By Bruce Mike
I’ve been riding motorcycles on the street for 35 years and for whatever reason, I had never ridden a sidecar rig. Needless to say, when I got the chance to review the 2015 Ural cT, I was all in. I was fortunate that the other reviewer has a ton of sidecar experience and he was able to give me a lot of helpful tips and suggestions. After a brief run around the block with Victor, so I could get a feel for it, I was on my own.
I found out immediately that you have to drive these rigs. They have a tendency to pull in one direction or another depending on whether you’re braking or accelerating. I got comfortable with it’s handling eccentricities pretty quickly and after that it was nothing but fun. I figured out how to “fly the chair” but I wasn’t able to get it to drift. I thought I did once when it was snowing lightly but I can’t be sure. My biggest struggle was not hitting things with the sidecar. I hopped a couple of curbs and smacked a plastic garbage can. I really had to make a conscious effort to remember it was out there.
The Ural is not a “fast” bike in any sense of the word. It doesn’t look fast, go fast or stop fast. On the Interstate I plugged along at 65 mph fairly comfortably. I don’t know that it could have done much better than that. I did have a passenger and a fairly strong head-wind. Wind on the highway is not this bikes friend. It has a 5-speed transmission, 4 forward gears and 1 reverse. The reverse is pretty cool and you can go much faster than necessary. I played around in a parking lot in reverse and it was really fun.
While this bike is not a technological marvel, it is mechanically sound. It’s got electric start, fuel injection, disc brakes and a 750 boxer motor which was originally reverse engineered from a BMW motor. The improvements made from it’s original design seem to be only what was necessary to make the bike better. It hasn’t been reinvented. It’s the same basic machine it has always been, it’s just more reliable.
What this bike lacks in performance and tech, it more than makes up for in the way it looks. If your motorcycle is often an important accessory to your hipster look, this bike is definitely the ride for you. It is classic cool. It does “retro” better than any other bike on the market. It achieves this coolness not by design but by being just what it is, a utilitarian motorcycle. I don’t know that I have ever ridden or driven anything that drew a crowd like this bike. I had people asking me questions at traffic lights. Here is a basic history of the Ural.
In 1939 a meeting was held at the USSR Defense Ministry to discuss what motorcycle would work best for the Red Army. In the official version of the story, it was decided, the BMW R71 was the right bike. Five units were bought through secret channels in Sweden and smuggled to Russia. Engineers in Moscow copied every detail of the BMW design and made moulds and dies to produce their own engines and gearboxes. Everything about the bike was reverse engineered. Early in 1941, production of the M-72 began. Apparently changing the model number from R71 to M-72 made the bike an original Ural.
A more likely story is that the BMW factory supplied the Soviets with everything they needed as a result of the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact. Which was an agreement between The Soviets and Germany to share technology. Also in 1941, BMW began production of the R75 and stopped producing the R71. I’m sure giving the Soviets the R71 model was not a cause for sleepless nights at the BMW factory.
They didn’t start building Urals for non-military use until the late 1950s and then in the 1960s they went to full non-military production. They didn’t start exporting the bikes until the late 1960s. Ural is the only Russian motorcycle manufacturer of bikes this size and one of only a few motorcycle sidecar manufacturers. Since they started they have built over 3 million bikes.
We got our Ural test bike from St. Croix Harley-Davidson and Ural in New Richmond, Wisconsin. The
cT model we rode is the bare-bones Ural. The cT and the M70 come without sidecar drive. The M70 is also equipped with a telescopic front fork and 18” wheels which gives it better handling on the road but less ground clearance. The Gear-Up and Patrol both have sidecar drive. The Gear-Up is built for off-road. It has a spare tire, luggage rack, side car bumper and a high intensity spot light mounted on the sidecar. It has no chrome and flat and camo paint options. The Patrol is considered a touring bike. It comes with fancier paint and a little chrome but could certainly take you the same places the Gear-Up will go.
I would love an opportunity to ride one of the models with the sidecar drive. I have a hunch it would make for some great dual-sport adventures and really extend the Minnesota riding season. The versatility of these rigs seems endless.
While I have no interest in trikes, although I find the Can Am Spyder intriguing, I could see myself with a sidecar rig someday. I have no interest in building one but buying a bike like the Ural that is built specifically with a sidecar is a possibility. With the price of a brand new one starting at around $13,000, it would probably be cheaper than building one.
Thanks again to the fine folks at St. Croix Harley-Davidson and Ural for supplying us with the Ural. It was a lot of fun and completely changed my perspective on sidecar rigs. If you want more information check them out online at www.stcroixural.com.
