But don’t let their old school exteriors fool you. Iffy reliability earned Ural a bad reputation in the '90s, so the Russian manufacturer worked hard to modernize their lineup and reclaim their standing as a rugged, dependable brand.
I piloted Ural’s latest T model ($9,999) throughout Seattle to see how this retro ride stacks up against modern machines, and to find out if this affordable sidecar is really as fun as it looks.
The Goods: Everything Old is New Again
For instance, front and rear shocks are made in Italy by Sachs. The forks’ leading link design, though archaic, actually works better for sidecar handling than do conventional telescopic units. Also hailing from Italy are left and right controls by Domino, an ignition system by Ducati Energia, and full-floating, four-piston front brakes by Brembo. Stopping power is (mildly) augmented by Ural-made drum brakes on the rear and sidecar wheels.
The 4-speed transmission has German Herzog gears (who also supplies KTM), and the shifter features a heel lever for upshifts, while a small chrome lever above the brake pedal engages a reverse gear. The bike’s air-cooled, horizontally opposed 749 cc twin engine is essentially a BMW knockoff made in-house by Ural, but its twin Keihin carburetors originate from Japan, as does its Denso alternator. Twin stainless steel exhaust pipes flank the bike. The boxer engine’s stated output is 40 horsepower and 38 ft-lbs of torque, and given its relatively tame state of tune and 5.0 gallon fuel tank, the Ural T’s cruising range is appropriate for reasonable touring distances—though an optional jerrycan offers added peace of mind for serious interstate hoppers.
The hack’s passenger compartment is relatively sparse, but the padded perch is reasonably comfortable, and the nose offers plenty of legroom. The passenger compartment rests on rubber bushings for shock absorption, and an optional windscreen and skirt significantly enhance the passenger riding experience. Just aft is a storage compartment that’s roomy, but isn’t lockable.
The ‘T’ model only comes in a matte black finish with maroon pinstriping which looks great at a distance, but closer inspection unfortunately reveals that the striping is taped on.
Throw a Leg (Carefully) Over: Ergonomics, Russian Style
The view over the handlebars reveals an elemental, back-to-basics layout with typical left and right hand controls (thanks to Domino) with a speedo front and center and a steering damper just behind it. Twist the knob and steering gets stiffer or looser, which helps fine-tune stability when road surfaces are uneven. Left and right foot pedals control shifting and braking, and while the hand lever operates the front Brembo brakes, the foot pedal works the drums on the rear and side wheels.
On the Road: “That Looks Like Fun!”
For starters, stability is more of an issue with sidecars than it is with modern three wheelers like the Can-Am Spyder or the Piaggio MP3. One-wheel drive sidecars (unlike offroad-ready two-wheel drive models) are relatively crude ways of propelling a wheeled structure alongside a vehicle originally intended to travel solo, and the first thing you’ll notice is its tendency to want to turn right when you accelerate. The uninitiated will soon develop the instinct of steering left in order to counteract the pull, but what takes more practice is shifting. Lifting off the throttle for a shift makes the bike yaw back to its original axis, which means that your pushing on the handlebar is now making the bike wiggle.