Until now, riding a Ural sidecar has been an exercise in survival. With engineering dating back to before the Second World War, things like performance, handling and braking were, in lieu of a clever analogy, just plain terrible. For the first time fitted with fuel-injection, disc brakes on all three wheels, a hydraulic steering damper and dozens of other changes, the revised 2014 model range is supposed to fix all that, dragging these classic bikes into the realms of modern performance and safety. Can they? Find out in this world exclusive 2014 Ural Gear-Up Sidecar review.
An awful lot. To its classic 749cc boxer-twin, Ural has fitted fuel-injection. It’s a clever system equipped with an ECU for each cylinder, with the pair talking to each other to maintain a balanced idle. Such a setup also builds in redundancy; the bike will still run even if one ECU is knocked out.
That fuel-injection combines with a new camshaft profile and larger airbox to boost power and torque, while also creating an incredibly flat torque curve. With all-metal bodywork and, well, a gigantic metal sidecar hanging off the side, the Ural is a heavy bike. So it needs that torque.
As an interesting aside on weight, this gigantic, three-seat, Siberian-made, all-metal contraption weighs in at 730 lbs (dry), which is 40 lbs less than the lightest bike (the Road King) in Harley-Davidson’s “Project Rushmore” touring range. It does that while carrying a spare wheel and tire, shovel, jerry can and spotlight, and while making enough room to take your dog along for the ride. It even fits a reverse gear.
Back to the topic at hand. A total gain of one horsepower and three pound-feet over the carb’d bike may not sound terribly impressive, but a Ural employee confided to RideApart that these new numbers are honest, whereas the old were…optimistic. The changes also net an improvement in fuel economy from 26 mpg highway/33 city to 31/37 and up the useful highway cruising speed from 65 to 70 mph.
In addition to improving acceleration, Ural also set out to increase braking power by replacing the rear drums with discs. While the motorcycle wheel is clamped by a Brembo caliper, the sidecar wheel makes do with a Hayes Braking caliper. Why? Apparently Can-Am was worried about the Russian competition and told Brembo not to sell the third-wheel setup to Ural. Both rear calipers are operated by the same foot lever.
Swapping the brakes also allowed Ural to redesign its wheel hubs. Not only are they now substantially lighter, but the drive splines are now bolt-on affairs, allowing for replacement and servicing. Before, you’d have to replace the entire wheel hub. A new final drive housing also sheds additional weight.
We’ve saved the biggest upgrade for last. Old Urals used an archaic friction-type steering damper that was mounted on the steering head. A sidecar has a natural tendency to turn right while accelerating and left while decelerating, a “feature” that has led to instability and which required massive effort on the rider’s part to maintain a straight line of travel. The new hydraulic damper (as found on many modern sportbikes), halts the initialization of those movements, whereas the old mechanism merely turned down their severity after the vehicle was already wobbling. If you haven’t ridden a Ural, you may not understand what an enormous change this represents, drastically reducing rider effort while massively increasingly stability and rider confidence. This change alone makes the 2014 bikes feel like totally different machines.
For 2014, Ural has also fitted stronger, lighter forged aluminum triple clamps and a new-style headlight/instrument binnacle which more neatly integrates the two.
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Helmet: Schuberth S2 ($700, Highly Recommended)
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($937, Best Riding Suit In The World)
Gloves: Aerostich Luxury Cowhide Winter Gloves ($200, Highly Recommended)
Boots: Aerostich Combat Touring ($370, Highly Recommended)