By Victor Wanchena
Many motorcycles claim to be modern classics, but few actually have the pedigree to have earned that title. The Ural can proudly wear that badge with 75 years of building essentially the same machine. The beauty of a modern classic is it captures the styling and tone of yesteryears, but doesn’t saddle you with the sketchy build quality and components of the good old days. The Ural lives up to that promise with a list of improvements that would have shocked diehard Ural fans only a decade ago.
If you aren’t familiar with the Ural story here’s the short version. Prior to World War II the Russians either stole from Germany or were given (depends on who’s telling the story) the plans for a sidecar rig. They promptly started building them and never quit. Named for the mountain range the factory is located in, the Ural has seen minimal changes to the basic platform over the years.
I am certainly biased, having owned a Ural for 10 years, but during that time I paid my dues keeping my machine in good running form through daily commuting in our brutal winters. In those years, I developed a mental checklist of every improvement or change I would make to a new Ural. I am happy to report that Ural engineers are mind readers, because the new Urals check every one of those boxes.
Our test ride this month, courtesy of St. Croix H-D and Ural, is a 2015 Ural cT. The cT model is Ural’s entry-level model. Entry level is usually code for old design and stripped down, but not so with the cT. Instead, the cT is everything you need in a good sidecar rig and nothing you don’t.
The heart of the Ural cT is their venerable 750cc flat twin motor. This motor has been in use now for 12 years, practically brand new in Ural terms, but has seen a steady stream of improvements. The most noticeable and biggest leap forward is fuel injection. The old carbureted motors ran fine, but the motor was pretty anemic over 50 mph. The addition of fuel injection added heaps of torque and power through the mid-range. It now pulls smooth and cleanly through all gears and holds its speed and most hills.
The mapping for the fuel injection isn’t perfect as there’s some EPA mandated leanness around idle; but beyond that, I was very impressed. Gone are the old cold start rituals of double chokes, priming kicks, and small offering of throttle. Now you just turn the key and press the button. Even on the kick-starter it lit right off with no fuss.
The chassis has remained unchanged with the same robust, over-built frame and sidecar, but features many improvements. First, the addition of disc brakes on all wheels dramatically improved the stopping power. The old pull-and-pray drum brakes are a thing of the past. The old friction steering damper was replaced with a hydraulic unit, and the parking brake was redesigned to be much more effective.
The finish on the Ural has substantially improved as well. The frame is now powder coated and all chrome has been replaced with stainless steel or alloy components. This includes the wheels, which now have aluminum rims. Gone are the days of flaky chrome and rusty rims.
Our demo unit had only a few miles on the clock when we picked it up, but on the road all those improvements were immediately noticeable. The motor was still tight and breaking in. So I took it easy as I wound along the back roads from the St. Croix’s New Richmond location toward the metro area.
After I got a few miles on it the motor loosened up. The power increase over the old models was noticeable and made the motor much easier to use. The older machines required you to spin the motor up quite a bit before shifting. Not so any more. The extra torque means you can usually just roll on the throttle without changing gears. The Ural was never a fast machine and it still isn’t, but it now has the power to run comfortably at highway speeds without straining it.
The chassis design has remained the same, and that’s a good thing. The Ural is an excellent handling sidecar rig. The steering is light by sidecar standards thanks to the leading link front end. The light steering, for a sidecar, combined with the robust frame make the Ural an excellent handling rig. The cT model sticks even nicer thanks to the 18” rims, which lower it slightly, and Heidenau sidecar profile tires. Other nice details include a much improved parking brake, a vastly brighter headlamp, and a full set of warning lights.
Slightly lowered stance, tires, and better shocks make the cT the best handling Ural I’ve ridden to date. It would be perfect for first time sidecar owners. The tendency of the sidecar to come up on right hand corners, as known as “flying the chair”, was greatly reduced and left-handers had me drifting all three wheels.
All was not perfect with the Ural. It had a couple of small hiccups during my time on it. I had to readjust the rear brake light switch a couple times, the final drive burped a little oil during the initial run (though never actually leaked), and the lean idle was at times annoying. These aren’t deal breakers in the least, but don’t expect to not have to tinker occasionally with it. That said, the Ural does come with a two-year factory warranty that can be extended to three-years, for people who prefer to not spin a wrench.
Ural offers a whole host of accessories for the cT and the rest of the range for riders looking for extra equipment. I recommend the bench seat for tall riders. Ural also offers a custom paint program. For an extra grand you can order your cT in puce, chartreuse, or avocado green.
I found the cT a real pleasure to ride. It is a simple machine that truly is a modern classic.