In Soviet Russia, Sidecar rescues you. We’re not in Soviet Russia

Dailies, Galleries -

By

Last week, Motorcyclist joked that we were going to need a helicopter to get the Ural Wes crashed out of the mountains. We’re not Motorcyclist, so I headed back to the mountains on Tuesday lugging my trusty tool chest and a few parts that Ural sent over. I wasn’t sure if the parts would fix everything, but I was hell bent that I wasn’t going home unless it was aboard a Russian sidecar. Here’s the story of how I saved Hell for Leather’s reputation (and Wes’s ass) and got the Ural out of the mountains.

Photos: Sean MacDonald

Wes crashed 18 miles from the off-road camp, which itself was at least 120 miles from home. One look at the Ural was all it took to know it wasn’t rideable. A motorcycle has no problem fitting in a truck, but our truck already had two and a 900 lb Russian sidecar isn’t really a motorcycle. And besides, there was a broken arm that needed attention. I hopped on and limped it 1/4 mile down the road to a safe, out of the way, spot where I hoped it would stay until a rescue mission could be launched.


View Larger Map

As we headed back to camp two-up on the Yamaha WR250R, I started the mental checklist of what I needed to do to fix things (Wes and I prefer mostly quiet spooning). I was certainly going to need a Ural leading-link front end, a willing and able friend with a truck, some tools (I could do it all with the factory tool kit, but real tools would make the job much quicker) and a jack (though a big log could work). Once Wes was handled, I’d go back, fix it and ride home. With the experience and mechanic skillset necessary to deal with the situation, blowing a few hundred dollars on a flat-bed to bring the Ural home just seemed wrong. The thing has a tool roll and camo paint! Being a pussy isn’t an option.

Tracking down the parts
You can’t just walk into your local Ural dealership and pick up a front end. First, Urals are more rare than limited edition MV Agustas. Second, [REDACTED NAME OF DEALER] and the last time we stopped in there the good ol’ boys inside actually threatened Wes with violence (“…if he doesn’t get off his fuckin’ high-horse, I’m gonna go out there and put him underneath that bike…”). The pirates would have lost the fight, but they’re the kind of openly racist (“…if he keeps talking to me like I’m his nigger, he’s gonna find out I ain’t!”), young-person hating (“I’ve been riding Triumphs since before he was born!”) people I never want to see again if I can avoid it. Instead, I email Ural directly, explain that there has been a minor incident and I need some parts. Ural’s tech Jason wastes no time getting a front end delivered to my door.

Getting back to the mountains
Parts in hand, my next task is pinning down the truck and the buddy. Wes is out of the question. His arm splinted and in a sling means that any truck would have to be an automatic, a rarity among our friends, and he’s also incredibly busy with work on account of his sad, slow typing. After a long go-round of brainstorming possible options, Wes and I land upon Josh. Josh, we agree, would be a perfect candidate. Turns out we aren’t talking about the same Josh. The correct Josh, as Wes informs me after the fact, works as a mechanic for Piaggio USA and is an off-road nut, and would have been a supremely good option in this case. But Josh Siler is a friend of ours and I have his contact info on Facebook, so he gets my call. Even though he couldn’t tag along for the adventure, he’s nice enough to lend us his truck. Awesome. Parts and truck sorted, Sean MacDonald generously gives up his day to go along with me, document the rescue mission, and drive the truck home while I head back on the (fingers crossed) fixed Ural.

We get on the road (but not as early as planned; I think we both stayed up too late the night before) and before we even make it 10 miles I realize I’ve forgotten my jack. We pull over, call Wes for advice, he suggests we check to see that the truck still has its factory supplied bottle jack and, finding it does, keep going. We get into Arrowbear around 12 noon, eat greasy diner food and then hold our breath as we make our way down the dirt roads to where the sidecar was left over a week prior. Miraculously, it’s still right where it was left and it hasn’t even been vandalized.

Assessing the damage
When Wes first crashed, I was more worried about his injuries than the bike. He’d told me stories of Urals’ ruggedness, even going as far as to say that Grant once rolled one into a ditch at 35mph, pushed it back over and kept on going as if nothing had ever happened. Unfortunately, Wes proved that Urals do not possess magical super-strength. They’re made out of steel and aluminum just like everything else and when you crash one, it is probably going to break and bend. I only had a split second to look at the damage before taking Wes to get medical attention. Our particular Ural Gear-Up obviously had a severely bent fork assembly so I brought those pieces back with me. But there are a laundry list of things I don’t catch until I’m back to wrench on the bike: the bent side-car drive-shaft, bent bars and at least one bent triple clamp. This is when I gave up, left the Ural for dead, drove back home in the truck and called the flat-bed.

