The Ural is a great tool to escape the rat race with... riding the relaxing back roads

the only thing missing is you... in the sidecar, it's so relaxing in there

The aptly named Ural motorcycle is named after the rough and tough, 2000km range of Ural mountains in Russia. Looking at my Atlas, it's roughly 1300km west of Moscow, running from the Barents Sea in the north and levelling-out about 600km short of the Caspian Sea in the south. And that about sums up the Ural bike as well - rough and tough - rough in the sense of some of the finishes are a bit rough, like I noticed the casting on one of the barrels had some rough edges, which you'd never see on another bike (well most new bikes), and tough in the sense that these Urals are made for the Russian outbacks, and if they (the Ural motorcycles) can get through the harsh Russian outbacks, then they can probibly go anywhere.

This was only my third ride ever on/in a sidecar rig, and getting used to the way "they" ride took about two stops and starts and three corners, and I had it taped. A sidecar always handles better with someone in the "car", just makes for better cornering. The Ural isn't the fastest bike around the block, but then that's not what it's all about. Besides, the sidecar becomes a bit of a handful at speeds over 110 kph, although I would have liked a bit more power to attack long uphills with.

Ural's horizontally-opposed, 750cc, air-cooled, twin, is an unashamed carbon-copy of a post WWII BMW, but made in Russia.

There were a few things I didn't like about the three-wheeler, and thoes were; the long-throw gear action, lack of power - up hills (I'm told these will be sorted on the 2007 mobels), and the abcence of a rev-counter.

What I did like was the maneuvrebilty of the rig (you can turn these things around in a single lane), the packing space (enormous boot, plus packing space on the floor of the sidecar, the fact that you can take three people on the rig, and the reverse gear.

comprehensive tool-kit means you should be able to fix the bike anywhere

Just looking at the comprehensive tool-kit tell me that, if you break down anywhere, you should be able to get the bike fixed again and be on your bicycle so to speak. Everything is plain and simple and fixable, there's even a spare wheels (although our test-bike didn't have one, but that was my choice, I wanted the bike to be as light and nibble as possible, and besides, I wasn't going to do any serious crossings of mountains.

Ronnie King, the importer (Classic Cars and Motorcycles) of Urals into South Africa has promised me a full test again when the new '07 Urals arrive, so can't wait to ride the new improved version, which I'm told are much better finished off, thanks to the American and Italian influence.

In the meantime... here's some Ural history;

The Irbit Motorcycle Plant

Development in recent years and view in the future 


The motorcycle plant in Irbit produced 130,000 units, the biggest quantity in the history of the plant.


Production stopped. There were no ressources for production left. A new team of managers bought the factory.


The motorcycle plant in Irbit, formerly run by the Russian state, shows a profit for the first time in its history. This is the result of a necessary new dimensioning from a mass production for the sowjet agriculture, army and civil society to a small manufacture for classic sidecar motorcycles. Bitter cost savings, sales of idle industrial buildings, outsourcing of various production steps on one hand, investments to approach the European production standard and the achievement of the EU-homologation for all models on the other hand.

Total Production in 2002 was 1,300 units. Sales in Europe: 400 units.


A total reorganisation of distribution follows. On the Russian home market various Ural dealers are authorized. In Europe and America own distribution centres are founded:

Ural Motorcycles GmbH in Linz, Austria

Irbit MotorWorks of America Inc. In Redmond, USA

The former national importers are being integrated into the new system or end their business with Ural.

A bulk order by the UN within the scope of the “oil for food” program for the Iraq can not be realised due to the war.

Due to the change of the new distribution system, disturbances occur on the European and American market. Also the cancellation of the Iraq order causes problems. A dramatic production decline is the result. Total production 2003: 800 units. Sales in Europe: 360 units. However the Ural Motorcycles GmbH/Linz shows in its first year a positive balance.


The activities of the new distribution centres in America and Europe are so successful, that the sales exceed all sales forecast.

