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Memorable Motorcycles Ural Sidecar

Wednesday, July 6, 2005
The R71 s mystique came from the fact that it could carry a heavy machine gun  plus two men and their rations  in the harshest terrain.
The R71's mystique came from the fact that it could carry a heavy machine gun, plus two men and their rations, in the harshest terrain.
In the higher echelons of motorcycling the competition gets really tough. Enthusiasts will argue for days about the merits of a BSA RRT2 gearbox or the quality of rebound damping on Ceriani front forks. Truly, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

However, few will disagree that the Ural sidecar outfit must be a hot contender for the top slot in motorcycling mediocrity. This BMW inspired flat twin is outstandingly one of the worst motorcycles ever put into series production - a creation of such comprehensive awfulness, in every respect, that it almost defies belief that even one example has ever been sold in the West.

Yet, it need not have been like this. The Ural began life as a BMW R71 and was the product of the 1939 Ribbentrop/Molotov pact whereby Germany sold, amongst other things, state of the art technology to the Soviet Union. Germany granted the Russians a credit of 200 million Reichsmarks to buy German equipment and in return the Nazis had free access to Russian raw materials.

Initially, everything went wonderfully well and the Soviets established an ultra modern factory on the outskirts of Moscow and produced, by all accounts, high quality replicas of the BMW. Then, Operation Barbarrosa was launched and the Germans somewhat inconsiderately invaded Russia and attempted to flatten Moscow. The R71 was considered to be a key war asset and production was moved to the Ural Mountains away from the attentions of German bombers.

Compared with walking and carrying a heavy machine gun on your back, the R71 was a big improvement. It soon became the Russian jeep, with drive to the sidecar being taken from the rear wheel of the bike. The outfit could carry a heavy machine gun, plus two men and their rations, in the harshest terrain. Its light weight, compared with a truck, meant that the outfit could be dragged through bogs and hauled up cliff faces - and it had the added benefit of being a small target for German tourists armed with 88mm anti-tank weapons. So the legend of the macho, go anywhere, catch-bullets-in-my-carburetor-and-eat-them sidecar outfit began.

Sixty years later, this myth needs viewing objectively. The all conquering Ural war hero belongs to the same age as when carcinogenic DDT was considered a good fix for delousing submariners' genital areas and being trapped in a burning bomber was a mere occupational inconvenience. Things have moved on.

However, ride an Ural and you can still experience living proof of why the Soviet Union collapsed. The twin cylinder boxer engine produces an insipid 33 bhp - but feels less. Top speed is claimed to be 65mph but you would have to be receiving sympathetic psychiatric care to even consider riding the thing at this speed.

After the surprise German offensive Barbarossa was launched  the R71 was considered to be a key war asset and production was moved from the front lines to the Ural mountains.
After the surprise German offensive Barbarossa was launched, the R71 was considered to be a key war asset and production was moved from the front lines to the Ural mountains.
The four speed - and reverse - gearbox clonks and crashes like Irania the war heroine engaging the drive on her T34 tank, whilst the brakes provide little more than token retardation. In short, no part of the motorcycle functions in anything like a reasonable manner.

Strangely, it is not the mediocre performance, or appalling reliability, which takes the Ural to the very top of the worst motorcycle ever chart. Rather, it is the militant lack of care with which the bikes are built. Brackets don't fit, welds would disgrace a 16 year old in his first week at Tech College and electrical wires dangle anywhere and everywhere. Paint looks as if it has been applied by a loose bowelled pigeon's bottom. This is not a question of an old design or poor equipment, but more the ultimate manifestation of the couldn't-care-less culture.

Still, there is one fact even more amazing than all the Ural's faults put together; customers in the West still buy the things. Importers come and go but a loyal band of masochistic fanatics purchase Urals and produce paeans of praise lauding the bikes' manly qualities and unique personalities. Web blogs are posted eulogizing the Ural's ability to carry three rocket propelled grenades, an anti-tank missile, and a spare box of ammo for the machine gun - virtues which should clearly rate highly on every thinking motorcyclist's mind.

