Since last year I am a proud owner of an Ural Ranger 2016 from IMZ (Irbitsky Mototsikletny Zavod), a Russian manufacturer of heavy sidecar motorcycles. Let me tell you the background story first, why I finally chose to buy one of these.
Why I bought a pile of Russian steel in form of an Ural Ranger
In 2014 I bought a new car, a Land Rover Discovery 4 HSE. You may call me outdated, but I like massive, edged, archaic and heavy cars. I had a motorbike aswell, a Triumph Tiger 800 XC.
2015 we got a dog, Higgs the Irish Terrier, who turned into a true friend very fast and accompanies me every single day. The problem was, that I could not take Higgs with me on the Triumph Tiger, so I used the car more often and the bike began to decay in the garage.
Since I am still an ingrained biker, I started to think about a solution for the misery in 2016. I soon found out that the quite familiar company Ural still manufactures it’s sidecar motorcylces in Irbit/Russia. They also went through massive quality improvements, since they have their headquarter in Redmond/USA.
I did some more research and this thing seemed to be a perfect solution for my dog and me. Imagining how I would look on this ancient looking beast was great. But I was still unsure if this would be a wise choice. My family and my friends did not help me with the decision either, some of my acquaintances even flipped me the bird. My father-in-law is a BMW fan for example, driving a BMW K1200S –nothing more to be said.
Just blame my parents!
Although I am 35 years old, my parents are still thinking that they may influence my life. They insulted me off not reaching adulthood and throwing money out of the window, when I first told them about my idea buying an Ural.
Well, in their narrow-mindedness they did not allow me to ride an ordinary motorcycle when I was 18. “As long as you live under my roof…”. That did not stop me of moving out and buying a bike in those days. Some things just never change.
So there I was, getting infected with the Ural virus, browsing the net for info every day. I was unsure and temporizing for months. But one thing had to happen, which completely changed my mind.
Chance brought it about…
In August 2016 I came back from work at 4.30 AM in the morning, nothing unusual since I tend to work at night. I parked my Landrover in front of my house in Vienna and went to bed. This was the last time I saw my car. The next day it was gone, stolen, vanished. There were just some pieces of smoked glass on the sidewalk from the broken side window.
Hell, I was frustrated!
I work like a slave through the night. As a self-employed I am ripped off by the government, I pay my car taxes every year, insurance, the parking permit, the freeway toll, half of the gas price is mineral oil tax, … And then the police officer tells me, shrugging his head, that this is already the 8th stolen Landrover this day in Vienna. And very likely, I will not see my car anymore.
„That was the moment, where I decided to f**k the world and buy myself a Ural sidecar motorcycle!“
– Someone famous –
And you know what? That was the best I could do. In October 2016 my Ural Ranger arrived at my Austrian dealer Congenia GmbH, ready for assembly. A week later, it was ready for pick up.
A new chapter in my life as a motorcylist
I had to drive home to Vienna, which is about 200 km one way. It was quite cold, and the first 100 km did not strike me with confidence. Forget everything you know about motorcycles, this thing is completely different to drive. The sidecar is pulling backward when accelerating, dragging the whole rig to the right. When braking, the sidecar is pushing forward, which makes your curve radius in a right-hand bend significantly larger. I was lucky when I experienced this the first time, since there was no oncoming traffic at that moment. To make things more interesting, the sidecar wheel may get airborne in faster right-hand turns. Rolling-over is definitely possible, especially with an empty sidecar.
But despite this apparently horrendous quirks, by the time you become accustomed to it. You start to adapt your driving stile, taking care of the Ural’s characteristics. I am now slowing down before beginning a turn to the right, and avoid to brake to the apex of the bend like I did earlier. It’s even easier to get around a right-hand corner when you apply a bit of throttle, since you are basically “overtaking” the sidecar. Left handers are easier, there is not much to do wrong.
Overall, I am really proud of my Ural Ranger. It’s archaic, it’s massive, it’s heavy … and Higgs loves to sit in the sidecar, looking through his dog googles, putting his nose into the wind. Nevertheless I would not recommend an Ural to everybody!
Big, heavy, indestructable
I like old mechanical, sturdy things, which need more force and determination to operate. That’s why I am wearing an old IWC chronometer instead of an Apple Watch. The Ural Ranger is neither fast, nor sporty. It’s not a fashion item. It’s a working tool, moving slow but steady and under any circumstances, and it is easy to maintain. Grease it, change the oil on a regular basis and use it like it is designated to be used.
Don’t try to misuse the Ural for street races, it will not go faster than 110 km/h anyway. Instead go out into open country, throw the lever for two wheel drive and experience how this thing will plow through mud and snow. Or how it impressingly crawls up and down the hills. There are steep passages near Vienna where I got stuck with the Landrover Discovery. Now I am driving up there masterfully with the Ural.
Of course, I am not sitting on a heated Windsor leather seat with air suspension anymore, but you know what? Screw it, driving the Ural is much more fun!
One more thing – Photography
The Ural Ranger is the ideal photographing vehicle. I bought a jet helmet for the Ural, because the field of vision is much larger than with a full face helmet. This helps to experience the world around me when cruising with my Ural. It makes me feel closer to the nature, scanning the surroundings, looking out for awesome scenes or objects to photograph.
With a jet helmet, I can also use the camera viewfinder rather than being dependant on the camera screen.
I often put my camera bag in the sidecar, so that I may stop anytime and have the Fuji right at hand. One time I even stood up on the seat of the Ural to get an unobstructed view over a fence. That’s easy and takes just some seconds.
And since the Fuji’s have quite protruding controls, I don’t even have to take off my gloves.
Overall I am really happy with the Ural Ranger 2016. It’s incredible and peculiar at the same time, that a 70 years old Russian design is still able to move you effortlessly through a day in the 21st century. When you’re honest, you don’t need all those fancy gimmicks they are trying to sell you today. Traction control and ride by wire for motorcycles, LED lights, adaptive suspension, Wlan, bluetooth, apps, all this things are nice as long as they work. But do you really need all those gadgets in order to get from point A to point B? Do you really need 180 horsepower in a motorbike?
After owning two Hondas, a Yamaha Fazer and a Triumph XC I must admit to myself, that I am not missing anything driving the Ural Ranger. And I am not intending to buy a car in the near future! Every car I would like to have will get stolen anyway.
And the best of all: No Eastern bloc thieving band will cast an eye at an Ural Ranger. Since they hate their own poor man’s vehicles, I don’t live in fear anymore 😉
Please don’t steal my images – just kindly ask, if you want to use one of them. All rights reserved.