In addition the Iraq order comes to live again and the factory has to produce 1,700 motorcycles for Iraq. Compared to the year 2003 the production has to be increased more than three times. The result is delivery bottleneck in all markets. In the second term of the year the demand for Ural motorcycles in Europe cannot be fulfilled and also the forecast can not be reached due to these difficulties. Because of lacking production capabilities the new model “Retro” cannot be introduced to the market. Total production 2004: 2800 units. Sales in Europe: 380 units.


In America 800 motorcycles are sold, in Europe 500 units.

That means a total production of 1500 motorcycles.

2006 is the first year in the history of the Irbit motorcycle plant that only motorcycles for resellers are produced. There was no production for governmental contracts.

More than 90% of the vehicles produced are with sidecar, the solo models are of secondary importance.

Ural is the market leader in sidecar motorcycles in Europe and in America.

The Austrian design office HC Concepts with Claus Holweg (who also works for KTM, BMW, Rotax, Sherco) was engaged to improve the Ural power train.


With the model year 2007 many technical developments from 2006 will be implemented.

During the year 2007 a fuel-injection system will be developed to replace the carburettor system. Ural of course has to fulfil the strict exhaust emissions regulations for EURO 3 at the latest in 2008.

The concentration on the niche “sidecar motorcycle” on the retail markets will be immersed.

In the United States and in Canada the sales figure should show 1000 units and in Europe 800 units should be sold.

Ural mountains in the background, just north of Hartbeespoort Dam (s'true)

anyone under one-nine meters can stretch their legs out comfortably in the sidecar

Ural Pilgrimage 2007

Everyone who is interested in seeing and experiencing the factory can participate in the annual held "Ural pilgrimages“. Ural Motorcycles GmbH offers these trips every year for dealers, customers, future customers and also for journalists.

The dates for 2007: 26th July until 2nd August and 2nd until 9th August. 

The first date includes the Irbit Motorcycle show, where about 8000 motorcycle drivers, mostly with extreme original bike creations, meet.  A visit in the factory, in the motorcycle museum and some trips in the environment of Irbit fulfil the programme.

The second date is for “long-distance” drivers. After the Irbit programme the trip leads into the southern Ural mountains. This of course is a paradise for off-road freaks.

Technical improvements on Ural motorcycles 2007.

The Russian factory produces most of the motorcycles components itself, but this will change from 2007.

Outsourcing of some components will improve material and production quality.

Here some of the changes:

Claus Holweg has revised the gearbox of the motorcycle. All gears will be produced from the German factory Herzog from 2007 on. The results are almost indestructible, low-noise timing gears, a real big improvement of the gearbox.

From 2007 on the piston rings will be made by Mahle König.

The bearings will be delivered from SKF.

It sounds incredible but it is true: Until 2006, most of the screws and nuts were produced in the Irbit Motorcycle Plant. From 2007 on all screws, nuts and bolts will be out-sourced. Slotted head screws will be replaced by hexagon socket screws.

The Russian ignition system will be replaced by a Ducati ignition system. This will result in the motors now having rev-limiters, which is a first for Ural motorcycles.

All Ural motorcycles – solo and sidecar versions – will be produced with Brembo disc braking system.

A new wiring harness produced in Austria will make sure of  water resistant connections, a new fuse box and improved connections.

quite country roads are what the Ural is best suited for. Photos by Dylan Slater

its best to have a passenger in the sidecar when going around slow, sharp, left-hand corners... or this might happen

thankfully there's a reverse gear on the rig (yellow arrow), otherwise...

the sidecar offers a nice, relaxing ride, with rubber mountings and shock-absorber

seats for three and the same space in the boot as two panniers and a top-box

although it took us a little longer to the Breakfast Run thingy, we still had a great time.

Thanks to Ronnie King of Classic Cars & Bikes for the ride,

the Ural is... spacious... and very different.

You'll find them next to Kyalami race track, Tel: 011 466 2998