Members Bikes

Steve's Simson S51

Steve on his Simson S51

This bike is all about nostalgia for me - it has to be something like that, it would never be about getting your knee down and scraping the foot-pegs.

The nostalgia part is that this was to be my first ever bike. As a spotty impoverished 16 year old yoof, I was desperate for a moped and personal transport (as was every 16 year old at the time). However, I was a student with no money and parents who didn't want me to have a bike and hence wouldn't buy me one, or lend me the money either (they are dangerous, right ?!!?!?), so it seemed destined to be a pipe dream.

However, my brother had an early 1980's Simson S51, that I used to wash and polish for him, and after owning it for a couple of years, he was looking to trade up to a bigger bike, and get this, was going to give me the Simson, so all I needed to buy was a lid and insurance. This was the answer to my wildest dreams. It was all academic in the end however, as my brother crashed it and wrote it off (and I was on the pillion at the time !!!). So, that put paid to Simson moped ownership as a 16 year old, and time marched on, I passed my car test, got a car once I had started working and bike ownership (a scabby Honda CG125) didn't come until some ten years later.

Fast forward now to 2012. I was at the West Yorkshire VJMC Japanese Bike Show with Wakefield MAG and I took a break from helping the VJMC to marshal the show and had a look around the traders and auto jumble. And lo and behold, there was a 1990 white Simson S51 for sale (same colour as my brothers), for the princely sum of 600 quid.

The S51, for sale at the VJMC Show

I came over all misty eyed and immediately dragged Justine (my better half) to have a look. It was a runner, in not bad condition, had obviously been stood for a while but the seller said he would MoT it for the price of the test, and deliver it for the cost of the fuel. I 'ummed' and 'ahed' and literally must have walked by it ten times. Justine by this point was losing her rag with me and told me in no uncertain terms to 'Buy the bloody thing'. So, what could I do ... I had to obey orders, so the deal was done.

Once I had it home I decided to service it as I had no idea of it's past history. I took the carb off to clean in case old petrol had turned to varnish (which as it happens was spotless), but after refitting, it just refused to start. Several re-assembles and a close examination of the parts diagram (to make sure I hadn't lost any small yet essential bits) but it still refused to start. Cue lots of cursing at this point. The fix in the end was a new carburettor, and, as if by magic, it started again. It was at this point I remembered the reputation Eastern Bloc Two Strokes had for their idiosyncrasies. The bike was treated to new oil seals and service items, a thorough 'going over', replacement of the rusty parts (including the rusty and dented tank), then a respray of all the tin ware, lots of little circles with Solvol Autosol and it looked like a new one again.

Post light restoration
Post light restoration
Post light restoration

It's a great little bike, just like a proper bike, but in 2/3 scale ... it's tiny. I have had 45 MPH out of it down hill (with chin on the tank), it will happily manage 40 MPH on the level, until it hits an incline, then it's faster to get off and walk. The overall quality of the bike is surprisingly high and features lots of clever ideas and innovative features. The front and rear wheels are interchangeable for instance. Parts availability is fantastic for a 26 year old bike from a now defunct manufacturer. I use a German company ( who are excellent, and the parts are so cheap (a brand new chrome exhaust cost 50 Euros, about 37 quid) and delivery takes a few days. The only problem is a succession of parcels from Germany being delivered - I'm sure the postman thinks I have a fetish for Hard Core German pornography. 'Another parcel from Germany I see Mr Travis' .... nudge nudge, wink wink.

The history of the Simson marque is quite interesting.

Simson Logo

Simson & Co. was founded in 1856 in Suhl, East Germany. The factory started producing guns and gun barrels, and by 1896 we making bicycles, which was followed by the start of automobile production in 1907. Simson built cars until 1934 when Hitler's Third Reich government forced the Jewish Simson family to flee the country in 1936. Under the dispossession of Jewish industrialists, a trustee took control of the firm, and it merged with other factories. In the same year the factory produced its first motorcycle.

In 1946, by order of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany the manufacturing plant was partially dismantled and transported to the USSR as part of the Soviet reparations programme for the damage inflicted on the USSR by Germany in the Second World War. Later, the USSR handed control of the factory to the German Democratic Republic (DDR). Production of sporting guns, prams and bicycles slowly resumed, but the main focus was again on making motorcycles. The motorcycles were branded AWO (an abbreviation of Awtowelo) from 1949 until 1955, when the Simson name was revived. 1955 also marked the start of the factory producing two stoke mopeds. Between 1949 and 1962 the Suhl factory produced more than 209,000 four-stroke motorcycles.

The IFA conglomerate (and a union of companies for vehicle constructors in the DDR) introduced a policy of Kapazitätsbündelung ('capacity concentration'), under which the production of larger motorcycles would be concentrated at the MZ works at Zschopau. Simson four-stroke manufacture ended on 31 December 1961, and the Suhl factory essentially became an MZ off-shoot, producing small capacity motorcycles.

DDR Flag

The bikes proved very popular in East Germany, as a Wartburg or Trabant car could often take ten to fifteen years to be delivered from order, whereas Simson mopeds had a mere six months waiting list. The bikes were imported into the UK by Wilf Green of Sheffield, the main MZ importers, and were popular here, as they were not only cheap to buy, but solid and dependable.

In 1975 Simson revised its image with a new model, the S50 (the precursor to my S51). This produced 3.6 BHP and was produced in various versions until 1980. It's successor was the S51, in which Simson revised the styling again and returned to a long-stroke engine, this time with a huge power hike to 3.7 BHP. The S51 was built in various forms until production was ended in 1990 (the year my S51 was built, so mine was literally the end of the line).

The Simson at the 2015 Wakefield MAG Bike Show

In 1990 the S51 and S70 models were revised as the 50 cc S53 and 70 cc S83. These were offered in a range of road-going and off-road versions until 1994. Motorcycle production continued including the introduction in 1998 of a rather nice looking 125 bike with a space frame and powered by a Honda four-stroke 15 BHP engine built under licence in Taiwan. Several investors tried to keep production going and to bring new developments on market, but sadly production finally ceased in Autumn 2002. On 1st February 2003 bankruptcy proceedings were held, in the wake of which the remaining 90 employees were made redundant without any compensation. A sad end to a historic marque.

The story now has almost come full circle. My brother was equally misty eyed when he saw my S51, so much so, he rushed out and bought a non-runner to restore. However, having never taken on any kind of restoration project, and not being mechanically minded to boot, quite predictably, he's done nothing with it and the bike has just sat under a cover. He has now decided the project was too ambitious for him and wants rid of it, and, history repeating itself, has offered it to me for free (on the condition I restore it to it's former glory). The only slight problem is I don't have the garage space at the moment ... but I'm working on that (just don't tell Justine !!!!).

Steve Travis
March 2016