Ural Sportsman

Sheldon’s 1998 Ural Sportsman – Week 1 (sort of)

Note: February 29, 2000 Please keep in mind, while reading these missives, that my two Urals are 1998 models. I did have some problems with them, but Ural America listened to me, and to other owners and made changes at the factory in Russia, or at their plant in Washington state, that solved all of these problems on later models. The 1998.5 and newer models came with a better ignition system, electric start on the flywheel, different carburetors and many more changes.

My bikes are wonderful rigs, but the newer ones from Ural America are much more refined. If one were to buy a new Ural you would most certainly not encounter the same teething problems that I did. Mine were a magnitude of refinement over the early 1993-94 models, just as the new ones are over mine. The new ones also come with a three year warranty which is probably the best in the motorcycling world. — Sheldon Aubut

3/20/98. Friends on the Internet have been suggesting that I look at getting into a sidecar rig and someone pointed me towards the Ural America site at http://www.imz-ural.com. I’m very intrigued.

I have been considering a new Buell ST3 or a Moto Guzzi California as my next new machine but one look at the Ural Deco Classic and my choices seemed to become blurred. I have been a motorcyclist since 1964, riding a string of Harley Davidsons and Japanese bikes and am presently in the middle of a major rebuild of a 1971 Moto-Guzzi Ambassador. I’m ready to buy a new bike that will be my daily runner.

4/11/98. Made the trip to the Ural dealer, Northern Sports, in Brainerd Minnesota to look at a blue and cream Deco Classic. My friend Daryl went with for moral support.

I hoped that she would be the sensible one and talk me out of buying anything, but I should have known better. When I walked in the door there was a military version (Sportsman) sitting there in its military green color, a black Tourist, a red and black Italia, a cream and black Deco Classic and the Blue and cream Deco Classic.

I first took note of the Sportsman, and commented that it was a wonderful machine, although a bit impractical.

I was a bit disappointed with the blue and cream one. The color was nothing like the color shown in the brochure. It was much too washed out looking, and I didn’t find it attractive at all. The black and cream one, on the other hand, was beautiful.

I looked and looked at it. Staring at every aspect of it for over an hour. While sitting on it for the fourth or fifth time I tried to press the brake pedal. No go. I had polio when a very young child and as a youth surgeries were done to block my right foot.

I have no movement of my right ankle, either laterally or vertically. Normally I rotate my whole leg forward and I can depress the brake pedal on most bikes almost normally. Not on the Ural. The intake tube and carburetor are mounted right at the right ankle.

You must depress the brake pedal and I was not able to do that or rotate my leg. I could not use the rear brakes! Instant depression! We looked at alternatives but I was not comfortable with any of them. Moving the brake to the left side of the bike meant that I would have to operate the shift lever and the brake pedal with the same foot.

I started thinking about what would happen in an emergency or avoidance situation. It also would have cost at least $150 extra and I wouldn’t have the bike when I wanted it. My mind started thinking Buell.

Then I saw Daryl looking at the Sportsman and I decided to sit on it and see if its brake was the same. Turned out that because it was higher and had a shaft to the hack it had more room between the bike and the car. My foot actually fit and by turning my ankle slightly I could depress the pedal.

I am sure that my face lit up like a roman candle when I discovered this difference.

I enjoy being a bit different, or a lotta different, than others, and this bike was certainly different. I thought about it for at least two minutes before I wrote a deposit check. Daryl never even made an attempt to stop me.

What kind of friend is that?

For the next two weeks I scrambled to sell stuff, collect monies from any place I could, get insurance in place and basically did little else but think about this bike. It is a wonder that I got any thing done with my jobs or in my personal life.

I received tons of advice from my friends on the Euro-Moto and Moto Guzzi listserves, and my new friends on the Ural America Discussion areas.

