Mar 10

Why a Ural

by in Company Vehicles, Editorial

As we mentioned in the last post, we’ve decided to get a Ural for our upcoming Round-the-world adventure.

The reasons behind this choice, and related concerns, are something that may interest anyone who’s been following our journey, or is considering traveling with their canine friends.

Some Backstory

Bandido (Kay's Dog)

As many of you know, when we returned to the states we discovered that my dog (Bandido) was broken. When we left he was literally the friendliest dog in the park. When we returned he bit Dachary, and snapped at or bit other people in the park. We don’t know what the dogsitters do, but we heard, after the fact, that they had some problems with him, and we can only assume he was abused in response. After nearyly a year of careful rehabilitation he is only beginning to return to his old self.

Ben (Dachary's Dog)

 

They didn’t have any problems with Ben Dog and he seems to have come through the process relatively unscathed, but both of the dogs are family, and our next trip will not be short. We’re expecting to spend a year, or more, out on the road, and you can’t leave a dog for that long. Either you see to it that they find a new permanent home, or you bring them along. We’ve decided to bring them along.

Bringing them introduces a whole host of logistical problems, and one of the biggest is transportation…

The Options

Dog Trailers

There are a variety of motorcycle Dog trailers out there, but we’ve got a number of concerns with this idea.

  1. Most of them are either designed with small dogs in mind, or expect larger dogs to be subjected to extremely limited motion.
  2. Most of them look like they would result in an incredibly uncomfortable ride when going down dirt roads.
  3. Only one of them has what we would consider an acceptable level of ventilation (the Bushtec Tow-Tow). Drive through a desert with a dog in something like the Wags trailer and you’ll probably cook your dog’s brain.
  4. You can’t really see what’s going on with your dog.

A dog trailer would let us keep riding the bikes we love so much (our BMW F650 GSs) but we’d feel disconnected from them. Are they doing ok? Maybe. Do they look like they’re overheating, or freezing? Can’t say. Do they need to pee? No clue.

If we did go with a dog trailer it would probably be the Bushtec Tow-Tow, but we’re just not comfortable with the dogs being out of sight for every day of a long journey, and I have serious concerns about them being bounced around when not traveling on pristine tarmac.

The Tuk-Tuk

 

We were playing around with the idea of traveling by Tuk-Tuk even before we finished the last trip. They’re just so ridiculous.

While we could probably fit a person and two dogs in the back of a Tuk-Tuk there would be very little space for anything else and attaching luggage is not easy. We could take two…

There are a couple reasons not to use a Tuk-Tuk. They still have old-style vespa shifters, which are obnoxious, and switching into first gear is actually somewhat painful for me. Also, they don’t go very fast. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we are somewhat concerned about the idea of traveling in something that’s almost as wide as a car but only half as fast. Also, they have teeny little wheels which aren’t great for suspension and will wear out pretty quickly. Replacing them would be easy in some countries, and nigh-impossible in others.

On the other hand, Tuk-Tuks are pretty cheap if you pick one up in a country where they’re commonly used… and oh-so-ridiculous.

But, regardless of any of those pros, or cons, we need to make sure that the dogs will be comfortable and not freaked out by riding in whatever vehicle we choose, and unfortunately there’s no good way to acquire a tuk-tuk in the US.

The Can-Am Commander

 

We discovered the Can-Am Commander Limited 1000 at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in New York, and seriously considered the idea for a while. The dogs could ride in the mini-truck-bed just behind us, and we could figure out a way to rig up some storage.

The thing we liked about this option is that in a Commander you’re still out in the elements. You’re not separated from the world you’re traveling through, which is one of our favorite things about motorcycle adventuring. The idea is also ridiculous, which is a plus for us. We love the idea of traveling the world in inappropriate vehicles.

Unfortunately, they get horrible gas mileage (the Ural’s mileage isn’t great either), they can’t get very far on a tank of gas, and while there is space for the dogs, it would require some very creative thinging to come up with enough storage space to hold everything we’d need for a year-long adventure with dogs. Plus, we’d miss out on the sheer joy of motorcycling, and physically they’d be a lot like sitting in a car, only with more bugs.

Sidecar Equipped Stella

Image CC Bruce Turner

Again, wonderfully ridiculous. Not quite as ridiculous as a Tuk-Tuk, but still… We loved this idea, but the sidecar just isn’t big enough for two dogs, it’s got the same tiny-tire problem as a Tuk-Tuk, and it simply wasn’t architected to have a sidecar attached to it. Also, it probably wouldn’t fare very well on crap roads.

Then there’s the price. You’d want a new Stella, so as to make sure you had the 4-stroke engine, and to gurantee the correct break-in procedure was followed (something scooter riders are notoriously bad about). That will set you back $3,600. The sidecar’s sold separately for $2,100. Then add in the assembly, and other fees and you’re looking at $6,000. But, you’d need two since you can’t really fit two dogs in one of those sidecars for hours on end.

Financially, and practically, it just doesn’t make sense when you compare it to a Ural. On top of that there’s the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with those scoots. I absolutely adore the idea of them. I think they are gorgeous, but I hate riding them. I owned one once, and rode it for 32 miles before selling it. Every mile I rode it I hated it more. It’s also where I learned how uncomfortable that ancient shifter design was for me.

