The 1996 Ural Tourist
by Troy Johnson
“Hey,” I tell people who question my winter transportation plans. “I saw Kamrad riding his old Suzuki down Lake Street in February. If he can ride in February, I’ll be riding on New Year’s Day!”
Of course, having the will to ride all winter won’t do you any good if your scooter isn’t up to the task. On the Saturday we planned to test the Ural, the morning temps registered in the low thirties. Brrrr. I strapped the cameras and notebooks to the venerable Seca Turbo, pushed the starter button and heard an annoyingly familiar sound&emdash;one half-dead battery spinning the starter through maple syrup-like oil just fast enough to inspire hope. This always leads to a fully dead battery.
I called Northern Sports near Brainerd to explain the situation and reschedule the ride. “No problem,” Marlow said. “You ought to get one of these Ural sidecar rigs. You’ll be riding all winter.”
Hmmmm…maybe. This machine has three wheels, a kick starter and 50 years of production refinements (well, okay, 50 years of production). It’s built on the edge of the Siberian Plains. This motorcycle has the breeding to go the distance in Minnesota.
On Monday, it was cold again. The Turbo had been running on Sunday, but the early morning chill put it down again. I had to beg a ride in my sister’s Chevy.
The Ural started easily enough. The kick starter swings straight out from the left side of the bike, so you stand along side the rig to step down on the starter. One kick primes it. Then, after engaging the choke and turning on the ignition switch, a second kick shakes the Ural awake. When the temperature drops below freezing, you add the Mikuni enricheners and a few more kicks to the ritual.
On the road to Garrison, the Ural was vibrating more than any motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. Not only were the images in the mirrors fuzzy, but it was impossible to see the edges of the mirrors themselves. Shifting up was no problem. Shifting down was more troublesome, but the heel-toe lever helped considerably once I started using the heel part.
This particular Ural still had its break-in period carb restrictors in place. Sure enough, we were going 50 mph wide open.
In Garrison, we stopped at the big walleye to try out the reverse gear and the neutral finder. Both worked wonderfully. Reverse in this motorcycle is a true reverse gear (Gold Wings use the starter motor). It packs a whallop. The neutral finder works from second gear and throws the gear box into neutral unfailingly. Use it, and save yourself lots of gear hunting.
The bike surprised us as we left Garrison. It was warmed up and suddenly smooth&emdash;silky smooth. The mirrors were visible again and stone steady. The opposed twin engine was popping along happily while it methodically pulled us up to an indicated 65 mph.
This is supposed to be the Ural’s top speed with the restrictors removed. Either our test bike speedo was way off or Ural needs to update its literature. The power delivery was exceptionally smooth and steady…like a tractor. A flat torque curve like this would be good in snow and ice.
We pulled off the highway and rode some of the two-laners along the shore of Mille Lacs. Here was where the Ural was most happy: on a scenic joy-ride, light on the throttle and enjoying the surroundings. Taking a slower pace reduced the number of white-knuckle right-hand turns where I was fighting the sidecar as the rig slowly drifted into oncoming traffic.
Steering a sidecar rig was nothing like steering a motorcycle. There is no counter-steering once someone bolts that extra wheel to a bike. To turn left, you turn the bars left. The same is true to turn right, but the sidecar doesn’t like to go with you. It’s best to slow way down. The Ural’s trio of drum brakes did better than expected with that. Suspension was also unexpectedly plush. An Earles-type front end may be the only way to go with side-hacks.
You better know how to spin a wrench if you buy this bike. At half the price of any other 700 lb. motorcycle, that’s understandable. If you are the type of person who would suit a Ural, tinkering is half the fun for you anyway.
I wouldn’t make the Ural my only motorcycle, but it is appealing as a machine that can seriously lengthen the riding season here in Minnesota. It is a different kind of ride, but I had as much fun with the Ural sidecar as any motorcycle I’ve ridden this year.
by Tanya Johnson
Spend two and a half hours driving in the car to weigh down the sidecar of a motorcycle? Sure…sounds fun. I’ll just need an aviator cap, goggles and a white scarf to fly in the breeze.
Troy and I must have been quite the sight tooling down the road toward Garrison in our modern day gear on the vintage, yet brand new Ural. We were off to a shaky start&emdash;literally. The sidecar wheel needed a toe-in adjustment, and Troy needed time to adapt to the rig. Then there was the vibration, but it did feel good on my achin’ feet.
At first I was thrilled with all the leg room I had, but after the ride smoothed out I was glad I had my bag full of extra clothes and cameras to shove under my knees. The foot rest was a bit too far away, and the hand rail was a little low to allow me to bend my legs for true riding comfort. With time I’m sure I would find that perfect leg position.
Riding next to my driver instead of behind, I could see exactly where we were going. I felt as though I played a part in choosing our destiny rather than just peering over someone’s shoulder. This would be a splendid way to travel around the country. Think of the fun. Think of the attention (one ofthe Ural’s selling points). Think of all the extra stuff you could pack into the sidecar. Yea, this is it.
Everyone asks if it was a bumpy ride. Not at all&emdash;thanks to the sidecar’s very own shock absorber and sprung mounting points. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extra cushy seat when we hit the really big bumps. My only complaint was over the wind factor. It really hits you on the right side.
All in all I enjoyed the ride. Also, you get a close up view of many things on the side of the road. It’s quite the experience.
URAL TOURIST SIDECAR COMBINATION
Engine Type: 649cc overhead valve opposed twin
Length: 8 feet
Width: 5 feet, 6 inches
Weight: 700 pounds
Final drive: Stainless steel shaft
Wheels: 19 inch spoked, includes spare
Fuel capacity: 5 gallons