VOSKHOD,THE RUSSIAN BANTAM ALTERNATIVE

 by Colin Atkinson  (1998)

 

Being  that  this  is the BTSC "Year of  the  Bantam",  and  also

because  Chris  Pierce has also given it a mention in  the  first

episode  of  his excellent work on the history of the  Bantam,  I

thought  that  I  would regale you with  my  experiences  with  a

Russian Bantam "cousin", the 175cc Voskhod.

 

The  Voskhod was the first absolutely new motorcycle to  come  my

way  (there  have still been only two). It was January  1976  and

with  Pam my wife  expecting a baby in May, I was, with only  one

wage  due to be coming into the house, expecting extreme  poverty

to  overtake us. So, knowing that my trusty Francis  Barnett  and

BSA  Star  Twin  would  both be needing  work  on  them  soon,  I

convinced myself that a brand new motorcycle would give me a  few

years  breathing  space  when  I wouldn't have to  do  a  lot  of

maintenance  work on my daily "work" transport. The  Voskhod  was

one of four bikes considered, the others being 175cc CZ, 150cc MZ

ES150 and the 118cc Suzuki B120 Student. Price would not allow me

to go to more expensive machines.

  

Being  absolutely practical, I looked at what each bike  offered,

my dislike of exposed suspension springs (MZ and CZ) and  pressed

steel frames (Suzuki) and the fact that for the same price as the

others   the  Voskhod  came  complete  with  weather   protection

(legshields  and windscreen) as standard and, against all  advice

from  those who doubted the quality, I bought the Voskhod. I  was

to  regret  that decision very soon after as, while  my  expected

reliable  new  bike  was in pieces in  the  garage,  my  faithful

Francis  Barnett,  which it was meant to  relieve,  continued  to

share the parking place at work with the CZ 175s and Suzuki B120s

of  colleagues,  which never gave a moments trouble. Any  of  the

other three would have been a better purchase.

 

When  I  collected it I was most impressed with  the  comfort  it

gave,  I  never,  ever, felt uncomfortable after  riding  it.  It

looked smart and rugged, if not actually handsome, in its shining

black  paint  and  gleaming chrome. The  engine,  very  obviously

derived  from  DKW RT125, was a 175cc twin  exhaust  port  motor,

driving through a four speed gearbox, with most of the  internals

laid out as already described for the Bantam, except that the  HT

ignition  coil  was mounted externally of the  flywheel  magneto.

There was no battery at all and the brake light also worked  from

the direct lighting generator. There was no parking light of  any

description  and although the early models had been  fitted  with

indicators,  they  could not be made steady  enough  with  direct

generator  power,  so  they solved the problem on  my  model,  by

leaving them off altogether. Even so, as crude as it sounds,  the

lights were not at all bad and operation of the brake light never

resulted in the loss of headlight beam, as happens on some  other

systems.  The  engine  seemed to give much  the  same  power  and

performance  as  the  197cc 10E Villiers  engine  of  my  Francis

Barnett  and with the four speed gearbox the available power  was

better able to be used. The wheels were 16 Inch fitted with  3.25

x  16 block tread tyres. The carburettor was a "flat slide"  unit

which with todays use of flat slides in most sports bikes, sounds

very "racey", but was, in  fact, just a piece of  folded over tin

plate, cheaply made.  Until just before  I bought mine,  the bike

was marketed just as the Voskhod and the plastic tank badges  had

no  lettering, just a stylised motif of a leaping  Levret  (young

hare), which might be overstating the performance a bit. However,

all  the  Russian  makes  imported at that  time  had  just  been

collectively marketed by the importers as "Cossack" and a  silver

self  adhesive scripted name had been affixed under  the  plastic

tank  badge. Anyhow, I quite liked its rugged,  purposeful  looks

and  despite the "straight pull" twistgrip having quite a lot  of

"lost  motion" which I couldn't adjust out, things  seemed  quite

good....Then I found that the brakes wouldn't work.

 

The  brakes were both 5 inch drums with the same size linings  as

my Francis Barnett. Yet no matter how I adjusted them and  fitted

different  linings,  they  remained  the  worst  brakes  I   have

experienced on any bike, bar none. I still cannot explain why and

have only  supposed  that  the drum  cast  iron  material  was  a

particularly  slippery type. The handling was somewhat  peculiar,

feeling more like a bike with sidecar front fork trail being used

as a solo, giving the impression that the bike was ten foot long.

