When I got the invitation to go up to Washington to ride Ural's latest bike, the 2015 Ural cT, I immediately flashed back to the mid-summer day I spent eight hours in the San Gabriel mountains helping Sean Smith take apart a very broken motorcycle while a very broken Wes Siler sat home in a sling drinking beers and texting to ask if we were done yet.
"Hey dude, Ural wants me to go to Washington to ride their latest bike and hopefully find some snow. What are the chances I live to write about it?" — text message to Wes Siler, 35 seconds after getting the invitation.
"Hahaha, I mean, they flip super easy... but you don't make things go boom so you'll be fine. Sean Smith lives up there now so, if you break it, just have him come fix it." — response from Mr. "I hurt myself a lot."
The nature of my chosen profession means I don't always make the safe choice, so naturally I was in. Whelp, this was going to be a good story, one way or another.
The Ural cT is new for 2015 and comes as a smaller version of the Ural T. It uses Ural's classic 749 cc boxer-twin engine, which is electronically fuel-injected. Ural made some engine updates for model year 2014, nearly doubling the size of the airbox and moving to lower-profile cams with shorter durations, which brought the motor's performance up to a whopping 41 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 42 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm. While neither of those numbers are all that impressive for a 750 cc twin motorcycle produced in 2015, the fact that 90 percent of the torque is made from 2,300 rpm should tell you that you can still have a good time.
If it isn't clear already, Urals are characterized by having a sidecar, or "chair" or "tub," attached. They have one- and two-wheel-drive versions, though you only engage the two-wheel-drive mode in low-traction situations. The cT is a single-wheel-drive unit, which allowed Ural to mount the third wheel slightly forward, since it doesn't need to share an axle with the main rear wheel. This position of the third wheel improves stability.
It comes as no shocker that the Ural comes in on the hefty side. Though, when you consider the third wheel, the tub, and the extra axle, brake, and suspension components, 700 pounds doesn't seem all that outrageous. That's about 30 pounds more than a Honda Valkyrie.
All three wheels get disc brakes, with the rear and sidecar brakes both operated by the foot brake lever. Since the two rear wheels are operating with very different loads and levels of traction, the master cylinders have adjustable pushrods, which allow you to adjust applied braking pressure to each of the rear wheels to help create a feeling of even distribution.
Another important difference with the cT is that the sidecar has been lowered by three inches, which gives it a much different appearance.
The biggest change of late is with Ural's new steering damper. More on why a steering damper on a bike like this is important in the next section, but Ural swapped their ancient friction-type damper for a modern hydraulic unit similar to the one found on sport bikes, which has made massive improvements on controlling the yaw of the bike.
Riding a three-wheeler is nothing like riding a two-wheeler
The what of the bike? Yaw? What's yaw?
It's a three-dimensional world, and pitch, roll and yaw are the movements around the three axes. Pilots of airplanes, which freely move in all directions, are intimately familiar with these concepts. On motorcycles, we mostly think about the one that defines our fun in the curves: roll, which is leaning side to side. We may also experience some pitch, such as stoppies or wheelies. But although we experience both yaw and roll when we turn a normal, two-wheeled motorcycle, it is the roll we feel, mostly. The yaw is the movement around the vertical axis.
Motorcycles with sidecars have the interesting phenomenon of experiencing yaw almost completely absent of roll — and it happens when you aren't even trying to turn. Let me explain.
As I mentioned earlier, the Ural is a one-wheel-drive motorcycle, which means that the third wheel is essentially just along for the ride and to support the weight of the sidecar and your passenger and gear. Like all third wheels, the third wheel on a sidecar tends to be a bit of a drag. Since that third wheel is hanging off to the right side, the main part of the bike actually tries to pivot around the "dragging" third wheel. What does this translate to? When you accelerate, the bike rotates slightly around the yaw axis and pushes you to the right. Adding more weight to the chair or accelerating harder only exaggerates this effect because it increases the resistance of the dragging tire or gives the dragging tire less time to catch up.
Oh, but we're not done yet. What do you think happens when you have this three-wheeled beast moving at speed and then try and slow her down? You guessed it: the effect works in reverse and the bike yaws to the left.
