Hop on the Ural Gear Up sidecar, a 750cc Cold War throwback reinvented with modern guts, and you’ll immediately enter a slower reality, we call UDF time. What’s that? It’s “Ural Delay Factor,” a composite of a Ural’s ability to make you seek out a slower, more meandering route betweens points A and B, and the fact that wherever you take it, strangers are sure to stop you and pester you with a multitude of questions (“How fast does it go? How much does it cost?”). Slowing down aside, if riding a conventional motorcycle is no longer physically an option or if you simply want to take your significant other or dog along for a ride, this sidecar rig may well serve as the perfect mode of transportation.
Eight years ago, I rode my first sidecar rig — a 2009 Ural Gear Up 2WD model. It was truly a SUM, a “Sport Utility Motorcycle,” and looked for all the world like a restored BMW World War II rig, right down to its camouflaged matte paint finish. The Russian-built Ural sidecar has been around for quite some time, arriving here in the U.S. in 1993, as one of the first by-products to come out of the end of the Cold War, at least on the motorcycle front.
The Ural is descended from a late 1930s-era BMW R71. It came about when Joseph Stalin ordered the production of a motorcycle/sidecar for military use by the Red Army. Russian engineers managed to obtain a handful of the BMW R71 models (the method of acquisition is not officially confirmed) for the purpose of copying them at a facility located in Moscow.
The Soviet replica was code named M-72 and had gone into full production by 1942 in the city of Irbit, in the foothills of the Ural Mountains, safely out of range of German aircraft raids. Ural military production reached nearly 10,000 units during the war, and units were later sold to Russian civilians and neighboring nations as well as allies like Cuba. Production climbed to approximately 130,000 Urals annually by the middle of the 1980s. The bike proved to be a popular transportation mode for the working class due to its affordability and practicality. When the U.S.S.R. as we know it fell apart, Ural production plummeted to as little as 2,000 bikes per year.
The company entered partial private ownership in 1992, and was purchased outright in 1998 by a private well-to-do businessman. Seattle-based, independent importers Classic Motorcycles & Sidecars began handling distribution in 1993. Today, distribution is handled by Irbit MotorWorks of America, based in Redmond, Washington.
There have been a host of improvements and upgrades over the Ural that I first rode in 2009 as the Ural continues to evolve and improve with each model year. Among them: updated electronics, a repositioned and easier to use parking brake, a sidecar power outlet, and an upgraded braking system. And now there are four basic Ural sidecar models available, two of which are equipped with on-demand two-wheel drive, with power going to the rear wheel of the motorcycle and the sidecar’s outside wheel. The Gear Up (shown above) and Patrol models are the two-wheel drive rigs, while the conventionally driven units are designated the cT; and the M70. The Gear Up comes in three trims: the base model Gear Up; the Gear Up Sahara for off-roading; and the Gear Up Sportsman for multi-day, backcountry adventures.
The base price of the Gear Up starts at $16,499, which includes a spotlight on the sidecar, a shovel and a Jerry can for extra fuel. Price as tested came to $16,984. Dealer handling and prep may vary. A two-year, unlimited mileage warranty is now offered and the U.S. parts warehouse is located in Seattle, allowing the shipping of most within 24 hours. An additional 3rd year warranty may be added for $850.
All Ural sidecar rigs are powered by an OHV air-cooled, four-stroke (Boxer-type) 749 cc flat-opposed twin cylinder motor that is now electronically fuel injected rather than carbureted, eliminating the need for a choke. The motor makes 41 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, along with 42-pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. Gear changes are made via a manual five-speed transmission: four forward and one reverse gear with a dry, double disc clutch, connected via shaft drive to the rear motorcycle wheel. Two-wheel drive may be manually engaged to transfer power to the sidecar wheel, courtesy of a crossover driveshaft.
The Ural rolls on three 19-inch wheels with chrome steel lace spokes and cast aluminum hubs and rims, shod with three interchangeable Duro HF-308 4.00 x 19 tires all around, however, the rear motorcycle and sidecar wheel hubs are different, which means the spare must be mated to the correct hub before being swapped in.
The suspension consists of IMZ leading link forks up front and a double-sided swing-arm with two Sachs hydraulic spring shock absorbers aft. The sidecar is fitted with a single-sided swing-arm with Sachs hydraulic spring shock absorber (also 5X adjustable). Bringing the Ural rig to a halt is handled by a 4-piston fixed Brembo caliper with a 295 mm floating NG rotor up front, while in the rear, is an HB big bore single piston integrated floating caliper with a 256mm fixed NG rotor. The sidecar brake is a two-piston fixed Brembo setup with a 245mm floating NG rotor.
The initial appeal of the Ural comes from its classic appearance and aura of romantic adventure. Go to the Ural’s website and you’ll see the rig fording thigh-deep rivers. But really it serves as ideal transportation for a leisurely trek over, say, the winding and picturesque Silverado Trail in the wine country of California’s Napa Valley or other rural roads. The ideal pace is relaxed, as the Ural is much happier, and more in its element, at speeds up to 60 mph (preferably less) range, though it is capable of clocking 70 mph when pushed hard (I don’t recommend it, however). No, riding the Ural is about taking time to smell the roses (or grapes).
