“The soul of a thumper Supermoto with the dressing of a Café Racer.”
In 1997, MZ unveiled the Baghira, a 660cc thumper developed from their Skorpion supermono and named after the wise and ferocious panther in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The big enduro had Acerbis fairings, White Power suspension, Marzocchi forks, and a 50-hp Yamaha XT660 engine. At the time, MZ was the only manufacturer to offer a factory supermoto, known as the Baghira Streetmoto, and there was even a blacked-out Black Panther version.
Enter one of our favorite builders, Craig Jackson of Texas, an engineer in the semiconductor industry whose motocross career took him to the Grand National Championship three times before he caught the bike-building some six years ago. Earlier this year, we featured his Jackson 5AM V2.0 from the 2019 Handbuilt Show. Says Craig:
“For my own personal cars, trucks and motorcycles, I do NOT ever want anyone to ever roll up next to me in/on the same ride.”
One day, Craig was doing his daily Craigslist searches (a man after our own heart) when he ran across this 2001 MZ Baghira. He liked it right off the bat:
“Totally unique, and ugly as sin. Powerful! It’s a 660cc thumper powerhouse!”
He scooped up the bike and got it running, then began stripping off the Baja-style plastics and cutting off the subframe to see what he was working with. He knew he wanted a “Café Supermoto” style, and the ultimate inspiration came from a 70s CB350 tank. He got the bike down to a single radiator with dual fans, which keeps the bike cool in 100-degree Texas heat, and *tried* to make the bike a two-seater.
We especially love the headlight setup — four 6K LED truck lights — which Craig calls “pure overkill,” though that much candlepower does have its advantages:
“When you are burning up some back roads at full-thunder in the middle of the night, you’ve got plenty of light to keep the throttle pinned.”
Below, we get the full story on “Baghira” as well as a stunning deck of photos from Scott Brown of The Moto Studio — our new favorite motorcycle portrait specialist.
MZ Baghira Cafe Supermoto: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Baghira Black Panther
Stage Name: “Baghira”
• Why was this bike built?
This bike came about by accident while looking for something completely different. I made a mistake in my search string. (When searching for bikes, I put long complex search strings in Craigslist to filter out the junk.) I found this during one of my daily Craigslist searches while drinking coffee, or dropping some friends off at the lake. Anyway, I liked this bike right off the line. Totally unique, and ugly as sin. Powerful! It’s a 660cc thumper powerhouse!
This one is mine! For my own personal cars, trucks and motorcycles, I do NOT ever want anyone to ever roll up next to me in/on the same ride. This one fits the bill.
What I like most, is the question I get asked the most when I’m at motorcycle shows or just out and about: “What bike is that?” Very few people have ever heard of an MZ, much less a Baghira Black Panther.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The initial idea was just to get all that Motocross/Baja style plastic off the bike, cut off the rear subframe and see what’s left. It needed to be a “Café” style, but was not sure where to go with it. The inspiration finally came in the form of a $40 1970’s CB350 gas tank in almost perfect condition! Cool coves! Perfect for a “Café Supermoto”.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Had to get it running first. Stator was out. Clutch was broken. No brakes. Hacked wire harness. Once that was sorted out, got the CB350 gas tank mounted. This build was completed prior to the “Jackson” tank logos, so I cut down some Tigerwood porch boards to mount in the Honda tank badge location.
After mounting the tank, I noticed that the radiators will no longer fit. After a lot of mock-up work, I realized that the right side radiator was just not going to work because of the tank and the exhaust. So, I mounted the left radiator, plumbed it in and did some road testing to see if one radiator would suffice in 100 degree Texas heat. She ran great! No over heating. For an extra measure of cooling backup and cool, different look, I mounted both radiator cooling fans onto the one remaining radiator.
The front shocks are lowered about 3.5 inches. It looks like the rear was lowered from its normal motocross style stance, but when you can change the angle of the tank and seat frame, you can make it LOOK like it’s been lowered. Cool thing is, you can drop the triple clamps down the fork legs to get the angle you want. Then, what ever length of fork leg is sticking up above the top triple is how much you need to lower the forks.
Built a new rear subframe with aluminum mesh side covers to hide the battery and electronics mounted inside. Added a little bit of that mesh to the front sprocket cover.
I built the seat based on a promise to my wife that I would at some point build a two-seater. Well… the seat turned out not quite big enough for 2. I couldn’t make the seat longer, it just wouldn’t look right. Sorry Honey, I tried…
The exhaust got a little ridiculous at the tail. How to terminate? What line to follow? How to hang it? I started welding the exhaust up to follow the lines of the tail section, the I found a dual exhaust tip at the auto parts store that looks, and sounds super cool barking under the seat!
The tail lights are almost unnoticeable between the rear monoshock and the exhaust. I made a custom bracket to hold the two lights just outside the line of the exhaust when looking from the rear.
The headlights are pure overkill. There are four 6K LED truck lights. Two spots and two flood lights mounted on a custom made bracket. They can be turned on individually or all at the same time. So when you are burning up some back roads at full-thunder in the middle of the night, you’ve got plenty of light to keep the throttle pinned.
It looked kinda naked on the front and unbalanced, so I found a nice aftermarket front fender. Had to trim most of the rear of the fender off to get it to fit.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“Baghira”, sometimes called “Baggy” for short.
• How would you classify this bike?
I’d say “Café Supermoto.” It’s got the fire breathing heart and soul of a thumper Supermoto with the dressing of a Café Racer.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Getting down to just one radiator with dual cooling fans was pretty dang satisfying.
The rear tail section lines and the mesh covers look super cool. So, the last one is silly, but what the heck do you do with the two holes left in the top triple clamp after you remove the handlebars and the standoffs?? I tried several ideas, but one day while changing the spark plug, I placed the new one in the hole just to hold it. When I went take it out to put it in the bike, it hit me. That would be cool!