Dnipro (Dnepr) MT Motorcycles: History, Models, Facts

Dnipro MT (also pronounced as “Dnepr” and “Dnieper”) is a brand name of a heavy road motorcycle with a sidecar that was manufactured by the Kyiv Motorcycle Factory (KMZ). The latter was founded in the end of 1945 and was established on the basis of the military production lines of the Kyiv Panzer Factory. The first motorcycle that was produced by the factory was the “K-1B-Kyivlianin” that was a full copy of the German Wanderer 1Sp received by the USSR as reparation after the World War II. It was a very simple motorcycle which had only 2hp, two-speed gearbox, bicycle pedals, and no rear suspension. Later the KMZ started the production of Dnipro motorcycles

The modifications of the Dnepr motorcycle had been equipped with the sidecar wheel drive and starting from the MT-9 model they also had an automatic clutch mechanism and electronic ignition system. In the beginning of the 90-s, the KMZ started producing models with spring-type lever forks in front that were similar to those used in Ural-Tourist models by the Irbit Motorcycle Factory.

The History of a Dnepr Motorcycle

Similarly to the famous “Ural”, the Dnipro motorcycle originated from the well-known German BMW R-71 and its Soviet copy M-72 and had evolved through several early models (K-650 and K-750) that were equipped with the overhead valve engines. In the early 1970-s, the “K” index was changed to “MT” so the model K-650 got renamed into MT-8.

In 1971, the Kyiv Motorcycle Factory introduced the MT-9 model with several major technical improvements such as MT 804 gearbox with rear drive and automatic clutch-switch-off, direction indicators, and lamps with enhanced light-reflecting efficiency. Soon, this model was additionally equipped with a newer fuel tank which was later successfully used in many MT models, as well as with the double-pinned ignition coil B-201(6v) and the newly-designed circuit breaker (PM-11).

a Dnepr MT10-36 model

a restored Dnipro MT10-36 in Latvia

In 1974, the new model MT-10 had been the first Dnepr motorcycle to feature the 12-volt grid for its electric equipment. It had also introduced an enlarged fuel tank and a new ignition coil B-204 which was able to provide sparkle for two ignition plugs. Its modification (MT-10-36) that was introduced in 1976 had an increased compression and a new type of carburetors. As the result, its engine power grew up to 36 hp.

One of the most successful Dnipro MT models ever produced by the KMZ was MT-11. It featured an impressive load capacity of 260 kilograms, however, practically all Dnepr models were usually exposed to much heavier loads, especially in the village areas where they often served as a compact freight transport.  The maximum speed in this model could reach a bit more than 65 miles per hour (105 km/h). The first bike was produced in 1985 and featured the 32-horse power four-stroke engine and a four-speed gearbox with the rear drive. Additionally, the model was equipped with a parking brake and the drum brakes on all wheels including the sidecar wheel. The suspension consisted of the telescopic fork in the front and a pendulum chassis type in the back.

Another model that had been quite popular for years is the MT-16 that had been produced by the Kyiv Motorcycle Factory since 1986. Although this model was slower than MT-11 (the maximum speed decreased by 10 km/h or 6.2 mph and made up only 95 km/h which was almost 60 mph), its double wheel drive (a drive on the sidecar’s wheel) had significantly improved its off-road characteristics which were quite useful for the Soviet roads with their potholes capable of destroying any machinery.

For decades, the Dnepr MT had been a real motorcycle mass production in the USSR. The factory had manufactured over three million vehicles since 1967. They were mostly designed for the internal needs of the country including the models for civilians, military, and public utility services; however, some models had been successfully exported outside the USSR as well.