Not unlike ritual public castration, bubonic plague and burning at the stake for reading a bible translated into English, riding an Ural is an unforgettable experience which every motorcyclist should try once. Then, go home and be deeply thankful that Japan never became a Soviet colony.

For more information contact: www.cossackownersclub.co.uk

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KurtBremen   September 26, 2014 09:25 AM
I must admit that I have read poorer "journalism" than this "review", but I really can't recall when. The only correct information in this hopeless tangle of misinformation, myths and outright lies are that the Soviet got the BMW R71 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact. BMW had big hopes of a fat government-contract supplying R71's to the German military, but they had settled for Zundapp. BMW already had OHV models for civilian use, so the R71 was a genuine failure, which nobody wanted. Giving it away to the new ally was a nice - and cheap - gesture. Tools and machinery was sent to the Soviet Union, and german engeineers got production running in Leningrad and Moscow. The first M72's were - not copies - but R71's made on german machinery in the USSR. They were improved after field-use, fist to be changed was to move the clutch release-lever on top of the gearbox, instead of under it, where the first stone or rut tore it off. !0.000 were made during the war and 25.000 after the war. Harley Davidson made some too, called HarleyDavidson XA. They stopped producing them again, some say because they never grasped the mysteries of an engine which balanced itself and having even power-strokes. After the war the Russians made their own models and the R71/M72 ended up in China as the ChangJiang 750M1. Soviet production was concentrated in two plants, one in Irbit (IMZ) making URAL's for civilian use, and one in Kiev (KMZ) making Dneprs for military and official use, both around 100.000 a year. Within few years these to models became very different. Partly because the military forced KMZ to stick with SV engines, and partly because USSR politics during the cold was was to refrain from producing anything that wouldn't have a military value. No need for 4-valve heads, OHC, water-cooling and the like, which was developed, but stopped by red tape. The M72, K750 and early OHV are reputed to be of same quality as same year BMW's. Later - mid 1980's - quality deteriorated, as the rest of USSR and communism deteriorated. One reason was lack of proper materials, another was lack of money to pay staff. What kind of quality would you expect from a man who doesn't know if he gets paid, or will have to choose between a fridge or a TV instead of salary? 4 million of these bikes were made, many of them run today, having got little or no service, and they got the oil that was tapped off the tractor. I have seen many examples of bikes having lived in sheds for decades, spring to life instantly after having changed liquids and battery, in a cloud af dust from the rusty exhaust. A restored URAL or Dnepr, improved with modern pistons and bearings, is a very stable piece of machinery, giving lots of miles and enjoyment. It needs a little more maintenance than a modern MC, but owners of old Harleys know the word maintenance too. Shaking wheels? make them run true. Bumpy ride? Balance the wheels. Poor brakes, fit modern linings - they were made for a country with no private transportation, so braking was no problem. Poor engine performance? 1976 Cadillac 66E,Q 8.193 litre V8 produced a measly 190 HP, thats 23 HP to the litre, worse than the first VW Beetle. The 650cc Ural produced 34 HP, that's 52 HP to the litre. Now whose engine design sucks? You will occasionally run into an old Ural/Dnepr lemon as they were mostly hand-built, with workforce problems as scheduled. Dneprs produced for the civilian market late 1980 - mid 1990 are the culprits. But Detroit shipped lemons too - and hopeless defunct designs. You have heard about the Ford Edsel, the Chevette, The Corsair, and recent the Hummer?
LastBornNormal   September 11, 2013 08:15 AM
Is this article a joke? Or is Melling actually that clueless about motorcycles, Ural in particular. Word of advise to anyone reading this article and taking it seriously as a factor to purchasing a Ural; Disregard every word he said. Melling has no idea what he speaks, and likely has never ridden, let alone actually seen a Ural.
Piglet2010   August 27, 2011 11:29 PM
Mediocre is *not* a synonym for awful.
Aleko   May 13, 2011 04:00 AM
The Ural is a military motorcycle, the likes of which the USA, UK never had (though they both copied the Germans via the Ruskie M72, I mean H-D and Douglas flat twin & shaft prototypes). The best description of this breed was given by NARMA on their website (for the brother Dnepr), they praised the design for offering good feild usage due to the waterproof drivetrain not subject to dust, high ground clearance, good low ratios, simple design, room to haul, very well thought of dismountability and lastly beautifull BMW looks. The M72, Dnepr and Ural were produced by the millions, behind the Iron courtain, they are probably the worlds most produced motorcycles after Honda Cub, the Minsk and the Izh. The URal was some kind of simbol in the East, it was the best you could get, due to import ban. If Frankie here likes his ugly Matchless G.50 let me remind him that the BMW, which he probably dislikes, held the speed records with their flat twins that are in the same family as the Ural's engine. The Ural you could tune the engine crazy, beat the crap out of this Brit bike and still be sturdy enough to go to war.
P. Alan -Ural owner  January 2, 2011 05:36 PM
If FRANK WERE A MOTORCYCLE he would not be worth reviewing
Andy B -Ural? Sloppy, sloppy journalism, Mr Mellor  October 26, 2010 07:43 AM
Oh dear. It is really disappointing to read such badly-researched stuff from someone purporting to be a motorcycle journalist. There may well have been an element of truth if this had referred to the older-series Urals with the 650 engine (or the even earlier 750 side-valve), although even that would have ignored the whole raison d'etre of the Ural - ie rugged, easily-maintained, load-carrying cheap transport.

