Custom: Ural Solo X by Hammarhead

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Know the party we threw at the Ace Hotel New York two weeks ago? That was to unveil the Hammarhead Solo X. Based on the Ural sT, James Hammarhead set out to boost its off-road ability in order to make it even more of a go anywhere, do anything machine. That didn’t just mean fitting knobbies and tougher suspension, Hammarhead relocated the air intakes into a cutout in the tank so the bike can ford streams.

Photos: Ryan Miller and Enrique Oliva

“The sT was attractive because it is an elemental motorcycle, but this also made the build a bit of a challenge,” says James. “There was not any plastic to strip off, Urals are apparently made of metal.”

The Neuropsychologist by day, custom bike builder by night apparently agreed with the assessment of the Ural sT we made after riding it back in 2009 — it’s a great all-rounder, but it’s the surprising off-road ability that really makes it unique.

“I got to know the Ural sT providing support for our Pier 18 video,” says James. “I spent three days running from the dirt and gravel at the location to destinations all over Philly — grabbing stuff for the crew. The Ural is perfect for ratting around in the dirt then shooting through traffic to grab that much needed Hoagie. The bike is low and long, but not big.  It felt much smaller than the R100 I rode in the early ‘90s. The bike’s suspension was well dialed in and the build quality was excellent. It seemed crazy but I felt the bike needed to be prepped for off road.”

“Even though the sT is very basic, I stripped the bike further,” continues James. “The instrument cluster was removed and new headlight selected that could swallow all the electrics. The correct handlebars were found hanging in the shop and these were fitted out with basic switchgear and internally wired. The bars are capped with Oberon bar end LED turn signals. The ignition switch relocated under the seat and the speedo mounted to the transmission. The deeply valance steel fenders were replaced with alloy units that were re-arched to fit the 18 inch wheels. A simple LED taillight is all there is out back as the bar end signals are visible from the rear.”

“Much of what was needed to protect the bike off-road was available from Raceway Services. They provided crash bars, skid plate and the awesome high pipes [which are also used in single-sided form on Ural sidecars]. Jim Petitti at Raceway also advised me to install Power Arc Ignition System, which is the only engine modification we made.  The head temps are considerably lower with this system and there is less delta in temp between cylinders.”

“The high pipe introduced a new problem on the bike, the high exit made the airbox intakes seem poorly placed – particularly for a spirited stream crossing.  While thinking about the exhaust I had looked at some fantastic images of 1940s R75 and early Ural M72s. Once the high pipes were a go, I went back to the R75 for inspiration regarding the intakes.  To replicate the tank mounted air box of the BMW R75 rig, I cut the bottom out of the Ural in tank tool box.  A pass through air box was formed in the tank that could accommodate two conical K&N filters. We had fabricated and tested 1 3/4 intake tubes before the air box tank was made, now these were fitted inside the tank.  The exhaust and intakes required a slight re-jet of the stock carbs but otherwises no changes were needed. When the winter weather breaks, my first outing with the bike will be a deep stream crossing at a farm just outside Philly.  Looking forward to getting drenched.”

One problem we encountered with the sT was a high-speed wobble that’s apparently characteristic on older BMW airheads too. “Clearly the frame is being pushed beyond its capabilities,” explains James. “The go to move on the R90s and R100s was to brace the swing arm.  But, another option on these bikes was to set the front end up perfectly, add a fork brace and put on state-of-the-art rear shocks that were also set up correctly. Then the problem would go away. Ural has developed the bike since you rode it  and the rear shocks have been improved. I took the bike to our AXIS shock guru and we tried some of their bodies but nothing worked well. Finally we just set the front end up as perfectly as possible and put heavier springs on the Sachs shocks.  This really helped the high speed handling and I think further modification of the frame is not needed.”

It’s no secret that we’re enormous fans of James’s Triumph Scrambler-based custom, the Hammarhead Jack Pine. Since the Solo X seems to set out to achieve something similar, we asked him what sets the two bikes apart. “The Jack Pine is a modern bike freed of the crap piled on it by the man, the Solo X is a vintage bike freed of all the crap piled on it by the man,” James describes. “Maybe less plastic but crap none the less.”