Also, I should probably mention that three-wheelers don't turn like normal motorcycles... because sidecar. Instead of using countersteering to make the bike roll (or lean) to turn, you actually have to turn the handlebars to point the front wheel in the direction you want to go (yes, I know you've seen pictures with the chair in the air — I'll get to that in a minute). Most people will equate this to steering a car, but if you've ridden a quad ATV, I think that's a far better example, since you do actually hang off the bike in turns a bit to keep it from flipping. You just hang off on the opposite side you're used to on a bike. Urals are often popular with people who do some off-road riding, which is partly due to their added stability, but also partly because they turn like a quad. Just point the front and give it some gas and that rear end comes swinging around. I swear, it never gets old.
OK, lifting the sidecar time. You've all seen videos of guys on a bike with the sidecar up in the air. Before my time in Washington, I didn't know that "floating the tub" or "flying the chair" was initiated by turning right (into the tub) or that it was extremely easy to do. It is not caused by using countersteer to turn left, as I had assumed though, as you can also see from the video, once the tub is up, the guys who are good at it can turn both left and right while keeping it in the air.
Finally, the last difference in riding a sidecar is that you do not want to take normal cornering lines. I was glad the Ural had some understeer because it meant I was at times forced off what would have been a normal line, and a normal motorcycle line would have put the sidecar off the road. You have to keep in mind that, while sometimes it may be out of your vision, you're riding a motorcycle the width of a car and need to leave room for that sidecar to pass. The Ural team shared plenty of stories of people hitting cars, fire hydrants, light poles, and other obstacles by taking turns too closely.
Testing the Ural cT
The Pacific Northwest is a perfect place to ride a bike like the Ural cT. I was hoping Seattle in February would mean snow, but unfortunately I tend to bring Southern California weather with me wherever I go and I was treated to sunny skies and mild temperatures. My first day, we took I-90 southeast with Snoqualmie Pass as our destination. Ural was nice enough to lend me their man-of-many-traits, David, as my tour guide. He knew of some dirt roads we could get on and had some ideas where we might find some snow. My brother lives in Seattle, near Ural HQ, and since sidecars are meant for sharing, I convinced him I wouldn't kill him if he was willing to come along for my first Ural ride.
With my brother in the tub, the yaw effects were greatly exaggerated, compared to my little test ride the night before. I don't know which is a better term for piloting the Ural cT: riding or wrestling. Regardless, riding with a passenger really opened my eyes to one of the beauties of the sidecar: it's social.
Through town, Thomas and I talked at semi-normal volumes about his first experience with any sort of motorcycle and with my first experience riding a sidecar. Things got a little noisy on the freeway, but it was still nice being able to look down to see if he was having a good time and it was way funnier to put the third wheel over the lane divider bumps to give him a little butt massage — even though the tub's seating position gave him two free hands and the perfect angle to punch me in the ribs.
Off-road, the social nature was only amplified as we could hear each other's laughter as I clumsily taught myself how to hustle a three-wheeler down a very beat-up dirt road, plus the occasional shouted expletive as I sent his side into a crater-sized pothole. While the Ural certainly doesn't perform like my off-road weapon of choice (the KTM 350 EXC-F, in case you're wondering), it certainly is the only off-road bike I would consider about taking a passenger on — let alone want a passenger on.
We finally found snow as we neared Snoqualmie Pass. Unfortunately, it wasn't the fields of fresh powder I had been dreaming of on my flight to Washington, but was instead weeks-old snow-colored ice. By that point in the day, David and I had switched so I could get a feel for the two-wheel-drive Ural Gear-Up, and David soon got stuck riding the cT up a snow-covered dirt road. Putting the Gear-Up into two-wheel-drive mode kept me from suffering the same fate but, with the only other option being to leave David behind, we turned back towards the pavement.
The following day, Thomas and I set out in the cT for a little sightseeing and to take some pictures. The Ural is quite the crowd pleaser, and there was no shortage of smiles or thumbs up as we passed by. Riding the cT around town felt like far less of a wrestling match, since the slower pace and stop-and-go nature didn't require me to pull on the bars as hard as freeway riding did.
Maneuvering the cT around town is surprisingly easy, once you get used to the idea of cranking the bars and trusting that you won't flip. Handling is much sharper than expected, and I even found myself weaving through traffic with ease, as long as I made sure to keep an eye out for how far the tub was sticking out.
Ural cT highlights
The minor upgrades Ural made for the 2014 model year have made a huge difference in making the Ural easier to ride, both on and off road. The hydraulic steering damper does wonders to help keep the yaw under control.
