When is a Ural not a Ural?

Owning a Ural makes you do strange things.  Often, you find yourself turning off a perfectly serviceable road that leads somewhere and down a track that doesn’t.  Just to see what’s there.

This happened to me yesterday.

I was out for one of those “for the hell of it” rides.  Just a head-clearing, bit of space to think sort of ride.  And there’s something unstressed and, well, slow about the Ural that makes it perfect for that sort of wool-gathering.  Try it on a Fireblade and you’ll end up as jam, but you can get away with a lot on something Russian that moves at the speed of a glacier.

I’d ridden through Carterton.  This is a good thing to do.  And, as I was rounding a bend I spotted a sign, half-hidden in the hedges, for Shilton.  Now, I know that Shilton has a ford.  To be fair, this is all I know about Shilton.


Fords, for most motorcyclists, are things of greasy, weedy-bottomed terror.  What looks like shallow water and a simple crossing often conceals rocks, ruts and ridges that’ll throw you off like a diesel-spattered high street.  On three wheels, though, a ford is an event.  And one to be enjoyed.

So I snicked the gearbox into first and let the engine braking take me down the tight, narrow hill that leads to the ford.  Actually, that’s a lie.  You don’t snick a Ural box.  They don’t do snicking.  They do ‘throttle off – blip – pause – two – three – four – ker-LUNK”.  Imagine Ivan kicking a blast furnace door onto its latch with a size-12 engineer boot.  That’s the idea.

I rolled and wound down the hill and found Shilton Ford.  And gorgeous it was too.  There were even spectators.


One of the lovely thing about a combo is that it makes everyone smile. So, instead of grumpy people annoyed that their weekend pic-nic was being disturbed by noisy motorcycles, they waved. And grinned. There were some children, paddling and scooping around with fishing nets too, just to complete the rural idyll. And to stop me ragging through as fast as I could.

So I waited for the children to hop up onto the bank, and let out the clutch. The water came about 6″ up the wheels, and the combo pushed through without breaking step, cascading water in a glistening, dancing bow-wave. I whooped out loud for the sheer bloody joy of it and gunned the bike up the other side of the ford and up the hill towards the old RAF Broadwell. The people sitting by the ford clapped and waved.

I don’t think much happens in Shilton.

I crested the top of the hill and stopped. The bike was still hissing quietly as water dripped off the mudguards onto the exhaust. I’d planned to go and find the old Operations Block at Broadwell to take some photos. I sat there, happily, enjoying the West Oxfordshire leafyness and enjoying the memory of the ford. And, instead of heading on to Broadwell I did what any self-respecting Uralist would do at this point.

I went straight back and did it again.

So when is a Ural not a Ural? You’ve guessed by now, surely? If not – e-mail me.

8 thoughts on “When is a Ural not a Ural?

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  1. I was seriously considering one of these as my next bike, but the cost put me off. Even so, I still think there is one somewhere in my future. I think I am still searching for the vibe that my old Citroen 2CV used to give me – that was a kind of anti-car car, and the Urinal is a kind of anti-Fireblade bike.

    I definitely see a sidecar for me at some point. The dog is getting very upset at being left at home while I go off on my travels. Do they do goggles for Labradors?


    1. They’re not cheap – at least the new ones aren’t. That’s for sure. But I find myself reaching for the Ural keys before I think about my faster, better-handling R1100GS. There’s something about driving a combo that is utterly different from a solo but still has the same aspect of freedom. I farted around for ages before David at F2 Motorcycles (recommended big time) talked me into it. To be fair, I didn’t take much talking.

      You could probably find a proper Russian (politely – “interactive”, impolitely “not as reliable”) 650 for sensible money. But there are always a few around from people who’ve tried and not liked.

      I had two 2CVs before the Urinal. Miss ’em both – particularly the Charleston. A very similar vibe indeed. AND you can get a decent-sized Christmas tree in the chair, just like the roll-back roof of the Deuche.

      Best biking decision I’ve made yet. As Mrs Doyle would say, “G’wan, g’wan, g’wan.”

      And yes, and they’re called ‘Doggles”. Apparently.


      1. Lolling myself lolwards at the ‘doggles’. Thank you for that.

        My 2CV took me right round Europe, and the Dyane that replaced it did sterling work when the kids were small. The best feature was the way that all 4 seats could be taken out for a picnic and replaced in a matter of seconds. That’s civilised, in my book. And the way the Shoovie-Doo (as my F-in-L called it) could take a quarter of a ton of bricks for a building projest and still pull up a 1 in 6 hill – albeit slowly. I keep looking on eBay even now …

        I have had a couple of conversations with David of F2, and he seemed a very decent guy. But if I went the Ural route (or any combination) it would have to be a new or nearly-new one, as I don’t have the confidence to a) recognise and b) sort out any sidecar/Russian issues that arose in the way I would with a conventional bike. But it’s not ruled out. Definitely not ruled out.


      2. Glad you’ve talked to the one and only Mr Angel. What he doesn’t know about the bikes just ain’t worth knowing in the first place.

        Isn’t it odd how it’s never the ultra-reliable Toyotas of Hondas that move your soul in the same way? It’s all about interaction.


  2. I once read (no idea when or where) that marketeers had realised that developing the perfect car was not a good idea. A car that goes wrong, in a minor way and not often, creates the opportunity for good service, and a bunch of flowers in the back seat when you pick it up. People remember that and appreciate it, in a way that they never appreciate a car that just never goes wrong.

    I was in awe of the capabilities of my Honda Pan – fast, smooth, comfortable, reliable – but I never loved it. My old XT, on the other hand, that needed constant fettling to get me to work and back, is a loved companion and something I can’t see myself ever selling. Interaction (within reason – the damn thing has to work sometimes) is the key. Same with people: small faults are endearing; perfection is intolerable.


    1. Absolutely. I love the interaction with the Ural – the way it needs constant fettling to keep it running happily. Nothing taxing, nothing difficult – but if you don’t check the valve clearances, adjust the brakes, clean the water out of the float bowls, change the fluids, she’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.


  3. That’s brought some memories back. A friend and I bought a BSA A10 (Road Rocket) with double adult Canterbury sidecar around 1965, it cost us a fiver – we were eighteen. The chair had been slept in by some vagrant for several weeks having been left in an open car park. We cleared out the fag ends and bottles, then set about getting some spark. A drop of juice and Redex in the tank, and we were in business. After much tidying up, the two of us set off on a B&B holiday around the West Country.

    Tarr Steps in Somerset was one ‘venue’. Like Mark, we saw a sign for ‘Ford’ – that was enough! After a long incline, we arrived at these marvellous stones set up as a clapper bridge crossing the river Barle beside a wide Ford. After surveying our prospects, we ventured in – huge fun – 1st gear and lots of revs, water about a foot deep and an undulating bottom. Turned around and went through again – had to! Climbed the slope and began descending another, when a little maroon Riley 1500 came up the single track lane towards us. Braked – nothing! Drums still soaked in water. Tried harder, no good, so I drove the sidecar into the bank – twice, redesigning the chair nose in the process – still we proceeded towards the Riley which eventually brought us to a stand when we made contact, putting a dent in its from bumper at about five mile per hour. Very apologetic we explained our situation, the old boy and his family had been out for a jaunt, and was quite OK with it all. We exchanged the usual, but never heard from him.

    It was on that trip I bought a three foot long brass coach horn, and took to blowing it when passenger on the way home. Happy days! Such sidecar travel is rather like 1950’s caravanning – in miniature, complete with ‘damp’ smells! It takes a desire to be different – but enormous fun.


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