4/25/98 Day 1 as a Ural Owner. Today Daryl came by and we headed out in my 97 Ford F-150 Supercab to get the bike. The plan was to ride the bike home the 110 miles from Northern Sports with her following me. I had mapped out what looked like a good route over low traffic country roads with only about 30 miles on US 210 which is a fairly busy highway.

I had planned to ride the paved shoulder on that stretch. It was made clear to me that I should not exceed 30 mph for the first 500 km so running the shoulders and back roads would be imperative. (Please note: This policy was dropped later in 1998, and from then on the policy is 40 mph max speed during break in on the rugged classic bikes and 50 mph max on the others, including the Deco Classic. It turned out that the low speeds were causing too much lugging of engines, which was worse than running at higher speeds.)

On the trip down we noticed that the 30 mile stretch didn’t have much of a shoulder. It certainly wasn’t paved and actually dropped away with no shoulder at spots. The traffic on the road seemed much more than what I have experienced before and we finally decided to pick the bike up in the truck and haul it home so I could learn to drive in my home neighborhood.

Probably was a very good idea.

Marlow, the dealer, had me take it for a ride around his property and I learned very quickly that my 30+ years of riding skills needed some major adjustments to accommodate the proper riding of a sidecar rig. I had been reading all the Ural manuals but I was not really prepared for how thouroghly different it was. I felt much better about our decision to haul it home after that ride, especially when I went between two trees and I wasn’t sure which I was going to hit.

I knew I would hit at least one of them but the bike tracked between them in spite of my ineptitude.

When we got home I hit the neighborhood roads and managed to rack up about 100 km at 30 mph. Actually my average speed was probably more near 15 mph in that there are more stop signs and intersections in my sleepy neighborhood than in some large cities. But 100 of the first 500 are done in one day.

The only things that seemed to be problems were: The lock down nut that holds down the spare tire and rack worked itself loose a couple of times. I was lucky to not have lost it. The electric starter hadn’t arrived by the time I picked up the bike so I have to kick start it. Again, with my polio inflicted legs this is very difficult because of the angle of the kick starter.

I am getting a method of starting it down but I cannot wait until I get the electric start.

The last thing that was a bit disconcerting happened in a parking lot at a local restaurant. I put the bike in reverse to back into a parking space. I was looking over my shoulder and backing in when all of a sudden the front fork started oscillating from right to left and back again. I thought I was going to lose the bike because I wasn’t able to let off the gas in my panic.

I finally let off the gas and held the front brake and straightened the bike out. Unfortunately I also killed the bike. I am not sure what happened but it sure was scary.

When I had pulled into the parking lot the owner of the restaurant was standing on the deck and he waved at me. The whole time I ate my meal he stood over me talking about his search for a used Triumph and asking questions about the Ural. That was my first taste of the UDF (as someone on the Ural America site calls it.

The Ural Delay Factor). Took me at least twice as long to eat my meal but I was having a ball.

All during my ride people were waving or twisting their necks to see the bike. It certainly is an attention getter. Today the high was 42 F. with wind gusting to 30 mph.

It was not a nice day, but I never even noticed, until I put the bike away and had a terrible time warming up. I sure hope Sunday is nicer because I have at least another 100 km to ride again tomorrow.

4/26/98 Day 2 of being a Ural Owner. Put 100 km on the bike so far today and the day isn’t even close to over. Mostly on backroads at slow speeds. Even did about 25 km of dirt roads.

I’m getting a bit more confident. Of course now I have to wash all the road dust off the bike. One big frustration I have is the kick starter. I am still having a terrible time starting the bike. I don’t know what I could do differently.

I’ve followed the instructions to the letter, tried varying the different settings and nothing seems to help. It is taking 20-40 kicks before I get the thing going. By then my leg feels like it is going to drop off.

That starter better come in this week.

Tried to stop at the a large public parking lot to practice but I was followed into the lot by a City of Duluth truck. The guy got out and introduced himself as the other Ural owner in Duluth. He has a 95 Tourist so of course we had to chat, then a car stops in the middle of the street with the driver staring at us and the bike.