The Ural

 

Urals are old-school tech and require a lot more maintenance, more frequently, than our BMWs. When we first visited a Ural dealer last December, we were a little dismayed by the maintenance schedule he gave us. Basically, at the rate we traveled, we’d have to change the oil every two weeks, we’d have to rotate the tires every 7-10 days, and do myriad other little nit-picky things that we just don’t have to worry about on the Beemers. Plus they’re carbureted, which is great when it comes to finding a random bush mechanic to work on them – but we’ve never really broken down the carbs on a bike and dealing with a carved bike with the type of altitude changes we did on the America trip wold be a PITA.

Fortunately, some additional searching has turned up a number of riders who’ve managed to go on grand adventures on Urals with no indication of any need to rotate their tires every week, or change the oil every two. Hubert Kriegel, is one of the most well known, having traveled around the world for eight years on his.

But when it comes to the other options…

None of them seem to work for us, for various reasons. Stellas are bad because the shifter bugs me, we’d need two of them, and I don’t think they’d actually stand up to some of the terrain we expect to encounter. The Urals we’re looking at are 2WD, and we could get away with one Ural for carrying the dogs, and the other one of us could just ride one of the Beemers – couldn’t do that with a Stella. And Urals can’t exactly go fast, but they’ll go faster than a Stella with a sidecar.

We want to acclimate the dogs gradually and teach them to love whatever vehicle we use. Unfortunately, we can’t do that with a Tuk Tuk, as we would literally have to fly somewhere with the dogs and buy one and hope it worked out. We really value having a vehicle we can outfit just so ahead of time, and take plenty of test trips with the dogs to get them used to traveling, do what we can to make them comfortable, and prepare for the road. Can’t do that with a Tuk Tuk, but we can do it with a Ural.

Dachary won’t even consider the bike trailer. I can’t really blame her. The Commander is a fun idea but never really got past that phase… so Ural seems like the best fit, even if it does require a persnickety maintenance schedule, potential difficulty of finding parts, and the inconvenience of dealing with a carbed bike at altitude.

These bikes are also infinitely customizable. There’s something really appealing about a metal sidecar that you can weld, cut or bodge practically anything to. We’ve seen some great setups for adventure motorcycling with these bikes, and we have some fun ideas of how we can mod them to make them more comfortable for the dogs on a long motorcycle trip.

And then there are the communities of Ural fans. Plenty of forums exist for bikes, but the Ural communities are different somehow. It’s a running joke that you can only get these bikes up to 65MPH on a good day, it’s not uncommon for Ural riders to have the bikes sitting for weeks or months while they’re waiting on parts, and it’s pretty typical for Ural owners to either learn to do some pretty involved bike maintenance, fork over a ton of money to the dealer, or get rid of the rig.

And yet, in spite of it all, the people who ride these bikes LOVE them. The experiences they describe with their Urals aren’t like any other motorcycling experience we’ve encountered or read about. They seem to bear the inconvenience with a grin and be so, so happy with these bikes – frankly, we’re curious. We want to find out why these things are so great. After visiting the dealer a couple of times, they’ve grown on us… it just seems like the most practical solution, plus a nice side dollop of a potentially awesome new motorcycling experience.

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5 Responses to “Why a Ural”

  1. From Rita:

    What about a royal enfield with sidecar? I don’t know how reliable they are, but there is a dealer in new Hampshire – http://www.nationalpowersports.net. I have bought bikes from them and had mine stored & serviced there. They were so nice, they even offered to drive to Massachusetts to fix a problem with my bike.

    If the enfield is more reliable, it may give you another option. It has the same old-school style as the Ural. Might be worth a look.

    Posted on March 12, 2012 at 6:46 am #
    • From Kay:

      There are three big reasons to go with a Ural over a Royal Enfield.

      1) The Ural was actually built from the ground-up to have a sidecar attached to it. Royal Enfield’s have to be modded to have a sidecar.
      2) Two wheel drive. Your standard bike with a sidecar attached is still just powered by the rear motorcycle wheel.
      3) a bad-ass sidecar. The one that I’m seeing bolted on to most RE’s is they same one people attached to Stellas, and many other vehicles. It’s much smaller than a Ural’s (would never fit two dogs well) and definitely not designed to handle crappy Mongolian or Khazikstani “roads” which frequently look as if they’ve been used to test bombs.

      Posted on March 12, 2012 at 10:33 am #
  2. From Ken:

    Enjoyed reading your South American story on ADVrider. Personally I would go with BMW 1200GS with the side car:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJVGGEToQUQ

    Posted on June 7, 2012 at 12:49 am #
    • From Kay:

      The problem there is a) crazy expensive, b) no reverse, c) no leading link suspension, d) no 2wd e) even heavier f) not designed for a sidecar g) unlimited mileage warranty on the ural. Now, you could add the leading link suspension, but not really the 2wd, and almost definitely not the reverse.

      So, it’s not really a good choice unless you’re freaking rich and feel like getting off to push your bike backwards every time you need to park, or unpark… and boy would that be a fun exercise on a hill.

      Posted on June 7, 2012 at 7:44 am #

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