Story by Ray Seidel
Okay, let’s get to this right from the outset; the Russian made URAL has the dubious distinction of having arguably the WORST quality of any motorcycle made today. Well, what do you want in your bike, boring reliability, or personality? For seven decades the URAL has remained essentially unchanged. Now, that is not necessarily a BAD thing. Some of us remember the print ads for Volkswagen stating Porche’s design of the original VW beetle remained the same, but various tweaks and fit & finish improved each year to such a degree the car would even float in water. Add to that Teutonic quality control that would ferret out any VW with the slightest imperfection. Compare: Russia’s quality at gunpoint. You’d think they’d have figured out the bugs by now. Would you buy a Russian car, airliner, watch, television, parachute, computer, camera, pacemaker? No, you wouldn’t, because you know they are all likely low quality. You know what, Russians wouldn’t either. Given a choice, they avoid their own national brands like the plague. Ural sells almost no bikes in their home country. Want to make a Russian laugh? Tell him Americans pay $14,000 (that’s 400,000 rubles) for a Ural motorcycle! (US sales are 500 a year).
BMW Motorcycle – URAL of San Diego recently had a gathering of URAL owners to unveil the new fuel-injected 2014 model. (And worth a mention that the URAL is a copy of the BMW R71). In a random audit, I asked one owner what were a couple of problems he has had with his. For one, he said, the alternator would spin so fast the fan flew right off. Another was the ignition. He added a toggle switch to the dash to retard the timing four degrees when climbing a hill so the engine wouldn’t ping, even though they use expensive PREMIUM gas. Another owner had a shopping list of generalities:
- Incredibly short maintenance intervals. Oil change and more required every 1500 miles
- The paint they use in the gas tank throat starts peeling immediately and falling in to the gas tank. You should remove all the paint somehow then take out the fuel petcock for cleaning.
- Riding in the rain or wet leads to drenched air filter and water in the carbs.
- They use soft metal for many of the bolts. Recommended to replace them before the head strips.
- It’s very common to have an inaccurate or swinging speedometer, and inaccurate odometer.
- The inner tubes they use are known to be extra leaky. Expect to check your tires often and add air every few days or week.
- The vacuum operated fuel petcock is recommended to be changed by many. It has a reputation for failing and flooding the cylinder with gas and also for not working well at altitude.
- The air pump a Ural comes with is generally accepted as worthless and known to burst on first use. Not a big deal but representative of Ural quality.
- Because it doesn’t meet standards they’re not able to sell a gas can accessory, just a ‘fluid canister’
- The first thing many new Ural owners do when they get one is set about replacing and upgrading the things that are known to be poor quality.
- They are known to leak and seep oil from the engine, transmission, and final drive. So you should check your levels often to prevent future failures.
- The dual carb setup leads to many problems.
- Your Ural will rust, and quickly.
Now, seasoned URAL owners take these fallaparts in stride, and swear by their bikes. I’ve had my own experience with quirky vehicles and over time learned to get Auto Club with 200 mile towing. The bike has a 2 year warranty, but where is your nearest URAL repair shop when it breaks down (and it will break down)?
In The Saddle
At this writing the 2014 model for California has not met CARB requirements, but probably will by the time this issue hits the stands. That being said, my test ride could not be done on public roads, but rather on the private property of the San Diego dealer. The bike has that really cool retro look, the dash looked user friendly, front break and clutch levers felt really good. The 2014 model now has fuel injection, so no choke to fiddle with. Weeks before I tried out the bike with my size 13 motorcycle boots, which were just too large for the left foot peg with heel & toe shifter. Now with sneakers it worked out okay. So let’s begin. With decades of motorcycle riding experience, the brain is now hard-wired to balance a bike and operate it with nary a thought – it’s all automatic. ALL of that has to be unlearned to ride this bike with a sidecar. For one thing, breaking is not done with the front break like we’re used to, but rather the two REAR brakes (one on the bike, one on the sidecar) where most of the stopping power is. This bike came with reverse, which is operated toe/heel with a lever by the right foot, either in first or second gear. Forget about fast right-hand hairpin turns, the sidecar will become airborne (think that through a moment). Probably the best way to approach riding one of these is to think of it as a carousel horse where you put both feet on the pegs, then forget about it and enjoy the ride. In this case, mounting the bike I notice right off it lists to the left rather than being perfectly upright. My natural tendency is to prop it up with my left foot (regardless it can no way fall over with a side can on the right), and to steer to the left when I give it throttle to righten the bike. All this does is increase its arc to the left in an out of control fashion. Stop, regroup, aim in a new direction and try again. Moving forward I still instinctively feather the front break to keep the bike under control until I get my sea legs. What this does is make the bike arc to the RIGHT, and again have to stop before I impale something. As I stop my right foot is frantically trying to reach the ground, as is habit, to steady the bike – impossible with sidecar hardware in the way. Even if I used the rear break, the travel is so far on the pedal it aims at the South Pole. Bottom line: between the motorcycle leaning to the left, breaking to the right, I was never able to navigate the thing to go in a straight line and it was the scariest ride I’ve ever done trying to avoid collisions everywhere. Still, I have no doubt that with more time all this would come naturally, and seeing the big grins on riders zipping around San Diego, these things are certainly a ton of chuckles. Oh, and the #1 reason people buy these bikes with sidecar? So they can take along their dog! It should be added these are available WITHOUT a sidecar if you wish, selling for about $10k and some change. Any option is available on any model. You can have it with a John Deere tractor style saddle, or dual seat that’s much like that on the Royal Enfield.
IF YOU REALLY WANT ONE
If a product is going to fail, most likely it will be at the beginning of its life (the first line). If it survives that it will probably go through its useful life (second line). At the end of its life cycle, the likelihood of failure again goes up (third line). With a TWO year warranty, a new URAL might have most issues corrected in that time. Most parts are right on hand (at least in San Diego), and if not just two weeks to order a part. Since 2008, these are not quite the same as the older models – there are now Americans in the mix (in Seattle, Washington) guiding direction of continuous improvement.
Regardless, you may be spending more time fixing than riding. Here, from just one URAL owner’s forum, an owner had to have his new 2010 towed back to the dealer in just 2 hours; http://www.sovietsteeds.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=22015
Failed brakes, final drives, pistons, frames, and transmissions are among many other issues on relatively new machines. Minor things that are loose, leaking, or electrically disconnected are a more frequent but still a petty annoyance. It may be fun to ride, but your trip to the QUIK-E-MART will get old when it becomes 2 hours of roadside maintenance. If you want to wrench more than you want to ride, here’s your bike.
Note that in California, no motorcycle driver’s license is required for a bike with sidecar. Check the laws for you state.
Fuel delivery: EFI
Maximum HP 41 HP @ 5500 RPM
Maximum torque 42 ft-lbs @ 4300 RPM
Four-piston fixed Bremcaliper with 295mm NG floating disc
Single piston big bore HB integrated floating caliper with 256mm NG fixed disc
Two-piston fixed Brembo caliper with 245mm NG floating disc
Dry weight, lbs: 730
Fuel consumption, mpg: 31-37
Recommended maximum: 70 cruising speed, mph
Priced from MSRP $12,399 (URAL T) to $15,999 (2WD Gear-Up), four models to choose from.