Riding the Ural Sidecar: the first 500 km

“Riding the Ural sidecar is like riding a horse with a mind of its own,” said Skol, “but I’m determined to learn to control it.”

EVERY now and then you’ll see the odd advert for a low milage Ural sidecar for sale. My guess is someone bought one and it scared the shit out of them so they’ve put it up for sale. Trouble is, you can’t jump on a sidecar and ride it just because you can ride a motorcycle. Riding a sidecar requires a new skill-set, and for some people, it’s a big challenge. But… if you do persevere, you’re in for a lot of fun. And, more importantly, you can take your dog with you whenever you go for a ride. How cool is that.

So, I turned up at Ural Australia in Uralla (near Armidale, NSW) with my dog to pick up a new Ural sidecar. The sidecar was low milage (under 500 km) and they did offer to deliver it to Sydney for me, but I said, “Nar, I’ll pick it up and ride it back to Sydney.” I reckon the only way to get used to riding a sidecar was to put some miles under your bum; and I planned on avoiding all the expressways which meant riding 420 km of minor roads in one day. A challenge, yes, which I embraced with… anticipation.

Once I’d sorted the paperwork, loaded my luggage, and worked out how to secure the dog so she couldn’t jump out, most of the morning was gone and I pulled out onto the main road and headed south — and boy, what a shock!

Everything I’ve ever read about sidecars was true! You accelerate (even a little bit) and she pulls to the left; de-accelerate, and she goes the other way; pull the clutch in to change gears and the sidecar’s trying to overtake you; let the clutch out again and you’re overtaking the sidecar; the back brake pulls you to the left (the sidecar wheel has its own brake and it’s linked to the normal back brake); the front brake pulls you to the right. Wind shifts, and/or minor shifts in body position, and/or a slight change in the road surface, and she changes direction. “Riding the Ural is like riding a horse with a mind of its own,” I said to myself, but I was determined to learn to control it.

The dog was a problem — she was getting thrown about with every sudden move as I tried to keep the Ural sidecar going in a straight line and I was worried she’d be thrown out. I pulled over about 20 km into the trip and removed the sidecar seat to find a storage compartment beneath it (as if the sidecar didn’t have enough storage). So I stashed the seat up the front of the sidecar body and let the dog stand in the storage tray. Wolla, she was sitting 20 cm lower and was well within the confines of the sidecar. Off we went again. Only 400 km to go…

Obviously you can’t lean a sidecar; it stays up straight and you steer it through corners, and it doesn’t take much movement of the handlebars, or effort, to change directions quickly. So… the reason I was wandering all over the road was because I didn’t have the experience to anticipate what it was going to do, and because I was over-correcting it when it did.

“Skol,” I said to myself, “you have to trust yourself. Just focus on the road ahead and let your subconscious mind take over.” I figured my subconscious mind was better equiped to make the minor adjustments than me. I mean, you don’t think about changing gears on your bike; your subconscious mind does that for you; it just happens automatically. So I looked as far ahead as I could and let the grey matter do its job. And you know what? Within 100 km I pretty much had it sorted. I started to relax and started to enjoy the ride. Yes, there were still the odd scary moment but they were just adding to the fun of the ride. Only 320 km to go…

I must admit, going around left-hand corners was still problem; the whole sidecar outfit dips to the right and feels very unstable; right-hand turns felt a lot more stable. A couple of the sharper left-hand corners had my heart racing and I realised I needed a better technique. Eventually, I started pointing my knee ‘into’ the corners; getting my weight out over my knee, and pushing down on the opposite handlebar end. Worked a treat on both left and right turns. Only 220 km to go…

The Ural sidecar isn’t really set up for highway travel; it’s really an off-road machine. I mean it comes with a ‘shovel’ for God’s sake. It also has off-road tyres, long travel on the forks, the exhaust kicked up for better ground clearance, leading-link front forks, a jerry can, a spare tyre, and finally, two-wheel drive — there’s a drive shaft from the rear wheel diff to the sidecar wheel. I reckon with the two-wheel drive it could go where most four-wheel drive vehicles could go. 

I’d been travelling on sealed, minor roads all the way home and it wasn’t until I got to the section between Broke and Wollombi that I realised how good the Ural suspension was. It was only 30 km but what a shite road — full of potholes, tight twists and turns, little bridges, road works. I certainly wouldn’t want to ride a normal road bike along it; your teeth would be clattering. But the Ural, she loved it; and the tougher it got, the better she went. By this time I’d gotten used to the idiosyncrasies of the Ural and I was able to hook into the corners at a fair rate of knots. I should have slowed down — I’d been riding all day, I was tired and it was getting dark — but what fun. Only 120 km to go…

It was now getting late, it’d been a long day, so I decided to get on the expressway at Berowa. It was only 20 km, thank God, because the Ural isn’t really designed for expressway travel — it runs out of puff on the big hills and it needs a five-speed gearbox.

When I got home my wife asked me if I wanted to go to the pub for dinner. “Are you joking me,” I said. “I’m going to bed!” I can tell you, I slept well that night. It’d been a long day — but I can assure you, after 420 km in one day, I’d become addicted to riding Ural sidecars.

Over the next week, the dog and I managed to clock up another 100 km doing day trips and visiting friends. Everywhere we went, people wanted to look at it, talk about it, take photos of it. It is a pretty amazing-looking machine. Most people assume you restored it and are surprised to find out it’s brand new. Those who do know what it is are surprised to find out it’s not made in Russia. It’s actually made in Kazakhstan. And despite its classic looks, it’s equipped with high-end parts from numerous international parts suppliers: the brakes are Brembo two-piston calipers with floating rotors by NG Brakes on all three wheels; suspension is by Sachs, the tyres are by Heidenau Tires, the electrics by Denso, throttle bodies are Keihin, and the wheels by Italcerchio.

It also has reverse gear. One night I had parked the wrong way, down hill, in a dead-end street outside the London Hotel in Balmain. It would have been a problem on any other bike except the Ural. I simply put it into reserve gear and backed up the hill. It certainly impressed the locals.

The Ural is designed for off-road adventures. It’s got two driven wheels so it’ll go just about anywhere. There’s enough storage for just about anything for a weekend away — the next morning you can climb out of your tent, make a cuppa, boil an egg for breakfast — things you could never do on a solo bike. I haven’t been off-road yet, you’ll have to wait for the next instalment to find out just how good the Ural can handle the rough stuff — river crossings, hill climbs, etc.

Finally, I’m surprised at how many bikers have said to me, “I wish I could take my dog for rides with me,” when I turn up on the Ural sidecar. And I’m also surprised how many people take photos of the dog in the sidecar — I think I’ll have to get the dog her own Instagram page — and yet, not one person has taken a photo of me… What is wrong with these people?


  1. Just read the Ural article. It’s very well written, in fact a lot of it is the way I would have said it. It’s also entertaining and informative and you take decent photos. You also gave some great tips re key riding technique.

  2. Great commentary, you’re spot on with your description of a sidecar bike, not everyone gets it, they’re a heap of fun once you realise you don’t let go of the handlebars!
    I love my solo and sidecar bikes, totally different but both are lots of fun! Enjoy your ride, Cheers , Noel B.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button