Why do I drive a Ural sidecar?
Why does anyone do anything? Money? Fame? Chicks*?
You won’t get much of those three with a Ural.
Money goes out the door on new farkles, replacements for parts that shouldn’t have broke**. Fame is fleeting, reduced to Ural Delay Factor*** at gas stops and ice cream stands. Chicks? Well, its a sidecar. Probably the geekiest type of motorcycle around. You’ll attract the type of person who is usually unusual.
I knew I would love driving**** a sidecar before I ever drove one. I took to it naturally. I only bumped two curbs with the sidecar wheel – once on the first ride on my old 1999 Ural Tourist, and once on the first ride of my Stella scooter with Cosy sidecar. The Ural bounced off. The Cosy bounced off too, but with a slightly dented rim. No worries, it was a tubed tire and the dent was small. I never flipped either over when flying the chair.
Back to Why.
As told in the first episode of Ural Chronicles, I had mechanical issue with the 1999 Tourist from Day One. That rig had a 2 to 1 ride to wrench ratio. Ride for 2 hours and then you need to wrench for an hour. Plus, the original exploding exhaust root cause was never really found. I think I figured it out years later when reading about the Russian ‘electronic’ ignitions. To me, the electronic ignition circuit board looked like a piece of cardboard with electric componemts stuck into it, and connected together with pieces of solder layed out on the cardboard. The whole thing probably got heated over an open flame, the solder melted between components and between other solder ‘traces’ and thus, you have a printed circuit board. Kind of… Pot this abomination in epoxy – or Siberian pine tree sap – and mount it on a bike, just waiting to fail.
I sold the Tourist after too many rides that ended stuck by the side of the road.
But I really really wanted another sidecar rig.
I tried the Stella scooter. I mounted a Cosy sidecar and drove it around Boston one winter with tire studs in the drive wheel. Lotsa traction and little direct. Fun and cold. But I was 20 years younger, stupid, and didn’t mind the cold. I had a short commute too. I was never really warm that winter, but I never really got frostbite either…
Still, the Stella had issues – blown alternator, no real dealer support, lots of online help, and lot of wrenching.
I have a Yamaha TW200 and had a Kawasaki Versys X 300. Both great bikes. The TW is awesome, but slower than my old Ural. And when I tried to gear it up to highway speeds with a new rear sprocket, I ended up blowing the top end. Twice. I still have it and ride it, waiting for the next top end grenade impersonation. Still, it did take me from Boston, MA to Nova Scotia and back.
The Versys X 300 was a great bike too. I was torn between buying it and buying a Royal Enfield Himilayan. The Stella scooter was from India. It had issues, a similar ride-to-wrench ratio as the Tourist, so I was wary of Indain quality. I have heard the Enfields have improved over the last few years though.
I ended up with the Versys. Rode it all over New England, to North Carolina for the Smoke Out Rally. All great. Never a problem.
But boring. So very very boring. What fun is a bike that ALWAYS runs?!?!
And neither the TW nor Versys were likely to have a sidecar hanging off of them. Someone, somewhere did a TW with a chair but I heard he broke the bike frame.
When a friend borrowed my car and totalled it, my friendly insurance agent paid me a bunch of money for the wreck. I hadn’t driven much over 2020 due to COVID restrictions and working from home. My girlfriend has a car. What do I need another car for? So I went back to thinking about Urals.
Thinking became test rides became purchasing. Rhoades Motorsport in Loudon NH had a 2021 OD green cT for a good price. It became mine.
The first ride home was 75 miles and was great. The next day the speedo died.
The speedo has been fixed and the bike has over 500 miles in the first month. It runs great, hasn’t exploded, and has needed only the normal scheduled servicing, aside from the speedo.
This is all good, factual info, but still doesn’t answer Why?
I ride with a couple of friends. One I have know since 1st grade. The other I’ve know for more than 15 years.
My childhood friend, Mark, has been working on, among other projects, a custom Harley Davidson with a Harley sidecar. Its been a number of years tinkering with it, and it is still far from roadworthy and closer to basketcase.
But he gets it. He isn’t building the bike because it is practical but because he wants to build it. Might take 10 more years, but it will be fun to work on and fun to drive. And, at times, fun and frustrating to put back together by the side of the road.
My other friend, Andrew, rides a Ninja 300 that always starts and runs. He rides like a wild man sometimes, flogging the bike and shifting at redline in every gear. The bike never fails.
He gets it too, in a different way. He wants to ride. He does little maintenance himself, although he is capable enough to do it. But he would rather spend time riding or making music. He has spent time by the side of the road because my Stella broke down. And Mark was there when I had to rent a U-Haul and truck a broken TW200 home instead of riding with him to North Carolina. Neither of them abandoned me. Both are true friends, righteous brothers.
I told my friends I was thinking of buying another Ural. I said I was selling the Versys, keeping the 11 year old, twice exploed TW, and buying a 2021 Ural.
Andrews response –
“I’m sure I have no idea… but of those three decisions, I’d have gone completely the opposite direction in every case… Maybe get AAA with the extra moto service… or a trailer (and hitch on girlfriends car) so she can retrieve you and the Ural when the inevitable happens”
– and –
“your ex-wife one told me that if she gave you money to go and buy milk you’d come back without the money or the milk, but you’d tell her about the cool guy who sold you the amazing bag of magic beans. No truer depiction has ever been expressed. It is why she will always be 100% and you as well”
Mark simply said “You are a glutton for punishment”
Later, I sent them both a joke picture of garden tractor motorcycle –
– and said I rethought the Ural and was getting this instead.
Andrews comment –
“Earlier today I saw a dude on a Ural with sidecar (olive drab) riding up Newbury St… with a Jack Russell in the sidecar… blasting that goofy song from Pulp Fiction. Obvioulsy this is how the universe is kept in balance. Bizzaro Jay gets a Ural because you decided against it.”
The Bizarro guy with the dog. He gets it. He knows why we drive sidecars.
* – or dudes, or whatever your preference is today. Who am I to judge? I just want you to meet someone nice and settle down.
** – Urals have honestly come a long long way. Yes, there are parts that are defective on brand new bikes, and yes, you do have to maintain the beast. But the major issues of broken cranks, exploding exhausts, dropped final drives and more have been
*** – Ural Delay Factor, or UDF, is the inevitable delay due to people wanting to ask questions about the rig – “What year is it?” “Does it ride like a motorcycle?” “Does your dog ride in it?”
**** – the preferred term is ‘piloting’ a sidecar rig. I don’t like that term. I suppose it comes from the fact that sidecaes pitch and yaw all over the road like a Cessna, but I still like ‘driving’ a sidecar better. It certainly isn’t ‘riding’ a sidecar, unless your a passenger. And then you are ‘riding in’ a sidecar.