BikeReview's Paul Bailey goes off the beaten track with the Ural Ranger sidecar, an offering designed for tough conditions! Test: Paul Bailey, Photography: Kris Hodgson
Ural Motorcycles were first established in 1939 and there is considerable debate as to how and why the Ural was first built. Some say that the USSR was planning to enter WWII and needed a utility motorcycle that could match the German BMW R71.
One story is that some BMWs were purchased through Sweden and then reverse engineered by the Soviets so as to copy the BMW, other stories suggest the plans were stolen. There is also a thought that the Germans actually gave the Soviets the plans as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which was to share technology between the two countries. The USSR was concerned that Germany may try to invade, so plans were laid to prepare for war.
The motorcycles were originally made in Moscow and by 1941 the first test bikes were produced and Stalin immediately approved production. By late 1941 hundreds of the M-72 motorcycles were being produced.
There were concerns that the factory in Moscow was too close to the Germans Blitzkrieg and it was decided to move it to a small town in the foot of the Ural mountains, Irbit. Here the production of these war machines would be safe from Bombers. In October 1942 the first of the M-72 motorcycles went into battle, while over the course of the war 9799 were built and delivered to the front line of the war.
Interestingly, also in 1941, Harley-Davidson somehow managed to produce a war bike that had a lot of similar attributes to the BMW. The Harley had a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder engine of 750cc, shaft drive, rear spring heal suspension and side valve cylinders and heads with one carburettor per cylinder.
This was vastly different from the traditional Harley of the time, a V-twin, chain drive and no rear suspension. Harley only made parts for a 1000 of these machines that were for the army. It is thought that only about a third of these bikes were completed and saw military use, which may have been because the conflict in North Africa was drawing to a close and the WLA 750 was out classed by the BMWs. The WLA 750 was the American military bike of choice with over 70,000 being produced and used in the war.
By 1950, 30,000 Urals for military use had been produced. In the late ’50s the factory in Irbit, under the name of IMZ ( Irbit Motorcycle Works), began the production of civilian models of the popular Ural motorcycle. Meanwhile the military production had moved to Ukraine and continued to produce military bikes. By the ’60s the Ural had become so popular with Russians that they were one of the main vehicles in the country.
Urals have since been exported to most countries in the world, and as early as 1953 it was realised that there was a market overseas for these three wheeled models. Eventually the company was invested in by the Russian government, management and employees, all getting a percentage of the profits. In 1998 it was solely bought by a private concern and there was no longer Government involvement.
The company has since gone on to develop and manufacture different models of the very popular sidecar, most seeing use in Russia. However, the trend for the Ural is growing around the world, as it is the only sidecar motorcycle in production and as such is not a compromise in design; it is truly built to be used as a three wheeler and nothing else.
2018 Ural Ranger Sidecar – The Ride
The model I have been testing these last two weeks is the Ural Ranger. It’s the same basic bike as the other models offered, except it has been set up for the more adventurous among us. It includes extras such as a shovel, fuel can , spare wheel, extra racks, and a tool kit you could rebuild the bike with.
The styling is a real throwback to the original models but there are all the modern touches you would expect on a 2018 motorcycle. It is fuel injected, has disc brakes on all three wheels, has reverse gear, electric and kick start, a simple but modern dash, hand brake on the left handlebar, and easy to use controls both on the bars and at your feet.
The suspension is Sachs coil over shocks all round, while the sidecar is isolated from its frame by some rubber buffers that look very serious. There is an Bitubo steering damper as well and Brembo is used for the braking system of the Ural.
Tyres are the typical narrow style that are a nice compromise between bitumen use and off road. I do mean off road too – the Ural can be taken off the beaten track and ridden with ease through soft sand or soil, creeks, mud and any other terrain that can be thrown at it.
You do of course have to be mindful of the sidecar and where its wheel is going when off road, it’s not going to go where a trail bike can go, however it can easily handle any of our outback roads if you put your mind to it. The seat is also broad and comfortable, ideal for many kilometres before you need to rest.
