Limited-edition motorcycles have been doing roaring trade over the last couple of years with small runs of expensive machines being snapped up in minutes – so while the idea of paying £75,550 for a drum-braked hardtail powered by a lowly Kawasaki W800 engine might be unthinkable to most of us, don’t bet against all 28 examples of the new Praga ZS 800 finding buyers without trouble.
While plenty of ancient motorcycle brands have been exhumed over the years the name Praga is probably not a familiar one to most riders. The Czech industrial manufacturing company, named after its home city of Prague, has been around since 1907 as a builder of cars, trucks and even planes, but its dabbling in motorcycles has been limited. The ZS 800 is a tribute to the firm’s first motorcycle, the BD 500, which was actually developed in 1927 by rival engineering firm ČKD. Praga merged with ČKD in 1929 and adopted the BD 500 as its own, adding a second model, the BD 350 in 1932 before dropping out of the motorcycle business a year later. Praga lived on, though, focussing on trucks and buses, and still makes vehicles today including the 365hp R1 track car, racing karts and the Praga Alfa light aircraft. The brand even made a brief return to bikes in the 90s with the ED 250 and ED 610 enduro models, but production ended in 2003.
Erwin Tragatsch’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles described the BD 500 as a ‘superb J. F. Koch-designed 490cc unit-design ohc sport-touring single-cylinder’ and while the ZS 800 has a twin-cylinder engine there are clear similarities between the machines. The hardtail frame with a sprung saddle, allied to a girder front fork, were quite normal nearly a century ago when the BD 500 appeared, but both make the ZS 800 stand out from the crowd in 2023. Combined with the use of drum brakes, the archaic suspension makes it clear that the ZS 800 isn’t a machine aimed at the track day crowd. Fortunately for modern riders, Praga hasn’t gone to the extent of adopting the BD 500’s hand-operated gear shift.
The ideas might be old, but the construction isn’t. The ZS 800 puts a heavy emphasis on carbon fibre and titanium, and it’s in the details that the bike’s appeal lies. The 18-inch wheels, for instance, look like old-fashioned wire spoked rims from a distance, but up close it becomes clear that they’re made entirely from forged carbon fibre in a design that’s never been seen before. The carbon spokes, like traditional ones, are under tension, and the wheels’ carbon-fibre hubs double as the outer part of the drum brakes.
The frame and the girder-style front fork are made of chrome molybdenum steel, and almost every nut and bolt on the bike is titanium – as is the entire exhaust system – to keep weight down. The result is a dry weight of 142kg, rising to only 158kg once oil is added and the 11.5-litre fuel tank is filled.
The suspension might be rudimentary, but its components are top-notch, with an Öhlins TTX22 shock controlling the girder forks and another Öhlins TTX supporting the rider’s seat.
Although Praga doesn’t mention Kawasaki by name, it’s clear that the bike’s engine – a 773cc parallel twin that meets Euro 5 emissions limits – is straight from the Japanese firm’s W800. It’s the only current motorcycle engine with a bevel-drive camshaft, mirroring the design of the old BD 500, and the capacity, 8.4:1 compression ratio and the under-square 77mm x 83mm bore and stroke are all unchanged from the W800. Praga claims 50hp and 65Nm of torque.
The use of simplex drum brakes appears suggests the ZS 800 won’t have ABS, which means that while the engine complies with Euro 5 emissions limits, the bike itself won’t be able to be fully type-approved in Europe. With only 28 examples due to be made, they’re likely to be registered, where needed, using the single-vehicle rules that apply in the countries where customers live, as you would for a custom-made one-off bike. The first bike is already sold to a customer in Dubai.
The ZS 800’s Chief Designer, Jan Žuži, said: “Strong and extremely lightweight materials – such as carbon, titanium, chrome molybdenum steel and aviation duralumin – enabled us to reimagine the rigid rear wheel suspension, the front swingarm fork, and the hydraulic drum brakes.
“These futuristic materials and Praga sports division’s latest production facilities have enabled us to transfer those elegant historical design elements to the present day, and to build a motorcycle with contemporary driving characteristics and a unique feel.”
With such limited production, the bikes are genuinely handmade, with more than 300 hours of machining alone involved in their construction. That goes some way to explaining the vast price tag of €86,000 (or £75,550 in the UK). Oh, and that’s before tax is added. In the UK there’s 6% import duty, shipping costs and 20% VAT on the whole lot, so you’ll be in for close to £100k by the time a ZS 800 is snuggled between the supercars in your heated, carpeted garage.
That’s a lot of money, but recent examples of limited-edition bikes from other brands have shown a remarkable demand for such machines, even when the price is high. Ducati’s £56k Streetfighter V4 Lamborghini sold out in hours despite costing twice as much as the identically-powered standard Streetfighter V4, and KTM sold all 200 examples of its 2023-spec, £30k RC 8C in only 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
When it comes to rivals, the Praga ZS 800 stacks up against exotica like Brough Superior’s range of £60k-plus bikes, but at this stratospheric end of the market it’s unlikely that customers are weighing up one model against another: if they like two, they’ll buy both.
From the perspective of everyone else, if Praga makes a success of the ZS 800 then there’s a good chance the company will expand further into the two-wheeled realm, perhaps opening the door to a more affordable model sometime in the future.