This image is not a photo of the 1945; although the look of the bike, typically "years 40's" , this pic was shotted...in the 1999! The Ural ("official" name IMZ, "Irbit Motorzykli Zavod", that means "Irbit Motorcycle Factory") produces motorcycles with an outdated technology, but also with a "vintage" fashion. The Ural has also a Chinese "clone", the "Changjiang"; about this, see the page about the Chinese motorcycles. 

The beginnings

The history of the most famous Russian motorcycle starts in the 1939, during the Second Worldwide War. In that year, the Russians engineers takes some BMW sidecar (750 cc. boxer engine, side valves, in the animated GIF, above), and, copying every single piece, begins to produce hundreds of "clones" of the German bike, in a new factory located in Moscow. But, the Nazist expansion forces the Russians to move the factory to the East, in the city of Irbit, on the Ural mountains (from this cames the name of the bikes, officially used only since the '50s), and the production was restarted in an ex-brewery!!

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Anyway, the Ural are not the only copies of the BMW: curiously, also the american Harley Davidson tried to make a "clone", and realized the "XA" model, total copy of the German bike (Russian and Americans have something in common...)! In the first pic above, a "lived" exemplar of the Ural "M-72", produced from 1941 until the '60s: 750 cc, 22 hp, 85 km/h for the sidecar version. Since the '50s, starts up the production for the civil market. A new OHV engine (instead of the outdated side valves) was launched in the early '60, with the "M-61" model (second pic), still equipped with the old type of rear suspension: the displacement is now 650 cc, the power 28 hp. The following models have a new rear suspension and an improved 12V electric system (Ural "M-67", third pic above, with the same engine boosted up to 32 hp). On the new OHV engine, also 350 and 500 cc. versions were realized (Ural "M-53", in the fourth pic above, with the 500 cc. engine and a new front-lever suspension).

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The factory, during the '60s, grows up, and today it give the work to 10.000 workers (above). Following the typical structure of the Soviet factories, has also an own test-track, a Palace of the Culture with cinema and library, and even an own central for the production of electric energy! 


The unknown prototypes

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As seen, the Ural production was basically composed of only two models (750 side valves, and 650 OHV). But the Ural has realized also some prototype, simply derived from the normal versions or totally new. In the first, second and third pics above (taken from an article of the "Motorrad" magazine, by Aleksej Popov), the "M-75" of the 1946 (sidecar and "solo" versions), with the engine of the "M-72", but with new side-valves heads, 36 hp, 170 km/h for the "solo" version. The "M-75" was realized also in a road version (fourth pic), but it never was produced in series. In the fifth pic...no, it isn't a bike crashed on a tree: it's a sidecar for the speed records, with the "M-75" engine and a front single-arm suspension! 

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With the OHV engine of the "M-75", also other evolutions were realized. In the beautiful first, second and third pics, the following "M-80" version, during the races and in a drawing; in the fourth pic, instead, the "M-76A", with the same engine, but increased to 820 cc. During the time, the power was increased from 36 to 44 hp. In the fifth pic, the "M-35", with similar features, but with a smaller 350 cc. engine, 24 hp for 140 km/h. Also a 600 cc. version with compressor was realized: the Soviet engineers maked a certain effort, although copying from the Western motorcycles!   

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In the three pics above, instead, the "M-77", realized in several versions between 1954 and 1959. This bike had always the "M-75" engine, but more powerful (50 hp) and with head-covers realized in a single block (instead of two). The max speed was over 180 km/h, and the weight was of 196 kg (for the version without sidecar). The third pic above is referred to the 1959 Soviet Championship, in the city of Tallinn (Estonia). 

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The bikes in the three pics above, instead, were strictly derived from the serial OHV models of the '60s (differently from the previous OHV racing models, that were effectively prototypes). In the first and second pics above, two exemplars of the "M-52S", union of the new serial OHV engine of the "M-52" (500 cc)...and the old frame of the "M-75", still with the archaic rear suspension! In the third pic, instead, the "M-61K", off-road version derived from the normal "M-61" (650 cc, 28 hp). 

