Our New Bit of Russian Iron

September 28, 2009  |  No Sidebar, Personal, Photography

Marc and I went up to Gettysburg yesterday to take a look at the Ural we had seen advertised on craigslist.  It was a gorgeous day, and though Gettysburg is largely a tourist trap, it was still nice to wander around the small town in the early fall weather.  After spending so many years in Amherst, I have developed a fondness for small, historical, rural towns, and it was really nice to spend a couple hours wandering around.


Downtown Gettysburg

After a couple hours of wandering around town, we drove out to meet the owner.  He runs a small vintage motorcycle repair shop about 20 minutes away from Gettysburg.  Driving through the Pennsylvania countryside is always beautiful, and I wish I had been able to stop for pictures.  As it was, here’s one I took through the windshield of Marc’s car:


Pennsylvania's rolling hills.

We finally got to the guy’s shop and the bike was waiting out front.  Here she is:

It will need a name.

The bike.

I had written down a lot of questions that I found on the Ural owner’s forums, since these bikes can be real lemons sometimes.  They often require a lot of tinkering, and while they’re designed to be able to be tinkered with by an amateur, I wanted to make sure that nothing major would go wrong for at least a couple months.  Thankfully, since this guy is a mechanic (he was reselling the bike), he had done some work on it to get it running consistently.  It has new cylinders and pistons, he changed all the fluids, the carbs have been jetted, and general maintenance done.  She starts up on the first or second kick every time (no electronic ignition), which is pretty unheard-of for Urals and their clones, the Dneprs and Chang Jiangs.  We’ll see how long that lasts.  😉

We both poked and prodded at the bike for awhile, and eventually the guy let me take it for a test drive down a nearby road.  Riding one of these is VERY strange if you are used to a regular motorcycle.  For one thing, you steer a hack (the term for a sidecar rig) rather than leaning.  It’s almost like driving a car, but not quite, because it’s still handlebars, not a wheel.  When it came time to turn around, it was weird to have to think “can I make this U-turn?” on a motorcycle, rather than just putting my foot down and pivoting.  They also pull rather strongly to the right when you have the throttle engaged, due to the drag created by the sidecar, so you have to keep a reasonable amount of force on the right hand grip, and they also tend to shimmy a bit at some speeds due to interactions with the sidecar, etc.  I’m told the 2WD models are better about that, due to the differential, but this will be fine once I get used to it.  We will be keeping about 120lbs of sandbags on hand for when one of us rides it solo, as I’m told that really helps until you get used to the dynamics of the bike.

All in all, for $4k delivered (he’s going to drop it off here tomorrow at 7am), I think it was a good purchase.  A few things lead me to believe that the sidecar is actually from a Dnepr (the parts are often interchangeable between Urals, Dneprs, CJs, and even BMW R-series bikes), but the bike is definitely a Ural, and that is what matters when it comes to reliability.  I want to learn about motorcycle maintenance, and this may be a good way to do so because though they can be problem bikes, they were designed to be repaired by illiterate peasants and the folks on the forums say that even amateurs can repair them pretty easily.  Plus, honestly, if we get it and enjoy riding hacks but the bike has more problems than we want to deal with, we can always sell it in a couple years and buy a new Ural from a dealer.

Anyway, here are some other shots of the bike:


From the front.


Left side.




Front fork.


  1. That thing is a SERIOUS work of art.

  2. that could be my ural’s twin!

    hope you have lots of trouble-free miles ahead!

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