“Part of their appeal is that, while they’re known in the biking world, they’re still little known,” says enthusiast David Angel. “I bought my first after leaving school and re-built it on a friend’s coffee-table. And the fact is they’re fantastic, the Land Rovers of bikes, the kind of thing you could ride fully loaded right across Mongolia and have no trouble. In fact, customers of mine have.”
Angel is owner of the F2 Motorcycles, one of the world’s biggest dealers of Ural motorcycles, a name unfamiliar next to brand giants the likes of Harley-Davidson, Ducati and Kawasaki, but arguably more characterful all the same. For one, the Ural comes not from the great biking nations of the US, Italy or even Japan, but from Russia. And, as Angel points out, “there are still some people who would equate any bike out of Russia with poor quality, though that’s certainly not the case now”.
For two, Ural motorbikes are the essence of pared-down, uncomplicated, elemental mechanics – its original manufacture was launched in 1942 in order to mobilise Soviet troops against German invasion, so a hardy machine capable of dealing with rough roads (which turned out to be a reverse engineered and beefed-up BMW) was essential. “And that has always been part of the Ural’s appeal, because it has always offered huge potential for tinkering and personal improvements,” Angel adds. And, lastly, but certainly not the least, the classic Ural bike – at around Aed64,000 – comes, wait for it, with a side-car.
Angel, naturally, can sing the praises of the side-car: enough space for luggage, or camping equipment, or, if you must, a friend, but without sacrificing the flexibility and freedoms of the motorcycle to explore the back routes and backwoods. “It’s not about speed. It’s about having a great time getting there,” as he puts it. Indeed, it seems a loss that the side-car has largely disappeared from the roads over the past half-century – a product, Angel explains, of the advent of the small, economical and affordable car during the early 1960s, which meant that, “unless you were passionate about side-cars, there wasn’t any reason to own one,” he says. “In fact, there still isn’t any reason to own one.”
Apart, of course, from its history – Ural takes its name, for example, from the Russian mountain range near to which production was moved later during WW2 to avoid Luftwaffe bombing; its sheer retro charm – which ensures many dedicated owners’ clubs and events the likes of this month’s International Ural Ride Day; and its stylishness among identikit macho super-bikes. Not that riding a motorbike with side-car should be dismissed as beginner’s stuff. Rather, Angel assures that riding three wheels requires training and practice to counteract the asymmetric balance of weight. “You have to read the road ahead all the time,” he says. “But that’s what makes riding a Ural so exciting against other motorbikes. It’s a much more involving ride. You need to be in control.”