Wednesday, 9 November 2016

2016 Ural Adventure Ride

This year we chose to ride a grand dirt road tour through part of the Barrington Tops between Gloucester and Nundle, then on to Uralla. It offered the best combination of mountains, valleys and river crossings to challenge the sidecar drivers and inspiring scenery through most of its length.

We had a good number for participation and had outfits from as far away as Cairns, Mt Isa and Melbourne with every Ural model represented.

Riders generally appreciated the challenges offered by the chosen route.There was little room for error in many places as the edge of the road was often a cutting on one side and a drop off on the opposite side. Road surfaces were mostly in good condition, but there were a couple of steeper climbs eroded by recent storms and some of the notorious Schofields Creek crossings were a little stony and deep.

One flat tyre had to be repaired just 100 metres from the start, and another tyre was near flat at the end of the day. One muffler came loose after a rocky creek crossing and apart from that, every motorcycle performed faultlessly for the whole arduous 380kms.

The weather was warm in the valleys, but with a strong wind on the tops the temperature on the three occasions we climbed over 1100 metres was quite cool. Dust was not too bad with a wind to clear it and the countryside was wetter as we rode west.

Michael used his Ural to go ahead and snap some tour photos of the interesting points along the way. He was able to catch one of those near miss occasions when a rider became unseated and precariously close to overturning as he entered a pool of water across the road. Later we presented Doug with a prize for that, The Most Spectacular Stunt, as he water skied through the hole on one knee while wrestling his wayward Ural.

First stop was with the Higgins family who are long time cattle breeders on the spectacular mountain country we were passing through. Their morning tea was an unexpected delight and an interesting stopover for the travelers in our group. 

With a few stops for snacks and a drink along the way, we reached Ellerston, the Packer family property, in time for lunch and much appreciated the use of one of their polo field facilities with bush timber picnic facilities and a nice toilet block. They made us feel welcome and we all admired the development they have achieved with such a large area of improved pastures, fat cattle and the Ellerston facilities.

After lunch, we climbed another range into a remote valley with still more amazing scenery. The 20 Schofields Creek crossings were a hoot although a couple of the Retro owners wished for a little more ground clearance as they bounced across the water covered stones in 300mm of water. As is usual on these rides, participants learnt new tips on how to best choose their wheel tracks and speed with unfamiliar obstacles.

Over another range and back down to the next river we went. Never a dull moment with plenty to see and a few surprises along the way, the scenery and road challenges just kept coming. After following alongside the Barnard river, we scaled the last range to 1200 metres before descending again into Nundle with 180kms on the speedo.

After a good pub dinner, we all slept well and were back out and ready for more next morning. Departure was at 9.30 and we enjoyed a pretty run up to Kootingal. Along this section, we stopped to admire the newly filled Chaffey Dam with its recently doubled capacity. A short detour over the Woolamin Gap and we witnessed the frenzied haymaking activity along those productive river flats for 40 kilometres.

Kootingal provided a nice coffee stop at the Café on Gate before we rode on to a lunch stop along the northern railway line. Thinking we were out in the bush, we were surprised by a chance meeting of our Deputy Prime Minister at one of the rail crossings going about his business on a Sunday.

Sunday's ride was a lot less challenging, but left us fresher for the dinner we all enjoyed together at Uralla's Top Pub on Sunday night.

While there were no great dramas to report this year, the Ural camaraderie was alive and well. The Adventure Ride challenge was taken and achieved by all, many new friendships were made and we all came away with good memories. As a group, our fellow travelers were cared for and Clare joined in by following behind with a 4WD and trailer in case any mishap left someone stranded in the remote area we passed through.

Plans are being made for a thorough tour of Tasmania next March and several participants joined the list after making new acquaintances on our Ural Adventure Ride.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Off to Alaska!

Most adventure riding overseas requires a little preparation and stress.  After retiring from Ural Australia management an adventure ride without too much organising was attractive. Alaska sounded like an out of the way place, a bit of an unknown quantity. Regular tourists follow the Inland Sea Passage, Anchorage and Denali while much of the rest of Alaska has few roads, towns and people. We did little research and set out to ride it as we found it, taking 5 weeks to knock off 7,000kms down to Oregon.

 With another couple we ordered two Urals to be ready for us in Anchorage. We chose the current cT model for its simplicity and lower cost and we chose new 2016 models because they are undoubtedly the best bikes to come from the factory yet. We added a trunk mounted luggage rack, a sidecar screen, a 10 litre jerrycan mounted on the trunk and we  purchased a spare tyre and tube to carry. A basic tool set and one of Rocky Creeks beaut electric tyre pumps saw our preparation complete. I had purchased a blue plastic lunchbox from Bunnings and mounted it on the rear fender rack. I carried it as hand luggage on the plane and the airline hostess thought I had brought my own packed lunch.

