I can’t describe the last week’s weather with any words short of “Punishing”. The high Thursday was 8, Friday started at 10 below zero, and 8 inches of snow Saturday; mind numbing to this moto-holic. I realize that’s not particularly impressive to some people, but it’s been the trend all week, and not likely to improve anytime soon. As a result, I’ve been scouring the internet over the past few days, sucking up every last megabyte of two wheeled news. While I’m impressed by Indian’s new Dark Horse, it’s on the list of “Motorcycles I absolutely love; but would probably never purchase”. Which leads me to the reality of desperation, tracking down the true “Winter solution”: the Ural Gear Up.
After my entry about riding in the snow, I’ve begun leaning toward a three wheeled solution being the only viable medium to use as a means of street legal, safe, motorcycle transportation to the office in the heart of an Ohio winter. While tearing down the snow covered freeway on a true 250 cc dirt bike sounds like a blast, I fear that an ill-timed spill could mean the end of my moto-commuting days (likely as a result of my lack of off-road skills; or otherwise white-knuckled, ignorant, Ohio drivers). This interest seriously caught flame when I decided to stop by the local Ural dealer a few weeks back. Fortunately for Daytonians, the local Ural dealership is only about half an hour outside the city, the next closest being Michigan or Illinois. Heindl Engineering isn’t far from my place, and under normal riding conditions, right near a few of my preferred routes through the corn fields. While it was not as cold as this week, it was another frigid snowy morning when I stumbled in; the local sales rep was certainly happy to escort me around the quaint building and answer my endless barrage of questions.
Prior to stepping into the show room I was aware of the recent upgrades to the Ural lineup, but still somewhat reluctant to consider a Ural a viable motorcycle purchase considering the “quirkiness” of the brand as described on the various message boards. The various threads on the internet had led me to believe that Urals were rudimentary 750 cc motorcycles with extremely outdated technology; requiring the rider to be that much more alert and considerably more mechanically inclined in the garage. What I found at Heindl started to make me think otherwise.
Ural is, to my knowledge, the only motorcycle manufacturer to offer the sidecar setup as a standard model (more like the only option). Better yet, the bulk of the off-the-shelf Urals come with two-wheel drive standard; something most bolt-on side cars cannot offer. After the big revision in 2014, previously antiquated Ural motorcycles now come with all-wheel disc brakes (Brembo up front), Fuel injection (redundant, Dual ECU’s), marginally improved engine performance, and hydraulic steering dampening. For 2014, Ural offers the glossy “Patrol”; simple, cheaper, yet rugged, “Ural-T” (single wheel drive only; replaced by the “cT” for 2015), the “loaded for the apocalypse” Ural “Gear-Up”, and the “road friendly” “M-70” (telescopic front forks). Having done some prior reading, the Gear Up is most definitely in my sights.
The priorities of this fact finding mission were foremost: quality of the equipment, seat comfort, confirmation of reputation, full list of included options (by model), and maintenance requirements. While cheaper and aesthetically pleasing, I had already ruled out the the new cT considering it lacked 2-wheel drive. The Patrol is very similar in looks, equipped with 2-wheel drive, yet mindful of the mission at hand, the glossy paint seems superfluous considering my purposes. While the most expensive, the Gear Up has all the rugged farkles I require to combat the elements; or at least dig myself out of a snowy ditch. The 2015 model comes with flat powder coated paint in three schemes, gray “Asphalt”, Woodland Camo, and the new age “Urban Camo” that I like most. While I realize a white motorcycle with gray camouflage sprinkled in probably isn’t the best choice for a snow-faring motorcycle, I’m sure my bright yellow vest will suffice to keep the automobiles alert to my presence.
I was already aware of the snow-faring prowess of the Ural from various articles and Ural photos but I was impressed by all the extras that come standard on Urals and especially the Gear Up. Black powder coated spoked rims come standard, along with a 40 Amp/560 Watt alternator, 5 gallon tank, spare wheel, air pump, luggage rack (Bike & sidecar), spot light, kick-start (electric start standard), tool kit, and my favorite, the entrenchment tool (“shovel” for you civilian types). The entrenchment tool, or “E-tool” as GI’s often call it, was one of my first purchases after basic training; a standard item packed in my trunk when winter arrives in Ohio, which has bailed me out of a snow bank on more than one occasion. I was extremely impressed with the factory tool kit; including tire irons, full set of wrenches, hex keys, and even leather work gloves. It seems like few modern motorcycles come with tools of any kind nowadays (my trusty Triumph came with one Allen wrench, one…); so it’s impressive that Ural outfits their bike with a comprehensive tool kit to do virtually all maintenance on the road. The sales rep mentioned that there are probably better tools available, like tire irons and screw drivers, but the stock tool kit will get you out of a jam, just not as fast as more reputable brands. Even more impressive was the owner’s manual; while most manuals tell you when to perform given maintenance, the Ural manual shows you step by step instructions on how to perform a given maintenance task, including photos. I’m not just talking about how to change oil either, it also includes instructions on how to perform valve adjustments.
