I just moved to a new neighborhood and down the street is someone who street-parks their Ural sidecar motorcycle. I haven’t snagged my own picture of it yet, but it’s a neighborhood fixture and it got me thinking: Where is that electric Ural we were teased with a few years back and why can’t I buy one yet?
Ural, officially IMZ-Ural, is one of a handful of companies still building motorcycles with sidecars worldwide, and the machines they craft in their Irbit, Russia fctory are some of the most impressive, hardiest, and unique bikes around. The basic design that Ural still builds stems back to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, before Germany invaded Poland. Back then, BMW supplied the Soviets with the R71 design which has been massaged and modified for decades since into the Ural we know today.
With a 749cc opposed two-cylinder driving the rear wheel of the bike and (optionally) the outboard third wheel on the sidecar, Ural’s standard bikes are capable of handling rough terrain and difficult conditions with ease. The practicality of the sidecar is pretty clear too. Space for an extra passenger and a trunk aren’t standard features on most motorcycles, from what I understand at least, so the Ural is really in a class of one when it comes to practicality on fewer than four wheels. Oh, and you can race them too.
But while the standard bike Ural sells is pretty damn impressive on its own, I’m more interested in what an electric one would be like. While I don’t have to imagine it from scratch because Ural put out what looked like a production-ready electric concept bike two years ago, I am left wondering why we don’t have it yet.
The concept wasn’t a whole lot different than the standard bike. The form factor was the same. The only difference was that the big twin-cyl between the driver’s legs was replaced with a complete electric power pack from Zero Motorcycles. Everything looks like it bolted right in.
Ural claims that the sidecar form-factor is more forgiving for an electric motorcycle. Batteries are heavy, so matching them with a sidecar counterbalance lowers the center of gravity and keeps the big bike more manageable. Perhaps these are less significant advantages than Ural claims when you consider how well Zero’s own bike handled itself when we put it through its paces last year, but as someone with minimal motorcycle experience, the notion of extra stability sounds pretty sweet to me.
Despite the fact that the electric Ural concept looks production-ready from my vantage point, the company was clear that the bike was a proof-of-concept only and isn’t in the cards for production anytime soon. That’s really disappointing to me as I think you can already tell. I love a Ural, I love a sidecar, and I love it when old shapes are able to live on through new technology.
It’s not like there’s a lot of engineering that needs to happen here. The Zero battery pack clearly slides right in, and the rest of the bike has been tested through years of use on broken Russian pavement in the Siberian wilderness. Fellow Russian industrial concern Kalashnikov (you know, the AK-47 guys) has launched their own electric motorcycle that has already gone into service in the Russian military. If they can pull this off, I don’t know what’s really stopping Ural.
It seems to me that the Ural, perhaps with extra batteries stashed in the sidecar could be an excellent way to bring electric mobility to more people while four-wheeled EVs still appear to be an expensive risk to many consumers. It could also help Ural sell some more of these magnificent machines and compete with the other electric motorcycles from new manufacturers like Zero, but also big boys like Harley Davidson, Kawasaki, and others as well. So let’s see it, Ural. Let’s put this thing into production.