Tracey Harmon in the Anchorage Ural dealership had everything ready to go. When asked about the wildlife he suggested avoiding any Moose (cos they are untrustworthy - like a jersey bull), and also to talk to any bear that you have surprised as this calms them more than trying to run which cranks up their appetite! Tracey also mentioned we might not succeed changing a hard walled sidecar tyre with a tyre lever on the side of the road, but then he hasn’t met many Aussie farmers.
Meanwhile while we were organising our bikes, the local tourist information centre had put a real fear of bears and moose into our girls, so Bob and I had to calm them a little before leaving town with the bear spray they had acquired. Fortunately we left it unused with friends at Whistler near the end of our trip.
Our luggage stowed easily and took only a few minutes to take indoors each night and reload in the morning. We had chosen not to camp. We excused ourselves from camping quoting the "girls and bears" thing, but in reality there was plenty of accommodation to be had with comfy beds for old folks, even in peak season July.

We soon settled to a nice easy pace around 85 to 95 kmh and only late in the trip did we crank up to 100kmh or more on the motorways back into the States. Our wives find the sidecars are great for snapping photos as we travel and between the Ipad and camera we have some great pics. The sidecars are really easy to pull off the roadside with and when we were in town there is always room to park a sidecar. Two sidecars fit nicely nose to tail in a single carpark as well. In one full carpark they were turning tourist cars away, but waved  us in to park in a small gap beside the rubbish bins. I don’t think there was anything sinister in that!
The greatest advantage was the “Ural Delay Factor” (UDF). There are more passers by stop to talk to you on a Ural than pretty much any other mode of transport. We met some great characters from all over the world who were informative and entertaining.  This was a constant highlight of our travels.

The adventures started early when a piece of Rob and Marg’s luggage containing their passports fell off their bike. Fortunately a following motorist spotted this and stopped them a couple of miles later to inform them. Luckily when they rode back, the little package was still there in the middle of the lane and intact. A couple of weeks later I failed to lock the lid of my Bunnings lunch box and a big truck passing us sucked the lid open. Our big map flew out and five trucks ran over it before Rob and Marg could rescue it - now in smaller and more manageable pieces .
We followed the road to Fairbanks up North and on Independance day we joined a street parade with some friendly motorcyclists who invited us to join in. We put some good old USA flags on our bikes and tooted and waved our way for 2 miles around the streets of North Pole.

We rode across to Tok and then up the Taylor highway to Chicken which is a kind of crazy mining village attracting tourists. The ‘Top of The World Highway”  from there is a gravel road to Dawson City on the Klondike Loop. This took us over the border into Yukon.  It was raining lightly and was cool, but importantly the abrasive glacial sands on the road surface eroded our rear brake pads to nothing in a short space of time. Being new brake calipers they were a little stiff still and the pads were still brushing the disc after releasing the footbrake. The abrasive slush was adding grinding paste continually until the pads were eaten away. We avoided the rear brakes then for another 800 kms to Whitehorse where we had new rear pads sent to our hotel by the ever helpful Ural parts department.

The Klondike loop takes in the goldrush area of the 1890’s. Inadvertently we had stumbled onto this magnificent historical trail with the mighty Yukon river as its centrepiece and Dawson City as a living treasure from the past. From there all the way to Skagway we kept crossing parts of the Klondike Rush. There were the Five Finger rapids on the Yukon, the Dead Horse Pass out of Skagway that claimed a couple of thousand miners packhorses lives and many more features of a desperate and dangerous trek made by so many prospectors seeking their fortune. We were all humming “North to Alaska” by the time we had traversed the route of the miners.

In Dawson City we met a group of gents our age (UDF at work) who were in town to celebrate a reunion. As 20 year old graduates they built a log raft and set off in the lakes at the head of the Yukon to replicate the goldrush miners river trip. They actually travelled all the way down the Yukon for the best part of 12 months. The Yukon is around 3,000kms long and the river water which is fast flowing takes more than 3 months to travel from its source to the Baring sea. National Geographic featured their trip in its December 1975 edition.
A few days later we met some BMW riders who were doing a world trip of some 200,000kms on their BMW bikes. They came over for a UDF and Rob exchanged contacts so they could find us on their Aus leg. They came from Brazil and were aiming to go right up to the Arctic ocean from there. They had a lot of gear on board.

