The Russians are coming!
2010 Ural Patrol T and 2010 Ural Solo sT
Engine: 745cc OHV air-cooled opposed twin
Top speed: 90mph, Solo sT (est.)/75mph, Patrol T (est.)
Transmission: 4-speed, shaft final drive (auxilary drive to sidecar wheel, Patrol T)
Weight (dry): 441lb (200kg), Solo sT/705lb (320kg), Patrol T
MPG: 45-50mpg, Solo sT/26-33mpg, Patrol T
Price: $6,999, Solo sT/$12,399, Patrol T
Cruising along a quiet country road outside Carnation, Wash., I realize how far Ural motorcycles have evolved in the last decade. The latest from the company is the 2010 Ural Patrol and 2010 Ural Solo sT. The controls are lighter, and the engine more responsive. And while gearshifting still requires patience and deliberation, it’s light years ahead of the first Ural I rode in 2003.
That first ride, on the quirky Wolf chopper-style solo bike, was torture. The forward-mounted shift lever was so stiff that I had to reach down and yank it by hand. And the kicked-out front end not only spoiled the handling but seemed completely at odds with the rest of the bike.
A couple of years later I tested a Ural Patrol sidecar outfit and was much more impressed. Shifting was still a wait-for-the-flywheels-to-slow-and-stomp process, but the torquey engine and substantial frame just seemed to suit a tricycle layout much better — which, after all, was what Urals were designed for.
Five years on, and IMZ-Ural has responded to the new economic realities with no-frills versions of two of their more popular offerings, both of which I have scheduled for my test: the Patrol sidecar outfit and the Solo two-wheeler. These bargain basement bikes include a “T” suffix meant to channel the utility and popularity of Henry Ford’s famous people’s car, so the wheel rims are painted black instead of being chrome plated. Available only in Olive Drab, the Patrol T seriously looks the business and saves $600 over the regular Patrol outfit. The Solo is available only as the sT version and in a range of colors — though the wheels will also be painted black, despite the silver rims on our red test bike.
The 2010 Ural Patrol sidecar outfit is the culmination of a 70-year development process during which not much happened for long periods of time, with most of the upgrades arriving in the last decade or so. The original “Ural,” the M72, was famously reverse-engineered from the 1930s BMW R71. The story goes that the Soviet government, seriously impressed by the sidecar-mounted Wehrmacht forces’ rapid advance across Europe, acquired three R71s through neutral Sweden.
Equally aghast at the rapid approach of the R71-equipped troops toward Moscow, Stalin moved the main M72 production facility from Moscow to Irbit in the Ural Mountains of Siberia and out of range of the German bombers. The first M72s were produced in 1942 (by which time BMW had replaced the side-valve R71 with the OHV R75), and close to 10,000 M72s were built over the duration of the hostilities, both at the Irbit factory and at a plant in Gorky.
Production continued after WWII, but only for the military, until 1952. In that year, the Gorky plant was relocated to Kiev, where the first civilian M72 was built using engines from Irbit, but sold as the Dnepr. The first civilian Ural was launched later that year. Dnepr was also first to drop the old plunger rear suspension in favor of a swingarm frame in 1958. Ural continued with the plunger frame in the meantime, but introduced a new OHV engine in the early 1960s.
The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 led to the privatization of Irbitskiy Mototsikletniy Zavod Ural (IMZ-Ural) and the expansion of their export business. In 2003, the parent company took over North American distribution, and has been actively working to tailor Urals to the U.S. market ever since. To that end, a number of innovations and upgrades have arrived.
In 2003, for example, the engine received a major makeover with a capacity increase from 650cc to 750cc using a new, longer-stroke crankshaft and plain bearings, which replaced the previous built-up crank and roller big-ends. Power increased to a nominal 40hp with torque of 40ft-lbs.
Not that the old 650 couldn’t be made to move quickly; the now-defunct Siberian Speed Team, a group of Ural enthusiasts/owners, set four sidecar speed records at Bonneville with a 650 in 2001, including one run at 117.342mph!
As do most motorcycles nowadays, Urals started wearing bought-in components: Brembo brakes, Ducati electronic ignition, Paioli and Marzocchi forks, Keihin carburetors, Denso electrics, etc.
And for 2010, the powertrain received a raft of minor but significant upgrades, including needle roller bearings for the rocker arms and camshaft, gas-flowed cylinder heads, a revised alternator drive, and more durable universal joints in the transmission. Numerous fasteners and ancillary items that were previously chrome-plated are now stainless, alloy wheel rims replace steel on premium models, and many previously painted parts are now powder coated.
I decide to reacquaint myself with the Patrol first. Cold starting on any Ural requires tugging the choke lever on each Keihin and thumbing the start button — though you can opt to try the kickstarter instead. (I did, and found the Patrol much easier to boot over than my 20-year-old BMW GS.) As soon as the engine will take some throttle without the choke (long enough to put on helmet and gloves), I pull in the light clutch and “snick” (a new word in the context of Urals!) the transmission into first gear.
