Motorcycles are fun, but sidecars are sex on wheels. Believe it baby.
If you’ve never hoisted an Ural 750 onto two wheels, feeling the iron chariot find its balance point, then plant the third wheel back on the deck and drift the outfit through a tight corner, you don’t know what excitement is – you can even do all that crazy stuff without wearing a helmet if you fancy it!
Alastair Walker and Paul Cooper decided to live life to the max and booked themselves in for a sidecar skills day with MPC Motorcycles in deepest Leicestershire.
For many years I thought sidecars were the fiendish work of Satan, especially old fashioned outfits from the former communist Eastern Bloc states, which appeared to be made from old iron bedsteads and handled like some deranged supermarket trolley.
But after a day spent learning about the amazing balance, subtle throttle control and the sheer durability of the Ural 750 outfit, I have seen the light. Sidecars are different, strange, yet madly addictive things that can put a big daft grin on your face just like a Fireblade can – except it only takes 30mph, not 130mph to get the adrenaline pumping.
I never thought I would be able to get a Russian sidecar onto two wheels after just two hours of tuition, but I did it and it felt great – like mastering a basic Trials section at the 5th or 6th attempt, or putting in a decent lap time on your second trackday at Oulton. Just magic.
Of course when I met Mick Cross at MPC motorcycles I was a bit sceptical. Mick produced a flip-chart and began explaining about the weight distribution of a sidecar outfit, how it will behave under braking, acceleration through a corner etc. All a bit technical, but necessary, mainly because you have to `unlearn’ almost everything you know about motorcycles when piloting a sidecar outfit. Leaning your body won’t help, braking into corners won’t be much use either, and as for counter-steering, you might as well piss against a force eight gale…
After that introduction, we got into a little bit about the different way the Ural behaves when the third wheel’s drive is engaged, not forgetting to notice that the Ural 750 also features reverse gear – and we would be both be having a go at riding it backwards a bit later on.
WHEN IN DOUBT, HAVE A BREW
It was definitely time for a tea break, during which we looked over the Ural 750 outfit we were going to practise on. The machine is constructed from solid steel tubing, featuring a flat-twin 750cc engine that can trace its roots back to the 1930s. It’s a simple pushrod actuated four stroke, built to make a low power output, but last longer than a communist empire. From the moment you sit on the Ural 750, you feel its solidity, its sheer strength. On the downside it is slow by modern standards and the motor sounds disturbingly loud, especially when you ride the outfit without a lid.
Mick tends to do nearly all his tutoring without helmets being worn, which struck me as odd at first, but as he explains; ” When you have no lid on, first of all you listen to any instructions clearly, and secondly you feel vulnerable, so you really take care on the Ural – fear breeds a healthy respect.”
Mick began by showing us the basic controls, letting us get used to riding it in a figure-of-eight route, feeling the overall balance of the Ural and how different it is to riding a motorbike. Then we started to gas the Ural up a bit whilst doing a tight U-turn, which meant we could lift the third wheel accelerating out of the bend, and how well the Ural balanced on just two wheels.
That was great fun, and I felt chuffed to bits when I managed to raise the third wheel by a mere six inches or so. It felt like the Ural was about to tip over, but in fact it was miles away from its true balance point.
Mick demonstrated this by getting me in the sidecar, lifting it all the way up at a 45 degree angle, then coming to a halt, eventually balancing the outfit on its engine bar protectors. Awesome control and perfect balance too. I couldn’t move out the Ural’s chair, no matter how hard I shook my body from side to side. It just sat there, parked on its side. Amazing.
Mick then showed us how to ride the Ural in reverse gear, and selected the two wheel drive mechanism, which transformed the outfit completely. Suddenly it seemed to steer with an almost hyper-sensitive twitchiness, you really needed to be alert and very positive about your throttle control. You could feel the third wheel `digging in’ a bit on the turns as well. I really wanted to ride the outfit off-road, and see how agile it would be through some February mud, but the daylight was fading and our introductory skills day was drawing to a close.
What had we learned? More finesse regarding use of the throttle for one thing, much more about planning every move of our riding too, anticipating any changes in direction, keeping it all smooth – I can’t rate the day highly enough in terms of it making you re-think everything you’ve learned in motorcycle riding. The Ural 750 also teaches you loads about balance, riding purely on the throttle, especially when it is up on two wheels.
SAVE THE PLANET, BUY AN URAL
As a practical means of transport, I would say the Ural 750 is one of the greenest solutions in the world. It does 50mpg, will probably run on chicken dung and old chip pan oil, and it would take about 57 years of use in a Siberian salt mine to rot its Terminator 2 tough chassis.
The `military’ edition also comes with things like a fuel jerry can, extra spotlight and spare wheel attached, so you could pursue Bin Laden yourself across the foothills of the Himalayas. This is one long-lasting mode of transport, which can boast a true `carbon-neutral’ footprint. Why? Well because the Ural 750 is going to make the journey from newly forged metal to rusting scrapper last a lifetime – a human lifetime that is, not the pathetic lifespan of some poxy `micro’ car, which unglues itself after hitting its third deep pothole on the A41.
It also requires basic owner maintenance, not expensive and time-consuming replacement of various filters, catalysers, data-logging chips and sundry other. Apart from regular oil/filterchanges, new tyres, brake pads and perhaps a few bulbs, I think the Ural 750 could be run for buttons over a 10-15 year period.
It does cost a fair bit – £5745 for the basic model, or £5945 for the Nato/camouflage painted model we tested. Let’s be honest, the Ural 750 isn’t really a genuine alternative to a car as a means of family transport for a couple and two kids, plus shopping. It ain’t got a roof, which women and children tend to like on cold January mornings.
But it is big on delivering fun, plus cheap to run, and makes a great conversation opener. People smile when they see an Ural that’s for sure and I think you could genuinely off-road on it too, which would be a total blast. The Ural 750 takes a whole new set of riding skills to master, but what’s life without new challenges? Dull probably…
If you can afford a second car, or motorcycle in your life, then maybe it should be an Ural 750 sidecar outfit. It might just transform your ideas of what biking can be all about, because this is still all about freedom, engine noise and being involved with the engineering of the beast – it’s just so different, so totally retro and strange.
If you want to get a taste of sidecar action, contact MPC on 01455 559123
Get motorbike insurance for the MPC Ural Sidecar 2007.
Test Bike Supplied by MPC Motorcycles, Lutterworth, Leicestershire,
01455 559 123
Engine 745cc, air-cooled overhead valve flat twin
44 bhp at 4500 rpm
Compression ratio 8:8:1
Bore and stroke 78mm x 78mm
Gears 4 forward and 1 reverse gear
Chassis; Tubular steel frame
Front suspension; Leading link front forks
Rear suspension; Twin shocks, non adjustable
Braking; front disc brake, single leading shoe rear and sidecar brake (continental sided chairs only)
Wheels X319 inch spoke, chrome or painted
Estimated top speed 75 mph
New Price £5745 OTR (April 07)