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Ridin' to New Orleans

Updated on May 7, 2012

We Have a Plan

In a previous hub I wrote about how I acquired and rebuilt a 2002 Ural "Bavarian Classic" Russian motorcycle side car over a summer. Now it was the fall of 2011 and I wanted to take the rig out on its first trip.

We were going to do it in the last week of August but Tropical Storm Lee was in town, so we put it off until the first weekend of September. The weather promised to be really good.

My original intent was for us to do the whole trip on moto contraptions. My wife on her Moto Guzzi, and me and the thee year old on the Ural. However, the disapproving look from wife, and my own assessment of the situation, made me reconsider and compromise. I'll still ride it the whole way, but I'll leave three hours earlier from Columbus (A) and trundle on down via state routes while wife and kiddo would go the usual way via interstate until we cross paths in Evergreen, Alabama (B) . Where I would pick up the monkey and continue trundling to Mobile (C) and then down coastal Hwy-90 (D) to New Orleans (E).

She will have the van and as an acknowledgement that discretion is the better part of valor, the trailer.... In case it breaks down.

432 miles, 8 hr. 32min plus gas, diaper, and UDF breaks.
432 miles, 8 hr. 32min plus gas, diaper, and UDF breaks.

The Trip Down

I'd like to be able to say that the trip was a fun and uneventful, but then it wouldn't be a Ural now would it?

The first leg went really well. The weather was perfect and there are some really nice motorcycle roads between Union Springs and Troy down thru the center of Alabama. I actually beat the van to I-65 meeting point. We had dinner, loaded up the kiddo on in the hack and continued on our way. My daughter loves to ride in the car and she was alternately playing with a Camelbak spout, a toy dummy corded to her seat, and catching the wind with her mouth. Ah.. It was bliss. Exactly why I bought the rig.

Daddy and daughter on the Ural
Daddy and daughter on the Ural

Things Go Sideways

About 20 minutes/miles down the road, the toy that had been flopping in the wind popped her in the nose and she started crying. Pull over, and she's done with sidecars for the day.

By this time I was already pretty tired too (+4hrs on the road) so didn't object. We were also late and it was getting late, close to sun down. So I elected to get up on the interstate to make up some time, since I didn't have the kid in the hack, and it was getting to dark to see anything anyway.

Made it down thru Mobile ok, the motor was strong and was handling the 65~70mph just fine. However, I noticed that my brake lights were no longer working, still had tail and headlights so all was good. Then the turn signals started intermittently failing. Ok, no big deal, just be careful, signalling is effectively optional down in the South anyway.

The "fun" really started near Biloxi. The minor chuffing I'd been hearing from the front end and imagined away as the brake pads bumping, turned into a shriek so loud my wife could hear it in the car behind me! Pulled over on the side of the interstate with major pucker factor, wondering what would happen first the wheel sieze or the axle fail first. Made it to a stop without getting run over by my wife or anyone else. Looked at the front end. It wasn't hot. it wasn't smoking. It was making a "knotching" sound. So I called it, and we tried to load it on the trailer.

Did you know that a Ural side car will "almost" fit on a 4'x8' utility trailer? And that making eyeball guesstimates that "It looks like it'll fit" are really not a good idea? And that it really sucks to realize all of this while sitting on the shoulder of a busy interstate.

Faced with the choice of either attempting to jam the rig on the trailer, disassembling it, or riding it to the next exit, I chose the later (yes, just setting it on fire and riding away DID occur to me). So, we trundled along on the bumpy shoulder while traffic zoomed by. The front apparently had decided not to seize, it just did not like being driven at 65+ mph. I made it to the exit and told my wife, child, and trailer to continue on to New Orleans and I was going to limp in on Highway-90 at its best possible speed.

The 45mph speeds and stoplight every half mile on the coastal highway of the "Redneck Rivera" was more to the Urals liking. I didn't have any more trouble out of its mechanicals, only the balky lights. I missed, as in totally didn't see the turn to keep going across the coastal road, and wound up back at I-10 at the Stennis Space Center exit.


By now it was 10:30 and I was tired, sore, and even cold. I decided to get back on the interstate to cross the lake on the ten mile bridge and into New Orleans. Made it without either breaking anything or getting corn-cobbed by inattendant/drunk speeder. Pulled into the in-laws drive way almost exactly 12 hours after leaving Columbus.

Things didn't go great, but they could have been SO much worse. The thing got me there, but it did it on its own terms. Motor is great, but everything else I haven't gotten into yet is sucking. Gearbox is leaking and shifts like a box of marbles, suspension isn't, and before mentioned front end.

Sigh... And its only half way over...

Maintinance Day

Pretty much a whole day of sun and wrenchin'.
Pretty much a whole day of sun and wrenchin'.

Spent most of the day chasing wires. I hate electrical problems. Brake light turned out to be a short and blown fuse. Couldn't figure out the turn signal problem. Sometimes they worked sometimes they didn't. Might be a pinched wire under the tank. Still haven't figured it out yet.

Pulled the front wheel and popped the bearings out. Still had the original Russian grease. Repacked the rollers with the "extra" goop from the spacers. The axle had some wear but no galling or burns from spun bearing.

Mission accomplished on riding kids around the neighborhood. Only got one slap on the wrist from a LEO for not riding with helmets (Mea culpa, my wife thought Louisiana didn't have a helmet law, the last time we rode down here in '04 it didn't).

Driving the neighborhood kids around the block.
Driving the neighborhood kids around the block.

The Trip Back Home

No pictures for the return trip. Almost a solid 12 hour stint of riding. Both Ural and I were dead tired.

Left New Orleans in the morning and worked my way out of town on highway 90, going past seedy bars and neighborhoods that still bore the scars from hurricane Katrina. But the Ural liked the coastal road that was more swamps than coast, and I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

Of course, being a Ural just past Mobile the speedometer started dancing around even more than normal and then sudden went to an indicated zero mph even though I was pretty sure I was still moving. Stopping for gas, I find that the speedo cable broke, something else to fix.

But Wait! It Gets Even More Interesting

While stopped, I check my phone. My wife has left a message saying th at The trailer came unhitched from the car on her way home and flipped over on the side of the road. On a bridge. On the Interstate.

Luckily people, including her family and a city employee stopped and helped her right it and rehook it it up and drag it home.

Done... for a While

This "shake down" trip really shook my confidence in the Ural and made me question my sanity for having chosen it. A couple of times.

In hind-sight however, it was an interesting trip and I guess part of the learning curve of ownership of a vehicle that is as raw and "characterful" as a Ural. Since then we've done many more trips, if of shorter duration, at least not quite as eventful as that first one.

But it will be a long time before I try to ride it to New Orleans again.


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