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But that isn't all. For example, besides the orange racing bike in the first pic above, a racing sidecar with DOHC distribution driven by shaft and conic gears was realized! This technical solution was typical of the realizations of the Western makes (first of all, the BMW), but also the Ural, although it has a fame of "popular" motorcycle factory, tried to use this advanced (for the period) solution...

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...also in a simpler SOHC version (first and second pics above). These engines with shaft-driven timing, were followed by other engines (second and fourth pics; in the fourth pic, there is even a eight-valves version!). But these prototypes never entered in production, for the usual economic (and burocratic) reasons. 

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In the three pics above, another prototype: the Ural "M-100", for the military police, intended for the use on the Russian highways (in the first pic, the first prototype of the 1963, and in the second and third pics, the definitive protoype of the 1967). The displacement was 1040 cc, the power approximately of 50 hp, the max speed 150-160 km/h (without sidecar); the bike was equipped with a protective fairing and side bags. The Ural "M-100" was one of the few Russian bikes with a displacement over 1000 cc; also this bike, unfortunately, remained a prototype.

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In the 1976, a further prototype (never went into serial production) was realized: the "M-73" (three pics above), intended also to replace the old bikes of the police and the army. The engine, 750 cc, was totally new, with aluminium cylinders (instead, the previous 650 had the cylinders realized in pig-iron) and electric starter; power near to 45 hp. Also the design of tank and side covers was newer than the old model, in full '70s style. The prevision of production was of over 200.000 exemplars of "M-73" per year...but it was another bad prevision, because the Ural factory continued with the old 650 cc. model till the end of the years '90s! 

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The last trials of updating, were realized between the late '70s and the early '80s: above, a renewed version of the classic air-cooled boxer, a liquid cooled version (the only engine entered in production, but only for a three-wheeler), and especially a new boxer 1000, similar to the 750 cc. of the "M-73", and with an interesting feature: the gearbox placed under the crankshaft. This solution (although the dimensions of the crankcase are very huge....) is good to reduce the lenght of all the engine/gearbox group, and to reduce the lenght of the frame. The 1000 cc. boxer was in the experimental phase till the late '80s, but the fall of the Soviet empire stopped this interesting project. 

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Moreover, with the Ural flat-twin engine, also several prototypes of microcars were realized (but they never went into production). In the first and second pics, the "Belka", realized in the 1956 by the NAMI (a Russian automotive institute) in collaboration with the Ural factory and with the design institute "VNIITE". It had the 750 cc. engine, with side valves, of the Ural "M-72" motorcycle; rear-wheel drive, hydraulic brakes, 10-inch wheels, and the front part of the coachwork can be lifted in order to access to the front seats (for the rear seats there is a door on the right side). This prototype was realized also in a simpler version, with a slight off-road layout (third and fourth pics); anyway, it never was produced and the pre-production exemplars were destroyed. In the fifth pic, instead, a more recent prototype, with the 650 cc. over-head valves engine, but modified with the forced air-cooled system with fan. The "Belka" was interesting...it reminds me vaguely the Fiat "600 Multipla"! 


Recent models

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The fall of the communist regime, in the 1991, causes the crisis of the Ural factory, converted, after some year, in a co-operative society. In the 1996, the first renewed Ural models were launched, with the first improvements of the quality. Besides the old "Solo 650" (first pic above), unchanged in comparison with the models of the years '60s (except for some little feature, as the electronic ignition), a new range of models was launched: in the second pic above, the Ural "Solo 650 Classic", always based on the old "Solo" version, but with chromed tank, better look, electric starter and a braking system with two front disks (on the rear, remains the old drum brake). The price of this pleasant bike, in Russia, is little higher than the old "Solo" with drum brakes an kick-starter: it's always an unexpensive old bike, but now, at least, it's not an archaic bike! In the 2002, the "Solo Classic" has been launched in the new 750 cc. version (realized in aluminium, with Kehin carburettors, 45 hp, new switchgears), in the third pic above.

