After my recent post, I thought I'd give my fellow Opponauts a write up on my Ural buying and ownership experience, 2 months in. This'll be long. You are warned.
I love Fortnine videos on Youtube. My son and I were watching one day, and I came across his Ural review.
LOVED THE VIDEO. Watch it. Seriously. It's great. Then watch all of his videos, there is nothing else with the same production values and entertainment in motorcycle content.
Brief history of the Ural:
In 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop non aggression pact between Germany and Russia resulted in Germany providing Russia with a few BMW engines and sidecar motorcycles. Russia likes them and decides to copy and produce them. Stalin personally approves production near Moscow and Leningrad. Pact goes badly, Germany invades, Stalin moves production to Irbit in the Ural mountains of Siberia. Production of the same basic machine continues to this day. It has served in the Soviet Army as well as numerous others around the world. At some point in the last 10 years (can't find a date) it was purchased and is owned by some Russian Americans and is headquartered in Redmond WA. However, it is still built in the same factory and by the same people in Russia.
My son and I both love history, this alone makes it something I wanted to own.
Looking for a Ural
Back in June I was driving down US 1 in Hampton NH on my way to get gas for the dirt bikes, and saw a Ural parked outside of a used car dealer that always has interesting things. Never missing a chance to look at odd balls, I slammed on the brakes and pulled in. This was the point when I learned that one of the largest Ural dealers in the country is local to me. Uralne.com is a large dealer with a couple shops all located in the greater Boston area. I go in and find 3-4 outfits in the showroom, my son and I climb in/on one and the hook is immediately set. Talking to the manager, the ones they have range from $23k-$32k, they are all Gear-Up models with 2wd, and a bunch of options. Very nice dealer, full service with parts and accessories, but there is 0 movement on price and that's just out of reach for me.
A couple days later I can't get the Ural out of my mind. Doing internet research I come across Sovietsteeds.com, which is a forum just for Urals and DNEPRs. Here I learn that a lot of people are buying these new for 17.5-18k, and that if I don't want headaches my best bet is to target a 2019 or newer because they made some major changes to the bearings and metallurgy, as well as changing to a Keihin fuel injection setup to meet European emission requirements. This basically means that I'm either buying used with a carb and unknown history (most in good shape from 2010 or newer were 7-15k), or buying new. Decided that new it was, and as luck would have it I'd been picking up a ton of extra work for the past few months so I could buy it with cash.
One night I was doing my daily craigslist browsing and discovered a listing for an Arctic Camo 2020 Ural Gear Up (Gear up is the 2wd model) in Loudon NH. Emailed back and forth with the guy and turns out that he is a dealer, and has this as a left over and will give it to me for $19.5k out the door vs the 22k asking price. Do some research and he is a newer dealer, only been one for about a year, but has been a warranty service center for years. I decide to go and give the dealer I initially talked to one last chance, but once again was told that the price is the price, but he was honest and said that it sounded like a good deal and he'd be happy to get my service and parts business if I went that way.
Purchasing a Ural
The next day I loaded up my wife and kid and headed for Loudon NH, about an hour away. Like always, I never tell them about my stupid plans, so when we pull in it's a surprise, although I had told my wife that I was planning on buying one soon, and of course my boy had gone and looked at that one with me. We walk into the dealer, and I knew I was in the right place. This place didn't have the polish of a Harley dealer, one side was Stihl power equipment, the other Urals. Various old Honda Cubs and Monkeys were parked around with signs saying "not for sale". THIS is the guy I want to buy a bike from.
Walking in, I'm presented with 4 Urals, the 2020 Arctic Camo I came to see, and a trio of 2021s in blue, orange, satin burgundy. I eyeball the burgundy, as reds are my favorite vehicular colors, and go to the camo. My son doesn't even get to the camo, stops and says that he likes the burgundy the best. We all climb on, with one on the back seat, and one in the car, and I ask the owner how much the burgundy one is. $18k out the door, which is $4.5k less than the other dealer, and right in line with the best pricing I'm seeing online. We go outside to discuss, I point out that I love the burgundy, but the camo would be more unique, and if there was damage to the paint, much easier to repair. It is decided that we all like the burgundy the best, and at $1.5k less and a year newer, it's the way to go. We do some paperwork, and agree to pick it up in a few days since I don't have my trailer and I have to go to work for a few days.
Waiting for Tuesday is torture, but it finally comes. Hook up the trailer, and head north, to finish paperwork and pick up the outfit. The dealer demonstrates all the controls, and advise me on the "unique" handling of sidecar rigs, namely how it pulls to the right on acceleration, left on braking, likes to pick up the car on right turns and slides on left. This includes a demonstration where he gets the car in the air and drives around a bit.
I knew I bought from the right place when I inquired about the first service and how much it would cost for him to do it, and he told me that it shows how to do everything in the manual and everything aside from feeler gauges are included. That's my kind of guy, I probably would have done it myself anyway. He'll see me again for service should I need it. I really enjoyed dealing with Bob at https://rhoadsmotorsportsinc.com . Just an honest guy selling good products.