But by 2005, there can be no excuse for this article. THe 750 engine had been around for several years, providing a significant increase in HP and torque, and quality was steadily improving (and prices rising accordingly). And, no, I don't own one, although have ridden several.
B. Keller -Just about anyone knows more about bike history and build philosophy than Frank!  October 22, 2010 09:14 PM
Frank seems to not only display a hatred of a bike he has never owned, but a severe misunderstanding of Soviet war machine doctrine during WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. While the US and NATO forces spent millions on each tank and you could walk up and inspect the perfect lines, welds, etc., the Soviets turned out 10 for every 1 of ours. Did the welds look horrible? Did anything line up perfectly? No. Did they care? Hell no. Just look at what the AK-47 is. It is loose, but it always works when you need it to and anyone can maintain one. Can anyone maintain their Japanese super bike? Frank would have you believe the AK-47 is a piece of crap with this line of thinking. Why would the Soviets continue to produce a bike with such flaws? They wouldn't and didn't. Frank is overstating the flaws. So Frank, before you put down a bike... try to understand a little more about the philosophy behind the design before writing it off. It's clear you did no research for this article and simple think everyone should think like you.
H. Neal -Sidecars forever  September 21, 2010 01:06 PM
Fact is there is no such thing as a bad sidecar rig as long as you are having fun. I love the looks of the Ural and as they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I have an 03 883 with a velorex side car. For what it is worth I only do about 70 mph top end also but have loads of power up to 55.I think it is primarily the wind resistance that kills the top end side cars. I have never liked owning something that just anyone could go down to the store and buy given the money. Therefore my plan it to convert my rig to look like a Ural, but with better performance and presumed reliability. Making the bike look old was easy with a seat and handle bar change. I work in a sheet metal plant and plan to build a Ural replica side car from aluminum to reduce weight and drop it on my Velorex frame. The taken the 883 out 1200. With that I think I will have the best of both worlds. If the vibration gets on my nerves I may swap to a Japanese bike, but right now I still love listening to my Harley.
Billy -Ural  September 7, 2010 09:06 PM
Melling obviously hasn't ridden one!!
DoubleF -04 Tourist  July 8, 2010 11:01 AM
Life is what you make it... Some enjoy a cigar, others a scotch, many both on onday, the next a beer and a bag of chips. I am a 40 year old dad of two. Divorced and happy to be employed. I am a very active person, athletic and social. I ride off-road motorcycles and love to go fast, jump far, climb hills, blaze downhills, and tackle twisties on the streets... All that with different tools. Among them my 2004 Ural Tourist. I LOVE TO RIDE MY URAL! It not only puts the calm "no rush, Sunday drive" feeling in my soul. But it puts smiles on faces every time I take her out. I agree with P.Howsins comment... everyone wants to talk about her! But being a social person I love it. I have ran into a few snags with electrical stuff. But can