Turned out to be a guy I used to ride in a club with. And he knew the other guy also. We stood around and talked for an hour before I finally told them I had to get home. So I left the parking lot without ever getting to practice there.

Then on the way home I was flagged down by a friend working in his yard. While I was chatting with him his neighbors had to all come by to see what kind of bike this was. Talk about a conversation piece.

I’ve been reading the drivers manual that came with the bike but the practical experience is wonderful. I am loving owning my new Ural, so far. That might all change if that starter doesn’t come in.

5:00 p.m. and I am sitting here very frustrated. I went out to go for another ride and I can not start the motorcycle. I tried every choke setting possible. Ignition is on, headlight lit, gas on and I even tried letting it sit between tries. I had to have kicked at least 100 times total and the bike will not start.

Next step is to pull the plugs. What is frustrating is that I ordered the electric start. A bike that I can’t start isn’t a whole lot of use to me and I don’t know if it is me or the bike.

9:00 p.m. Frustration is over. Turns out that I had a sticking handlebar kill switch. I wasn’t savvy enough to know that it wasn’t going all the way down.

I just pushed it till it stopped but it wasn’t really going all the way. I played with it a little and now all is well. The bike is now starting on the third kick.

But I still can’t wait for the electric starter. I was able to go for another ride this evening and even though it was only 40 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a 35 mph wind I still had a wonderful ride. The air was crisp, the smell of the pine trees was wonderful, the roads were curvy and all was right with the world.

I arrived home a little chilly but happy.

4/27/98 Day 3. I awakened this morning to a very crisp spring day. The temperature was 20 F. (-7 C.) this morning so the bike started a bit hard but it did start on about the fifth kick. I think I am starting to figure out the combination. Because I have to take the back roads and avoid the major highways my normal 25 minute drive turned into an hour long ride. It was very cold but it felt wonderful and I was glad it took an hour.

I wish it could have taken all day but I suspect they would have missed me at work. I didn’t encounter much traffic but I did notice that the people I did see, just stared at the bike with blank looks. After the weekend I think they all must have still been sleeping.

Of course this is at 6:00 a.m. too. Stopped at a grocery store to pick up a bagel for breakfast and the workers all had to peak out the door to take a look at the bike.

The people at the office all think the bike is about the ugliest thing they have ever seen, but they love it. Go figure. I now have 250 km on the clock.

One of my friends who lives on the Oregon coast wrote me wondering when I will have my cell phone and laptop installed in the sidecar. I told her that I was waiting for the satellite dish to come in so that I can have PC/TV installed on the hack, and that was the reason I didn’t order the machine gun mount. It would have interfered with the dish. Funny thing is that because she thinks she knows me so well she is probably believing this.

What she doesn’t realize is that I have never even owned a motorcycle with a radio. I ride to get away from all of that stuff.

I work in a historic district of old mansions. The company I work for is headquartered in a very large home that is listed on a walking tour brochure. I just received a call from the vice president of the company informing me that a whole flock of 10-12 year olds with their teachers were surrounding the bike instead of looking at the house like they were supposed to be doing. Went and took a look out the window and there were about 20 of them.

They eventually turned from the bike and checked out the house, but when they walked on up the street there were a lot of glances back over their shoulders at the bike. Hey, maybe some future side hack owners amongst them?

I worked a bit late this evening, to about 5:30 p.m. When I left the building the UDF (Ural Delay Factor) kicked in big time. I had just kicked the bike over, started on third kick, when a car passed and an old acquaintance yelled my name and waved. He went down about a block then decided he needed to talk to me about bikes. He backed up for a full block on a one way street and pulled alongside.

We chatted about the Guzzi for about a half hour before I finally told him I had to get going. Because I am trying to adhere to the break in period religiously I have had to come up with some creative ways home that allow speeds less than 30 mph. On my way home I suddenly realized that I was only two blocks from the local Harley Shop. The owner is a good friend of mine and had asked me to stop by with the bike.

