This Ural is electric. It's the first of its kind, but if everything goes well, it won't be the last. I'm riding a prototype — in fact, the only such prototype in the world — and the small manufacturer of sidecar hacks is, against all odds, seriously considering putting an all-electric machine into production.
The bike's extreme rarity is not lost on me as I test out its top-end acceleration. I don't think I've ever seriously exceeded a highway speed limit on a sidecar motorcycle from Ural until this test drive. Usually, a Ural feels like it's being asked to do something it really wasn't designed for when you wring it out at speeds higher than, say, 65 miles per hour. The last thing I want to do is damage Ural's test bike, but I easily crest 75 on this red-painted machine, and do so without the drama I've come to expect. Ural pegs this prototype's top speed at 88 miles per hour.
There are three driving modes baked into Ural's battery-powered prototype: Eco, Sport, and Custom. These programming modes are taken directly from Zero Motorcycles, which partnered up with Ural to provide all the electrified expertise that Ural's own in-house designers may lack. The electric motor, battery packs (more on that later) and controllers all came from the California-based electric motorcycle manufacturer.
Jason Rae, who led development here in the States on this electrified project, told me in advance that this would feel like the hot rod of the Ural lineup. After a few miles, I'm convinced he's right. As with any vehicle powered by an electric motor, torque comes on strong right from a start, at least when the controller is taken out of Eco mode. I tested that low-power setting briefly and found that it was way too limiting. I switch over to the more powerful Sport mode and leave it there for the remainder of my ride.
This Ural's electric powertrain provides 60 horsepower and 81 pound-feet of torque. That's a big gain over the gas-powered Ural's 41 hp and 42 lb-ft. When compared to typical motorcycles, the electric Ural's performance isn't anything to write home about. But compared to the rest of Ural's lineup, well, we'll just quote Ilya Khait, President and CEO of Ural Motorcycles, when he says that the prototype "accelerates very quickly — for a Ural ..."
This particular prototype feels like it's being artificially limited at really low speeds, but after the first few feet of a hard launch, it takes off with more authority than any other Ural I've ridden. Once I have an idea of what kind of throttle response to expect, I find it very easy to take off from stop signs and lights while keeping well ahead of commuter traffic. There's no clutch lever and no foot-operated shift lever. That lack of motorcycle-specific controls, coupled with the inherent low-speed stability of a sidecar, makes this electric motorcycle very approachable.
As with pretty much any fully electric vehicle, there's almost no discernible sound to the drivetrain. There's a subdued whir that kicks in with even the smallest bit of throttle, and it gets progressively more pronounced until the vehicle is moving fast enough that the sound of the wind rushing past the rider's helmet renders the motor basically inaudible. I hear noises coming from the suspension bits, brakes, and wheels that I would completely miss on a gasoline-fueled Ural.
Despite the electrified drivetrain and the major differences that brings when compared with the tried-and-true internal combustion models, the electric Ural prototype still feels very much like a burly piece of steel. It weighs in at 822 pounds, and while much of that weight can be attributed to the battery packs, nothing in its conversion from gasoline to electric feels like it diminishes Ural's commitment to durability.
Handling, too, is better than expected for a big, durable sidecar motorcycle. Those heavy batteries are in two separate packs integrated into the bike. The smaller of those packs (Zero's ZF6.5 power pack) is located directly under the bottom cushion of the sidecar seat. While that does increase the height of the chair by an inch or two, it also puts ballast right where it's most useful for improving the stability of the three-wheeled machine. The other pack (Zero's ZF13.0 unit) is mounted within the confines of the main frame rails.
Total battery capacity sits at 19.5 kWh. That's sufficient to provide a quoted maximum range of 103 miles on a single charge. My time aboard the prototype tells me that range is certainly achievable. An onboard 1.3kW charger is capable of a complete charge of the battery packs in 13 hours using a standard outlet, though various quick charger solutions could vastly improve that time.
Skilled sidecar pilots can typically lift the wheel of an unladen sidecar off the ground when turning to the right. It's still possible to loft this electric prototype's third wheel, but it's a lot less likely to happen on accident due to the well-located weight of the sidecar-mounted battery pack. That's a significant handling benefit that could particularly benefit riders unaccustomed to the nuances of sidecars.
There's a lot of crucial information about this electric Ural prototype that we can't share with you because it's still being finalized, including its price. For 2018, the Ural lineup starts with the CT at $14,499. A two-wheel-drive Gear Up runs $16,499 and a fully loaded Sportsman or Sahara costs $18,499. If the electric prototype makes it into production as hoped, it could conceivably be the priciest Ural in America. And Ural fanatics may very well be disappointed that this EV is powered by a single wheel with no option for on-demand power from the sidecar wheel.
I walked away from my test ride of this electric Ural prototype impressed by how well the package works. There are kinks to be ironed out, of course, including final programming of the motor controller. And while the fit and finish of this proof-of-concept is pretty good, there's certainly some room to polish the design.
A lot has to happen before Ural decides whether to put an electric sidecar motorcycle into production. The company will display the prototype Nov. 16-18 at the Progressive Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, California. If you like what you see here and think the electric Ural project is worth pursuing, now is the time to let your voice be heard. Because we can say with certainty that the factory is listening.