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   But the most interesting model, now, is the "Volk" (two pics above, "Wolf" on the Western markets), launched in the 1998. This bike was realized by the Ural in collaboration with the most famous Russian motoclub, the "Night Wolves", following the trends of the Russian "bikers": these persons converts their old Urals in incredible and interesting "choppers", using the fantasy and the ability! The engine of the "Volk" is the new 750 cc. version, 40 hp...ok, it's not a very high power, but the torque is perfect for a chopper. The braking system, for the first time on a Russian motorcycle, is equipped with three disks! 

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The "Volk" (first pic, above) is very pleasant: you can see the exhaust system, the little rear light, the chromed heads and forks...very different from the crude realizations of the past. But this bike, in Russia, has a price of 2500 $, a very bad price for the Russian biker (the Ural "Solo" basic has a price of 900 $)...anyway, this price is always lower than the unapproachable Italian, American and German bikes. For the americans, obviously, there is no problem of money (in the second pic, above, a "Volk" in the nation of the Harley-Davidson!), and now, with the fall of URSS, there isn't risk of investigation by CIA or FBI! The "Volk" has been launched, recently, also in a new version (third and fourth pics), with single front disk, new colors, new electric switchgears, different handlebar and the last update of the 750 cc. boxer, equipped with Keihin carburettors (for a slightly higher power: 45 hp). Besides the "Volk", the Ural produces also a limited-series motorcycle: the "Cobra" (fifth pic above), with a shocking yellow painting, the snake on the tank, and even the "hard-tail" suspension! 

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In the three pics above, a less expensive version of the "Volk": the "Voyage 750", a classic and traditional cruiser with more comfortable saddle, luggage rack and back cushion. The engine is always the 750 cc. of the "Volk". In an hypotetichal comparison, this bike is theorichally not very different from a Guzzi "Nevada 750": the engine is an air-cooled twin, the transmission is always with cardan...ok, it's enough improbable to compare a Guzzi with an Ural, but the philosophy is almost the same! 

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But the typical Ural product, is the sidecar (above). The other brands with a sidecar "ready to ride", are Jawa, Izh, Dnepr and Harley Davison. However, Izh and Jawa have two-stroke engines, the Harley Davison is too expensive (the only sidecar available is the Electra Glide, a bike with a well-known price...), and the Dnepr, less finished and with an older engine, is equipped with a telescopic fork (less rigid, on the sidecar, in comparison with the Earles-type fork mounted on the Dnepr). The Ural, although the outdated technology, has good "old-style" chromed parts and paintings, and this is a point of interest for the Western fans of the classic bikes; moreover, since 1995 is available again the version with the transmission on the wheel of the sidecar. 

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Above (first and second pics), several variants of the "Gear Up", version for the army and for international organizations. The "Gear Up" has the traction also on the wheel of the sidecar, and can be equipped with several types of weapon, even a bazooka (third pic)! 

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Above, some very special Ural: an unusual ambulance version (it seems a BMW...only for the look!), and -besides the bike in the second pic- the amazing official Ural for the sidecar-cross championship, with monoshock suspension (third and fourth pics)!! 

If the Russian factory will improve these bikes (especially for weldings and castings -still too "rude"- and the gearbox with only four speeds), an Ural will be considered as a "classic" bike, and not as a "outdated" bike. The new aluminium 750 cc. with Japanese carburettors have definitively replaced the old pig-iron 650 with Russian carburettors, on all the range (motorcycles and sidecars).The Irbit's factory is working to improve the features and the functionality of the bikes: for example, the old Russian electric switchgears (very, very hard to move...) have been replaced with very modern units of Western production. Ok, the situation, now, is hard for an old Russian factory of military vehicles...but also the Harley Davidson was, in the past, a factory of military vehicles, and now is one of the greatest brands of the world. Anyway, driving an Ural is a...

...jump in the past (it's better than a KTM or Husqvarna...but protect your bottom)!!!!!!! 

Some pic taken from http://members.tripod.de/AnsgarStaender  , http://moto.zr.ru  , http://home.earthlink.net/~threeweavers/index.html , http://intersoft.net/soport/ural/ural.htm  , www.ural.hu