Just kidding. This would be a lame story if I wasn’t determined to ride home on the thing. The triple clamps are only slightly bent, which is good because I wasn’t about to play with steering head bearings and grease out in the dirt. The bars I could live with and, for all I know, I could have bent them trying to muscle the bike around before Wes even got on it. The drive-shaft is the only worrisome part. I check out the beefy U-joints and the cage protecting my leg and ankle if it were to break before deciding that I would do my best to ignore it and deal with that later. Once I’m confident that I have enough stuff to make it rideable I get to work.

Commence Operation Ural Repair
The first order of business is getting setup in a good place. I choose the hard-packed dirt on the widest part of the road, hoping that I’ll be able to to find washers and tools when I drop them. I find a suitable piece of wood to cushion the motor, grab the jack from the truck and start cranking to get the front end in the air. If you plan on trying this yourself on your own broken Ural in the dirt, it’s important to note that the bike should be in gear and the real wheel secured with a large rock. Nothing bad happens if it falls off the jack while you’re raising it up, but it sure is frustrating. My plan for the front suspension repair is to remove the wheel, then the fender and finally the entire suspension assembly. However, the front axle has a reverse thread cut in it and only gets tighter if you turn it counter-clockwise. Things don’t get any easier after this.

After unsuccessfully beating on things with a hammer (that’s where all good mechanics start, right?) I decide that it’s time to try things the hard way. The axle is already loose at this point, but because the suspension is so bent, it refuses to come out. First to come off is the brake and brake arm, then the U-shaped lower link. I carry it back to the truck and then go back for the shocks, remove the six 5mm bolts that hold the fender on, note the fact that the suspension was bent badly enough that it contacted the motor and marvel at the fact that the frame (probably) managed to stay straight.

At this point it looks like actual work has been done on the bike. Most of the front end is disassembled and all that is left are the two boomerang shaped stanchions and fender. These are held on by pinch bolts on the lower triple clamp, and by a taper and large bolt on upper clamp. My plan is to loosen the pinch bolts, jam a flat-head screwdriver in the gap (to release any pressure), loosen the huge upper bolts and whack them with a rubber hammer. In theory, the stanchions should drop out without a hitch. In practice, everything is so bent up that it takes about 40 minutes worth of beating and wrestling to get them out.

I know better than to try installing the new front end fully assembled, so apart it comes and it goes in the same way the old one came out: in pieces. I figure out that one of the triple clamps is bent when I can’t get both stanchions to slide in smoothly. No worries, they’re just bent steel tubes and a little force isn’t going to break them. Hammer, wrestle, hammer, wrestle. Phew. I get close enough to use the bolts to pull them through the rest of the way. Next up: beating them into alignment so that I can install the U-shaped lower link. Just a few taps and it slides into place. Add the shocks, then the fender and brake bracket and it’s starting to look like a crazy World War II contraption again.

Now all that’s left to do is install the front wheel and brake caliper. This part should be incredibly easy. Unfortunately, the wheel is still attached to the old U-link and it’s sitting in the bed of the truck. MacDonald pitches in with some twisting, pulling and hammering and we finally get the axle out. Ok, put the wheel on the bike. Wait. Fuck. Shit. Crap. The axle threads are pretty nasty looking. All that pounding from earlier did a number on them. It’s time to sit and stroke my beard for a minute while I consider my options.

Unfortunately, I can find no alternative. I use a sharpened screwdriver (because everyone has one of those laying around in their tool box) to clean the threads up a little and in it goes. My plan was to do things real smooth and cool. No fast movements, no hammers. Just slow, smooth and forceful. Breathe in, breathe out. Remember to turn it the wrong way to tighten. Somehow, the threads straighten themselves out and disaster is avoided. Bolt the brake on, drop the bike off the jack and I’m done.

Almost. There’s a gigantic mess to clean up. MacDonald springs into action and the tools are picked up in less than 5 minutes. I was so excited I did a helmet-less brake-slide. We drop the toolbox in the sidecar (I figure the added weight certainly can’t hurt), strap it in, gear up and we’re off. The Ural doesn’t drive straight, but it didn’t before either. It handles pretty well with all that weight in the sidecar though. To go left, come in way too hot, roll off, slide and then roll back on to straighten out. To go right, pick a nice, wide arcing line, come in slow and then roll open to full-throttle to get the rig sliding. It slides better going right and with more control, but if you get it wrong, the stakes are pretty high. If you get a left hander wrong, you just slide to a stop and look like an idiot. Back on pavement, the handling is more of the same, just scarier. I make it safely to a gas station, then text Wes a photo of the running sidecar.