Around the suburbs, the Ranger is just a simple fun sidecar. It’s not the quickest thing to ride but, it will easily sit on the motorway at cruising pace or roll around the back streets of the city. With the very torquey 749cc twin it will pull away well from lights and you quickly start to enjoy the simplicity of the design and appreciate why it has lasted for so long.
With the sidecar a permanent attachment you obviously can’t lane split anymore and you are car bound in that respect. You are still riding a motorcycle though, enjoying all the benefits of fresh air and being out in the elements, not locked away from them like in a car, but you do have the advantage of not being able to easily drop the bike.
Three wheels also mean far less worries about rain and wet roads, oil spills or debris on the road. You never have to put your foot down to balance the bike when stopped and there is also the convenience of the reverse gear, fantastic!
The engineering is simple but it is also done tough, for example the front wheel axle has a pinch bolt on one side. It’s not your 6mm light weight item like you might find on other brands, no it’s a proper 12mm bolt with nut that will never break or fail!
In fact the whole bike has this theme of toughness. Just about every part is over-designed and over-engineered for a long life and little need for replacement. You really can see why the Ural has been so popular for those countries that have poor roads and isolated towns or country to travel though. It really would take something massive to seriously bend this bike.
Is it a bike for Australia? Yes, if you are the right person for it. By that I mean you need to have the temperament or personality to understand what the Ural is and enjoy what it offers. It’s not for everyone, but neither is a Yamaha R1 or a Harley-Davidson.
The Ural Ranger has its place in our motorcycling world and certain people will recognise that and buy the Ural for what it is. I don’t think it is limited to age alone, I think if you want something that can be taken almost anywhere without the fear of falling off or getting caught out in bad weather, or if you have issues with strength in holding a solo up, the Ural could be a natural choice for you.
The Ural’s versatility with the sidecar to carry three people or a massive amount of luggage (or anything that you can fit in) is one of the real surprises and benefits. The Ranger is a lot of motorcycle and sidecar and to the right rider it will be money well spent.
Ural Ranger inclusions
Ural Australia offer three model options, the Ural cT (from $21,780 +ORC), the Ural Ranger as tested (from $24,970 +ORC) and the Ural Retro/M70, which sees its final year of production in 2018 (from $24,970 + ORC).
Standard inclusions on the Ural Ranger include: Enduro Bench Seat, Rear Passenger Footrests, Tonneau, Luggage Rack, Spare Wheel, Sidecar Bumper, LED Spotlights, Jerry Can, Shovel, Sidecar Auxiliary Outlet, Toolkit, and Fuel Tank Glove Box.
There’s also a number of optional extras available, such as custom paint options for $1000, or the Camo or Pattern paint options for $1500. You can also opt for a blacked out engine, gearbox and final drive for an additional $1000.
Ural Australia also offer a host of spares, accessories and apparel on their website.
2018 Ural Ranger Sidecar
Price: $24,970 RRP + ORC
Warranty: Two year, unlimited kilometre
Colours: Burgundy Satin, Slate Grey, OD Green
Claimed power: 41hp@5500rpm
Claimed torque: 56.9Nm@4300rpm
Dry weight: 332kg
Fuel capacity: 19L
Engine: Air-cooled, four stroke, OHV two-cylinder boxer, 749cc, EFI, electric start, kick start
Clutch: Dry double disk
Gearbox: Four forward, one reverse, shaft drive
Chassis: Double loop steel tube
Seat height: 785mm, Wheelbase: 1470mm
Suspension: Leading link forks with Sachs shock, Double sided swinging arm with Sachs shocks
Brakes: 295mm front rotor, Brembo caliper, 256mm rear rotor, HB caliper, 245mm sidecar rotor, Brembo caliper
Wheels & Tyres: 4.00 – 19in tyres, three cross-spoked wheels plus reserve wheel
Instruments:Analogue speedo, with digital display
2018 Ural Ranger Gallery
The Verdict | Review: 2018 Ural Ranger Sidecar