Acceleration is adequate, but certainly not blistering mind you, given the Ural’s intended purpose, that of experiencing adventure and having fun on three wheels. The Gear Up comes standard with a firm, one piece Enduro style seat that will accommodate two on the bike itself with foot pegs for both, but two-up is only recommended when the sidecar is also occupied or loaded. Other seat styles are optionally available. The side car seat and seat back are padded vinyl, with storage beneath the cushion.
It is a delight to pilot with or without a sidecar passenger, a.k.a. “ballast,” which my better half objected being referred to. The suspension is compliant, even over rough and irregular surfaces, which, incidentally, is where the bike truly shines. The 5-gallon tank will deliver 26-33 mpg, for a range of from 155 to 185 miles depending upon the terrain, riding styIe and load (maximum load weight is 1,325 lbs.).
The reverse gear feature is a handy feature indeed but must be in neutral to engage with a split rocker type shifter inboard of the right side rear foot brake (as shown above). Advance planning when parking is a good idea. Manually engaging two-wheel drive is simple, but is only intended for off-road use or scenarios where traction is an issue. Steering becomes nearly impossible with 2WD engaged on paved surfaces.
There is no standard windshield on either the Gear Up bike or sidecar, but they are optionally available, and adding them would definitely make riding more pleasant. There’s no fork lock either to lock the bike. The locking trunk in the aft section of the sidecar behind the passenger allows for carrying 2.9 feet of cargo, roughly big enough to hold two helmets.
The Ural is a street legal ATV (or SUM if you will), and there are those who propose that three-wheeled vehicles do not require a motorcycle license certification in some states, which would also tend to suggest that a helmet isn’t required either. Bad idea. The jury is still out on this issue, since for instance, after checking with California’s Highway Patrol on the regulations; the definitions were vague at best.
HOW TO RIDE WITH A SIDECAR RIG
Piloting a sidecar rig is only vaguely similar to riding a conventional motorcycle. The mechanical controls may be essentially the same, but the physics are dramatically different. Sidecar rigs are asymmetrical rather than symmetrical which basically translates to the fact that the sidecar wheel is positioned ahead of the motocycle’s rear wheel rather than in line with it. The motorcycle counter-steering principle is out the window with a sidecar setup unless one “flies” the car, either on purpose or unintentionally. Sidecar rigs steer directly. Roll on the throttle and the bike pulls to the right — roll off and it veers left. Hang a tight, right hand corner going downhill at speed, particularly on a reverse camber surface, and you flirt with disaster. Body english is important with sidecars — leaning to the inside of turns is recommended in either direction, but particularly to the right.
Before I was able to take delivery of that 2009 Gear Up, I had to take a course in sidecar rig operation. My instructor was Ski Jablonski, an affable enthusiast who abandoned the high-tech computer-based world of California’s Silicon Valley to become a Ural dealer, service rep and mechanic. Jablonksi’s “TriQuest Motorcycles” in Santa Clara, Calif. specializes in all things Ural, and he generously spent several hours conducting my Ural orientation, both off and on the bike, as well as in and out of the sidecar. I recommend you do the same by setting up an orientation with your local Ural dealer.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 Ural Gear Up 2WD
Base Price: $16,499.
Price as Tested: $16,984. Dealer handling and prep may vary
Engine Type and Size: 749 cc, OHV, 4-valve, air-cooled two-cylinder, four-stroke horizontally opposed “Boxer” with electronic fuel injection and electric starter and kick-starter
Horsepower (bop): 41 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque (ft./ lbs.): 42 @ 4,300 rpm
Transmission: Manual – 4 forward gears / 1 reverse.
Drive Train: Primary drive gear (rear-wheel) driveshaft with an engageable sidecar wheel drive.
Suspension: Front – IMZ leading link fork
Rear – Double-sided swing-arm with two Sachs hydraulic spring shock absorbers – 5X adjustable.
Sidecar : Single sided swing-arm with Sachs hydraulic spring shock absorber – 5X adjustable
Brakes: Front – 4-piston fixed Brembo caliper w/ 295 mm floating NG rotor.
Rear – HB big bore single piston integrated floating caliper w/ 256mm fixed NG rotor.
Sidecar – 2-piston fixed Brembo caliper w/245mm floating NG rotor
Tires: Duro HF-308, 4.0×19” (three) mounted on aluminum rims w/ steel lace spokes.
Wheelbase: 66.0 inches
Length Overall: 98.8 inches
Width: 63.6 inches
Curb Weight dry: 730 lbs. / maximum load weight= 1,325 lbs.
Ground clearance 6.8 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gallons. – 1 gallon reserve approx.
Fuel Economy: 31-37 mpg est. / range 155-185 miles.
Seat height: 32.0 inches
0 – 60 mph: Not tested – recommended top speed=70 mph
Trunk Volume: 2.9 cu. ft.maximum.
• Styling – 4.5 Stars
• Performance – 4 Stars
• Ride and Handling – 4 Stars
• Utility – 5 Stars
• Comfort and Convenience – 4.5 Stars
• Economy – 4.5 Stars
• Value and Competition – 5 -Stars
Summary – 4.5 Stars