Ural Sportsman

My Ural Sidecar Motorcycle experience, three months in.

November 19, 2009

A recent interview of my experiences so far as the owner of a 1996 Ural Sportsman Sidecar Motorcycle got me to thinking of listing said learning experiences for examiner.com readers.

If you’re in a hurry, want to get somewhere fast, or like being the fastest thing on the road; then a this sidecar right is not for you. Think about it, it’s a basically 70 year old technology and design, a small engine (750cc and 40 hp), and an aggregate weight of perhaps 1000 lbs or more fully loaded. You run into basic physical limitations.

If you don’t like perfect strangers walking up to you in parking lots and asking you questions about the rig, it’s history, why you ride it, etc. a phenomenon called UDF or Ural Delay Factor where a 10 minute errand turns into a 30 minute or more trip because you’re chatting with folks. then this might not be the vehicle for you. Me? I enjoy such events, the Ural has proven a really effective ice-breaker in most situations and helps non-riders get perhaps a more favorable impression of motorcyclists.

Riding a sidecar rig is nothing like riding a regular two-wheeled motorcycle. It’s quite the different experience and training is a must! That’s where a lot of newbit sidecar riders get into trouble, no training and not knowing how to deal with such events as flying the chair where the sidecar lifts up on a sharp right-hand turn and the rider doesn’t know what to do.

Do you like to work with your hands, tinker on machinery, and don’t mind keeping up with services on your motorcycles? Then this is the rig for you! The service intervals are short, every 2500Km which is just a bit over every 550 miles.

Yep, very short intervals but these engines really do work hard (see my first point) and replacing the fluids in the engine, gearbox and final drive is very easy.

To date, I’ve experienced a failed alternator which caused me to replace the timing gears, learned to troubleshoot and clean up the fuel delivery path. dealt with a sheared apart propeller drive shaft to the sidecar and replaced several fasteners which were not up to the task. Sure, the repairs and such were vexing as they happened but learning to repair them made me a better motorcycling wrench and Uralisti since I know my rig that much better now.

The Russian gearbox is a different beast from the BMW gearboxes I was used to. The expression amongst us Uralisti is that the final machining of the gears is done by the owners as there’s almost always a small amount (sometimes a large amount if you’re not allowing the revs on the engine to die down a bit between shifts) grinding noises when changing gears. In a parody of the Loud Pipes save lives saying from the Harley crowd, the Uralisti say: Loud Gears save lives! with their tongue firmly planted in cheek!

There’s a wealth of information, which you sometimes must weigh with a grain of salt and get confirmation of, online from fellow Uralisti who’ve been there and done that when it comes to some commonly occurring issue on these marvelous vehicles. Sites such as soviet steeds and russian iron are where you find fellow Uralisti, sites such as Bill Glaser’s online Ural maintenance manual are invaluable to help you figure out how to do your own repairs!

While the newer rigs from Ural come with disc brakes, my own rig is all drum brakes on all three wheels. It took some getting used to, and you have to ensure enough distance to allow these old technology brakes to function. But yes, they will stop you when you need to, you just may be pressing down harder than you’re used to on a more modern motorcycle!

The reverse gear available to Ural owners is priceless. Not only in terms of not worrying if you’re parked on a slope or not but in the looks of other riders and car drivers when you back your rig out of a spot and then ride off.

The rig sounds heavy but is amazingly very easy to push by yourself. I’ve proven that on several ocassions now.

Ural Sportsman

Some of the above sounds very much like a lot of work doesn’t it? I won’t kid you and say it’s not but to me it’s been quite the worthwhile experience so far. I really can deal with, so far, with everything that’s failed on this rig and fix it (albeit sometimes with the help of friends with more expertise and welding equipment).

The rewards are such things as the looks of people’s faces as you ride by them, mostly smiles and waves even, since side car rigs are so rare here in the U.S. The looks are even more amusing to me as I ride by them and the streets are covered with snow and ice. I’ve ridden down some goat tracks laughingly called trails that would have stopped me cold before on my two-wheeled motorcycles.

Yep, a sidecar rig will actually do fine on snow and ice if you’re careful, have good tires and you’ve ground clearance! Heck, my regula car got stuck where my sidecar rig just plowed right on through in the last snow storm! My rig came with a spare tire (yes, a spare tire on a motorcycle!) with knobby threads, I’ve yet to actually need it to deal with snow-covered streets. Oh, and changing a tire is about ten minutes work.

AND the tires are all interchangeable on the Ural!

My own rig has fulltime 2WD which means not only is the rear wheel on the motorcycle driven but through a propeller shaft, so is the sidecar’s wheel. Makes for better handling, in my opinion, on left hand turns while on pavement. Right hand turns you still must slow way down for. Some of the newer models have selectable 2WD but it basically just locks the rear and sidecar wheel together to get out of spots where you’re stuck.

You can’t drive the rig with the 2WD on very far as its very hard to steer, unlike mine. I am not sure why Ural quite providing this option, and finding parts will probably be an issue for me someday.

The best reward, is being able to easily and safely share my motorcycle riding with my sons and my wife. It had not worked out before I got this sidecar rig in terms of them coming along. Now it’s just a matter of putting on a helmet and jumping into the side car and one of them rides with me!

There will more articles and postings as I continue to learn the life of a Uralisti, I expect the fun times to outweight the learning experiences. Now if only I can stop wearing that big stupid grin on my face while riding my rig!

Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman

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