Even  so, once I got used to it the bike seemed to  corner  quite

well,  until  the front forks started to wear out. The  back  end

suspension  never gave any cause for concern, but I never got  to

find  out  the limit of cornering ability as I never  managed  to

wear out the "dodgy" Russian block tread tyres during  the  8,000

miles that I travelled on it during my ownership.

 

There have been many complaints about the poor finish of  Russian

bikes, but I have to say that the upholstery of the dual seat was

excellent  and  so was the thick black  paintwork,  which  stayed

intact.  Pity that they had to paint the inside of the fuel  tank

as  well though, as bits kept coming off and blocking  the  fuel

filters,  giving me a regular weekly maintenance job. The  chrome

plate  looked good initially, but with no Nickel to bind  it  to

the  underneath  metal,  it rapidly peeled off  in  strips,  like

silver  paper  from a chocolate bar. The outside  finish  of  the

engine castings on all Russian bikes always looks terrible and  I

quickly found that the inside of the engine is no better. In  the

time  I  had  it I had to strip it down twice in order to replace

broken  or  badly fitted/finished parts. However, by the  time  I

sold it, it was at least running reliably at last and was quite a

pleasant  softly  tuned  engine, but  with  the  usual  awkwardly

position  gearchange lever of every DKW RT125 derivative  that  I

have ridden (or is it just me with big feet?).

 

To  sum up the situation, I would have been better off with  just

about any other bike, whether new or good second hand.  I  wanted

something for reliabilty and it had more time apart in 8000 miles

than any bike I have ever owned and was a total disaster  for  the

purpose  for which I bought it. When I finally got rid of  it,  I

did  so without regret, even though it was running well by  then,

but  the  front forks were already badly worn  after  only  8,000

miles (Its not only Russian bikes though, my Scott also had  that

problem)  and  I had had enough of it. It had  been  the  biggest

disapointment of my motorcycling life up to that point.

 

However,  time  tends  to soften bad memories and  I  have  often

thought since then that an interesting project (if the money  and

space  was available and also time to spend on an interest) would

be to have purchased one new and completely strip it (much better

taking  apart a new clean bike than an old filthy one) and  using

the experiences gained previously, replace all the weak parts  in

the  engine,  replace  the front forks,  wheel  and  brake,  with

something more suitable. Then strip off all the remaining chromed

parts  and  have them rechromed. Once it was  all  rebuilt  (with

decent new tyres of course) I have the feeling that I would  have

had  a  really pleasant little bike, which would last me  a  long

time.  However,  people  just do not expect to do  all  that,  or

indeed anything, to make a brand new bike reliable.

 

   

 

A  few  months  ago I saw an advert for a Cossack  Voskhod  in  a

magazine, advertised as for sale "brand new and unregistered" and

I  must  admit  I was half tempted to buy it  and  carry  out  my

musings. It was seeing it advertised as a Russian "CLASSIC"  that

brought  me to my senses, plus the fact that I just do  not  have

the room and the possible difficulty of getting necessary  spares

also raised doubt, so I let it go. Even so, every now and then  I

wonder  if I should have had it, as it would certainly have  made

an  interesting conversion and you very rarely see  any  Voskhods

about,  so  from  interest alone it would be  nice  to  see  some

survive.

 

Should  you  be  lucky  (or unlucky) enough  to  have  aquired  a

Voskhod,  perhaps even my old one (KMP 322P) and do not have  any

information  to  go  with  it,  here are  a  few  bits  of  basic

information to keep, or get, you on the road...Happy cruising!

 

Petroil ratio 25:1   using SAE 30 or 40 two-stroke oil

Gearbox oil   500cc  Silkolene Medium Gear Oil will do fine

Front Forks   140cc each leg, of SAE 20 fork oil

Rear Suspension  33cc each suspension unit  of SAE 20 fork oil

Spark Plug       NGK B7HS works well - plug gap  24-27 Thou'

Ignition Timing     3.5 - 4 mm  BTDC

Contact Breaker Gap      14-16 Thou'

 

If you have difficult starting, or an eratic spark then check

that the generator is providing current to the coil at the  right

time  to correspond with the "dwell" of points cam. If  not  then

adjust the generator mountings setting accordingly and retime the

ignition.  The factory setting is often wrong - I found this  out

by bitter experience.