any bike owner say that any bike is free from issues? Take your Harley out fishing, hunting, to the market and load home a hack full of groceries. Probably not huh? Take the dog(1) AND the kids(2) for a putt to the ice cream shop into town... AND chat about your day as you cruise along. There is no doubt every motorcycle enthusiast would get a kick outta owning a Ural. And I would go as far as to say enjoy the therapeutic effects of not rushing through the commute from point A to B. I mat sound like a sales rep, but I assure you I am not... Just stumbled across this site and couldn't leave without sharing that.
AKUral -The Slow Lane  June 1, 2010 09:29 AM
Riding on a Ural is kin to cruising the high seas in a 40ft steel ketch. You are going anywhere fast, but you are getting there, in class and style, in your own good time. No, if you need Viagra or think shooting wolves out of airplanes is a good time you aren't going to like a Ural. To say they are the worst bike ever made is laughable. Someone like the author would never understand the joys of a life lived a bit slower and simpler. He is the type that wakes the cruising sailboat when flying past in his testosterone powered motorboat, sipping viagra cocktails.
Underhill -Patrol  March 23, 2010 01:47 PM
My thoughts to the writer of the article above. If you don't like don't buy. I rode my 08 Patrol most of the winter--skipped the actual sub-zero F stuff and have had many folks smile, wave or stop by my shop to say they wish they could ride their whatever in the snow.
Andrew West -Dated article  January 31, 2010 03:05 AM
I can't speak for what Ural quality was back in 2005 but I can tell you my 2009 Ural Sahara is built like a tank and was able to handle a cross country trip from Chicago to Ocean City and down to Miami without any problems accept for a speedo malfunction which Ural shipped a replacement which was ready and waiting for me, no questions asked, at one of my destinations. I rode the rig through all kinds of weather and temperatures with no issues. If your looking for a comfortable cruiser, high technology, high performance, high speed, or a dealership that bleeds you with costly visits---a Ural is not for you. If looking for a bike with personality (makes friends instantly where ever you are), a blast to ride (summer or winter), pathetically easy to service, awesome comfort for your passenger in the sidecar (spacious), off-road capable, high payloads, a passion for days past---it's the bike for you. I have now put about 7,000 miles on it in less than a year and with the exception of the speedo replacement (took less than 10 minutes to swap out and that's with a cigarette break) it's been headache free which is a far better experience than the first 5 months of owning my BMW or Ninja. Do I wish for some improvements---sure: bit more hp, larger gas tank, and another cutie sitting in the jump seat behind me in addition to the one always sitting in the sidecar, but it's still my favorite bike to ride. I think the guys who complain about the lack of comfort/handling are little girls---the rig is old technology and such, sissy proof.
Paul Marquette -58 yr. old. grandpa  January 6, 2010 12:46 PM
like the Ural...might be a good thing to haul grand babies
around town, at slow speeds...and put grandma in, as side car is easier to get in than bike on with bum knee...