We stayed in a cabin by the Teslin Lake and had some interesting conversation with the First Nations lady that owned the cabin on their Klingit lands. She had "status" in that tribe and explained many aspects to us of their situation and their 11,000 year old history. Many of these tribes are successfully managing small towns which service their own needs and the needs of the passing highway traffic. Their magnificent lake out front of our cabin was more than 120kms long.
At Prince George, it was time to change our engine oil and the fuel and oil filters. We checked valve clearances and adjusted brakes, tyre pressures etc.The bikes had loosened up and were now easier to gearchange and could achieve faster cruising speeds on the uphill sections. We were avoiding the Ethanol blend fuels and at times we had a battle with the bowsers and their bowser mounted card payments. Just like the card readers in our shops, we hardly found two the same on those bowsers.
We were in the timber harvesting areas now and witnessed the ongoing massive harvest program to beat the pine beetle which is spreading north and killing the Lodgepole pines - about 50% of all the commercial Lodgepole trees have died so far! The  beetle is native and its progress North is tied to the gradual warming of the climate there. The affected pine species are being harvested before they die where possible and we saw some awesome stockpiles of logs at some of the sawmills.

At Mcbride we spent a night as the only guests in a quite large old hotel. At the nearby railway station we watched and counted as a train with 180 carriages carrying 360 large containers rolled through. The café owner at the station told us there is an average of eight of those trains rumble through each day. The quiet rumble of these passing trains rocked us to sleep at night.
I find the handlebars fitted to the Urals are a little swept back for my best comfort. I have adopted a practice of slipping a length of pipe over the grip while bars are still fitted, and prising them slightly wider. It increases bar width by around 40mm and straightens the alignment through my wrists. I did not tweak them as much when I first set the bike up in Anchorage because Tracey was freaking a little
At Jasper we felt the culture shock of rejoining the tourists in their thousands. The marvels of those high Rocky Mountains with their icecaps are an incredible site and a big money spinner from tourism. We thoroughly enjoyed the Lake Louise, Banff and Corman sections on a cool sunny day. We completed our animal sightings list there with a decently large Grizzly bear at close range by the roadside. We had already found Bison, Moose, Caribou, black and brown Bears and a white Wolf as well as some flighty Deer. Nice!

Our trip turned west toward Vancouver and out of the Rockies. It was very pretty zigzagging through the lakes and crossing them on ferries. It was in this area that we had our first blowout. The cT model has only been around for a couple of years and no one could really predict the mileage we would get from our rear tyre which is always the first to go. We monitored the tyres and rode on knowing we had a spare each. At 6,300 kms with still a millimetre of tread Rob blew his back tyre just before Merrit.

Out came the tools and pump on the side of the road. They are a hard wall tyre and not easy to change, but we completed the effort successfully as a team effort and were soon on the way. A bit of a side story there as a roadside tyre change usually does not have the advantages of a tyre changing lubricant to ease the effort of prising a dry grippy rubber tyre off and onto the rim. Rob had been advised that the best Mossie repellent for Alaska’s legendary mossies was a skin product called “Skin So Soft”. The mossies had not caused us much grief all the way, so there was lots of this greasy fluid left in the bottle and we made good use of it as a tyre lube. I changed my tyre in Merrit at a bike shop for good measure.

The next day as we rode through another mountainous section on our way to Whistler resort town,  Rob had another blowout. The tube we had put in his new tyre was an undersize 3.5 inch and only thin walled. It couldn’t handle the job, but we had a heavy duty spare we carried to replace it and had no further trouble.( I did casually wonder if the mossie lube had eaten a hole in the tube too!!) It was a bit of a drama where we had to repair the flat. The gradient was steep, the road narrow and blind corners above and below us. Our practice the day before saw us do the repair in quick time and that mighty Rocky Creek tyre pump blows the tyre up so reliably and quickly it was all too easy.
Once we rode out of our overnight visit to Whistler it was motorway traffic all the way to the US border. Not having stopped in Vancouver, we had a couple of days to enjoy the beautiful Washington state sights of Whidbey Island and then a trip up Mount Baker.

Portland  in Oregon was our final destination. Rob sold his beloved cT to Paul at Ural Portland and we sold ours privately through ‘craigslist’a couple of weeks later. They had over 7,500 kms up, but both were running well and  just nicely run in and had suffered no damage from their 5 weeks of travel. The new cT models had proved to be a good choice for this ride and they were easy to sell after we finished.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Taste of NARSTy 2016 by Lee Edwards

Just three of the rides we did during NARSTy 2016

Ticked another box today. Took the Urals to the highest road in Australia ( we lunched at the highest town a few days ago.....Cabrumurra ).
9 outfits to Jindabyne for morning coffee and on to Charlotte Pass....1964 metres. WoW.......
Back down for a lovely lunch at the Wild Brumby Distillery a few k's out of Jindabyne.


