Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Becoming a URAL Adventurer

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.

After 30 miles of gravel I felt pretty comfortable with the changing surface, the response of the URAL, and my growing abilities in regard to throttle, steering, braking and shifting inputs.  Riding a URAL is like a dance and you need to know all the moves.  You can get away with some sloppy things on a motorcycle but on this rig it really helps to expand your skills.

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.

One of my last side trips into a Siberian landscape, or at least as close as I could get on this day.  The rig is all about transportation, getting from here to there, and not allowing much to stand in your way.

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...


RichardM said...

I've been looking forward to this post. Nice pictures and write-up. That orange color does sort of grow on you. Two things that make the Ural unique are 2WD and having reverse. How important were these features during your review?

I think my favorite photo is the one with the lone tree. There is something about those that attract my eye....


Steve Williams said...

RichardM: I neglected to mention the reverse gear on the URAL. It was a useful feature, especially in rough terrain or when needing to backup on a grade.

I never tried the 2WD because I didn't need it. It has the same sort of lever as the reverse shifter. They're both on the right hand side. I could put the URAL into reverse with the heel of my boot. Had to reach down with my hand to get it out of reverse.

As far as the tree goes --- have photographed it many times in my travels. I know one day it will be gone lost to lightning or the changing whims of a farmer...

David Masse said...

In the right color, with a few dents and accumulated dust, road dirt, some mud, and maybe a bullet hole or two, it's all ¸Indiana Jones. Did you get that vibe at all tooling along on those remote gravel roads?

Sergei Belski said...

Great review Steve! I find my self thinking about Ural pretty often because I ride pretty much all year around it would defiantly help to have another wheel :)

Great photos!


len said...


great full on review ...what a wonderful post,very descriptive....i almost feel like i was aboard the beast itself. The pictures are top notch.I would have liked to see a picture of you, taken by a second person showing the ural going in reverse....perhaps up an hill!

The twelve picture is my favorite,its got that movie feel about it steve mcQeen has stopped for a breather during chase .

wonderful stuff.

kindest regards

len ( scootering adventures )

len said...


great full on review ...what a wonderful post,very descriptive....i almost feel like i was aboard the beast itself. The pictures are top notch.I would have liked to see a picture of you, taken by a second person showing the ural going in reverse....perhaps up an hill!

The twelve picture is my favorite,its got that movie feel about it steve mcQeen has stopped for a breather during chase .

wonderful stuff.

kindest regards

len ( scootering adventures )

scooter said...

Nice pics!
Dreamy mood out there.
Thank for your post.

the scooter dope said...

Nice article. I have ridden the last few winters with on knobby's on my GTS but this looks like a much better snow machine.

Troubadour said...

Great review and fantastic photos, Ural needs to use those in their advertising brochures. I imagined they handled quite different than a motorcycle but to have you describe it has really piqued my interest. Sounds like you'd need a sidecar endorsement added on your license to drive one.
Thanks for the reviews.

Steve Williams said...

David Masse: I didn't get the Indiana Jones vibe while riding the URAL. Perhaps I wasn't going fast enough or maybe because Sean Connery wasn't in the sidecar!

Steve Williams said...

Sergei Belski: The URAL definitely would make winter riding easier to deal with. I hope to have the chance to find out first hand.

Thanks for the kind words about the pictures. My little Canon G9 is still chugging away.

Steve Williams said...

Len: I think about making videos now and again but they are so time consuming to produce. Someday I'll surprise you though.

Thanks for writing here. I appreciate your thoughts.

Steve Williams said...

scooter: I love the dreamy mood in the forest on an overcast day. Seems like I am in some enchanted place.

Scooter Dope: I have Heidenau SnowTex tires on my Vespa during the winter but nothing will provide the stability offered by a sidecar. Especially one with a driven wheel!

Thanks for the kind words too.

Steve Williams said...

Troubadour: thanks for the kind words on the URAL pictures. Hard to go wrong with a bright orange subject.

No added endorsement needed here to pilot a sidecar rig. So I'm ready to go!

Howard said...

What great timing for me to read this. I just finished my own post about riding a sidecar rig ( then along comes your post. The Ural is kind of what I am thinking a lot about. I am a bit concerned about the slowish top speed, but even more so about the availability of parts on a Russian bike. Well, by the time I have the money, there may be more parts available.
great pics, super write up. Thanks


Charlie6 said...

Truly an insightful review Steve!

As a former Ural owner, and still in my mind a "Uralista", you covered the experience of riding a Ural quite well.

You didn't mention "crunching gear noises". Does this mean it's a quiet operation, the shifting of gears?

I really miss the reverse gear of the Ural, my rig is a handful to back up sometimes when on the trails.

They're definitely different beasts, sidecar rigs. I strongly recommend training for prospective sidecar rig owners. You can get into real trouble if you don't know what to expect and ride accordingly.

In my experience, Urals are great gravel, mud, snow, rutted ice riding machines. And yes, it's great being able to pull over without worrying overmuch about the road shoulder's condition....though the width sometimes precludes being able to pull over, where a two-wheeled moto would be fine.

You really have to try and get more time behind the wheel of the Ural come the next snow fall, you'll have a blast.....tell Kissell that you've got to "experience" having to engage 2WD, though you'll find you can get along on 1WD pretty much on most snow conditions. Engaging 2WD will limit your steering ability as the rig just wants to go be aware its only for "really interesting" situations, in terms of traction.

Great pics!


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Otter said...