Riding and owning a Ural
Here's what you actually wanted to read. First, this is NOT a motorcycle. I can legally ride it with my motorcycle license, but beyond where the controls are, it is not even similar. Obviously, there is no leaning, but the steering requires constant pressure and lots of strength on most (especially left accelerating) turns. Braking causes it to pull left, acceleration right, and depending on the weight in the car, and the crown of the road it constantly pulls one way or the other.
The first 100mi or so of getting used to it and learning the limits was terrifying. I was constantly afraid that the car would come up and I'd go over on right turns, or it would go the other way if it was a tight left turn. After a few days I go out to a deserted big parking lot and learn the limits. What did I learn?
*The limits are significantly higher than I thought.
- Do not be in a rush, because being surprised could result in those limits appearing rapidly in a decreasing radius turn.
So yeah, I've discovered that when I see those signs with suggested corner speeds, those should have a picture of a Ural on them, because that's comfortably inside the limits of the rig. Yes, I can fly the car, yes it's fun, and the kid LOVES it, but I only want to do that because I choose to, I don't want it to surprise me.
So what's the actual riding experience? Ryan does a great job describing it above. Clunky and agricultural. It is not fast, there is no gear indicator and it will slow down on 50mph hills if you don't downshift to 3rd. There's also no tach, so where is redline? Your guess is as good as mine. Steering takes real effort, and it takes a bit to learn to steer while braking and accelerating to counter the drag of the rig. 55MPH is not a problem, even 60 is doable, but it's a real struggle to see 70MPH and terrifying above 60, so just don't do it. 2WD is engage with a lever behind my right leg, there is no differential, so if it's in 2wd, you're going straight, but it'll climb anything. The engine is loud, and the transmission is clunky, but got much better after the first oil change to Motul synthetics. It also has reverse, so parking it is simple, no pushing or pulling, just get it in neutral (easier said than done), and kick that pedal down. Shifting and other controls are conventional, although the shifter is a heel shifter for upshifts, so coming form ADV and dirt bikes that was a new experience.
Sounds shitty, right? WRONG. It's magic. Every ride feels special. I'm not going to commute 70mi to work down i95 on it, but everywhere else it is pure joy. It's got a huge trunk and the car is big enough to carry just about anything, including a couple fishing poles and folding chairs so my boy and I can go fishing. If it won't fit in the car, it's also got a nice rack on the back on top of the spare tire that will fit all 3 corners. What's really special beyond the feeling of occasion it brings to every ride is that whenever I say I'm going to take it out either my wife or my son, and sometimes both, jump at the opportunity to come with me. I love it.
First service comes at 300mi, and includes all oils (engine, trans, final drive), valve adjustment, adjusting all the controls, and torquing bolts. I decided to go with Motul synthetic as recommended by a few dealers. I found a ton of garbage on the magnetic drain plugs, so I'm glad I didn't leave it sitting in there. The transmission shifts noticeably better after the service. It still has a hearty clunk with each change, but no cruchiness, it goes in smoothly where before I'd occasionally get a little grind here and there on changes.
On to the valve adjustments and bolt checking. This is one area that caused me concern. Reading on Soviet Steeds, people have had the head bolts pull out of the engine tightening then to spec in the past. Other areas don't seem to have an issue, but the head has been, and is a major issue if it happens. I did a bunch of research and called a couple dealers and was assured that they really improved the construction in later rigs, and if I tightened them to 35lb/ft it would be be fine. So with a bit of trepidation I set the torque wrench and went to work. 6 of the 8 were loose, so I'm glad I did it, and none of them stripped. 3 of the 4 valves were loose, so I tightened them up to spec (.1mm or .004in) using the simple nut adjusters. That illustrates Ural ownership. Concern over defects, all tools included, but the reality is if I didn't read online forums all I'd know is this is a really nice running bike that is easily serviced, and comes with an extensive tool kit.
Overall Ownership - Post 2020 Outlook
**We Are all Dying, Act Accordingly"
In all I'm very glad I bought my 2021 Ural Gear Up. Last year really changed my perspective on life, there were a lot of things that I was going to do "some day" even though I could do them now. Now my outlook is a modification of a line from The Departed, "We are all dying, act accordingly." So I'm trying not to put off things that I would regret never experiencing if I were on my death bed tomorrow. One of those was to get back on a bike, to teach my son to ride, to make sure that my family knows how much they mean to me.
The Ural is part of that. I've wanted one since watching a hero driving around Fairfax VA all year, even in the snow on one about 12 years ago. It was always something I figured I'd get once the kid was out of school and I was retired. If I'd waited I'd have never known the joy of being out with my wife and son in it. Her health has really deteriorated over the last year to the point where she can't even get on the Africa Twin with me, and we always loved riding together. The Ural has made that possible again. I love riding it, working on it, even just looking at it. I love the smiles and waves I get from people when riding it, it really brings people joy to see such an unusual machine.
No, it's not fast. It is an arm workout every time I ride it. It's also not smooth or quiet. It's perfect. It's a Ural.