Six Urals assembled for a morning ride. A route to Wee Jasper was selected and we headed off. We chose to leave about 8:30 and be back for lunch. The thought process was.....well, there is nothing at Wee Jasper as the general store has been closed for some time. Another factor in the planning was the temperature....38 degrees C in the afternoon.  
The track was a little rough but a good 63km run for the Urals. We returned to Tumut via the Angalong stock route. This takes you right through the pine forests and up over the range. we encountered some logging equipment and trucks, but all was well. Again the route was a bit rough as the loggers lay very course rock on the tracks. We all arrived back at camp a little hot..after 135km return was now 36C. Some of us headed straight for a dip in the bliss !


170km trip from Tumut along the Brindabella-Canberra road. Turned off about 20km before Brinda onto Barnetts road. Half a km down the road I stopped to wait for Doonie. His back has been in spasm for a few days, so we turned him around and sent him home......the road was very rough and got rougher. Doon would have ended up in an air ambulance if he had continued.
Barnetts road to Boundary road and onto Broken Cart fire trail. Our desired road was Long Plain road but a land owner has placed a locked gate down the Brindabella end so it's a bit of a go round detour to get through. We eventually turned onto Long Plain road and got to the Snowy highway at Rules Point for a hard earned drink stop....Along the fire trail, Andrew was following my wheel tracks, straddling a deep rut which he somehow managed to fall into. The standard mufflers did their usuall thing and held the drive wheel off the my high exhaust..... Being ahead, I did not have to help push him out but further along, I was caught out by a very steep twisty climb. Not going fast enough in second, I snatched first only to bounce and skid sideways, ending up at right angles to the track and me almost falling into the sidecar.......yep it was steep. Completing a five point turn, I descended to the bottom and did a u turn to try again. First gear selected and a 30 metre run up had me powering, sliding and bouncing all the way to the top. I knew the others would have the same trouble so I headed back down on foot, just getting there in time to give some advise.....then I had to walk up the damned hill. I consider myself to be fairly fit but I had to stop 3 times before I reached the top.
At Rules Point having a drink stop, I checked the time and discovered it had just taken us 4.5 hours to travel 60km on the dirt.
That was a fun day.......

I forgot to say....the rocks we encountered that have been layed on the tracks are the size of tennis balls and broken so they have a super sharp edge....I can't believe we didn't get tyres sliced open.It was impossible to go faster than 10kph on these sections.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle is unrefined fun

From an excerpt by Andria Yu, USA TODAY , March 29, 2015

Irbit MotorWorks of America sells a sidecar motorcycle called the Ural, based on a design from the 1930s. The company has 10 employees, a mix of Russians and Americans, in Redmond, Wash. 
Ural hopes to attract more commuters, urban riders with new cT

(Photo: Andria Yu, USA TODAY)
Ural motorcycles are steeped in so much history, but the company that essentially runs it today is much like a start-up and, coincidentally is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., with Microsoft and Amazon as neighbours.
Ural sidecar motorcycles were built as battle bikes for the Soviet Red Army. At one time, the factories were pumping out more than 100,000 sidecar bikes a year. Today, Irbit MotorWorks of America, the official affiliate of the Irbit MotorWorks Factory in Irbit, Russia, has 10 employees, a mix of Russians and Americans. Irbit MotorWorks of America (IMWA) is the direct importer and global distributor of Urals. 
I was invited to IMWA's headquarters to test the newest Ural, the cT. It's Ural's stripped down model, and the least expensive, starting at ($19,300 Aud). Unlike the other models with two-wheel drive, the cT is one-wheel drive and doesn't come with extras such as a spare wheel, knee grips, tool bag, passenger grab handles or spotlight, though they can be added.
The idea behind the cT, according to IMWA's CEO Ilya Khait, is to create a sidecar bike that would attract riders unfamiliar with the brand, and create a motorcycle with more urban riders and commuters in mind. The cT handles easier than traditional Urals, Khait says. "We wanted the experience to be a little bit closer to what riders experience on regular motorcycles, just to make the transition easier from regular bikes to sidecar bikes." It has a lower center of gravity and the steering was made to be as light as possible. 
Unlike regular motorcycles, in which the rider counter steers and leans into turns, a sidecar motorcycle is direct-steer, more like four-wheelers or snowmobiles. 
"Last year, on our demo tour, a lot of people liked the bike, the concept, the look, the heritage," Khait says, but when they tried it, it was so different from what they knew before that they were sometimes put off by it. "So we got this feeling we need to come up with something more – civilized. Closer to what people expect to feel," Khait says. "So we came up with the cT."
Urals are modeled after a late-model 1930s BMW R71 sidecar motorcycle. Although no one seems to know the actual story of how the Russians got the engineering (not even the folks at Irbit MotorWorks), the going story is that Nazi Germany provided the Soviet Union an R71 after the countries signed a nonaggression pact in 1939. Another story is that the Soviets bought several R71s through an intermediary country and Soviet engineers took the bikes apart and reverse engineered them for production in Russia.Russia has been building Urals since 1941. Originally built for the military during World War II, the motorcycles have been sold as civilian vehicles since the 1950s. 
Although the motorcycles today are still manufactured and built in Irbitz, Russia, (with several components such as the alternator and brakes imported from Japan and elsewhere), IMWA is legally an American company. 