“But overall, the sT is a fantastically spec’d bike,” he continues. “Adding better brakes or pumper carbs would be a waste of money — I had Del’orttos on it but the heads do not like more fuel, it runs better with less fuel and cleaner timing. So we did the one performance mod really needed — the ignition. The Ural/BMW R75 is an odd design that has been maintained in a weird homeostasis, constantly in production but never really evolving. To be honest, this was a challenge given my desire for a modern bike.  But in the end, the bike won me over. 1) the running gear is first rate, 2) the feel and sounds are right, 3) it is fucking simple and robust, 4) kick starter 5) very nice off road. Weakness — what a nightmare of a wiring harness.”

“Great as the bike is, what did we do to make it better? Well fuck, it can cross a stream and still has a 30-inch seat height. And it lost some weight.”

“What the Solo X really delivered is the same vibe as the Jack Pine but in a long and low form — and a stronger vintage connection.  Very spare and lean from the riders seat. Feels much lighter than it is and has nothing in the way of just riding the fuck out of it. Again it is a striking change,  just the basic elements without the idiot lights, bulbous turn signals, huge fenders and ugly side panels.”

“Is the Solo X more of a styling exercise than the Jack Pine and Woodsman?  Maybe. Does it make sense to buy a $12,500USD Ural sT?  Maybe to some. I expect the usual ‘I could do that in my garage for half the price’ crap and I truly hope people do. I want this bike help sell stock sTs. We might put out the fenders and speedo conversion as accessories. The bike is a great bridge for us as we prepare the CRF based bike and I really want to do a sidecar in the future. I think it is the last matte black Hammarhead bike for a while.”

We asked James what the deal with the solo seat is. “We were calling the bike ‘The Traktor’ even before the seat came on the scene.  There was the crazy tank/seat interaction. I had a short bench seat made up with the plan of de-seaming the tank. I figured making the air-box would be the hard part and we could just grind off the seam in three-inch sections and stitch weld it up, like we did in the past on Minis to make them more aerodynamic. This turned out to be impossible because the top and bottom halves of the tank are not even close to the same shape, hence the big ass seam. The air box was easy, most of it was the down tube saddle so we lost only one-gallon (total capacity is now four gallons). We removed the knee pads and minimized the rubber trim. The bench seat just did not work with the seam. As soon as I set the Traktor seat on the bike I was sold. Kinda fun to ride with it as well — springs like a scooter seat.  Plus the bike pulls like a fucking Traktor.”

Solo X
Price: $12,500
Concept: James Hammarhead
Assembly: Hammarhead Industries
Base: 2010 Ural sT
Power: 745cc Twin
Output (hp): 40 @ 5600
Torque (ft-lbs): 38 @ 4500 rpm
Length: 2160 mm (85.0 in)
Wheelbase: 1490 mm (58.7 in)
Seat height:  760 mm (30 in)
Ground clearance: 170 mm (7 in)
Dry weight: 192 Kg (425 lbs)
Build Time: 90 days

Carburetion: Keihin L22 AA
Air filter: Modified K&N
Exhaust: Raceway Services
Ignition: Power Arc Optic Ignition
Suspension & Brakes
Front: 40mm Marzocchi telescopic
Rear: Twin Sachs Shocks w/Progressive Springs
Front brake: Single 295 mm full floating disc, 4-piston Brembo
Rear brake: Single 245 mm disc, 2-piston Brembo
Wheels: 2.5 X 18 Alloy
Front Tire: Duro HF-308, 3.5×18″
Rear Tire: Duro HF-308, 4.0×18″

Bars: no name flat bars
Fenders: no name alloy
Skid plate: Raceway Services
Engine guard: Raceway Services
Speedo: Koso with custom cable
Switch gear: Emgo
Turn signals: Oberon Performance
Taillight: Street Magic

Hammarhead Industries

We’re sharing the exclusive on the Solo X with BikeEXIF.

There’s 19 photos no one else has in this gallery.

  • Peter88

    That bike looks great!

  • Pete

    I think what I like most about Hammarhead’s designs is the inspiration is gives to home tinkerers. With a little assistance (like a machine shop for brackets and a muffler shop to bend some pipes and weld some stuff) I bet most people could come pretty close to making their own Ural sT look like this.