I thought I would drop in and quickly show it to him. I should no by now that there is no quickly in anything related to the Ural. By the time he was done he had emptied his million dollar shop of people. The sales people, the mechanics, the owners, the customers were all standing around the Ural chatting about the weird machine.

Of course they all loved it. My 25 minute drive via freeways, which has turned into a one hour ride via backroads took two hours. I now have 300 km on the ticker.

4/28/98 Day 4. Today I have a meeting that requires I wear a suit, I have computer equipment to haul that won’t fit in the Ural, and it was 18 degrees F. this morning. The Ural is at home tucked warmly in it’s garage stall while I drive the truck. I am missing it quite badly and am experiencing the first signs of withdrawal.

My hands are shaking, I have a headache and the anxiety attacks are hitting at two minute intervals. I must get home and go for a ride soon, before I explode.

Went home a few minutes early, fired up the Ural on the 4th kick. Hey, maybe I am getting the combination down. And headed off for a long ride on country roads.

Some of the roads through the Chippewa (Objibwa) reservation near Cloquet Minnesota are spectacular. Because they also contain a Forestry Research Center for the University of Minnesota riding the curvy roads, lined with huge white and red pines can be one of the greatest motorcycling experiences. And at 30 mph there is plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings. I am making a point of adhering to the letter of the law on the break in period.

The plate on the tank of the bike says less than 42 mph for the first 2500 km but the video, and I believe the manual, say that I should not exceed 30 mph for the first 500 km of that. I have decided that I don’t want any question in my own mind if something goes wrong with the bike as to whether it could have been caused by my not following the recommendation.

It is not easy to do all of these miles at less than 30 mph, but I am learning a whole new meaning to the word patience, and so are other drives that have to follow me until I find places to pull over to let them pass. It is a good thing this is Northern Minnesota where people are patient and accommodating. Anywhere else I might have had some problems by now.

From the Chippewa reservation I went through Carlton and into Jay Cooke State Park. It is a very curvy run along the Cloquet and St. Louis Rivers that goes mostly downhill for about ten miles.

The river drops over waterfalls, rocky earthquake and volcano created bottoms and through dense forest. It is one of the most spectacular runs I have seen anywhere in the United States and I feel blessed to have it in my backyard. The Ural performed beautifully, never missing a beat and I even managed to take every curve and corner like I actually knew what I was doing.

From there I headed home the long way around and stopped at the Dry Dock Restaurant along the way for a wonderful pasta dinner. When I left the restaurant I noticed that all the customers were lined up in the window watching me start the bike and take off. I’m sure glad it started right away.

One of my other, new, sidehack friends told me yesterday that driving a Ural is like continuously riding in a parade. You have to wave back to just about anyone you encounter. And I am certainly finding that to be true.

I now have 350 km on the bike.

4/29/98 Day 5. This morning the temperature was up a bit. It was all of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but so what. Bike didn’t want to start right away, but this time it wasn’t the bikes fault.

I just plain forgot to turn on the gas. Hey, like none of you have ever done that? Once I turned the gas on it must have been warmed up pretty good because it kicked over on the second kick.

Left for work and of course by the time I got to the top of Spirit Mountain and started down the hill I had a sore arm from waving back at people. Well, not really sore. It was then that encountered my biggest fan. I had to take a road under the freeway that makes a slight curve and narrows to one lane. As I came around the curve at 30 mph there in the road just a few feet ahead was a skunk.

Ural Sportsman

He was just standing there in the middle of the road staring at me with his tail in the air. I am sure that he was thinking, Hey, ain’t that a Ural. And in his surprise at seeing a Russian made motorcycle on U.S. roads he just kind of stood there with his mouth open and his tail in the air waving at me. I know he was excited to see me, why else would he wave?

Well, to make a short story long. I had no place to go. I could run over him with the bike tire, or run over him with the hack tire, or drive over him and hope that taking his head off with the frame wouldn’t upset him to much. But being the obliging bike lover that he was, at the last second he turned his body sideways and I was able to sneak between him and the guardrail.

