Riding

Why it takes longer by Ural

You don’t buy a Ural to go fast.

Urals are Russian motorcycle combinations, built like tanks (but slightly heavier) and rather slower.  Based loosely on the 1930’s design for the BMW R71, they’re still made in Siberia.  That means they’re designed to deal with Siberian roads and weather.  Speed is not important.  Da.

Flat out, with half-an-hour’s run up, my 650cc combo will manage almost 60mph.  Almost.  At that speed, the engine noise resembles a tumbledryer full of spanners falling down the stairs of a towerblock.  If you have any mechanical sympathy at all, you’ll slow down a bit.  If you haven’t any mechanical sympathy, you won’t be riding a Ural for long anyway.

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But you can click off the miles quite quickly enough on a Ural, despite the tortoise-an-hour speeds.  While your friends on their Tupperware-tastic crotch rockets (I’m only jealous because I’m criminally slow on a sportsbike) are stopping every 50 miles to refuel and stretch, you’ll be clackker-clackkker-clackkering away happily until the tank’s empty.

Despite this, you can never get anywhere fast. This is because of something Uralistas call “UDF”. It’s short for “Ural Delay Factor”.

It’s quite simple. You park anywhere – petrol stations, high streets, car parks, the supermarket – and people come and talk to you. I like people, so it’s a joy. If you’re a misanthrope, don’t buy a Ural, buy a Honda. No-one talks to people on Hondas.

The standard questions are pretty predictable:

– what’s that then? (It’s a Ural, made in Russia)
– how old is it? (2000 – yes, it really is modern)
– did you restore it yourself? (no – like I said, it was made in 2000)

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But Urals seem to make anyone sociable. People are happy to come up and talk, and often tell you all sorts of things about their lives and histories. Often the initial questions are just a way of starting the conversation. They want to talk – about all sorts of things…

The grandfather they miss who had a bike and sidecar. The sidecar-borne, summer honeymoon in 1940s post-war France. The teenage years spent racing sidecars on windswept bomber airfield tracks in Lincolnshire. And the much-loved husband – now dead – who bought a bike and sidecar as his first family transport.

A sort of mobile confessional perhaps.

I’ve never been late so often since I bought the Ural. But stories like these are precious. They’re worth every minute.

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