  • Brendan

    That’s a pert backside.

    Love the pipes.

  • ErikT

    Very nice.

    For some reason the proportions of having the rear fender so much higher and the front fender barely off the tire doesn’t seem to work for me…maybe if the front fender was raised another inch or so?

  • Robbo B

    Great pics and a neat looking motorcycle. Can anyone tell me what is the brand of leather jacket that the bloke who is sitting on the bike is wearing? It looks like a Mars Leathers from Elizabeth St in Melbourne Australia.

    • hammarhead

      good eye, yes they are mars leathers purchased in a second hand shop (Newark DE) in 1985.

  • Mauricio

    These guys keep hitting them out of the park. It is impossible to be indifferent to their bikes. I wish them well. And I wish myself $12,500 some time soon.

  • Scott Pargett

    The new bonnie they ‘built’ was pretty ‘meh’ in my opinion, but this one is very cool. The fact that there’s a photo of the build with a rider on it speaks volumes.

    If they decide to open a store with most the aftermarket parts required to do a similar build, they’re about to do what so many people should have and wish they did do years ago.

    • Wes Siler

      You didn’t ride that “bonnie” (it was a Scrambler), it’s understated, yes, but utterly awesome. If Grant or I had the cash we’d have James build us one. Seriously, we were just talking about this yesterday, it’s a perfect motorcycle.

    • Cajun58

      WTF is ‘meh’ anyway?

      • Wes Siler

        It’s Internet speak for “I’m jaded and this doesn’t merit attention by my superior intellect.”

  • Michael

    OK, Wes, now get James together with the CCW guys and give us something awesome and still affordable for the masses.

    • Wes Siler

      Ha, I’ve already told him that!

    • Nate Berkopec

      Dear god. My wallet…it hurts.

  • DoctorNine

    Simplicity is its own reward.

  • MotoRandom

    I’m paying $1.99 a month for all of this profanity? Fuck yeah!!! I went to the Minneapolis cycle show this weekend and I was pretty ‘meh’ about all of the new plasic missiles but got very excited about the Ural. I could actually ride in snow with the 2 wheel drive sidecar. Now Hammarhead has to suck me in further by showing the possibilties of these funky old school bikes. I think I am now blessedly doomed to own one of these anachronisms.

  • Liquidogged

    My 1990 ZX11 goes 7 times as phast, suckazzzzz! Plastic cruz misile is da best!

    No, I’m not actually like that. But as nice as this bike is, sometimes I get that dollar-to-performance ratio twinge when I see builds like this. Now, there are many kinds of performance and my ZX11 isn’t going offroad, ever. I guess it’s just a bit hard sometimes to look at a 12-13k bike that doesn’t do anything that much better than a late model Japanese dual sport which costs thousands less. In my opinion, bikes like this offer the illusion of brutal, effective simplicity, for well-heeled buyers who don’t actually NEED that, but are willing to pay for the feeling of that. Most riders who want to do the kind of riding this bike is intended for are going to shrug and pick up a 1992 KLR650 on fleabay for 3k already built to the hilt and loaded with farkles.

    Does that make this bike any less cool? No. But it does give pause when the apparent design intent is simplicity and off-road effectiveness. Again, what is for sale here? The ability the bike provides, or the feeling the bike gives to riders who can afford this? And I’m not hating on those riders, either – more power to them.

    Just a thought.

  • Ilya
    • pavinguire

      +1 Ilya, eloquent as always…

      • Ilya

        You know, I wasn’t a big fan of Malevich work until I saw one of the versions of the Black Square in person in the Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg. It was in the big empty hall without other paintings on the walls. It’s simply amazing how this thing organize and energize the space.
        As far as Solo X from the design point of view, I think that the central part of it is the vertical line which goes from the seat support down. James exposed it by removing the side panel. It gives the bike huge energy boost, and make it look like it’s ready to jump. I don’t recall other motorcycles with such articulated vertical lines. Very impressive (for me anyways).

        • pavinguire

          absolutely, on all counts. Such simple things make such a big impact… I still like the look of the side panels, I think they suit the shape of the stock fenders :)