Life on Three Wheels: 2014 Ural T

The 2014 Ural T continues Ural’s path of improvement, with significant upgrades to make the latest bikes the best yet to come out of Ural’s factory in Irbit, Russia.

| January/February 2015

  • 2014 Ural T
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Rolling out for the Sunday Ride at the Vintage Motorcycle Festival in Tacoma.
    Photo courtesy Lemay-America's Car Museum
  • 2014 Ural T
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 2014 Ural T
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • New hydraulic steering damper improves handling.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Sidecar is spartan but comfy.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • Final drive is smaller, stronger.
    Photo by Richard Backus

2014/2015 Ural T
Claimed power: 41hp @ 5,500rpm
Top speed: 80mph (observed)
Engine: 749cc air-cooled OHV opposed twin, 78mm x 78mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 700lb
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5gal (18.9ltr)/35mpg (observed)
Price: $12,399

The authentic vintage appeal of the Ural has always been the bike’s calling card. Nobody, not even the motorcycle ignorant, mistakes a Ural for a “new” motorcycle. Even a new Harley, nostalgia in motion with its thumping V-twin, looks modern next to a Ural.

It turns out that more than a few motorcyclists want the look of a classic bike without the hassle of actually owning one. Vintage Brit bikes are derided for leaky engines, dodgy electrics and suspect build quality, while Italian machines get dogged for being more fun to look at than actually ride and expensive to own. Enter the retro classic, a category that’s seen significant growth in the past few years thanks to bikes like the Russian-built Ural T.

Yet much like their vintage brethren, early Urals were knocked down for their shortcomings, with owners complaining of poor build quality and unreliable electrics and mechanicals. Miles of forum pages were filled with owners decrying the Ural’s failings, yet an equally large number of pages have also been filled with owners defending the Ural. In their support of the brand, Ural boosters regularly note the bike’s unique character and go-anywhere capacity, especially 2-wheel drive models. They also suggest that a successful experience with a Ural requires accepting the bike for what it is; a modernized prewar BMW R71.

Ural background

That’s not entirely accurate of course, but the Ural does have its roots in the late 1930s, when the Soviets reverse-engineered an R71 to create the Ural M72. Fast forward several decades and the old M72, now with an updated overhead valve engine but otherwise much as it was originally designed, had become a mechanical anachronism, a living fossil firmly entrenched in the past, so quirky and out of date that it was suddenly quaint and somewhat hip. In this case hip is good, because hip means style, and style doesn’t really care about rational expense, a fact that seemed to allow the Ural to soldier on long past its best by date.

But something happened along the way. Rising export sales — particularly U.S. sales, today almost half of Ural production — inspired Ural to improve its product. In 2003 the original 650cc engine grew to 750cc, receiving a better crankshaft and plain bearings in the process. Bought in components started replacing poor quality Russian bits, with a Brembo front disc brake also added in 2003, a Nippon Denso alternator coming about 2007, plus electronic ignition sourced from Ducati and new, stronger and quieter transmission gears from Herzog in Germany.

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