Words: Spannerman Pics: Ellen Dewar
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
“Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow.
‘till you find your dream.”
My current dream is fairly straightforward: I want a hot girlfriend and a Ural Retro. The girl might be a mountain too high but, with a price around $18,000, a Ural outfit is certainly achievable. If I get the outfit, perhaps the girl will follow…
BACK IN THE DAY
The Ural story is a bit of a head-spin, even by European standards. The Soviet government got the design and production techniques for the BMW R 71 in 1939 after Germany and the Soviet Union had laughably signed a non-aggression pact.
Relations deteriorated quickly so to make sure it could actually build the outfits, the Soviets acquired a number of R 71s from Sweden and commenced reverse-engineering them.
The original IMZ-Ural massproduction factory was built, appropriately, in an abandoned brewery in the remote town of Irbit in the Ural mountains where it would have been considerably harder for the Germans to destroy.
In a diplomatic move still practiced today, the German ‘gift’ of the sidevalve R 71 was made in the full knowledge that the superior overheadvalve BMW R 75 was already nearing domestic production.
The soviets called their R 71 copy the M-72 and, over the course of the World War II, almost 10,000 were produced and saw service in troop deployment, ambulance work and reconnaissance. The Germans were defeated partly by the use of their own technology.
Ural has now been around for over 70 years. Critics say it hasn’t had 70 years of development but one year of development 70 times. While this is largely unfair, changes have been glacial. A switch to an overhead-valve engine occurred in the early ’60s and, in 2003, a new crankshaft with a longer stroke saw capacity increase from 650 to 750cc. More recent changes have seen the use of a disc brake, a better alternator and better carburettors.
Despite the slow pace of change, a claimed 3.2 million Ural outfits have been sold.
Australia, arguably, has never had a proper distributor of Urals until New England-based Jon Taylor recognised the marque’s potential. Given the decline in popularity of outfits from the ’70s and ’80s, importing them is still a big call. The current Irbit production facility has around 150 staff and can produce 1200 outfits a year.
Half of them go to the US, a third to Europe and Jon has single-handedly turned Australia and New Zealand into the third-biggest market.
There are 250 Ural outfits currently on Australia’s roads and 60 were sold in 2012. There are dealers in every state with multiple dealers in NSW and Queensland. as for marketing, Jon says word-of-mouth is now doing the job for him. Owners love them and are spreading the message.
THREE FOR THE ROAD
Urals were designed long before computers and reflect no computerassisted design features. CAD has allowed manufacturers to make bikes strong in their primary plane of operation but light in areas where strength isn’t needed. It’s why modern bikes hit in the side will almost always be insurance write-offs.
Reflecting the period of their original design, Urals are strong on all planes and, as a result, are solid and heavy. A claimed dry weight of 335kg isn’t a problem for a three-wheeler, though, as there aren’t lean angles to tax the suspension. Chassis-wise, they operate much the same as a car does.
Contemporary Ural models have been the same bike with different colour schemes and accessories. The Retro model we’ve had the pleasure of testing, though, has some significantly different features.
Unlike other models (with the exception of the 70th Anniversary model which we haven’t seen in Australia yet), the Retro has 18in wheels and a standard telescopic front fork rather than the more common leading-link type. The smaller wheels allow for different tyre choices (our Retro was fitted with Heidenau tyres from Germany) and lower gearing which, surprisingly, seems to have improved top speed.
Ural recommends a top speed of 105km/h but the Retro was comfortable at 120km/h and appeared untaxed on a few occasions when its speedo was reading 130km/h. The Siberian Speed Team coaxed 117mph (188km/h) out of a 650 model at the 2001 Bonneville Speed Trials.
MT took the Retro to the World Supers at Phillip Island and, for the first time ever while riding a Ural, I wasn’t holding the traffic up. Slowing down was good, too: the Brembo front disc and linked rear and sidecar wheel drum brakes are effective.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
The Retro has a solo saddle (although a pad for the rear rack to allow a pillion is a modest $115.50) which was just a tad short for my 6ft 3in (190cm) chassis. Other models have bench seats. It wasn’t in any way uncomfortable for our 300km roundtrip but may have become an issue with extended ownership.
With the title ‘Retro’, you’d expect some references to the past. The ‘matte olive’ colour scheme made it look ancient from the very beginning and I was asked at every petrol stop how old it was. If you want to be even less conspicuous,‘drab olive’ is available.
It feels and looks like an old bike from the rider’s seat. There are no digital displays or buttons for traction control and ABS. Instead, you get exactly what you can see: a speedo, an odometer, indicator switches and light switches.
