The 2012 URAL Patrol is a perfect drug for my addictive desire to explore. With hand over my heart, I believe this thing will go anywhere I want to go and not lead to my untimely demise in the process. This conclusion was derived after 200 kilometers of experimentation on the road and some hours of mental gymnastics with my backside firmly ensconced in a big easy chair.
For those reading this review who have never ridden a motorcycle with a sidecar but plan to try one out in the future I offer these words of advice -- give it some time. It's not what you expect and it's not a motorcycle.
The first day of riding consisted mostly of getting a feel for the machine on the road -- gaining asense of how wide it is so I didn't run the rig into a post or have it drop off the side of the road into a drainage hole. With ample open roads around I had a lot of good practice routes.
One of the first things I noticed is that I would spans ditches along the side of the road or navigate uneven surfaces without trouble. The motorcycle and sidecar wheel are far enough apart that I could negotiate obstacles or run through them without fear of falling or getting stuck.
Last Sunday morning I left early to determine how well the URAL would perform on the endless miles of gravel roads in the Pennsylvania forests and what kind of gaps existed between the motorcycle and my riding skills. This picture was made after about 10 miles of gravel. Two things surfaced -- first, I felt a bit anxious when the URAL drifted left on uneven stretches of road or when the traction differences between loose gravel and hard packed gravel would cause the machine to move one direction or the other.
A motorcycle without a sidecar feels fluid and moves along a line in a relatively smooth and easy manner compared to the URAL. The sidecar rig tends to move back and forth, at least it feels as if it is moving back and forth on the road controlled by unknown forces for unknown reasons. Because of this I kept my speed to 25 to 40 mph depending on specific road conditions.
After 20 miles of gravel roads I had to stop for mental reasons. I needed some time to process what was going on with the machine. I wanted to understand the forces at work and allow myself the chance to drop into a more intuitive riding experience.
Physically the machine was extremely comfortable. After six hours on the road I found no issues at all with the seat or riding position.
Through the power of photography I was able to diminish the size of the URAL. Through a few minutes of relaxation and a couple of chugs of water I did the same things mentally.
Looking the machine over you can't help but notice the relative simplicity of construction compared to almost any other modern motorcycle. The speedometer provided indicated speed, odometer, trip odometer and a couple indicator lights --nothing fancy at all. Add to that a four speed transmission, electric start, front disc brake and a reverse gear and you've pretty much summed up the available technology as far as I was concerned.
And there is a kick starter too. Didn't try it but would be nice to know there was some chance of moving on should the battery or starter die. And there is a nice URAL tool kit in the trunk along with a spare tire. And the carburated motorcycle was of simple enough design that it appeared entirely possible that a rider could learn to do some real roadside service. No computers or sophisticated technology necessary to keep this machine running.
The URAL had no trouble running up and down the mountain roads and with each mile my comfort level grew that I would not suddenly burst over the edge of the road and on into oblivion. I could see myself riding up here in the snow. This URAL is a 2WD version which means the wheel on the sidecar has power when you want it -- just engage a level and you're in business. A fine winter time feature.
Amidst the riding and familiarization process I kept noticing how much I like this vintage look. Along with the vintage look though comes some vintage processes.
Not wanting the URAL to roll down the road and over the cliff if the thing popped out of gear. I learned later that the rig has a parking brake but I opted for the tried and true rock behind the wheel solution.
I'm clever that way.
Looking at the mufflers in the picture I want to say the URAL makes a wonderful sound. Not too loud but definitely a barrel chested rumble that inspires some confidence that the engine can deliver what you need in terms of torque.
Forest roads around here are often no more than glorified jeep trails kept open to allow fire control vehicles into areas in an emergency. They're not very wide and steeped than they look. I descended this one with care trying to decide where to put the motorcycle wheel to provide the most stable line possible. Any sudden veer or swerve could have me riding in places I wouldn't want to ride.
I was able to spend more time looking at the landscape and exploring with the camera as the URAL and I came to terms.
So many beautiful places to ride. A stop for a picture, a slurp or two of water, and a bite of a ham and cheese sandwich, all stored nicely in the sidecar.
The only pain related to this ride came while making this picture. Picking my way up through the rocks I keep twisting my ankle in the loose rocks that lined this dry run. It's a picture I will only make in the cold weather. On warmer days I would have to spend too much time looking for rattlesnakes.
By the time I hit pavement I felt like an enthusiastic amateur URAL Patrol pilot. The rig feels amazingly stable after nearly forty miles of gravel roads. For anyone acquiring one of these I highly recommend some gravel riding to hone your skills.
Since the URAL doesn't have a fuel gauge and I didn't take the time to figure out how much fuel it carries I pointed the bike to the closest fuel stop. I thought it appropriate that the place had a certain central Siberian feel to it.
While here a had the first of a few people approach me to ask questions about the URAL. "How old is it?" and "That's a beautiful motorcycle." were the most common comments. Spend anytime with one of these and you'll meet a lot of people.
The 749cc, 40 horsepower engine is plenty of power to push the URAL along secondary roads but if you think you're going to love touring along on the freeway things again. This bike was designed before freeways were common. The engine and transmission setup will have you straining to cruise at 60mph. It's bred for winding twisting backroads in all weathers and conditions. It's for adventure, not for traveling at 80mph all day long on the superslab.
I had to stop at my friend Dan's house. I'm no longer allow to pass through his county without paying a visit. The rig looked nice in his driveway looking off towards his barn. He says it's 700 yards away and the green grass strip serves as a driving range for he and his son. He thought the URAL had a lot in common with his Kuboda tractor. Must be the color scheme.
There's something neat about being able to bomb down the road and just pull over and not worry much about the condition of the berm. The URAL is like a tractor in the regard. Just do it. And if you sink in somewhere or get stuck -- engage that extra drive wheel.
The URAL is so stylish in its un-stylishness. And those shocks make it seem even more tank like.
Later in the evening I decided to take the URAL to the grocery store -- a chance to ride through town and a chance to test further its utilitarian capabilities. I rode back and forth through State College through streets and alleys finding people pointing and waving.
Fun. It has some pure fun possibilities.
Discovered a couple things at the grocery store. First, the URAL had no trouble hauling $300 worth of groceries. The sidecar is huge and there is a locking trunk at the back. Didn't even need to strap anything onto the rack over the spare tire. I could have easily carried another $150 worth of food.
Or a couple pigs or a goat.
And by the time I left it was dark. The URAL has a nice big profile and is pretty well lit up. Certainly more visible than my Vespa. It was sad to take the keys out of it when I got home.
It was raining when I took the URAL back to Kissell Motorsports. I tried a few times to get the rig to slide or spin on the wet pavement but it just kept tracking along without a care. As the weather grows worse and we find some snow on the ground I'll have to talk to Craig Kissell about some further experimentation.
I can see why a lot of riders swear by these rigs. They're a collection of traits and character that is unique in the motorcycle world. I found myself thinking about the URAL all week. Wondering where I could go and little concerned with the weather. Or at least not as concerned as I am on the Vespa.
It's definitely not for everyone and in my case an acquired taste. And something you have to try out. Kissell Motorsports is going to keep this one as a demo bike. Pay them a visit and try it out. You never know if you might be cut out to be a URAL Adventurer...