While the power figures may not look all that impressive on paper, the Ural doesn't feel lacking until you try to get up to Southern California freeway speeds (read: 80-plus mph). The motor almost has characteristics similar to a dirtbike, with a huge kick of power as soon as you drop into the next gear.
I also forgot the beauty of riding something with some trunk space. Whether it's a Ural or a Honda NC700, you just never realize how nice that space is to have until you've experienced it and then given it up. Wanna bring a jacket so you don't have to wear your big goofy Rukka one in to dinner? Bring it. Wanna bring your camera bag? Grab that too. How about a bottle of whiskey as we head home for the night? Yup, got room for that, too. The trunk on the cT held an incredible amount of stuff, and I found myself using it every single time we took the bike somewhere.
Normally, riding a bike that feels like a 1970s BMW would be kind of boring. The Ural, however, is incredibly engaging and makes riding something slow and tractor-like fun. My two days on the cT both wore me out and put a huge grin on my face.
Urals make riding with a passenger fun. I've spent plenty of time riding with a pillion, but I never really enjoy it. I'm glad the passenger got to share the experience and I'm glad to have someone along, but I don't enjoy having someone on the back. On the Ural, outside of the yaw effect being more abrupt with a passenger, I can genuinely say that having a passenger made the whole experience more fun.
The cT accomplishes Ural's goal of creating a bike for a younger, more city-based rider. Side by side with the Patrol, it's noticeably smaller and it rides as such. I can't wait to get one in Southern California.
Ural cT lowlights
To be honest, my complaints are pretty few and far between, given what I was expecting. Obviously, the thing rides and has the characteristics of a vintage bike because... well, it basically is one.
It would be nice if they could re-work the engine a bit for a little more top speed, seeing as Thomas and I had a hard time keeping up with traffic on the freeway when headed uphill. Other than that, most of what I would normally call flaws felt like character, given all of the weird forces at work. Given the bike's characteristics, I don't know that I would want the engine to perform like a modern bike's. The Ural cT puts you in such a slow-poke mindset that the engine and handling just seem to fit.
I equate it to driving my roommate's massive SUV after getting out of my little hatchback. His Volvo drives like absolute shit, but it puts me in a mellow mood because it's so slow to do anything.
Unlike my roommate's massive SUV, the seat on the cT got uncomfortable really quick. I was dying to get off it after an initial hour-long stint on the freeway.
The yaw effect isn't something I would call a good thing, but it's hard to blame Ural for physics. However, if you aren't prepared for all of the extra effort required, the Ural may not be for you.
At $12,999 the Ural cT sort of has the market covered when it comes to three-wheelers. DMC Sidecars will build you a sidecar for your motorcycle (I definitely want to ride a BMW R 1200 GS with a sidecar), but that's going to run you at least $8,000, on top of the price of your motorcycle.
I suppose if you wanted to be nit picky, Rokon also sells three-wheeled bikes with sidecars. But I don't know if I can compare a 220-pound, 7-horsepower trail bike to the Ural, no matter how badly I want to ride one.
By the end of my first day on the sidecar, my Ural tour guide told me I'd taken to it faster than almost anyone he'd seen. The key to riding a motorcycle with a sidecar is to realize that everything you know about motorcycles basically doesn't apply and you need to both respect the sidecar and operate it under a different set of principles.
The changes Ural made for the 2014 model year have made for massive improvements. Fuel injection and a push button start make the Ural much easier for a wider range of riders and climates, and the move from drum to disc brakes makes them more appropriate for 2015 riding conditions and speeds.
More motorcycles should come with torque curves like the Ural. I don't care what kind of power a bike makes, a flat torque curve starting at essentially the bottom of a bike's rev range makes anything fun.
The cT fits in nicely with Ural's lineup. It looks, feels, and rides much smaller than the M70, Patrol, or Gear-Up and is completely at home in urban environments. Urals no longer feel like motorcycles from the 1950s. Now they're much more like bikes from the 1980s!
With that in mind, riding a sidecar is simply massive amounts of fun (as long as your name isn't Wes Siler). I can't wait to bug Ural to give me for a longer test in Southern California, where I know way more people dumb enough to respond "yes" to the text, "Want to go for a ride off-road in a sidecar?"