Irbit MotorWorks of America CEO Ilya Khait in the warehouse area of the Redmond, Wash., headquarters. (Photo: Andria Yu, USA TODAY)

According to Khait, Irbitskiy Mototsikletniy Zavod, or IMZ, was privatized in the early 1990s. Khait and his investors bought it in 2000. He then moved the headquarters and established the company in the United States to more easily attract investors, he says. 
North America became Ural's biggest market in 2005, surpassing Europe, although sales are still pretty small. Growth in the U.S. has been modest, but over 10 years they have doubled sales from 300 to about 600 bikes. Asia is also a market of interest, Khait says. Last year, IMWA sold 160 bikes to Asia -- about half of those to China. 
Ural probably had one of the largest motorcycle factories in Europe, says Khait. "We used to have almost 10,000 people" working at the factory, producing 132,000 bikes a year. After privatization, "we had to squeeze the company into a size that was sustainable," and today there are about 140 people employed in the Ural factory, producing a little over 1,000 motorcycles per year, Khait says.
Despite the political situation in Russia (sanctions by the U.S. and European Union over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea), there hasn't been too much impact on Ural sales, Khait says, although he admits there were a few months of worry when there were talks of trade embargos and whether they could get spare parts and other supplies from Russia. However, the sanctions only applied to the Russian government and certain officials. 
"We have no relations to the government, thank god," Khait says. 
When the ruble's value plummeted, it was a gain in a sense because a lot of Ural's expenses were in rubles, "so that helped," Khait says. However, because inflation in Russia is high, "I think by the end of this year, it'll be a wash," he says. 
Also helping cushion the effect is that many components used on the bike are imported to Russia, and the components are bought in Euros, so again, the ruble's value has very little impact. 
The company is also not dependent on the domestic market, Khait says. "Overall sales (in Russia) are very small. We sold 60 motorcycles in Russia last year." Why? 
"For Russians, it's still fairly expensive. Second, we have an image in Russia that the Ural is a bike for people from farms to move potatoes. … People with money go for higher end" vehicles, Khait says. "The battle is with the old image." 
"We are probably the only company in Russia that exports 90% of output," says Khait.
Although the bike has been updated since the 40s models, it has the ride and feel of a vintage. Actually, it has the feel of a tank. 
The 749 cc cT is not fast (cruising speed is best at around 70 mph), partly because of its weight: 335kgs dry. Much of the bike is constructed of Russian steel and aluminum, unlike many motorcycles today that use lots of plastic for fairings and parts. But speed was not what it was built for, it's built for durability (think rough, unpaved terrain and harsh Siberian winters).
The cT has a gearbox with four forward gears and one reverse. You engage the forward speeds as you would any other motorcycle, but to engage reverse, you use a lever found behind the gearbox. For a bike that size, reverse is useful, especially to manoeuvre into and out of parking spaces. It also has a parking brake, which most motorcycles don't have. 
Shifting is clunky due to the straight-cut gears, which make the gearbox very durable, but it requires committed shifting. In other words, sometimes you have to bang your foot on the shifter to make it slip into place.

The Ural cT navigates a potholed Tinkham Road with ease. (Photo: USA TODAY)

