View Single Post
Old 08-14-2012, 08:10 PM   #78
Gnarly Adventurer
masukomi's Avatar
Joined: Jun 2009
Location: Cambridge, MA
Oddometer: 215
Post-trip Ural Thoughts

Post-trip Ural Thoughts

Weíve finally hit 10,000 km on the Ural, and most of that was done on this trip. So, how I we feel about it after 18 straight days of riding over 5,000 miles from sea level to 12,000+ feet in elevation (and back), in temperatures from 60į to 110į, averaging nearly 10 hours on the road each day? And more importantly, do I think we should take this around the world with us?

To the latter I would answer a qualified yes, but the qualifications are non-trivial. Iíll get into the details below, but the quick summary is that the performance issues weíve had on the trip must be resolved. The crap gas mileage we had on the trip must be addressed (possibly related to the performance issue), and I believe that the service intervals, as dictated by the ownerís manual and the service coupons for the warranty, is just too damn onerous, and impractical for a RTW journey.

The Heat

The Ural performed spectacularly well in the heat. It never complained, despite our initial heat-related setback when we brought it home. We rode it all day long in >100į heat at highway speeds. Something which pretty much everyone agrees itís not designed to do. It didnít complain once.

The Mileage

The mileage is crap. Even our dealer agrees we were getting poor mileage for a Ural. This is a pretty serious issue for us. Getting good mileage on a Ural is only about 30mpg, so getting crap mileage raises serious concerns. Itís about three times as expensive as the BMW, just to run. Never-mind the serious expense of all the oil that will be required for all those extra service intervals. We could literally buy another BMW with the additional money weíll spend on gas going around the world (even if we do get it up to 30Mpg)Ö Hell, we could probably buy one and pay for itís fuel on the trip.

Assuming we only go 35,000 miles when traveling around the world (unlikely itíll be that low) and assuming gas prices average only $4 per gallon around the world (very unlikely) and assuming we can get the average Mpg up to 30 weíll spend $4,666 on gas for just the Ural. The BMW would cost us $2,800 in gas. At our current average of about 20Mpg on the Ural it would cost us $7,000 for gas. So, yes, we could buy a used BMW ( mine was $3,800 ) and fuel it around the world for the same price it would cost us to just fuel the Ural.

The poor mileage meant that, even in the US where it feels like gas stations are almost constant, there were times when we altered our route over normal paved roads simply because weíd run out of gas if we didnít. This is not only unacceptable, it is simply unworkable in foreign countries where going more than a hundred miles between gas stations isnít that uncommon on the main roads, never-mind the fact that we prefer the back roads. Weíll have to add a significant fuel cell if we want to take this around the world.

The Torque

The lack of torque was frustrating. It really sucks to slow down to 50Mph on the highway, and annoy all the drivers behind you just because youíve encountered a minor hill. It really really sucks to be cruising along and suddenly loose 15mph because youíve encountered a headwindÖ that lasts for the rest of the day.

The Performance Issues

As weíve noted in the thread, weíve had some disconcerting performance issues which we still havenít figured out the cause of. Many suggestions have been made, and many things have been checked, but so-far no-one knows whatís going on.

The short version is that a happy Ural can pull at 65Ė70 mph on the flat, with no problem. Or, ours can when itsí happy. But when itís not happy it tops out at 50 for hours: full throttle, no wind, no hills. Then, for no apparent reason, itíll start going 65 again, maybe for ten minutes, and then back to 50.

This is not because of incline, throttle change, wind change, or any other short term transient riding factor. Itís not altitude. Itís not heat. Itís not the vented gas cap failing to breathe. Itís not the vacuum petcock (looked great when we pulled it apart). Itís not clogged straws on the petcock, and riding with it in prime made no difference. Itís not the spark plugs. Itís not the brakes. Itís not the valves. Itís not the air filter. Itís not related to the amount of time the engine has been running, or how full the gas tank is. It idles fine when itís running crappy. It idles fine when itís running well. The carbs are clean. The jets are clean, and no-one has any freaking clue whatís going on. It just rides like crap for a while, and then rides ok. Theres no predicting which state itíll be in at any given time, or for how many hours itíll stay that way.

The Speed

The Uralís favorite speed seems to be around 55mph, maybe a little less. It can go faster (when weíre not having performance issues), but it likes a pace thatís more sedate than most bikes. Whenever we talked about taking one around the world the guy at the shop kept repeating that itís maximum speed was only about 65. What he didnít understand is that it is a very small portion of the worldís roads where you can approach such a speed. On most of them, even the well paved ones, youíll spend most of your time happily within the Uralís comfort zone.

But, thatís ok with us. We like a more sedate pace, and hate taking interstates in the US. They make for a very boring, and sleepy ride. The small back roads are so much more interesting to ride and offer way more to look at. We only took the interstates on this last trip because of the limited amount of time we had to cover the miles. Ignoring the performance issues, the speed wasnít much of a problem in the US. It just kept us in the slow lane.

With regards to the performance issueís effect on speed. Itís not that we want to go 65 all the time. Itís that we want the bike to have enough power to go 65 when we need it to, and be able to pull up a hill. You really donít want to be behind us when we hit a hill and its top speed on the flat is only 50. Tractor-trailer trucks pass us. Hell, goats pass us.

The Ergonomics

Overall theyíre not bad. Add some bar risers and you can sit in a very upright position, thatíll keep your back happy all day.