Accelerating the Patrol outfit requires considerable steering input for course correction: Under load, the sidecar wants to drag the bike right, but the chair pushes the rig left as you shift gears. Muscle memory kicks in after a few miles, but you can never fully relax while “driving” (the correct term) a sidecar. Right turns must be taken on the throttle, or the chair will push you across the road. Similarly, a trailing throttle is needed for left turns or the rig will try to go straight on. Many are the inexperienced side hack pilots who have failed to negotiate a turn and ended up in the weeds — or worse! An hour of practice in a wide open space is a good idea before setting out on the road.
Slowing the rig also requires some anticipation. Again, the sidecar wants to push the outfit to the left if you use the front brake alone, and the Brembo is effective enough to lock the front wheel on less than perfect surfaces as the front tire’s contact patch tries to deal with both forward and sideways loads. The saving grace is the rear brake, which is mechanically linked to a sidecar wheel brake. The three brakes in combination provide excellent stopping power.
The Ural engine’s lazy, torquey thrust and considerable flywheel effect make it just about ideal for sidecar duty: it’s almost impossible to stall and pulls relentlessly from low revs. Progress is steady rather than racy, but the Patrol will also cruise comfortably at legal highway speeds. Comfortable, too, are the cushy single seat, the upright riding position and the steady throbbing of the boxer motor. Revisions to the transmission have made shifting easier, but the process, downshifting especially, can’t be rushed.
But the Patrol’s métier is unmetalled roads. It’s here you can engage the two-wheel drive for almost irresistible traction. (A short lever behind the brake pedal engages the sidecar wheel drive; there is no differential, so the rig has to skid-steer in 2WD.) The truth is, the somewhat vague handling of a sidecar rig just seems more at home on a loose surface. Rambling along a two-track dirt road, the Patrol is perfectly in its element until I try a U-turn and run the front wheel off the track into axle-deep mud. No problem — I reach down for the reverse gear lever, and quickly back out again. The Patrol combines the versatility of an ATV with the load capacity and speed of a small SUV, but it’s every bit a motorcycle at heart.
We break for lunch and park up outside a Japanese restaurant in Snoqualmie Falls, Wash., and it’s when we return to the bikes that we experience what owners call the Ural Delay Factor. A small group has assembled around the sT and the Patrol. “What year is it? Did you restore it yourself?” Then when they find out both are 2010 models, we’re quizzed about the specification, price, performance and availability. Time to go.
Throwing a leg over the 2010 Ural Solo sT, I make a mental note to remember to countersteer — and to put a foot down at stop signs! That aside, the sT feels very much like the Patrol (as you’d expect), but is much livelier off the line, more responsive to throttle inputs and easier to maneuver in a tight space — attributes you’d expect from this single-track Ural compared with its chair-encumbered sister bike.
Memories of the unfortunate Wolf are quickly dispelled: Here is a bike that recalls the BMWs of the 1960s, the pre-Spandau models, and while not as sophisticated as the Bavarian boxers that inspired it, the Solo benefits from more modern suspension and far superior brakes.
The Solo also lacks the Patrol’s reverse gear, and, by extension, the sidecar drive and linked brakes. At the front, a 40mm Marzocchi telescopic fork replaces the Patrol’s leading-link suspension. A leading link fork typically works better for sidecar use, because it’s more able to cope with the lateral loads a sidecar imposes — loads that telescopic forks aren’t designed to handle. And while BMW made successful solo machines with a leading link fork right up until 1970, the extra weight was rarely justified.
The Solo’s handling is a revelation. The steering feels neutral and direct, though not really what you’d call quick. And thrown into a series of sweepers, the machine feels planted and secure. Low speed maneuverability is especially good, with the low center of gravity and gyroscopic effect of those big flywheels contributing to excellent stability. The extra punch from the reworked engine is more noticeable in the Solo, and the excellent front and rear Brembo disc brakes mean braking is smooth and effective. And while not exactly plush, the suspension is firm yet compliant, which makes for a ride free of choppiness or bone-jarring crashes.
Railing the Solo sT through a sweet series of sweepers on state Route 203 near Carnation, Wash., the chassis feels responsive yet composed, helped no doubt by the wide handlebars; while it’s no sportbike, an enthusiastic rider can maintain quite respectable speeds.
For those looking for the vintage experience without vintage electrics, brakes and carburetion, the Solo sT is just the ticket. IMZ-Ural likes to compare the sT with Triumph’s Bonneville and Scrambler, Guzzi’s V-7 Classic and the “new” Royal Enfield Bullet C5, and the sT is certainly not embarrassed in this company — though it is the only one with a 4-speed transmission.
Ural motorcycles have come a long way in a relatively short time, yet IMZ-Ural have succeeded in preserving their essential vintage character while producing fully functional and competitive motorcycles. But if you decide to buy one, don’t forget to add extra time to every journey — to allow for the Ural Delay Factor, of course! MC