Wonderful piece, thank you. I can't imagine riding with a sidecar often, but I would like to give it a go sometime. The Ural is an absolute beauty.

Steve Williams said...

Howard: Thanks for visiting and commenting. I read your post on your blog and it's a excellent summation of the sidecar dream. Parallels mine closely.

Let us know when you acquire that URAL that you're dreaming of!

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: No crunching gear sounds like there was on your rig. Still clunky but much closer to your BMW. And there are moments when you think, "That's a pretty smooth shift..."

I didn't use reverse often but when I did it would have been a pain to have to push the rig. I suppose you just plan ahead without it and try not to get yourself into situations that you can't just move forward.

I definitely agree with the need for training. It would be easy to hurt yourself (or worse) just running off with a URAL without any thought or experience. Mine was limited to reading that sidecar manual and a few rides with other rigs that started out slow and careful.

I consider myself a rank amateur now.

Craig definitely wants me to try the URAL in the winter weather. We'll see how he feels about it when the salt is thick and he looks at that shiny orange machine in the showroom...

Steve Williams said...

Otter: There are certain motorcycles and scooters whose visual appearance triggers some kind of primal attraction. I think the URAL is one of them.

Orin said...

Steve, thanks for the review (and the pix). I must admit, I am very, very curious about the Ural. However, in Washington State you need a separate endorsement on your license for a trike or sidecar rig, and I don't gotz one. However, the Ural distributor is not far away, and they invited me to noodle around their parking lot in one the next time I'm in the neighborhood...

Scootin' Old Skool

Dar said...

Great Review! Love the pictures, very pretty country. My hub and I were out on a motorcycle ride and a group pulled up and there was a ural amongst the bunch. I really liked the look of it, vintage nostalgia. I think these would be really practical rigs and would love to try one. The speed for cruising would be an issue, because that is primarily what I would want it for. Maybe one day I will get to try one of these babies.

It definitely has piqued my interest.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Steve:

Moose and squirrel have gotten away again... Please to take Ural out to woods and search for both.



Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve Williams:

For once you left me speechless! A Ural? Next week I expect Kissell Motorsports will have you banking a burro into a turn someplace.

I have never seriously considered a hack-rig before, but shots of one (a BMW GS) taken by Charlie 6 (Dom Chang) leave me intrigued.

Having had a Russian wife, I am inclined to pass on the Russian motorcycle.

Great woodsy shots, including one of yourself, with this post. And I can easily see you riding across the tundra or the Veldt, with the sidecar loaded with sacks of grain, coal, and vodka.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Steve Williams said...

Orin: I hope to put some more miles on the URAL. Let me know if there is anything in particular that you're wondering about.

In PA you just need a motorcycle license (I assume). Maybe I had better check into that.

Steve Williams said...

Dar: It you are used to cruising on the freeway or at speeds over 50mph you'll probably be disappointed with the URAL. It's not a cruiser replacement.

But if you are content to wander on backroads and take advantage of opportunities off the pavement it may be the thing to have...

Steve Williams said...

Boris: The moose is gone for sure but my dog Junior is tracking the squirrel. Will advise further developments.

Steve Williams said...

Dear Mr. Riepe: Your past wives probably treasured any speechless moments. I will try and hold this one in the same regard.

I don't picture you on a URAL or any kind of sidecar rig for that matter. You're far to mercurial for something steady and plodding.

Your vision of me on the tundra though is quite accurate. Hauling coal and grain is right up my alley. And with the sidecar I could easily bring moss covered rocks home to an appreciative wife for her garden.

Fuzzy said...

Gosh, that is a fine looking motorcycle. And, a great set of photos to boot.

SheRidesABeemer said...

You're a brave man! I had a hack parked next to my K bike for a was a long year. The Ural looks much lighter and nimbler than the Yamaha Venture I had. I am not sure I could tolerate the attention it would get! But what a great Rounder bike!!

Paul said...

That's a really nice photo of the motorcycle at the horseshoe curve in the road. It's kind of arty.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

I have been looking at these things for quite some time now. They are stunning, and I think it would be the perfect thing to allow me, my wife and my newborn to go traveling together on a "motorcycle" in a couple of years.

but boy, the price is steep...

Monks said...


Thank you for this post. I found it interesting and informative. My wife and I have been talking about getting a second motorcycle (currently my daily driver is a Triumph Bonneville). We were previously thinking about getting another Triumph, but your review has us seriously considering getting a Ural with a sidecar- this way our son can ride with us!

I have a question for you. Your insight will be much appreciated.
We will mostly be riding it on the streets- long coastal drives in sunny southern California, how important is the two wheel drive function? Ultimately, $3000 dollars price difference isn't a big difference since we plan on owning the bike until it's no longer functional. But if it's money we don't need to spend, we'd rather not.

Steve Williams said...

Monks: Thanks for the kind words about the URAL post. Unless you are riding in snow or loose sand or gravel I can't imagine why you would ever need the two-wheel drive. My friend Dom purchased this same model. You can question him on his blog -- Redleg's Rides -- for more specifics about the two wheel drive.

For the riding you are describing I think the straight model would be great!

Touring Motocycle Tires said...

I have just read that post and seen the pictures of the URAL. One think that clicked onto my mind; i want to lay my hands on it ASAP! It looks amazing. If i was on those streets, be sure i would have chased you down the street and ask for a ride! About the videos, i also think like Len, i would be glad to see one of your videos. Looks like you have amazing rides. Good work Steve!