Wisconsin Winter Coming? Andy Doesn’t Care
By John Gunnell
Tim Schneider owns “The Shop” and specializes in service and repair of non-American bikes. Andy Pain may qualify as a “typical client” in Tim’s customer base, if the Milwaukee, Wis., shop has such a thing. But Andy certainly isn’t a typical Wisconsinite. He rides his motorcycle 12 months a year—even in winter!
“I don’t own a car,” Andy said with a sense of pride bubbling through the words. “I have three Yamahas at home and I ride the motorcycle you see here almost every single day.”
“Here” was the alley outside Tim’s shop in an ancient factory complex in an area somewhere east of Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport. The bike that Andy was getting ready to straddle had 1930s styling and a sidecar. “You ride that gorgeous antique bike in the snow and cold?” we asked.
“Oh, it’s a 2007 Ural Patrol,” smiled Andy, as if he had answered the question a few times before. “It’s made in Russia.” He explained the Patrol is a civilian version of a military bike with a design that dates to before World War II. “If you want it to look military, it also comes in ‘camo,’” Andy advised. “But I liked the Dark Blue that they don’t offer now; 2007 was the last time you could get it.”
The history of Ural motorcycles began in 1939, during the Soviet Union’s pre-World War II planning. Realizing that war with Germany was imminent, Stalin ordered the military to prepare. Knowing what the Blitzkrieg had done to the Polish Army, the Russians knew it would be important to have mobile forces.
Legend has it that the BMW R71 seemed to most closely match the Red Army's needs and five R71s were pirated to Russia. Soviet engineers reverse engineered them and copied the parts. Early in 1941, prototype M-72 motorcycles were approved for production. One of the five BMWs still survives in the Ural factory museum. A more likely story is that the BMW factory supplied the construction drawings and casting molds under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Whatever the reality, a factory in Moscow was soon producing Ural M-72 sidecar motorcycles. When the Nazis invaded, it was decided to move the motorcycle plant eastward, out of bombing range. An old brewery in the small town of Irbit, in the Ural Mountains, became the home of a massive new production facility. On October 25, 1942, the first M-72s were sent into battle. Over the course of World War II, 9,799 M-72 motorcycles were made.
After the war, the factory was renovated and the 30,000th motorcycle was produced there in 1950. In the late ‘50s, a plant in the Ukraine took over the manufacture of Urals for military use and the Irbit Motorcycle Works (IMZ) started building Urals for domestic civilian consumption. The bikes were popular and the plant switched fully over to civilian production. Exports started as early as 1953.
Urals offer a unique combination of low price, ageless styling and sidecar functionality. In November 1992, the State-owned factory was partly privatized. In early 1998, private interests bought Ural. While the appearance of the engine retained the classic look, quality control improved. Better alloys, castings and engineering tolerances were used. Better paint and chrome made for a nicer bike. The new owners kept all the best features, including the inherent balance of a horizontally-opposed flat twin engine (with roller bearings) in a solid frame.
The majority of bikes built in the Ural plant today are heavy-duty sidecar motorcycles designed for rough Russian roads. There is also a custom Wolf model. Ural motorcycles are equipped with four-stroke air-cooled flat-twin engines, a four-speed gearbox with reverse gear, shaft drive, a twin-disc dry clutch, spring shock absorbers and drum brakes. New solo and sidecar models have been developed recently to better suit the tastes of Western markets.
Andy described his Ural Patrol as “super reliable.” He says that he even used the bike to pull out a car that was stuck in slippery snow. “I was on dry pavement, which helped that rescue attempt work,” Andy revealed. “But the guy in the car was quite impressed.” Andy showed us the electrical cords dangling from his sleeve. “I wear heated clothing,” he admitted. “And I bundle up, too.”
With its knobby tires, the Russian-built motorcycle scoots through the snow. The two-wheel-drive Ural has a drive shaft that connects the cycle to the sidecar. “Older models even had a differential,” Andy noted. “This would cause the sidecar’s wheel to lift and they changed the arrangement for safety reasons.”
“The people who get these bikes love them,” said Andy, who also owns a pair of Yamaha XS1100s (1980 and 1981) and an early 1980s Yamaha TT 600 Enduro. “When you ride a Russian bike, you just accept that fact that you’re not going to go 100 miles per hour on it. They are not fast like a Japanese bike”
Wearing heated clothing and hand and face protection, Andy Pain “feels no pain” when riding his 2007 Ural through the harsh Wisconsin winter.
The Patrol is a civilian version of a Russian military bike with a design dating back to the ‘30s. Stylingwise, buying one is like buying a new antique bike.
The almost horizontal mounting of the spare tire gives the permanently attached sidecar a rear old-fashioned look.
Liberal use of salt on Wisconsin roads and highways has given some of the shaft drive components and related parts an “earth tone” tint.
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