Before cars became affordable, motorcycles with sidecars were the most affordable way to transport goods and/or families. Some models, like BMWs, were even used on the battlefront. Now, though, while it’s possible to get modern bikes with classic looks, sidecars have all but died out. However, there’s still one company, Ural, keeping the off-roading sidecar lifestyle alive.
Ural motorcycles: then and now
As Road & Track explains, Ural started out making copies of 1930s BMWs for the Russian market. The name, Cycle World reports, comes the Ural Mountains, where the bikes were first made. Originally military-only, after WWII civilian production started in Ukraine. Today, the bikes are made in Siberia.
On the outside, Ural’s motorcycles look like they’re one re-paint away from a war film appearance. In fact, Bloomberg reports at least 1 war reenactor genuinely paints their Ural for reenactments. And, for a long time, the bikes were seen as almost too old-school. Nowadays, though, the Ural motorcycle lineup has benefitted from significant updates.
Like modern BMWs, Urals use a boxer-twin engine with shaft drive. It’s a 749cc unit which makes 41 hp and 42 lb-ft, linked to a 4-speed with reverse. It’s still air-cooled, but it received fuel injection in 2014, Autoblog reports. The whole engine and fuel injection received another overhaul in 2019, according to Cycle World. RideApart reports the latest upgrades make Ural’s bikes appreciably quicker, with the motor becoming significantly easier to modulate and live with.
Also, in 2014 Ural’s bikes received disc brakes all-around (until then, discs were only on the front) and a hydraulic steering damper. The latter is extremely beneficial, as it significantly cuts down on the effort needed to steer the sidecar-equipped motorcycle. Although you can’t get a fuel gauge, the latest Urals have LED lights, power outlets, and of course, a sidecar with a lockable waterproof trunk.
There are even limited-edition bikes. In 2018, R&T reports Ural released one with a built-in drone. As of this writing, the latest limited-edition features upgraded upholstery, stainless steel trim, and a clock. Cycle World also reports the company is even experimenting with an electric model, with a Zero Motorcycles powertrain.
Can a Ural motorcycle genuinely go off-road?
Although Ural does make a bike, the CT, more suited to on-pavement riding, the rest of its lineup is practically built for off-roading. Apart from the CT, every single one is equipped with a selectable two-wheel drive system. Pull a lever on the driver’s right, and a driveshaft locks the bike’s rear wheel and the sidecar’s wheel together. However, Adventure Motorcycle reports 2WD is meant only for certain situations, rather like a four-wheel-drive system’s 4Lo.
Ural also offers the Adventure Package, sort of like Toyota’s TRD trim. This adds an off-road skid plate, protective brackets for the lights and sidecar, as well as hand and leg guards. For those who want to ride exclusively off-road, there’s also an optional high-pipe exhaust, not unlike a scrambler’s.
Ural motorcycles can ride through dirt or through rivers. R&T took one into the Cascades, where it kept pace with a Mercedes G-Wagon. Cycle World drove one non-stop from Seattle to LA, and the only mechanical problems were a wobbly wheel bearing and running out of fuel. Although these bikes aren’t exactly the easiest to maneuver, due to the sidecar, RideApart reports they can be used around-town like any other motorcycle or car.
These bikes aren’t exactly cheap. The CT starts at just over $15.5k, with the 2WD-capable Gear Up at just over $17.5k. The Adventure Package is an $1750 option.
There’s also the $20,969 Sahara and $21,189 Sportsman, which adds unique decals onto the Gear Up. These also have their own unique additional option packages, which add things like sidecar bumpers, rock guards, and different windshields.
You could almost buy 2 Triumph Scramblers for the price of one Ural, or 5-6 Honda Monkeys. That adventure-equipped Indian Scout Sixty would also likely be cheaper and feel more modern. But, like the Jeep Wrangler, Ural’s bikes offer something unique in the world of off-roading and motorcycling. And, apart from a Janus motorcycle, how many modern bikes can be mended on the side of the road with a hammer and screwdriver?
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