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2009 Ural T Motorcycle Sidecar Review

Ural’s New Recession-Friendly Offering Priced Under $10,000

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating
User Rating 3.5 Star Rating (5 Reviews)

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2009 Ural T Motorcycle Sidecar Review
Photo © Basem Wasef
Motorcycle sidecars are some of the most nostalgically evocative rides you’ll find on three wheels, and at first glance Ural's products appear unchanged despite decades of production.

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

Urals are still manufactured in Russia, and 99 percent of the bikes built at their factory in Irbit are destined for other parts of the world. Though every single part on their bikes was once built there—from nuts and bolts to major components—the Ural parts bin has since become a melting pot of global suppliers.

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.

Photo © Basem Wasef

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

Hopping aboard the Ural T is just like straddling a regular bike, except you have to maneuver your right leg just ahead of the metal bars that connect to the sidecar and just aft the air intake for the right cylinder. That setup is fine for shorter rides, but if you like to move your leg around might feel a little hemmed in by the hardware. The rider seat is a tractor-style saddle, and can be adjusted to slide forward or back.

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!”

Photo © Basem Wasef
There are decent odds you’ll bear the brunt of two opposing forces when decide to ride a motorcycle sidecar: cautious two-wheelers will forewarn you of their demonically unpredictable handling characteristics, while complete strangers will cheerily announce, “That looks like fun!” The former might attempt to doom and gloom you out of exploring the sidecar lifestyle, while the latter are probably one breath away from actually climbing into the hack for a joyride. You’ll probably know if you’re Ural material after about ten feet of riding one of their unusual machines.

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.

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User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 4 out of 5
2010 Ural-T Owners' Review, Member JohnMerrell

The Ural is a unique machine, as all sidecar rigs, but with a lot of character due to it's lineage and classic design. With that said, I tracked the development of Ural since 1990 when I first viewed one in Germany at a motorcycle show. They were poorly built and had many quality control and design issues. However, Ural took a serious look at these issues and took postivie action to improve overall quality, reliability, fit and finish and customer service. For example, many of the components, such as Ducati electronic ignition, Brembo front disc brake, Nippendenso alternator, Hertzog gears and bearings, Kehien carbs and Sachs shocks have significantly improved quality and reliability. Metalurgy issues have also been upgraded. So how good is the Ural today. I purchased my 2010 Ural-T and now have 5800kms on the clock. I performed the break-in process carefully, which is critical to the longivity of these machines; a fact based on the 1939 design. I have had a few minor issues primarily due to poor service I received at the dealership I purchased the bike from. Fortunately my experience is rare as most dealerships are very good. I had a few issues the first few weeks; a ground wire came unsoldered from turn signal switch, all four tires needed balancing, rear drive splines were dry and the sidecar light lenses cracked. The fix was relatively easy; I resoldered the ground wire, lubed the drive splines and had the tires balanced. My dealership mailed me a new sidecar light lense, but it was cracked in shipment; I epoxied both lenses and have ordered replacement lenses from a Russian Ebay source. During this time I contacted other dealerships and Ural headquarters in Washington state. These folks bent over backwards to resolve my complaints promptly; best customer service I've ever recieved from any motorcycle dealership(I've been riding over 40 years and owned many different machines). There is another ""quirk"" concerning these rigs; the carbs are set way too lean at the factory to meet EPA requirements. After I shimmed the carbs(a $6.00 kit from Crawfords') the rig really ""woke up"" and runs great. With that said, anyone considering a Ural must fully accept the design limitations of these machines. They are quite happy cruising along at 55-60mph, they get reasonable gas mileage at about 30mpg on high test fuel, they require more frequent routine maintenance(fluid and filter changes and valve adjustment) and you have to be more ""in tune"" with how it shifts, brakes and handles. Remember, this is sidecar rig designed for utility and owner performed maintenance. Most of us who own the newer rigs have found them to be most satisfactory for what they are. They're fun to ride, draw a lot of attention, are safe and reliability isn't a major concern. There are more examples of satisfied owners' on the Russian Iron and Soviet Steads forums. The most important factor is what year model Ural you are talking about. I would say prior to 2008 these rigs had a lot of issues. Since then Ural has done a very good job of improving on the overall quality and reliability issues of their previous efforts. Customer service is of the highest level; try getting a response from any other manufacturers' headquarters staff via email or phone. Most dealerships such as Mike's Cycles in TN, Gene Holopaws in FL and Terry Crawfords in MI are responsive and honest brokers. But don't kid yourself about the performance of the Ural. If you want performance you will be sadly dissappointed. The new Urals' offer the enjoyment of a design specific sidecar rig, capable of long leisurely ridden miles and the simplicity of owner performed maintenance. The newer Urals are also holding their resale value significantly better than the older rigs. With the proper attitude and understanding of these machines, you will enjoy not only the ride, but the scenery you ride through as you'll be traveling at slower speeds. If you see an unpaved road you'd like to explore or stop for a picnic, you can confidently go. You have a real reverse gear which allows you go manuver effortlessly. There is plenty of storage space in the sidecar trunk, and you passenger will be very pleased with the room in the sidecar. You can talk to each other, and your passenger can see so much more than if they were sitting behind you. A sidecar rig is more visable to other traffic and you don't have to worry about loose debri on the road; you might slide a bit, but you're not going to go down! It's not a high speed interstate machine. Many have attempted to increase the horse power to obtain higher speeds, but it's not designed to go fast, so you run into handling issues which are not safe. Accept the Ural for what it is designed to do, and you will not be dissappointed.

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