The area around the right foot leaves a lot to be desired. Itís like inserting your foot into a shoebox. Thereís nowhere to stretch your leg out, and you can barely lift your foot up off the brake lever without hitting the right carburetor.

Standing is also a notable problem. The kick-start lever digs into the back of your calf whenever you stand up. The pegs are round, which sucks for standing on, and itís really difficult to stand on the right peg without depressing the brake lever somewhat.

Why all this standing? Two reasons:1. you need to stretch your legs when youíve been on the road for hours.2. Thatís how you handle bumpy terrain. If you canít do it comfortably on pavement youíre going to have a hell of a time doing it off-road.

The stock bench seat was surprisingly comfortable. It could do with a Bead Rider, but I doubt thereís any seat out there that wouldnít be improved by one.

The Givi windshield we added worked pretty well, but I think Dacharyís still considering the medium sized Ural one. I fear that weíd stop dead in a headwind if we added any more wind resistance. Going without a windshield isnít an option for me. Way too fatiguing fighting that wind all day.

The Maintenance Schedule

To me, it seems onerous. To Dachary itís just one of the limitation of owning a Ural. If we only do 200 miles a day itís still roughly once a week that we have to service the bike. Thatís frustrating, and expensive. Good motorcycle oil is not cheap in third world countries, and finding it is not easy. Finding, and buying, three quarts every week, and then disposing of it? Ugh. Iím honestly not convinced itís reasonably possible.

Iím finding it hard to believe that any of the few people who take these on notable adventures actually adhere to the schedule. Plus, the service windows are really small (only 200Km, or 124 miles). Itís very easy to start a day a hundred kilometers before the maintenance window and finish it a hundred kilometers after it. Are Ural owners expected to simply stop on the side of the road between cities, with a full compliment of service fluids and means for capturing and transporting old oil to the next town without getting it everywhere? Sadly, this is almost exactly what we had to do.

I just donít understand how this works practically. If youíve got to go somewhere more than 124 miles away, but youíre approaching the service interval, what are you realistically expected to do? Call them up and say you canít come because youíd violate your warranty? Bring engine oil, transmission fluid, and gear oil and change it on the side of the road? Or give up and say ďSorry, the Ural isnít capable of being used as a primary transport vehicle. Iíll have to use [insert other vehicle here] instead.Ē

A two year unlimited mileage warranty is a wonderful thing, but I donít see how itís realistic for anyone to cross a place like Mongolia and adhere to the maintenance schedule without a support vehicle filled with new fluids and a couple drums for catching the old ones.

Now, we hear tale that IMZ-Ural is currently recommending a 5000 km (3,106 mi) service interval for ďnewĒ bikes, but until we hear that from an official source Iím not risking our warranty, or the bikeís health. The engine oil is still coming out very dark after 2,500 km, and the final drive fluid is absolutely disgusting. The transmission fluid, Iím happy to report was barely broken down at the 10,000km change. (We changed it last at 5,000km, even though it wasnít called for - we did all the fluids then.)

3,000 mi is the standard service interval for most bikes, but neither of our BMWs is under warranty, and the things are so damn reliable in that department that we can easily push the service out to 5,000 mi without worry if we need to. Seeing how hard the Ural is on the fluids this far into the break-in Iíd be really concerned about pushing it past 3,000 miles. ButÖ 3,000 within the realm of practicality.


If you set aside my frustrations at the mileage, the service intervals, and the atypical performance issue weíve been havingÖ the Ural is quite enjoyable. When everythingís going well I really do enjoy riding it. Yeah, my left shoulder will become rather painful from pulling in the left handlebar all day when the winds are against usÖ but somehow thatís ok (as long as I can switch out with Dachary the next day).

As much as I bitch about the service intervals I actually like working on the Ural. It gives us both a real sense of satisfaction and it makes us feel that we actually understand how it works, and could fix it if it broke down in the middle of nowhere.


Weíve found rust in the splines on one of the rear wheels (I forget which), the threads under the bearingís lock nut on every wheel (including the spare), the steering damper rod, the hole where the seat-peg-thing goes into the bottom of the tub, and the rim of the spare tire. Thereís also rust developing on top of the headlight, and the sidecar bumper bar thing.

We also found some really scary looking corrosion on two of the bolts that had come out of the final drive and hold it on to the swing arm.

Some people have been ďahh, thatís just a trivial bit.Ē If it was a ten year old bike Iíd agree. But this is so new that when we bought it it still hadnít reached the US, and to me that isnít just wrong it is fucking unacceptable. ďItís a UralĒ is not a valid excuse. Thatís a valid excuse for quirkiness, or bad gas mileage, not rust. There is no excuse for rust in this many places on a brand new vehicle. Hell, thereís no excuse for rust anywhere on a brand new vehicle.

At the end of the dayÖ

At the end of the day I like the Ural, but I donít have faith in the Ural. Itís not that I think itís going to break down and leave us stranded. Itís that I donít trust it to keep running well. I fear weíll be stuck traveling across India at 32mph and no-one at IMZ-Ural or on Soviet Steeds will have a clue whatís wrong with it. Also, the fact that we keep finding non-trivial amounts of rust on a brand new vehicle is very disconcerting to me.

I hate to say it, but I think Iíd feel a lot better about the Ural if we replaced the engine with one from a BMW Airhead. BMWs have their own problems, but I have faith in their engineering. I donít think I would be saying that if our first 10,000 km had gone like most owners have, but they didnít, and weíre not just taking this thing to the store and back. Weíre going around the world with no support crew.
a Corporate Runaway
masukomi is offline   Reply With Quote