Wayback machines? In one form or another, they’re everywhere these days. Older-than Old-School, low-fi tech pimped with updated running gear seems to be what the people want—at least if you take stock in things like sales volumes. Triumph Bonnevilles, Harley-Davidson Sportsters, Moto Guzzi V7s; all of them are at or near the top of their respective parent company’s sales charts. And Ural is hoping to cash in on the trend.
Built on the edge of Siberia near the Ural Mountains in the town of Irbit, Ural motorcycles trace their lineage back to the pre-war BMW R71, which the Soviets decided to recreate to their own specs after former ally Germany invaded them. The resulting Ural M-72 sidecar rig hit the front lines of Eastern Europe in 1942. Fast-forward to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 and the privatization of Irbitskiy Mototsikletniy Zavod Ural (IMZ-Ural), now the only heavy weight motorcycle producer left in Russia. The factory was bought from state control, and it has been actively working ever since to upgrade the machines. After all, the retro/classic segment of the market is doing gangbusters business, so why not go for a piece of that pie?
They have a pretty decent chance with the Solo sT, so named because it retains the same architecture as the firm’s back-to-basics Ural T model (without the chair). Da—a two-wheel Ural. Although IMZ-Ural has been in the sidecar business for 70+ years, Ural says it’s making a serious push with the Solo, a machine of classic design and construction enhanced with somewhat modern components.
In Ural’s world, power comes in the form of an air-cooled, 745cc twin stuffed into an overbuilt, steel-tube frame. That reliably stout, horizontally-opposed twin cylinder engine with pushrod OHV can either be electrically started, or turned over via the included kickstart lever—and how cool is it to see that feature on a currently-produced factory bike? The twin-Keihin-carbureted mill, which received a major makeover in the past couple of years (including a longer-stroke crankshaft for US models, plain bearings, larger valves and an updated electronic ignition), now produces 40 horsepower and 38 ft-lbs of torque—not quite speed demon numbers, but certainly capable of a burnout or two out if you’re determined. A double-disc dry clutch doles out power between the engine and four gears, while exhaust is routed through low-slung stainless pipes (though ours had high-mounted aftermarket FMF units).
The four-speed, shaft-drive Solo benefits from upgraded suspension and brakes too, sporting a 40mm Marzocchi telescopic fork (rather than the leading-link suspension on sidecar machines) as well as Sachs rear shocks with preload adjustability. A hefty 295mm brake disc is gripped by 4-piston Brembos up front, with a single 2-piston Brembo unit handling the rear. In a true nod to capitalism, it seems Ural sources components from the same high-quality parts bins that feed most of Europe’s other manufacturers—alternators from Nippon-Denso, gears from Herzog and ignitions from Ducati Energia. The company still makes the frame, engine and body parts, and very little in the way of plastic is found on the Ural, giving the bike a very solid feel.
The bike unquestionably recalls BMWs of the 1960s and 70s, though the black-only Solo is decidedly simpler. Throwing a leg over the 441 lb. (dry) Solo, I found myself settling into a reasonably comfortable, tractor-type saddle, feet hunting for the footpegs amidst protruding cylinders and carburetors. The seat is sprung but firm, but your boots are somewhat hemmed in thanks to those previously mentioned components, and I have no doubt longer-legged riders will bitch about the somewhat cramped setup (you’ll get used to it).
The upright ergonomics are otherwise fairly comfy, with the wide 1-inch tubular handlebars giving pilots a rather neutral bend and easy grip. The view from the saddle ain’t much though: apart from an analog speedo flanked by a quartet of warning lights, there’s no other info on display. Another low-fi moment comes courtesy of the Solo’s cold-bloodedness at start-up—remember to pull the choke on the carburetors, as the bike comes from the factory jetted lean to meet EPA mandates. Once fired, the Solo settles solidly into a reliable lope, thanks to the inherently balanced flat twin engine. Twist the throttle at a stop and revel in the Solo’s torque effect (also shared by BMW boxers and Guzzi transverse twins)—the bike shifts to the right when revved, due to the engine’s reciprocating mass being horizontally opposed.
It’s a fantastically tractable motor, and torque is the name of the game: the Ural pulls smoothly with no drama before topping out at a rather low terminal velocity. While 40 HP doesn’t seem like much, the power delivery was livelier and more responsive to throttle inputs than I expected (though competitors like the 865cc Bonneville will be long gone by the second upshift). You’ll move along steadily rather than speedily, but the Solo will cruise easily at 75 mph with throttle to spare. The wide-ratio 4-speed is well suited to the engine’s power delivery, and despite a vague gearbox I was always—OK, usually—able to engage the gear I was looking for. That transmission has become more refined in recent years, but the process—especially downshifting—still can’t be rushed. It helps to match engine speed with road speed for the best results.
Flogging the Solo sT through a flowing progression of clean, perfectly banked sweepers up in northern Washington, the first few turns caught me out: Due to the low-slung cylinders, the bike has a tendency to dip into turns upon entry. It’s freaky at first, but once you get used to it, the whole package feels solid and planted, helped by the robust frame. Low speed maneuverability is good, with the low center of gravity and gyroscopic effect of those big flywheels contributing to excellent stability, though higher speeds can make the thin rear tire seem a little squirelly. It’s not a deal-breaker though, especially if you’re used to riding 1970s-era machines.
Up front, the Marzocchi fork helps the Solo’s handling feel somewhat neutral, though not really what you’d call quick. The Sachs shocks with progressive springs out back do a solid, workmanlike job of damping road ruts, with enough articulation to take a hard jolt. Not exactly plush, but mostly compliant.
I was more impressed with the brakes; the excellent front and rear Brembo units make for smooth and effective, well-modulated braking with no surprises.
If you’re looking for the vintage experience without most of the vintage mechanics (and a two year factory warranty), you’ll find the Ural sT is unlike almost anything on the road. IMZ-Ural likes to compare the Solo with Triumph’s Bonneville, Guzzi’s V7 Classic and the Royal Enfield Bullet C5, but the less expensive $7699 Triumph seems almost cutting edge compared to the Ural’s rough edges. Someone will invariably trot out the whole, “boatloads of personality and charm” argument, and they wouldn’t be wrong: the Ural Solo has that in spades, and it is thoroughly enjoyable, in a utilitarian kind of way.
But is it fast or sexy? Nyet.
And beware the downshift.
|2010 Ural Solo sT
||OHV air-cooled horizontally opposed twin
|Displacement, bore x stroke
||745cc, 78 x 78mm
||Carbureted; dual Keihin L22AA, 32mm
||4-speed; shaft final drive
||26 deg./2.6 in.
||Duro HF-308, 3.5 x 18 in.
||Duro HF-308, 4.0 x 18 in.
||295mm disc, 4-piston Brembo calipers
||245mm disc, 2-piston Brembo calipers
||40mm Marzocchi fork; 4.3 in. travel
||Dual Sachs coilover shocks; 3.9 in. travel
||40 (claimed) at 5600 rpm
||38 ft-lbs at 4500 rpm (claimed)