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How NOT to buy a Ural Motorcycle Sidecar

Updated on May 9, 2012
Ah... the prize.
Ah... the prize.

This hub is a little bit about my experiences with a particularly “interesting” machine called the Ural and how I came to acquire one. It’s not the Central Asian mountains. And not even the great big Russian trucks. But a brand of motorcycle and sidecars. They are very stoutly built and really the only side cars you can get with two wheeled drive and reverse.

A Bit of History

There is an interesting history behind the Ural that most people don’t know about. Back in the 1930’s, BMW was like it is today, a maker of many things motorized. At the time Germany and Soviet Russia were friends of convenience. And the Russians were able to license produce a copy of BMW’s motorcycle. So, when they became not friends any longer, the same motorcycles wound up on both sides of the war. After the their victory over Nazi Germany, the Soviets took the production machinery as a war prize, and did not feel obligated to keep paying BMW license fees.

The Soviet system being what it was, they continued to produce the exact same thing over and over the decades. Which is great if you are a closed system and you are the only producer of a product. However, in the 90s when the Berlin wall came down, the instantly capitalist Russians suddenly found their bikes hopelessly antiquated.

Luckily for the company that emerged from post-communist collectivism, Irbit, they found that a small but persistent market existed for robust to the point of crude and nostalgic retro bikes in the West. And so a bit of Cold War history manages to live on.


How I Came to Own One

I had been considering ways of safely sharing my interests in motorcycles with my young daughter, and a sidecar seemed like a good way to do so. I also did not have much time to ride, my then current bike a Buell Ulysses (yes, I have a taste for eclectic motorcycles) spent a lot of time sitting idle. So, I was trying to sell it.

Ma' ol' bike...
Ma' ol' bike...

On a motorcycle internet forum there was a guy named Murphy who had just the Ural sidecar I was looking for, and who just happened to be looking for the same model bike that I had. Sounds like the perfect match right?

Let me tell you something. Never buy a Russian motorcycle from a guy named Murphy.

It looked great, but it had this one little problem with the timing gears. Ok, Urals are tough right? I’ll take my chances and ride it home from Montgomery, AL. Its only an hour away. It was a fun ride and I almost made it. I got about 5 miles from Phoenix City before it rattled itself to death...

Oh Noes!!!!
Oh Noes!!!!

Pay Now and Pay Later

I managed to get it home on the tow-truck of shame. Spending more than I want to think about on new parts, taking the motor all apart, and tediously cleaning out all the little pieces of metal was … fun.

No really it was. It was interesting to get hands on something built by people who don’t think in terms of absolute precision or where every piece or component is designed to be just strong enough to do its job. If a similar failure had happened to a Western designed motor, it would have been junk. Throw it in the trash and buy a new one. But with the Ural, I was literally able to clean it up, put it back together, and it runs just like nothing had happened.

All fixed up.
All fixed up.

So this Ural has still provided me with some insight, along with some scraped knuckles. It has been, “interesting”. It still continues to do so.


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    • profile image

      Sean 2 years ago

      I bought a used 2004 and have been through two engine upgrades/rebuilds. Other than the heads, engine case, final drive, camshaft, and lifters, everything else is new/upgraded (ignition, crank, pistons, timing gears, gearbox, exhaust pipes, timing cover, etc...). You are right, lots of knuckle dragging. But my 2004 does 90 mph at 5,000ft elevation and sounds mean. I have lived through basically what you have described. Now I have a reliable and fun vehicle and an appreciation of Russian Engineering.

    • JamesGreeson profile image

      JamesGreeson 5 years ago from Columbus, GA

      Yep. Check out the rest of my Ural related hubs!

    • profile image

      Bruce Watson 5 years ago

      Welcome to the Foil!

      I have a 2006 Gear Up, they have improved them greatly since the early 2000 and I believe the 2012 are even better.

      German gears, standard fastenings, and a 2 year warranty.

      But regardless of the year, more smiles per mile than anything I have owned.