On the rode home
Gas up, apply chapstick to crusty burnt up lips, drink a liter of water and get on the road. The ride down 330 is fun and makes me wonder how expensive it is to keep tires on these things. All systems appear to be working well. Hop on the 210, accelerate to top speed (between 75-90 depending on wind, hills and the shape of the car I’m drafting), settle down and start paying attention to anything strange the bike is doing. This is when I remember the bent drive-shaft. Ural builds an authentic old-school machine that rattles and vibrates, but not usually this much. I decide that I’ll just ignore it and it’ll probably stay together at least until I’m home. Afterall drive-shaft is already bent, and the U-joints look like they can take the abuse. An hour later, top speed starts to drop off to 65 mph or so. Bad sign. The last time this happened is when I rode it home from Boss Hogg with a dragging sidecar brake and the outside wheel started locking up on the freeway.

I’m pretty sure that the speed drop off is resulting from something drive-shaft related, so I stop for gas and decide to check things out. The drive-shaft hasn’t straightened itself, but it’s also not any worse. The diff (that’s basically what it is) is leaking slightly from the drain plug, but so is the motor from four different places. I let it sit for 15 minutes, then touch it. Ouch. Still too hot to touch. That’s a bad sign. I text Wes and Ashlee to let them know what’s going on and twiddle my thumbs while I wait for boiling oil to cool off. Thirty minutes are used for the pit stop, then it’s back on the 210. The regular top speed has come back and traffic is light.

The sun sets and I realize that the headlight is aimed at the moon. No big deal, it’s just a round single light mounted with one bolt and some rubber pads on either side. I’ll just reach up there and pull it down. Bike dies. I almost panic before realizing that my left arm turned the key as I was reaching up to pull on the light. Turn the key, bike comes back to life, and I try for the headlight again. If adjusting your mirrors while driving is illegal, what I’m attempting to do would probably be grounds for arrest. Holding the throttle wide open to avoid getting run-down on the 105, while holding the bike straight with the same hand, I yank the headlight into place. It takes a few tries, but once there, vision through my dark shield is much better.

Now it’s just a few more miles down the 105, hang a right at the 405, three miles and I’m home. I arrange the bikes to make room for the rescued Ural and shoot a photo of it safe and sound back in the garage before hauling myself up the stairs to pass out. Job done.

  • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub sean (the roommate)

    This is another one of those stories Grant needed to write after getting the story from both people.

  • nick2ny

    I’ll say it first: that parking spot in the last photo is totally sweet.

    • Scott-jay

      Before reading nick2ny’s comment I thought, Hang on, Sean. Your motorcycles won’t always be parked between paint-stripes.

    • Devin

      People must think whoever owns that spot has motorcycle A.D.D.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    This might be my favorite ever HFL post. (Except for part where Wes broke himself. That’s kind of a bummer.)

  • Kirill

    At least one of the Seans involved in this is a real man’s man.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub sean (the roommate)

      That’s true. Spending my late teens and early twenties focusing my time on learning to teach America’s youth instead of how to wrench on motorcycles makes me a totally unmasculine pussy.

      • Kirill

        Given the current economic circumstances, at the very least it makes you underemployed.

  • Devin

    Ilya is either pissed you wrecked his demo ride, or giggling at the whole thing. Considering the Russians I went to school with and that Wes will survive, I’d say giggling all the way.

  • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

    My favorite part: “. . . it’s important to note that the bike should be in gear and the real wheel secured with a large rock.” The invisible “don’t ask me how I happen to know this” made me lol. Great story, Seans.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    Urals: Built Ford Tough.

    Awesome story, and no one got hurt! Wait…

    • Ilya

      How about “Wes: Born Ural Tough”?

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I’m going to get the IMZ-Ural triangle thing tattooed on my wrist.

        • Ilya

          Didn’t know they can do tattoo on the cast.

          • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

            I’m sure there’ll be occasional times in the future in which I don’t have a cast on this arm.

            • Denzel

              Tattooing bike logos on the related injured body parts is not a bad idea… a road map to good stories…for you, not me…

              • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

                Then Wes could be a tattoo model.

