My Bulgarian grandfather had an, ahem, Bulgarian-made motorcycle Balkan that I wanted to ride so much since I was in preschool. I loved everything about his little bike—the smell of gasoline it emitted when parked and the veil of silver smoke it produced when my grandfather revved the engine to get it to operating temperature. I could never get old enough to be allowed to ride it. My grandfather died, and my reckless uncle, my father’s brother, took it right away. I asked my father whether I could have it but he said I couldn’t.
I grew up, was about 15 years old, when I visited my cousin and saw a fat, ugly man sitting on my grandfather’s Balkan. The fat man, as I learned later, was my uncle’s wife lover. I hated that man—he wasn’t very different than the pigs he fed and smelled like a hog. I don’t know what happened with the Balkan bike, but every time I see a picture of it I regret I could never ride it even for a minute. If I had enough material I would’ve put this story into a book called: People and Machines: a Love Story. Does anyone have a similar story? Feel free to share it in a comment.
By the way, I had to contribute to the English version of the Wikipedia article about Balkan motorcycles—the current version is mine but is very incomplete for the lack of sources.
About Balkan Motorcycles
Balkan motorcycles were manufactured between 1958-1975 in the Bulgarian town Lovech. The manufacturer, Bulgarian Motorcycle Works, produced Balkan motorcycles with 50, 75, and 250cc engines. The last version of a 250cc Balkan was the C-2 model that had a two-stroke, 1-cylinder engine that gave a maximum speed of 110 km/h.
The first Balkan motorcycles were designed after German DKW. Aside from small ornamental details, Balkan motorcycles with 250cc engines manufactured between 1956-57 were almost identical to the German 250cc DWK’s, including the mechanics and the engine. The last models resembled the Czechoslovakian Jawa motorcycles, but the engine and mechanics were the same.
The plans for building a motorcycle in then Communist Bulgaria came from a team of aircraft engineers led by Dimitar Damyanov. The factory in Lovech made airplanes between 1941 and 1954. After production of airplane parts was discontinued, the factory was forced to make agricultural machines, even beehives—the result of a perverted Communist version of planned economy. Damyanov’s proposal for a Bulgarian motorcycle came as a rescue to the factory and was approved by the Industrial Ministry. The Bulgarian government approval to make motorcycles for the general public was unusual because “between 1944 and 1955 all the import, trade and all the sales of cars and motorcycles for private customers was forbidden.”
At one point, Balkan motorcycles made their way to the United States. An American entrepreneur and importer of used Volkswagen parts discovered Balkan motorcycles while he was in Bulgaria on business. He wanted to distribute Balkan motorcycles through his Detroit-based company Valley Imports and offer them as unique and affordable bikes. Valley Imports have even published ads in motorcycle publications to look for partners.
It turns out that the U.S. federal government was interested in the motorcycles, but after finding out that Balkan bikes were made in a Communist state, they ordered Valley Imports to cease operation and destroy the Balkans they had in stock. Back then imports from a Communist country were considered contraband.