The road less traveled, the snow well-conquered
Sidecars & Snow: A Mountain Ride with Ural Motorcycles
Given the chance to ride motorcycles in the winter, a sane rider might politely decline, but what’s life without a few
two three-wheeled thrills? On a recent invitation by Ural Motorcycles we did just that, responding “yes, please” (pronto) while simultaneously reaching for our bags, and multiple changes of underwear. Next stop, cold and soggy Seattle.
Wait, “not Russia”, you ask? Ural Motorcycles is steeped in Russian history, war history, but today Ural is actually based in the Pacific Northwest far from the frontlines of any European battlegrounds, but manufacturing continues to happen on the other side of the world in Siberia — territory inhabited by folks that know a thing or two about wretched weather.
Our agent of transportation for the ride: the eminently capable and appropriately named (at least for us) Gear-Up sidecar motorcycle. Our final destination: nowhere specific, but we did know we would be making our way through a speculative snow cloaked road in the Cascades. Here’s how things went.
Watch our film and story right after the jump.
We never truly expect too much in the way of location hosts, but we received the kind of brusque congeniality that makes our job truly worthwhile from none other than Mr. Cob (short for Cranky Old Bastard), stationed out of Seattle. We could not have asked for a more experienced Ural rider, as Mr. Cob took his own Gear-Up for a road trip of monumental proportions, hitting the much of the lower 48 states on a lengthy 2008 ride. If we could describe Mr. Cob, we’d say he was equal parts road-roughened traveler, motorcycling appassionato, and sage grizzly bear. Frankly, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We were prepped to ride the Gear-Up by our host as he gave key pointers on the counterintuitive riding physics involved in managing a sidecar motorcycle without ending up as street pizza. The advice was welcomed.
Note that the Gear-Up looks like nothing else out there. It’s not a bike for sissies, but it’s also not a thrust of horsepower and torque to your backside that begs for you to hold on for dear life. Built like a Russian T-90 tank, the Gear-Up is designed to take punishment. With a reliable boxer engine that doles out a capable 40 horsepower, the Gear-Up isn’t fast, but gets you where you need to go with steadiness and no unwanted drama. The bike is also powdercoated, not painted, so it knows you’d rather thrash it through dirt, bramble and sand than take it to some Concours d’Elegance to show off while you eat cucumber sandwiches. But it also boasts modern bits like Brembo brakes and much-needed Sachs suspension components. For those, we would end up grateful, given the impending weather and road conditions. With the Gear-Up’s fat knobbies, snap on rain cover for the sidecar, and WWII style gas cans for those moments when your desire to ride outdoes your gas tank’s capacity, we headed off for the mountains.
Along the ride, our first encounter with other humans showed us what was fondly referred to as UDF or “Ural Delay Factor,” which basically amounts to perfect strangers making friendly inquiries about the Ural bikes and 5-10 minute delays in travel plans as a result of these great conversations. Men, women and especially kids are completely fascinated. According to Mr. Cob, this is all well and good when you first get your sidecar bike. You stop, chit-chat with the locals and generally enjoy the attention. “Just try dealing with that on a cross-country trip, and it’ll get old real quick,” he quipped.
Two protein bars and a bottle of water later, we hit the road again on the way to the mountains. The ride was cold and wet, but them’s the facts. Warm smiles were ear-to-ear as Mr. Cob and crew sped past cars and entranced drivers who throttled it just to see what we were all about. The Ural bikes were stable and comfortable throughout and we safely and surely covered a hundred miles or so of expressway, rain and wind. With all-wheel drive car and two Gear-Ups in caravan mode, we were certainly a sight to see. This author’s lack of any significant facial hair was quite possibly the only woe in regard to mug protection, made up for by Mr. Cob’s ZZ Top-esque set up.
Upon reaching the foot of the mountains, we observed the snow-capped trees and what seemed like calmer, slightly warmer weather, despite the whiteness. We stopped briefly for an absolutely necessary cigar break and also to quickly shift the bikes into two-wheel drive mode (rear motorcycle wheel and sidecar wheel connected to the motor via visible driveshaft) in order to do some three-wheeled frolicking in the snow. Until then, we’d only seen a few SUVs make it down the mountain road, so we had some idea of what we were in for. Less like trudging and more like parting the frozen waves, the bikes made supposed work seem like child’s play. Where cars feared to tread, we treaded.
Hopping back on the bikes, we made our way up the mountain road with relative ease. Dodging massive potholes in the pavement and plowing our way through 6 to 8 inches of heavy, wet snow, the Urals proved pretty damned capable. Moreover, it was an unequivocal hoot to see the front knobbies drive through otherwise unmanageable conditions. Mr. COB led the way and though we briefly stopped again to take in a breathtaking view of the misty tree-covered mountains, the bikes beckoned to us for more riding.
The fun had pushed us hard to ignore the cold and wet conditions and we were further warmed by the fact that every mile logged equated to a solid recommendation of not just the Gear-Up but of the experience it provided and the camaraderie it fostered, something we’d say is unique in our age of the not oft favored blindingly fast paces. The day turned to night as we headed back to Ural’s quaint shop and we hung up our gear to dry as we anticipated one of the calmer of post-ride slumbers. Gear Up. Gear down. Zzzz.
Click here to view the slideshow.