Rider comfort still seems a bit ambiguous to me, even after sitting on several models. The Gear up comes standard with a tractor seat, while the Patrol comes with a one peace dual seat that most riders would be familiar with. I have been put under the impression that a good tractor seat is extremely comfortable for the long haul if you’re riding a standard bike (i.e. Russel Daylong saddles), however various Ural reviews has suggested that the stock Gear Up saddle leaves something to be desired. I imagine I would endure the solo tractor seat initially to see how it fit, especially considering I still ride on my stock cruiser seat, but it may be worth the extra cash to upgrade to a little more foam. As a side note, I did think it was cool that the rear luggage rack can be removed and interchanged with a passenger tractor seat for 3-person seating. I can see the wife and I enjoying tandem seating with the dogs riding in the side car on sunny weekends.
There is no doubt that the Ural design is the epitome of bare bones, Kalashnikov-like utilitarianism (it is Russian after all). The blatant copy of the BMW R-71 is undeniable, yet more “stamped” and angular; I actually find it endearing, despite my concerns about longevity and reliability. That aside, from what I can tell, part quality appears legit; I was expecting more dull unfinished aluminum, faded paint with sketchy paint application as a result of poor prepping techniques; yet I was surprised by shiny new parts and otherwise acceptable “fit & finish”. While the engine is exposed aluminum, for a little extra cash I can have the engine blacked-out and the under carriage coated. Considering I have plans to ride a Ural in the absolute worst weather conditions, additional research on the topic of part wear is going to be critical prior to making a purchase. The sales rep did confirm my intentions however; he told me that his lead maintenance technician no longer owned a car, he rode his Ural year-round. He added that his tech could take the company truck, but with heated gear the ride is warm from door to door, whereas the truck would barely be at operating temperature by the time he got to the shop.
Taking home a Ural Gear Up won’t be a cheap endeavor, retailing at $15,999. I would also expect that I would shell out the extra $1,600 for the blacked out engine and undercoating. For some people this seems pretty steep for a 750 cc motorcycle but there’s a lot more to consider here. $8,000 for a 750 seems reasonable, but with a Ural you’re getting shaft drive, worth at least a little more. A bolt on sidecar is going to run you at least $3,500 from a custom builder, minimum; most of which will not come with two-wheel drive, another premium. When you consider what you’re getting, the price starts to make a little more sense; agreed I think it’s still a bit more than I would want to pay, but when you add it all up on the basis of trying to build a two wheel drive sidecar rig that you can repair on the side of the road it makes a bit more sense.
Having seen the equipment up close, I’m more interested than ever in taking home a Ural to satisfy my motorcycle fix between December and March. I could easily have my two-wheeled steed for summer days, then switch to the Ural for rain, snow, off-road, and any trip to the grocery. I have recently jested with friends I might just sell my car and get a new Ural. The Sales rep told me that they held a Ural Demo event last spring; I’ve been patrolling their website relentlessly waiting for new dates to be posted this year. Hopefully this post will see a sequel to include ride review.
- Proven two-wheel drive snow-worthiness
- Comprehensive tool kit and maintenance instructions
- Storage and versatility
- Pricey for a “second” motorcycle
- Reliability still seems ambiguous
- “Exotic” brand (trouble finding parts?)
- $15,999 Base MSRP
- 749 cc opposed twin
- 42 ft-lbs. of torque @ 4300 RPM
- 41 HP @ 5500 RPM
- Electronic Fuel Injection (2 ECUs, Redundant)
- Electric & Kick Start
- Shaft Drive
- Switchable Counter-shaft to Sidecar Wheel (2WD)
- 6.8″ Ground Clearance (unladen)
- 730 lb. Dry Weight
- 70 MPH Max Cruise Speed