The cT is equipped with disc brakes on all three wheels, an upgrade from drum brakes on the rear and sidecar just a few years back. Overall, braking was solid, but you have to take it for what it is. It's not a sportbike with touchy brakes that can stop on a dime. You'll need to be a little more aware of traffic conditions, and, like the shifting, be purposeful in stopping. The stopping sensation can be a bit squirmy, especially on uneven road surfaces. Part of this is because of the physics of having an attached sidecar that also has a braking wheel. 
All Urals are now fuel-injected instead of carbureted. The cT still has a kick start, but it also comes with an electric start. As for fuel efficiency, the bike uses about 7.5 ltr to 100km. 
Don't expect too much comfort on the cT. The suspension is built to take a beating, so you pay in comfort, both on the bike and in the sidecar, with a harsher ride. But the Ural will happily bounce over potholes that could cripple most other motorcycles and keep chugging . 
My passenger and I took turns driving the bike. We took the cT through the streets of downtown Seattle, where it maneuvered easily through traffic. We were a little worried when stopped on steep hills, especially since it's difficult to get moving again without rolling back because the brakes had to be heavily engaged and you must also get the bike into gear. So whenever possible, we'd pull up to stop just over the hill's crest.
We also took the motorcycle up to Snoqualmie Pass, riding along Interstate 90 and through the forest via Tinkham Road, a heavily pot-holed semi-dirt trail with great scenic views.
Although the cT is one-wheel drive, no pothole was big enough to stop it. And it didn't have any issues riding over a snow-packed road when we reached higher elevations. In that sense, the cT was less like a motorcycle and  more like a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle.
Ural didn't do much to change the look of the cT, or any of their other models. The retro round headlight style is intact, as is the bike's frame, fender and tractor-style seat (though that can be swapped out for a comfy bench seat). In fact, Ural kept much of the design unchanged since the 40s, but that's what makes the bike stand out as well. 
Also very retro is the speedometer, in that the needle bounces during the ride so that you're not sure if you're doing 100kph or 110kph. We used a GPS device to track the speed and compared that with the speedo. It was about 5kph off on average. 
An auxiliary fuse panel in the sidecar makes fitting additional electrical devices such as a 12-volt power source or lights fairly easy. A power source really comes in handy for plugging in mobile devices such as a GPS, your smartphone or even heated gear.
The 80ltr trunk space in the sidecar isn't huge, but it easily fit two open-face helmets and a backpack or three large backpacks. 
There is a learning curve to operating a motorcycle with a sidecar. Turning to the left too quickly (or in the direction of the sidecar) and physics will lift the sidecar off the ground. The wrong move, such as straightening the steering when the car is lifted, will cause the bike to tip over, as I have done. 
The good thing about the bike is that the heavy-duty exhaust bracket is strong enough to hold the weight of the bike and sidecar without bending. Granted, I did not have a passenger in the sidecar when I tipped the bike. The bike has an engine protection bar, as well, for such tipping incidents.
They heavy-duty exhaust bracket can hold the weight of the sidecar. (Photo: Andria Yu, USA TODAY)

It rides like a very primitive bike, but the simplicity makes it more durable for off-road adventures and every day use and abuse. And because it lacks the sophisticated electronics, if something breaks on the Ural, the company says you can likely fix it on the side of the road. It's like old cars that allow just about anyone to tinker with it and replace parts because there are no complicated computers or electronics. 
Reliability has come a long way over the past 15 years, though the bikes still have their fair share of issues. If you look on some of the online forums, there number of customer complaints, but Khait says the company tries to work closely with its consumer base.
"We pick up many ideas from customers," and use their input in research and development. For example, Khait says, "We used to use a Russian made alternator which was like a piece of crap. It was a disaster. Twenty percent failure rate." One day, Khait says, a Ural owner he met at a meetup told him: "'I found this alternator, and if you build this kind of adaptor, you can solve this problem.' So we took his advice, went to the manufacturer of the alternator (Denso), built an adaptor and we have been using it ever since." 
This was 10 years ago, Khait says. "This is what I love about this project," everything is very grassroots and the motorcycle's design can be tweaked fairly quickly since they don't have to deal with design teams or boards of directors. "We participate in various web forums, such as," Khait says, and he sometimes comments on questions or complaints on the forums himself. "If I feel I need to jump on, I just do it."
Khait admits the bike is not for everyone. If you expect refinement in your ride, or if you tend to want a lot of dealer support and maintenance, it's probably not for you. (There are about 50 dealers in the United States, but many are not Ural specialists and most often there is only one dealer in a state). But during the test ride, the sidecar motorcycle proved to be a real blast. It attracts a lot of attention and questions wherever you go, and you can drive it over any terrain. If you don't have a passenger, the sidecar can be used for additional storage for groceries, books, camping equipment, etc. For adventurous souls, it could be the perfect vehicle to explore the country with, and if you're handy, you can probably fix anything on the bike with parts from any auto or hardware store, which you really can't do with most motorcycles today. 
"Ural is about a mindset," Khait says. "It's a combination of utilitarian and fun." 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Vietnam ­- The Northern Mountains By Sidecar.

Watch a video summary of the trip here.

In February 2015 four couples took one of Cuongs Mototorcycle Tours in Vietnam. It was a sidecar tour and it took in the lesser travelled mountain roads between Hanoi and the Chinese border.

We had a guide (Long) and a mechanic (Phu) travelling with us on a fully catered tour. At around $300 per couple a day for 9 days we only had to do the sidecar driving and survive the adventure. We are all experienced Ural sidecar owners but some were only experienced with left side chairs. Our country girl wives are courageous but were best not to have been fully aware of the coming challenge!

We mounted up in Hanoi on three 1990 vintage Urals plus Phu and myself rode two Dneipers of similar age. The bikes were quite reliable and we only had to deal with regular wear issues as we travelled. The brakes on the sidecar were disconnected and the bikes had been fitted with adapted Honda disc brakes front and rear. Motors were the older 650cc of course but we all found them very torquey and ideal for the rough and steep roads. They were all single wheel drive bikes as we have in Australia.

