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Ural-mania! – A week long test ride (and abuse) of a sidecar rig at Overland Expo.2014

Ural-mania! – A week long test ride (and abuse) of a sidecar rig at Overland Expo.2014

I have never driven a motorcycle with a sidecar before. Somehow I was in the right place, asking at the right time. I was briefly staying in Prescott, AZ, so I went to see Mark at Scooter and Auto Source. The first test ride around the block made me nervous about stretching the speedometer above 15mph. The handlebars shook in directions I was not directing them to go in.

Photo courtesy of Alfonse Palaima

Photo courtesy of Alfonse Palaima

When I accelerated, the motorcycle and sidecar jumped to the right. When I let go of the throttle and braked, the rig jerked to the left. Or was it the other way around? Either way, it had a mind of its own, and a personality I had to learn to not control. The feeling of instability did not end when I puttered onto the highway. The machine topped out a whopping 45mph due to elevation gain and headwinds trying to send me back the way I came. Since I could not run beside it to push it any faster, I accepted its slowness and understood that every vehicle on the highway was going to pass me, including the 18-wheelers carrying heavy loads that were normally the cause of slow traffic. The headwinds also helped with the consumption of gas at a greater rate, which is why a Ural carries not only one, but two extra cans of fuel. How do I know this? I found myself on the side of the highway trying to fill the smaller-than-I-am-used-to tank. Adventure begins when things don’t go as planned, right?

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Mark at Scooter and Auto Source in Prescott, AZ

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How can you not love the customization: OX.2014 – Thanks Mark!

Eventually arriving 120 miles later at Overland Expo just south of Flagstaff, AZ, the Ural’s capabilities started to show through. The great thing about driving with a sidecar is that it has lots of storage, so it makes packing easy. The bad thing about driving with a sidecar is that packing is easy, so I took a lot with me. But at the event, its utilitarian nature shined as I carried equipment to and from headquarters. Eventually equipment turned into transporting people. And then one person turned into nine as we tested (and exceeded) the Ural’s weight limit.

The Ural turned in the "official" OX vehicle.

The Ural turned in the “official” OX vehicle.

 

and "unofficial" vehicle. Overloaded Ural - Photo courtesy of Pablo Espinosa

and “unofficial” vehicle. Overloaded Ural – Photo courtesy of Pablo Espinosa

A test ride would not be complete without reaching down next to my right foot and engaging 2WD for a little off-roading in the sand pit at OX uses to teach motorcyclists. Sending the small granules flying in the inevitable winds of the season, the Ural chugged along and did not let me down. Although I tried the easy parts and the deepest parts of the sand pit, I was not able to get stuck for very long. The Ural powered through it.

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We tried… and there was nothing it couldn’t get out of!

The ride home I had more time, so I decided to take Munds Road back to I-17. Two miles into it, I wondered why I chose to go that way. It was not for lack of capability of the Ural, moreover, it was for lack of cushy suspension. I am used to 21” inch front wheels and high ground clearance. On the Ural, there is neither. You have to go slow over the bumps and divots in the road otherwise your back will scream at you later. With that said, it’s a great rig if you mandatorily want to go slow and appreciate your surroundings. I did not mind once I synced with its rhythm, not like the Ural gave me much of an option – I had to go its speed because it was not going to speed up to mine.

Just a dirt road ahead...

Just a dirt road ahead…

I decided to go where?

I decided to go where?

I endured the 12 miles of rutted and rocky dirt road, happy to see the highway I was oh-so-happy to leave just a week before. After the 50 miles I put on it touring around for the week during the event, the highway was not so bad anymore. I had grown used to which way it would sway when the wind blew, or when the throttle twisted up or back. There was still light left in the day, so I detoured at Cottonwood toward the twisted roads of the mountain town of Jerome. Relaxed by the 25mph or less curves, I still leaned with the three-wheeled machine even though I knew it did no good. Control of the curves was in the steering, which pushed and pulled against me, giving my arms a good workout for the day.

Enjoying the twisty mountain road through Jerome.

Enjoying the twisty mountain road through Jerome.

I pulled into driveway of dealer with precision, having learned the quirks of this old-looking, but newly manufactured machine. I handed the keys back, still grinning from ear to ear. Even though I won’t be buying a Ural for any long term journeys, I am happy to at least have the experience of what it is like to run around on a Ural for a week.

How could I not be excited about giving Ted Simon a ride?

 

 

5 Comments

  • Michael Burks on Feb 21, 2016 Reply

    Nice story, also good pictures. I own a 2013 Gobi Desert model. I bought it in Wisconsin because of price, even though I live in Washington state. I flew to the bike and rode it home. Like you, cold turkey on a Ural dealing with trucks and high winds in S. Dakota and Wyoming. To make matters worse, it was a new bike that had not sold, so the engine had to be broken in at reasonable speeds. Fortunately that’s all URALs are capable off! My Ural now has 10700 kilometers on it and I have become very fond of it. these motorcycle are very stable and mine just saved me on a rainy night when I wound up going down a steep grassy hill unintentionally. I was able to keep it on its wheels and since your feet never touch the ground on a sidecar machine, no injuries from stomping around trying to stay upright. Once you allow for experience to accumulate, you can make these bike zip down mountain roads quite nicely. I call it cheap thrills at reasonable speeds.I rode with a very experienced friend recently who has one and we chained up and rode in the snow all day. It’s the only bike I own now.

    • Alison DeLapp on Feb 22, 2016 Reply

      I would go so far to say that Urals are an acquired taste. Those that own them, love them. And they are the tanks of the motorcycle world. They will go anywhere in any condition, eventually. Glad to hear you put yours to so much use!

  • Henning Riebe on Jun 07, 2014 Reply

    Hey Allison – you saved the day again. I wasn’t thinking straight and about to take my sidecar off, when I read your blog. The fun you reminded me of that a sidecar rig brings, had me put my tools away again and promising my rig to not disfigure it.

    In ’95 I converted my R50/2 BMW which I had bought new in ‘69, by changing to a 1000 cc motor. Then added a sidecar for my kids and have been riding my Gespann for some 20 years by now. Today I wavered and you saved the day! Thanks.

    Give yourself time – you’ll be having a blast and do amazing things with your rig that will leave solo riders in the dust. All the best.

    Henning

  • Lynne@curvyroads on Jun 04, 2014 Reply

    That looks like big (but slow) fun! 🙂

    • alison on Jun 04, 2014 Reply

      It was a blast! Even thought it’s completely different than my normal riding, I loved all of it.

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