Despite its obvious link to Thirties-era wartime motorcycles from BMW, the 2009 Ural T sidecar motorcycle can't really be described as "retro." Instead, the three-wheeled machines rolling out of Ural's factory in Russia really are a direct link to the past – a bygone era of motorcycling that's sure to intrigue some and disinterest others. Which camp you belong to depends largely on your expectations for a bike. Many motorcyclists relish the opportunity to zip away from stoplights with telepathic ease, weave through dense urban traffic and slide knees from apex to apex. If those are your intentions, the Ural is most certainly not your mount. If, however, your motorcycling passions tend to favor leisurely strolls through the countryside and you'd like to share the experience with your significant other, we suggest clicking past the jump to read about our time with Ural's latest sidecar motorcycle.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski/Weblogs, Inc.
If you've never driven a motorcycle with a sidecar (otherwise known as a 'hack' or an 'outfit'), you're in for a major surprise when piloting the Ural. Since the sidecar's wheel isn't powered, the entire bike lists to the right when accelerating and to the left while braking. Thankfully, it didn't take long to get used to the odd motions and sensations, and by the end of our second day behind the bars, we were completely at ease with the see-sawing, eventually using it to our advantage around the streets of Seattle. Long, sweeping, uphill left-handers with a passenger in the hack proved to be the only occasion when the sidecar's effects were truly tiring to cope with, but beyond that, the Ural tracked confidently, delivering a measured amount of feedback that was both confidence inspiring and relaxing.
In the past, Ural offered some sidecars with powered wheels working through a differential. While this arrangement allowed the bikes to traverse nearly any terrain with nary a concern and reportedly did away with the constant adjustments required to keep the machine pointed in a straight line, the system wasn't exactly bulletproof and has been nixed as an option. A lockable two-wheel drive system is currently available on the Ural Patrol and camouflaged Gear-Up model and is reportedly quite stout. Although our bike lacked a powered sidecar wheel, we were quite content without it in the urban setting that Ural considers the new T's perfect environment.
Interestingly, Ural chose to name its new lower-cost sidecar after the classic Model T from Ford. Just as that automobile was intended to provide transportation for the masses, Ural hopes the T's reduced price point can introduce sidecar motorcycling to a new generation of riders. Plus, the factory is keen to recycle Henry Ford's classic quip, "You can have it in any color you'd like, so long as it's black." As such, the Ural is only available with a matte black powdercoat that should prove extremely durable, although we were less than convinced about the mandatory maroon pinstriping. However, there's no denying the bike's presence strikes a chord with passers-by. Hence the so-called "Ural Delay Factor."
It's nearly impossible to go anywhere without playing 20 Questions about the 2009 Ural T. "What year is that?" "Did you restore it yourself?" Or, the most frequently asked question when rolling to a stop: "What is that thing?" We had trouble convincing many of our interrogators that the Ural was a brand new motorcycle and that anyone with visions of sidecar motorcycling can order one right from their nearest dealer. Our advice for riders in a hurry: Carry pre-assembled pamphlets or feign a lack of English skills.
Once underway, other than the aforementioned right-to-left weight transfer, the biggest sense that you're riding something completely different comes when it's time to take a turn. Frequent motorcycle riders will need a quick mental reboot to clear any memories of countersteering as it will undoubtedly send you off in the wrong direction. Instead, turning right requires a firm push on the left grip and plenty of body-english if there's no extra weight in the sidecar.
As you can see from our accompanying photo gallery, it's rather easy – not to mention extremely entertaining – to send the sidecar's wheel northward in tight right-hand bends. Turning left requires an equally hefty push on the right handgrip, and we've been told it's entirely possible to pivot the whole operation on that sidecar wheel if the rider doesn't shift his buttocks to the left rear in fast corners. As you can imagine, we happily assumed the position.
Once right- and left-hand turns have successfully been negotiated, it's time to practice the art of shifting. Changing gears on the Ural's four-speed gearbox (plus reverse) requires a hefty stomp on the heel-toe shifter. We also strongly advise patience when releasing the clutch, especially if there's a passenger mounted in the sidecar. Reach down to the right of the gearbox and you'll find a handy lever that allows the rider to engage reverse as long as the machine is in first or second gear. We also found the lever to be an ideal way to force the somewhat recalcitrant shifter into neutral. The entire process of rolling through the gears mustn't be hurried, which lends itself well to a casual pace.
That's not to say the Ural T isn't capable of highway speeds. We had no problem keeping up with traffic, even with a passenger and luggage aboard. Top speed is somewhere past 70 mph, but we found the sweet spot to be somewhere between 55 and 65 mph. According to Ural, the bike's 750cc air-cooled horizontally-opposed Boxer engine, which is shared with every bike across Ural's lineup, makes 40 horsepower. We don't doubt that figure and found most of its tractor-like power to be accessible very low in the rev-range, though there's certainly no need to lug the engine when putting around.
We'd love to be more specific about RPMs, but the lack of a tachometer makes it impossible to know exactly how fast the twin-cylinder mill is spinning. In any case, we found it easy to judge our shifting patterns based on the sound of the engine, and suffice it to say, there's plenty of noise coming from under the rider, though it's never an alarming amount.
Perhaps the most modern aspect to the Ural riding experience is the front brake. That Brembo full floating disc proved more than capable of hauling the 700-plus pound bike (along with rider and passenger) down from speed with ease. We dabbed at the rear brake lever (which actuates drums on both the bike's rear wheel and the sidecar wheel) from time to time just to be sure everything was working properly and sometimes used it when idling on uneven surfaces, but it's not essential to slow the machine.
In reality, riding the Ural is an adventure, even more so than most other two-wheelers. Specifications don't seem to matter nearly as much on a machine such as this (as opposed to the typical sportbike from Japan Inc.). Horsepower, torque, suspension and braking bits – on a Ural, all that just translates to 'go', 'stop' and 'turn'. We found it rather cathartic but could certainly understand why it wouldn't suit everyone. If you fancy yourself as a Ural rider, we think you'll find plenty to like in the new T, especially with its low base price of just $9,999.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski/Weblogs, Inc.