                • dnos

                  Horrible idea. I’d have dodge on my ribs and gti on my forehead.

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Bravo good sir, bravo.

  • HammSammich

    I just love the satisfcation of planning a mission like this and executing it succesfully. Great Job! Also I still really like the idea of a Ural for commuting in our snowy Eastern Washington winters…Hmm…

    • muckluck

      Living in Wisconsin I have seen what the salt does to a fairly new Ural(07-09)…not pretty but I have been half tempted myself.

  • Denzel

    “Not being a pussy”… one of the great motivators. Great story.

  • matt

    You just got yourself way out front for the 2011 buddy-of-the-year award with this.

  • dux

    It might have been easier to bring 3 friends and load it into the back of a pickup, but this way was more fun.

    • Devin

      And possibly not caused damage to the shaft drive or whatever it was that cause the overheating. The great story was worth it though.

  • Audun

    Do I spot a Guzzi Stelvio in that parkinglot?
    I love the story!

  • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

    bitchin’ rat tail!

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Being a pussy is not an option! Good attitude!

    Who’d have thought a Ural rescue could have been such an adventure… but I guess in Soviet Russia, buying milk at the shops is an adventure!

  • moto1337

    You guys need a reality TV show.

    • matt

      please no. let the madness end

    • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

      Hell no.

  • DoctorNine

    Stories without trials and tribulation are boring.
    This one was not boring.

  • Steve

    Best HFL story yet.

    From your experience I’m going to start keeping a thread file with my on-bike kit. $8 and 6 ounces for the certainty that since I have it I’ll never need it.

  • DAVID

    ” His arm splinted”
    didn’t you mean “His arm splintered”

  • jason

    Great job.
    The question is:
    How do you fit your feet through the legs of those gay ass skinny jeans? (Pic 8)

    • HammSammich

      He gets your mom to help…

      Totally joking, sorry I just couldn’t resist. :)

      • jason

        Good because my mom lost both of her hands in a horrible skinny jeans incident.

        • HammSammich

          HA! Funniest thing I’ve read all day. Although, I think it would be best if I forgo trying to relay this to my curious co-workers who are wondering why I’m cracking up at my desk…

      • muckluck

        It doubles his wardrobe with his girlfriend/so?

  • jason

    Do you guys ever read about that Mr. Cob guy on AdvRider? I’m gonna have to browse some of his trips to see if he ever banged up his hack this badly. Good to know that the forks can fold like regular tubes do.

  • Trevor

    Skinny jeans, the dress code of New York?

    Great story. Looked really hot that day. You must have been proper tired in the end.

  • Chris

    Do I spy an XR-100 er 120 in your parking spot?

  • stabmaster

    That ural is dope! Where do they sell urals in Los Angeles?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Check out their dealer in Ventura.

      • BMW11GS

        They have enfields there too

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

    Sunscreen.

  • zato1414

    Captain America, Thor, Wolverine, all wrapped-up in one! You guys could start a Ural Rescue Service. Great job and a top ten story.

    I couldn’t tell the crashed machine from a new one, definitely built Ruskie tough. Not even vandalized…

  • Corey

    Is that a mullet or a rat’s tail you are rocking? Someone needs to put some scissors in his toolbox.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Rat tail. Sean’s bringing back warped tour.

  • John

    Epic!

  • Sean Smith

    I’ve been away from a computer for a few days, so no commenting for me.

    Here are the answers to what everyone is wondering:

    The parking spot: The GSX-R and XR100 are always there; I own those ones. There’s almost always 1 press bike, but lately, it seems like I’ve got a minimum of two (WR250 and Moto Guzzi Stelvio). Having a parking spot that looks like that makes me feel pretty damn cool.

    No, you can’t just load it into the back of a pickup. At least not any pickup I have access to. I’d need to take the sidecar off and that would likely take as long as fixing the front end, which I’d have to fix anyway, so I figured I’d just do the work on the spot. I wish I would have grabbed sunscreen though.

    Yes, the rat tail is real. Yes, I realize what I look like.

    Skinny jeans aren’t gay, even if I do have to help Wes into his sometimes. Up until recently, people wore clothes that fit. Skinny jeans are just jeans that are shaped to fit human bodies.

    If you’re looking for a Ural in LA, seriously check out the dealer in Ventura.

  • http://themotolady.com MotoLady

    Well done Sean. And well written! I laughed out loud quite a few times.

  • Archer

    I do think it’s odd to redact the name of a dealer in one part of the article and still mention it in another…