The ignition key sits in the headlight binnacle and our bike had ‘on’ and ‘off’ positions written in biro.
Select neutral, turn the key on and press the starter button. If you had to pick an unlikely supplier of electronic ignition, it would be Ducati – but that’s Ural’s supplier and the engine never failed to fire on the first touch.
Part of this success is down to the Japanese Keihin carburettors and a big battery being fed by a giant Nippon Denso 55A/300W alternator.
You can’t push an outfit around like you can a solo so the Ural has a reverse gear. You can select it with your foot but it’s just as easy to lean down and do it by hand.
Okay, we’re now out of the driveway and ready to rock.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Let the light clutch lever out and you’re away. The gearbox clunks as you change into first and, for most riders, it will clunk with every gear change. Norm Orchard (see breakout) claims if you put your foot over both the heel and toe parts of the gear change lever, you can achieve a silent shift.
I can count the times I got it right on one hand but Norm has done 80,000km on his Ural and is a more reliable witness.
There’s a sticker on the tank that says turning either left or right on an outfit can be dangerous but, once you get the hang of it, the rig responds well to rider input. A little bit of acceleration around left-handers and a little bit of brake around right-handers soon sees you comfortable in the twisty bits.
Suddenly you’re having fun. The chair wheel starts to lift predictably in left-handers and you can lean on the chair wheel in right-handers. The skills become second nature soon enough.
The Retro’s engine is strong from low revs, as you’d expect from its 78mm x 78mm bore and stroke. It claims to produce 29.4kW (40hp) at 5600rpm and uses 91RON unleaded with its low, 8.6:1 compression ratio.
Fuel consumption isn’t a strong point but, as Norm says, you don’t buy one to save petrol. Eight litres per 100km isn’t unusual but at 90km/h with a load and a head-wind, it can get to 12.5lt/100km. Tank capacity is 19lt.
We tried to stuff Sonia, my pretend hot girlfriend in the pictures with this story, into the chair so we could put the tonneau cover over her and sneak her into the World Supers but, despite yoga being one of her skills, it didn’t work. It was vaguely erotic, though, watching her try. Right side up, she loved the comfort of the chair and would happily have stayed in it all day.
There’s a spacious boot with a spare wheel attached which will fit on the front, back or sidcar. The extensive toolkit gives you every assistance you might need and is probably the most comprehensive kit in any current production bike. There’s even a foot-pump and a shovel. The recently released ‘Yamal’ model trumps this by including an oar…
When we returned the Retro to EuroBrit in Melbourne, Guido rode it while I followed on his GSX1100. He never moves on solo bikes but I watched him glide across to the middle of the outfit in left-handers to control the sidecar wheel lift. It was a thing of grace and beauty and great to watch from behind. He was having fun and, if you get the idea of sidecars, that fun is available to you in prices ranging from $16,500 to $19,000, depending on the model (the wild Yamal is $20,000). I want one.
“I first saw a ural outfit at the Sydney motorcycle Exhibition and it was love at first sight, even though I’d never ridden an outfit before.
“I bought a ‘Tourist’ model from a maitland (NSw) dealership and rode it towards Newcastle, terrified at the prospect of having to turn right to get home to Adelaide. when I finally arrived at the beach I had no choice and right turns no longer hold any fears.
“In 40 years of riding, I’ve never had so much fun.
“I bought the outfit in December, 2009 and have now clocked up 81,000km. The final drive played up at 25,000km but was replaced under warranty. It failed again at 65,000km but I can’t speak highly enough of the back-up and support offered by ural Australia.
The spline on the clutch wore out at 73,000km but, again, parts were available, inexpensive and backed up by excellent service.
“The engine hasn’t been touched and seems to get better as the miles pile up. “I’ll have to decide soon whether to buy a new model before the EEC forces fuel injection and ABS to be mandatory. I enjoy the simplicity of the current models and, in many of the locations I ride, ABS would be a nuisance rather than a help.
“whether it’s a new bike or my current model, I’m sticking with the Russians.”
– Norm Orchard
KIDS LOVE TOYS
Staffer Rod Chapman stole the Ural keys one night to give his son, luke, his first sidecar experience. luke liked it so much he asked, rather than return home, if Rod and he could just “keep going”. As Denis Paget said in the Spannerman column in #267, “my grandkids love it!”
- World Exclusive: 2014 Ural Gear-Up Sidecar Review RideApart
- Sheldon’s second 1998 Ural Sporstman two-wheel-drive sidecar rig
- Ural Patrol t, for sale, t motorcycle, review, vs gear up, vs patrol motorcycle…
- 2014 Ural Patrol Review
- IMZ Ural 750 Sportman