at 58 with open heart surgery a couple of years ago...a bit shakey...
might be able to ride a bit longer with 3 wheels that with 2,
no longer in a big hurry...just finishing the ride is enough

not everyone has one....converstation piece...
Steven -Ural  November 12, 2009 01:34 AM
I e-mailed my wife: "I want one of these" with a link. Rather than write back and say, "So?" She bought me a 2005 Gear Up (note the year of the article). Man, I'm having the time of my life. From others with whom I've coresponded, they are better made and more reliable by the year. Does it have its quirks? Yeah, and so did my (sniff) beloved '57 MGA which I had to sell some two decades ago. But in my short stint of ownership I've taken it on a 400 mile round trip, as well as many shorter trips. I've had it up to 75 MPH (a lot) without any qualms, and would drive it faster if it'd go faster. This thing is unbelievably fun, and very social. The wiring is about what I've experienced on Brit and Italian sport cars from as late as the 80s when I stopped driving them (read: "crap"). If you want something that always runs and runs fast, drive your Japanese bike. If you want something that is way more fun than one man deserves to have, then the Ural is the bike. Can't wait to take it back country camping, skiing, etc. The one thing I really wish it had was a larger fuel tank.
Ace! -Reliability and everything else  October 25, 2009 12:24 PM
This article was written years ago while the comments are current (2009). It's my understanding that at least the reliability has improved tremendously in even the last year or two. Might the author's comments been more inline with the bikes available in 2004/2005?
R. Brooks -To Ural, or not to Ural? That is the question  September 17, 2009 05:14 AM
Having lived in Moscow as a journalist before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I noticed several things in regard to Russian workmanship. Russian fighter jets were incredible, but designed by brainy comrades and built by skilled technicians. Every Russian built car I saw or road in was a pile of junk. Buildings were poorly fabricated and constructed. Yet, here I am 20+ years after I lived in the Hotel Ukraine in Moscow, wanting one of these Ural motorcycles. They are so "ugly-ducking" beautiful and retro, I want one in Olive Green Drab with a "sidekarski" so I can ride up and down rural highways here in Texas on my Ural (while wearing my old Army fatigues...) What is the truth about these bikes. Are they really the unreliable dogs that some say they are, or could I actually ride one across the entire state of Texas and back, without having to worry about breaking down.
Bonsaimel -Urals  September 4, 2009 05:47 PM
I own a Ural Patrol. I have not had this much fun riding since I was a teenager. I just did the 5000 k service myself, and I gotta say, simple. I love the utilitarian basic design. Maybe not the prettiest, but damn COOL!
r lewis -the man who is runing down the ural  July 23, 2009 02:21 PM
urals are still being made long after matchless went out production, i have a british bike as well,and been riding since this man was in nappies,ha ha ha ignore him,hes not a true motorcyclist,a true one likes anything on two wheels,matchless what-25bhp top wack not bad for an old plodder
J Loganbill -URAL is the most fun on two---whoops, three wheels  July 17, 2009 12:17 PM
Another writer who evidently knows nothing about what he writes. The current Urals are reliable and easy to maintain. Unlike most bikes today, just about anyone can maintain their Ural.

And the fun factor is off the chart. On the road, off the road, summer or winter, the Ural is an absolute gas.

wes walker -1990's ural german war replica with side car  June 6, 2009 10:44 AM
My friend has one of these in excellent condition and wants me to sell it for him, but I have no idea what it would be worth? Can anyone help me with a ball park fogure thanks wes
Ilya Khait -Hit and run  May 15, 2009 03:35 PM
I think the best term for this so-called review is "hit and run". I can bet Mr. Melling wrote his "review" without ever seen the actual Ural motorycle - the bike pictured is actually 1995 Ural with 650cc engine, while since 2001 all Urals are equipped with 750cc engines. What an example of unfair, coward and irresposible journalism! What a shame, Mr. Melling!
P. Howson -Ural  May 8, 2009 06:57 AM
I find Frank comments concerning the Ural very strange. Having recently bought a Ural, I have had nothing but a lot of fun on it. The only problem I have encountered so far is finding the time to talk to the very many people who admire it and are particuly impressed by the finished. So Ural's are not plastic rockets loaded down with space age electronic's. Lets not forget who they were designed for, Russian farmer's stuck in the middel of some awful place in Russia. I would be very interest to see how long a Jap plastic rocket would last at -40 on the dirt tracks of Russia, What would you prefer to ride out there !.