Santa and his eight flying reindeer got nothin’ on the 2WD Ural Gear-Up. When it comes to smiles per mile on ultimate sleigh rides, I’ll go dashing through the snow on a Ural before any purpose-built, motorized sled, whether fueled by petrol or magic food pellets.
I consider the unambiguous invite to visit Redmond, Washington, and ride the 2014 model Gear-Up in the snow as a late-arriving Christmas gift. So unique the experience of piloting the esoteric sidecar through such a foreign element (California can’t even produce rain, let alone snow) it overshadowed the prior trip to exotic Tenerife for the Ducati Monster 1200 S launch. Jealousy editors, Siahaan and Brasfield, bribed and cajoled to come along and ride monkey, but I was having none of it. Ballast such as them would only slow me down and keep the sidecar earthbound.
Besides the Brembo front caliper and large disc brake, Ural sidecars reside in a technological vacuum, seemingly unupdated for a decade or six. Existing on its rugged reputation, mechanical simplicity and general eccentricity Ural sidecars sell to a specific demographic of motorcyclist, but, like a big-eyed puppy out for a walk, endear themselves to each and every passerby.
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Ural lobbed an applied science bombshell when the company announced that its 2014 models were being equipped with EFI. Not stopping there Ural also updated the rear and sidecar brakes from drum to disc, and exchanged the friction steering damper for a 16-position hydraulic one.
Rain turned to sleet, turned to snow as we climbed in elevation up I-90. Navigating off the salted, snow-free interstate my guide, Ural parts manager, Nik Hays, aboard a 2010 model Gear-Up made for a frontage road. Our destination was Snoqualmie Pass, and from this point on we rode with the sidecar wheel engaged.
Hard on the gas with both rear wheels throwing up fluffy white roost, the Gear-Up belches forward unhindered by the slippery, wet conditions. I’m rowing the front end back and forth in an effort to stay within Nik’s wheel tracks. The sidecar crashes through and bounces over the deeper stuff, pushing and pulling the motorcycle to and fro. I’ve only ever piloted a 2WD sidecar once before in our 2011 Gear-Up review, but this unfamiliar activity transcends novelty, begging the question: Why don’t I own one of these? If I weren’t riding I’d be clapping my hands, jumping up and down and squealing like a little girl who just got a pony for her birthday. Yeah, it’s that exciting and fun.
Talking with Nik, he says the deep snow is making gear shifting difficult. I ponder this a moment and realize I’m not experiencing the same issue. The EFI is minimizing shifting by providing better air/fuel management and allowing my ’14 bike to power through in second gear the same encumbering snow drifts and higher elevation that’s forcing him to row the gearbox of his older, carbureted model.
From just above idle the new EFI-outfitted, air-cooled, opposed-Twin reaches 90% of its maximum torque then hovers around its peak torque output until the engine reaches its redline. Ural claims EFI, in conjunction with a redesigned airbox with twice the volume of the old one, and a new lower-profile cam with shorter durations, have conspired to increase torque to 42 ft-lb at 4300 rpm from the 38 ft-lb at 4600 rpm of last year’s carbureted model.
Considering the $2K MSRP increase, from the $14,099 of last year’s Gear-Up to $15,999 for this year’s, the new model’s ability to outperform its predecessor may be all current Gear-Up owners and wannabes need to justify the price hike. Not all’s perfect as I experienced engine hesitation in off-to-on throttle inputs, but Ural’s VP of R&D, Jason Rae, says he is working closely with counterparts at ElectroJet to perfect the system. In fact, the day I spoke with Rae (after my ride) he had just received a calibration update from ElectroJet to smooth off-idle transition. EFI-model Ural owners can easily update their bike’s to the latest algorithm by visiting their local dealer.
“For many years we were watching other manufacturers launching new models after new models,” says Ilya Khait, Ural President and CEO. ”So we decided we needed to do something more significant than changing the color combinations. It’s not to say that we didn’t change the color combinations for 2014, but we also made the bike lighter, faster, more responsive, more fuel efficient, better in handling and braking – closer to what riders expect from a modern-day motorcycle.”
The new, hydraulic steering damper improves front-end control when riding off road and restricts left-to-right wandering at freeway speeds – something we noticed during our 2011 evaluation. A new headlight nacelle with a fuel light graces the front of all new Urals, as does a new wiring harness with weather-tight connectors.
With all these upgrades and additions it should be noted that the amount of available sidecar models for 2014 has been reduced to four from last year’s offering of seven. Gone from the lineup are the Retro, Tourist and Patrol T models, leaving two 2WD bikes: the Gear-Up ($15,999) and Patrol ($15,399), and two single-wheel-drive models, the M70 (15,599) and T ($12,399). The differences between the models, besides 2WD, being mostly cosmetic and/or included options.
Getting back to our day in the snow, what I’ve come to realize is that I can write about what great fun we had until my fingertips go numb and cramp with arthritis, but I’ll never be able to convey the essence of the experience. For anyone with an inkling of interest in these time capsules, find your nearest Ural dealer and take a sidecar for a ride. I never knew how much I’d enjoy the sidecar experience until it was forced upon me. It could be same for you.
While the price for a new 2014 Gear-Up has crested the $15K threshold, there’s less expensive models available (see above paragraph). The best thing about the upgraded 2014 models is that EFI and disc brakes have increased the performance of Urals without decreasing the bikes’ vexing charm.
2014 Ural Gear-Up Specifications
|Engine Type||OHV air-cooled opposed Twin|
|Engine Capacity||749 cc|
|Bore x Stroke||78mm x 78mm|
|Horsepower||41 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||42 ft-lbs @ 4300 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed plus reverse|
|Clutch||Dry, double disc|
|Front Suspension||IMZ leading link fork|
|Rear Suspension||Sachs hydraulic shock, preload adjustable|
|Front Brakes||Four-piston fixed Brembo caliper with 295mm floating NG rotor|
|Rear Brakes||HB big bore single piston integrated floating caliper with 256mm fixed NG rotor Sidecar brake: two-piston fixed Brembo caliper with 245mm floating NG rotor|
|Seat Height||32 inches|
|Ground Clearance||6.8 inches|
|Dry Weight||730 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||5.0 gal|
|Colors||Asphalt Gray, Sage Green, Battleship Blue|