Cuong supplied some great ponchos in bright yellow for the girls in lieu of tonneau covers. These were ideal in view of the cool damp and rather muddy conditions. Wearing these we christened the girls as “the nuns from the order of Cuong”.  

Temperatures stayed between 6 and 18C day and night with only around 5 minutes sunshine during the whole tour. There was a constant haze and inversion cloud and so we wore warm clothes day and night.

We travelled up to 200kms a day and that sometimes took us from 9am to sunset to complete. No high speed stuff and some quite demanding stony, rutted, muddy and twisty roads.

From the centre of Hanoi, we headed out on a busy highway for 20kms. Dealing with the right side of the road, right hand sidecars and a million mopeds kept us a little stressed until we left the city and turned onto the mountain roads leaving most of the traffic behind. 200 kms that first day saw us well clear of the densely populated areas.

Our accommodation was in smaller towns and a couple of cities. There were hotels, resorts and homestays providing a range of venues. These were mostly adequate even if a little basic in terms of heating, hot showers and soft beds for our aching bodies. The best night I thought was a farm homestay where we all slept in one huge upstairs room in a shed. Single foam mattresses and light curtains separating each of the couples bit of floor made for a comfortable night. Their home cooked meals were delicious.

We met the water buffalo bull that ploughs their fields and were fascinated by their preparation of puffed rice for the markets. This was done by heating a kilo of rice grain in a cast pressure vessel rotated over a forge. After 7 minutes the lid was released with a cannon like boom and the puffed grains were blown out into a net. It would make a great party trick!

Every day we encountered new terrain to ride through. The first few days it was mostly the fascinating Kaste mountains that rise with vertical sides from the flat plains. Toward the Chinese border they became larger and higher with interesting cliff faces. The road surfaces came in all descriptions. Generally we were on single lane tar roads which required putting the sidecar wheel off to pass oncoming mopeds, and often we had to stop while trucks came past. There were few cars and they were the least considerate to share the road with.

We came into a volcanic area around day 5 and this rock strewn countryside was amazing to traverse as the difficulty of making roads through it would have been daunting. Their soils were rich, but boulders everywhere left only around 50% of the land surface as arable soil. Little space for machinery and the isolation until recent times meant most of these villages were poor.

The mountain scenery never failed to be spectacular. Years of farming have covered the mountain sides with intricate terracing and the fertile soils are obviously able to support the 90 million Vietnamese people. The people were always friendly and the children always waved excitedly as the sidecars approached. Anywhere we stopped a small crowd gathered to admire our unusual transport. The Ural delay factor did not involve questions though because very few of the people in these remote areas had enough English.

Many of the roads were based on crushed rock of about 60 – 90mm diameter. If it had then been sealed over with bitumen the surface was quite good, but anywhere it was not sealed or had broken away the ride was very rough and jarring. In particular riding down a long 10% grade with no sidecar wheel brake and the constant jarring had our wrists and elbows crying enough by the end of the day from fighting the handlebars.

We had a long mountain ascent one day where about 15kms of road was all wet clay as a road rebuild was underway. It was rough and steep as well. Consequently the bikes could only just pull second gear as we wound around corners and over bumps. Dropping back to first gear was no good because the extra torque would spin the wheel and we lost momentum. It was a delicate balance and several bikes spun to a standstill having to then go back for a fresh run up.

We suffered one puncture on our sidecar tyre and had two electrical wiring issues when old spade connectors were not making good connection and caused misfires. Phu was expert in all aspects of repair work and quickly determined the cause and fixed it. One of the bikes had a gearbox problem on day 4. It turned out that the bearings on the secondary gearbox shaft were dying. Phu carried a spare box and so he exchanged the gearbox in less than an hour during our morning coffee break. That night he stripped the box and located two suitable bearings to replace with. He then swapped the gearbox back again to the repaired one. “No problem, it’s all in a day's work”.

We crossed a swing bridge one day that was more than 50metres across and wide enough for the sidecars with about 200mm to spare. This was a neat shortcut and regularly used by large numbers of mopeds. There were however a couple of concrete bollards at each end to prevent cars and trucks using the bridge. We had to get past these by cocking the sidecar up and over them.

Another day we followed a river that needed four deep water crossings. Phu had a quick recce and went first for us. Alas he drowned it completely in the middle after it bogged in the gravel. After pushing it clear he was concerned about us crossing. The water was deep enough and running fast, but clear enough to see the rocks on the bottom. Our farmer boys checked it out a bit more, then successfully rode each of the four bikes over without a hitch.

