single track trails a few hundred miles from the nearest paved road, but it does it quite well. Plus, you can ride to the trailhead from your house. It does everything well but does nothing superbly. It is affordable with an MSRP of $5995 and it’s made up of a bunch of quality components whose sum is greater than the parts alone.
As this article was being written, we began to hear rumors about the instability of MZ. Apparently the Malaysian parent group Hong Leong Industries were hemorrhaging cash and, with dim prospects to be competitive in the future, it has shut down its operations. Calls to MZ – North America, Inc. for an official comment remain unreturned.
Let us know what you think about the 2005 MZ660 Baghira in the MCUSA Forum.