As I drove away I looked back over my shoulder and he had turned his head completely around and was following me with his eyes. Amazingly, even after all this he was still waving to me with his tail so I waved back.

Got to work and soon after there was an e-mail from Marlow at Northern Sports. He asked that I call him, I did and he did one of the good new/bad news things. He told me that it looked like the seat, rack, spare tire cover and red stars would be there when I brought the bike back for its first service on Saturday.

What was missing from this picture? The electric starter of course. Arghhhhhhh.

He went on to tell me that it would be at least a month until the starter arrived as it appeared that the Hitachi factory is only producing about 35 of these a year for installation on U.S. Urals and they aren’t shipped from Japan until someone orders one. Marlow offered to take apart a new Deco Classic that he has on the floor and put the starter on my bike.

He even said that because it would take a lot longer he would deliver the bike back to me in Duluth, a 110 mile trip one way. I told him I was still planning on coming down on Saturday because I want the other parts and need the service and I would call him back about the starter.

He has been nothing but accommodating and wonderful to deal with and I certainly don’t want him to end up with a rig on the floor that he can’t sell because it is torn apart so I am going to call him back and tell him to hold off until he gets the one being shipped. It makes it tough on me with my disability but I am starting to get the hang of kicking or even bump starting the bike and I suspect I could hold out for a month. If it is only a month. You know how these things go.

I may ask him to instead pick the bike up and bring it down there to put the starter on when it arrives and I will pick it up when done. Marlow and the rest of the people at Northern Sports have been good to me and I know that if they have the opportunity to sell another Ural I would feel bad if it were torn apart in the barn. Maybe I will just hire some high school student to ride along with me to kick start the bike whenever I stop.

I now have 380 km on the bike with no name. It is not named Boris. (inside joke. Seems that on the Ural discussion group someone said their Ural was named Boris, soon after the postings started from many people who all used the same name for their bikes. I will never understand giving an inanimate object a human name, but then maybe a Ural isn’t quite an inanimate object)

9:00 p.m. Had a meeting to go to downtown tonight. I tried to sneak out before it got dark but the sun was just setting as I set off on my long ride home.

As it was my first time riding the bike at night I discovered something new about my Ural. It seems to have come with bedroom peeking lights. Going up a hill at 30 mph I encountered a Semi doing 20 and as I pulled up behind him I noticed that my headlight, on low beam, was hitting right at the top of his trailer. I turned on the high beam to see what it would do and it shown right up into the sky. Kind of a neat little feature.

It allows me to illuminate the second floor bedrooms of houses, and also stands ready as a beacon to passing alien spacecraft. Either that or it was meant to be used, with the optional machine gun mount, as a spotlight for tracking low flying aircraft.

4/30/98 Day 6. Temperature was 40 degrees F. when I left home, bike started on 15th kick and I had a pleasant ride into town. It was about 60 degrees F. by the time I got near the lake. Lake Superior is 385 miles across so it creates its own weather patterns and the temperature over the hill can be 20-30 degrees different than by the lake.

As I passed under the overpass where I encountered my skunk friend yesterday, there was a crow picking at some carrion. I suspect that the skunk was still standing there looking down the road at my passing when the next vehicle came along. I hope the poor little fellow is riding his own Ural up in heaven right now.

Another thing I noticed this morning was that the bike has started to mark its spot in my garage. There was a three inch spot of oil on the floor directly below the rear transmission seal. I guess that is just something else for the dealer to check when I take it in on Saturday.

I now have 480 km on the bike and I am hoping that it rains tomorrow so that I take it to the dealer Saturday with almost exactly 500 km on it.

Tonight I rode home of work the long way. How come everything is done the long way all of a sudden? I stopped at the Mall to look at gas Barbecue grills and when I went out to start the bike there was a guy who looked to be in his 60s staring at the bike. Oh no, more UDF. He had been in the military in Germany just after WW II and had a 51 BMW.

