The Vulture's Chronicles





Performance. I admit, I had no real knowledge base for what I was about to get into when I bought my first Ural in 2007. I had done some internet research and most of the information about Urals was uncomplimentary. Mostly it was assessments of the product built shortly after Russia became more capitalist and started selling its goods to the West. In those days the engines were 650cc and the bikes were pretty crude. Disturbing.

On the other hand these authors seemed a little too prejudiced in my opinion - sort of arrogant haters of anything not made in Japan, or western Europe. There is/was a couple forums dedicated to Russian bikes and run by fanatics: example. They were a better reasoned resource. Yes, the bikes were slow compared to motorcycles. Yes the quality wasn't as good as much anything else, but the bikes were easy to repair and parts dirt cheap. Yes, the Russians improved the product every year.

OK then, that was about it as far as what I could determine. Bike ordered.

Now my "Performance" frame of reference is many years riding modern high performance BMW and Japanese motorcycles. At the time I owned a K1200S somewhere around 168 hp with 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds. I about crapped myself on my first Ural ride. 0 to 60 in a couple of weeks is what it felt like. What in hell have I just done with my money? In another performance dimension, like going around corners, I felt out of control on the maniacal machine - and I had passed side car training with flying colors. And then there is stopping. 60 to 0 in a few days. Initial reaction? This thing sucks!

But no, it didn't suck. I had the wrong mindset based in ignorance. What my head said it should do and what it really could do were not in agreement, and I lacked riding skills required to get out of the machine what it could deliver. So, once I admitted that and got onto a reality based footing things got better and, like my transition from skiing to snowboarding, improvement came on pretty fast.

Performance. Performance is a word covering a huge range of things which to most American motorcyclists means going fast. I initially owned that mindset but in time came to think more of CAPABILITY and does the machine PERFORM up to its capability. Also can the rider PERFORM WITH THE MACHINE to extract all of the machine's capability. That mental adjustment changed a lot of things for me.

In a few months I learned how to ride the bike, and how not to ride it. I learned its limits, and mine, and I began to truly enjoy riding the bike. I began to approach it as I might a vintage motorcycle, and I met other sidecar owners. They helped my understand that even if I hung a sidecar on my K1200S, the K bike would not perform very well given the added drag and crappy aerodynamics of the sidecar. Yes, I would be able to pound down the freeway at illegal speeds, but that would be the only real advantage over the Ural Patrol and I would not have 2 wheel drive, or reverse.

I even thought of mounting a sidecar to my R1200GS. There are advantages to doing that as noted above, but the cost factor was huge and I'd mess my GS up considerably. Nope, acceptance was the key and I was adjusting, if slowly but surely. And once my learning curve flattened out I began to use the bike for longer out of town rides and ventures into Forest Service roads. Each trip taught me something new and eased my adjustment.

I learned my wife liked riding in the sidecar as she had a clear view of the road and was much more comfortable than on the back of my motorcycles. She actually instigated rides with the Ural which was uncommon.

Performance. Well the bike could easily hold 60 mph and do more if asked up to 65 or so. Hills were a challenge and often I'd be in 3rd gear @ 45 mph but it got stronger with time and engine wear in. The brakes actually worked well once the things got bedded in. Corners were a blast in a different way, especially after I learned to steer with the throttle, and use my body properly.

I decided to take a week long ride down the Oregon coast, in January no less, to see how I might get on with the machine as a rig to take me to far flung places like Inuvik, NWT. There were a couple of times I wished it had more power, like when a tailgating single digit IQ redneck in a pickup wouldn't back off, or simply to get somewhere faster, but overall it was just fine as it was. I had a ton of fun riding at the speed limit for a change. I didn't have to worry about an encounter with a LEO, except in town, so I didn't miss my radar detector - instead I listened to the voices in my head and just enjoyed the ride for the ride's sake. Overall a cool bike experience.

So, to sum it up I would say think of a 1966 or so VW Van when it comes to "performance", but the Ural has better brakes and better digital ignition than the VW. A Ural sidecar rig is slow relative to top speed, but so is any motorcycle trying to push a heavy sidecar with its added drag through the atmosphere. Any more powerful motorcycle will be unable to achieve its prior performance after having a sidecar attached - it is physics. Not only that, but anything over 65 mph is less than a comfortable experience on a Ural. The 2 wheel drive rig sits tall, has a short swing arm, and is relatively narrow, so its geometry is oriented to slower paced deliberate motivation on varied surfaces.

The Ural Patrol and its siblings perform extraordinarily well for what they are. The manufacturer continues to make substantial improvements in quality control and durability. I see the products as good value for the money.

I hope this missive answers some questions you may have about Ural sidecar performance. If you can't or won't make the mental adjustment to be happy with one and truly require more speed based performance then add a sidecar to an existing motorcycle like a BMW GS or a VStrom or something else. Better yet, go whole hog and build a hub center steered high performance rig using a Hyabusa as the tug.

Just don't buy a Ural and demand it be something it cannot be. Learn to ride one properly within its performance envelope and with the right mindset and you are unlikely to find any performance limitations with a Ural.