We rode right up to the Chinese border on a couple of spots. No love lost on China and they pointed out the bridge across the river to China saying how they had blown it up to keep the Chinese out. Another day we visited a spectacular waterfall area with a nice lake beneath them. China owned one side and Vietnam the other. I was not sure who was paddling the boats on the lake, but there were border surveillance posts watching from high on the mountains above us in each country.

Whilst long range visibility made distance photos hard to record detail, we struck a dense fog on the last day that was quite testing to drive in. It sat on the mountain once we climbed above 1000m and continued for nearly 2 hours while we drove along at altitudes to 1300 metres. We could only see 10 to 30 metres ahead and there were no barriers where the roadside dropped over a cliff. I was not game to look away from the road at all as there were occasional vehicles appearing from the opposite direction. There were several occasions when what seemed to be the road ahead materialised into a smooth roadside verge which led over the cliff. At the last few seconds you could see the road actually went left or right instead and a quick change of course was necessary. The other bikes stuck to my taillights and I wondered if they could have faithfully followed me over a cliff if that was where I took them!

It was an excellent adventure and I would have no hesitation recommending Cuongs tours to anyone who asked. It is not for the faint hearted or inexperienced sidecar riders, but it leaves you with lifelong memories and a deeper appreciation of our lifestyle in Oz.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

FUSA 2014 - Flinders Ranges SA Adventure Ride.

The weather was perfect as we arrived in Hawker Sunday for morning tea.

Heading into the Flinders proper, our first dirt road was short detour
into the Sacred Canyon. The smooth, sandy surface is unusual in the
Flinders, but lots of fun. The canyon is home to a number of Aboriginal
rock carvings and we enjoyed the short walk from the bikes.

We visited Stokes Lookout and arrived in Blinman around 3:30; not a good
time to arrive on a Sunday as the few available food outlets were trying
to close. We rode 14km west of Blinman to Angorichina Village which
became our base for four nights. Chris D (Ipswich) Lee & Heather (Mt
Eliza via Broome) and Pete & Anna (Melbourne) were already in residence
and waiting.

The next two days of perfect weather the group of 11 bikes rode through
the popular Flinders locations. Parachilna, Brachina and Bunyeroo
Gorges; razorback Lookout; Willpena Pound; Glass Gorge; Wirrealpa;
Wilkawillina Gorge; The Great Walls of China. The Flinders is unique,
the country wonderful to see and experience and the ride is terrific.
Angorichin'a owner Dave took most of us (20) to the Blinman Pub in his

Tone (Melbourne) made a cameo appearance Monday night. Tone was
travelling with a couple of guys on BMW outfits who with Lee had
attended the OCR Rally Drysdale Station at the top of WA. His bike ran
without issue, and was now only 1,000km from home.

Wednesday was scheduled to allow riders do their own thing. Lou ran a
riders "kindergarten" to let some of the inexperienced riders improve
skills and confidence. Those who "passed" then rode PAR 3 to the
Nuccaleena Mine Ruin. Others did short photographic runs, lunched at the
Parachilna Pub (Goat burgers were popular), explored walking tracks
around Angorichina and generally relaxed.

Thursday was another perfect day and we left Angorichina for Arkaroola.
First stop was Chambers Gorge Gorge and Mt Chambers, an ideal location
to camp for a few days, but for us it was lunch and more pics.

We arrived at Arkaroola mid afternoon, and most of us explored the
village by foot. The bar and the communal lounge were quite popular once
I found the Pajero and some of my wine.

The following day we individually explored the area. Arkaroola has a
number of 2 and 4 wheel drive tracks and walking tracks, and all offer
wonderful sights. We found the 2 wheel drive tracks quite challenging;
the Pajero needing low ratio to negotiate some of the "earlier" 2wd runs!

We left Arkaroola Saturday intending to morning tea in Copley, lunch in
Lyndhurst, visit Talc Alf and the Leigh Creek coal mine and overnight at
Parachhilna. Unfortunately Charlie's bike shattered a valve spring 27
kms from Copley. Under tow and 5 kms down the road the final drive
locked causing further dramas. Fortunately Pete had his van and trailer 100km away at Angorichina. We waited in Copley while the trailer was fetched,
loaded Charlie's bike and headed direct to Parachilna.

We spent eight nights together and excluding travel to and from the
Flinders rode about 1,000km of which 500km was on gravel roads and

September is the ideal time to visit the Flinders and this year the
vegetation was its best for 20 years.

The area is easy to get to, is definitely "outback" and the country is
stunning. Well worth a visit, especially inviting for those of us able
to explore the area by Ural.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Dog Photo Competition

Here are the entries for the 2014 Dog and Ural Photo Competition:


















Tully, Kelsey and Zeffu

Tully - winner!!!