He told me this was the exact same bike, they hardly changed a thing. I hardly had the heart to tell him that is wasn’t exactly a BMW. So finally I get the bike running, after another 20 or so kicks, and while I was letting it warm up a bit a pick up pulled up.

It was a guy I had know about 15 years ago. He of course wanted to know all about the bike. And while we were talking the bike killed. When I tried to re-start it I must have flooded it. Another 50 kicks later and the bike still wasn’t going.

So I pushed it up hill and managed to bump start it. The guy was still talking. By this time I had been in the parking lot for almost an hour. This was major UDF, but I did really enjoy myself. And the ride home was spectacular.

The thump, thump of the engine, the smells of spring starting in the air, the temperature changes going up and down hills, and the pleasure of riding a machine that has character all conspired to take away any frustration of kicking the bike. I must add here that I doubt that most other people would have had the trouble starting one of these that I have. I is not really the bike, rather it is the weakness of my legs from the polio.

When I was young I could kick a souped up Harley with little problem, but times change, and I certainly don’t blame the bike.

I mentioned character. This machine really does have character. It is so entirely different than other bikes in the area that it stands out, it reflects my personal need to be different, and because it needs special attention it draws me to it to give it that attention. Everything about this bike is different. At lunch today I went to the park before going for my obligatory ride.

I eat lunch in Chester Park just about every day that I am in town. I love getting away from the office and this is were I find a little peace in my busy days. Today a friend stopped by on her new Harley. She was duly impressed with the Ural and examined it completely. She did some knocking on the fender and found it to be incredibly solid.

When you thump on these things they are very solid. The metal used in them is even thicker than I remember the cars of the 50s to be. We both did some thumping on the fenders of the Ural and the Harley.

I have always admired Harleys for the quality and thickness of the metal, but now I know that the Ural is built like a tank. There was no comparison at all. 400 years from now that bike will be sitting in a field with no plastic or rubber parts left but the metal will still be completely usable.

Did I mention that I love the character of this bike? I now have 530 km. time for its checkup.

5/1/98 Day 7 ONE WEEK. I am sitting here bumming. It is 80 degrees outside and I am not riding the Ural. I was told that at the 500 km point the vehicle must have its first maintenance and I am trying to follow the break in schedule to the letter of the law. When I parked it in the garage last night it had 524 km on the odometer and that is what will be on it Saturday morning when I haul it to Northern Sports in Brainerd Minnesota for its first check up.

I suspect it is not necessary for me to be quite that precise but if I ever have problems I never want there to be a question in my mind that I did something wrong. I will let the dealer do all the maintenance work that I can, even though they are 110 miles (177 km) away. It will be a good day for me to run errands.

I am going to pick up a couple of bicycle locking chains to put around the gas can and the spare tire/rack/trunk, and I have a couple of big boxes to haul, so it really is good that I drove the pick up today. But I sure miss the bike. I might have to fire it up tonight and just drive it around the block to make sure that it doesn’t feel neglected. Oh my, I am starting to think of it as an animate object. Next thing you know I might even assign it a name.


I forgot to mention that Marlow called yesterday and said the there was a possibility that the electric start would be in within two weeks. Apparently Ural America is trying to work something out to get it in a bit quicker.

Photo on right is of Son #1 taking the bike around the block.

10:00 p.m. Just couldn’t let the bike sit in the garage all night. I took it out to the video store and rented a movie. Added a few more miles to the odometer. Son #1 just called and he is on his way out to help me load the bike in the truck tonight for the trip to Brainerd in the morning.

He was supposed to go along but he now has to work tomorrow. Should be an interesting trip. Marlow told me that I would be welcome to watch him service the bike so I could learn the procedures.

Not being the best mechanic in the world I certain’ly can use the instruction.

This ends my first week with the Ural.

Ural Sportsman
Ural Sportsman

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