A List of Dnipro Models

  • Dnepr K-750.
    By 1958 when the K-750 model was officially put in use, the KMZ engineers had seriously improved the Irbit M-72 model and made it more comfortable, reliable, and easy-to-drive. They had introduced several important developments such as a higher compression rate resulting in an increased engine power (26 hp), improved chassis, and a better engine cooling system. Although the first models were still equipped with the M-72 sidecar and a short lever arm front fork that were initially produced by the Irbit Motorcycle factory, they were soon replaced by the improved versions manufactured at the KMZ.
  • Dnepr MB-750.
    One of the greatest features of this military modification is the ability to block the driveshaft joint allowing to use the vehicle without the sidecar while when it’s “on” there’s a possibility for a two-wheel drive. The sidecar was equipped with front and rear machine gun holders, axe and spade fastenings, two 10-liter canisters, and a spare part box. To improve the firepower of the crew, a special fastening for the Kalashnikov automatic assault rifle was introduced too. Another military modification of this model MB-750m did not have a double wheel drive, however, it was equipped with a better version of the fuel tank, rear fenders, and the reverse drive.
  • Dnepr K-650 (later MT-8).
    Further improvements of the Dnepr motorcycles were mainly caused by the significant changes in the engine. While the old “bottom” valve engines (it turned out that in English such engines are called “sidevalve” ones, big thanks to John Pain from Australia for drawing my attention to this term ?) were less fuel-efficient and could not provide the desired horse powers, a newly designed overhead valve engine was installed on the K-650 model. Although its initial volume was smaller than in the previous model (650 cm3 vs. 750 cm3), the motorcycle produced 32 hp that exceeded the previous model by 6 hp. While its crankshaft rounds (5200 rpm) were considered to be quite low for sports vehicles, for Dnepr motorcycles it was quite an impressive number. The innovative engine made the model faster (65 mph or 105 km/h) and more dynamic.
    To increase the lifetime of the engine, the composite crankshaft had been replaced by a more durable one made of cast iron while the Moskvitch-407 liners had been installed instead of the old rod roller bearings.
  • Dnepr MT-9.
    The new MT-9 model that was first produced in 1971 got several important modernizations such as a new gearbox with a reverse gear which had greatly improved maneuverability. Besides, the model got a gearshift pedal which was interlocked with the clutch mechanism, the new steering, and the direction pointers. All these factors made the motorcycle more user-friendly, efficient, and reliable.
    Despite the high fuel consumption, this model is still quite popular due to its dynamics and impressive speed gain.
  • Dnepr MT-10-36.
    The new MT-10-36 Dnepr motorcycle which first came off the assembly line in 1974 was equipped with a newly-designed solid soft seat, a new larger capacity fuel tank, and a double-output ignition coil. The latter could directly supply the power to two ignition plugs. The KMZ engineers had increased the compression which increased the engine power up to 36 hp (23,5 kW/torque 46 Nm). In addition, this model was the first one ever to apply the 12-volt electric scheme.
    Since the motorcycle was a real heavy-weight in its category (335 kg), its fuel consumption was comparatively high (9.5 liters per 100 kilometers which is about 30 mpg). Its clearance reached 12,5 cm while the four-stroke 650 cm3 carbureted engine had opposed cylinders. The MT-10-36 modification had a parking brake.
  • Dnepr MT-11.
    Soon after the serial production of this model was started in 1980, it became really popular all over the USSR due to many successful modernizations in its engine and exhaustion system. Engineers had improved the oil pump, carburetor, pistons, piston rings, and the camshaft that resulted in better dynamics. They have also introduced several improvements to the sidecar which added to passenger’s comfort and motorcycle’s maneuverability.
    Initially, the engine power was 32 hp but due to constant improvements the model had got within its 12-year production history it grew up to 38 hp in 1992. One of the characteristic features of this motorcycle was its comparatively high rpm rate (over 6000 rpm) which was mainly an advantage on asphalt roads.
  • Dnepr MT-12.
    This legendary model with the K-750 engine had a cylinder diameter of 78mm that allowed producing quite a lot of horse powers while its low rounds (4900 rpm) made the model resistant to speed differentials even when the motorcycle was fully loaded. The traditional drum-type brakes and driveshaft providing power to both the rear and the sidecar wheel was combined with such innovations as a newly designed differential system (aka “Standing valves”) and the enlarged 19-inch rims.
  • Dnepr MT-16.
    Unlike the previous model, the MT-16 was 10 km/h (6 mph) slower; however, its off-road characteristics were significantly improved due to enlarged clearance (125mm), 38 horsepower engine, and a sidecar wheel drive.
  • Dnepr MB-650 M1.
    This was a modification of MT-16 mainly designed for military use. It featured a 32hp engine, 12-volt electric scheme, and a sidecar wheel drive. The latter, however, had no separate braking system and was identic to the MB-750 and MB-750m sidecars. The motorcycle was also equipped with two separate seats and a new fuel tank.
  • Dnepr KMZ-8.157-02
    After Ukraine finally declared its independence in 1991, the KMZ started the production of this solo model (i.e. without a sidecar). This model was equipped with a reduction unit with a “9-th” final drive (9/35 pinion teeth / ring teeth), 18″ wheels, a modified front fender, smaller handlebar, softer springs in the shock absorbers and a few other modifications.

Exclusive and Non-Serial Dnipro Models

The history of non-serial Dnipro motorcycles dates back to 1956 when the first escort vehicles had been produced by the KMZ to accompany state delegations and the USSR top officials. They had specific requirements such as an increased engine power, high cruising speed, fast speed gain, durability, and endurance.

  • Dnepr 14.9.
    The first 25 Dnepr 14.9 models, also known as Kremlin escort motorcycles, were first produced by the KMZ in 1978. These were powerful vehicles with 50 hp engines, able to cruise at 130 km/h (80 mph) speed while its specially designed tires allowed driving on wet and icy surfaces. The electric starter made the model resistant to low temperatures so that it could start at -40C with no problem.
  • Dnepr 14.9 M.
    The first prototypes of this model were produced by the KMZ in 1986. Although they showed quite good characteristics after they had been seriously improved in 1987, the USSR special commission insisted on further refinements. As the result, the KMZ construction team had to continue working on the driver’s safety, air purification and sound-suppressing systems until 1988 when the model was finally approved and the first 25 vehicles were ordered by the government.
  • Dnepr “Escort-73”.
    Although this model came as a result of a slight facelift of the serial K-650, it was considered to be an escort motorcycle “designed” to help the Kyiv police accompany the Ukrainian Soviet leaders and government delegations. In fact, it was a serial K-650 equipped with a single seat and painted in white.
  • Dnepr “Escort-86”.
    The 25 motorcycles of this model that were produced between 1988 and 1993 were equipped with 768 cm3 engine that could provide 57 horse powers resulting in the maximum speed of 150 km/h (93 mph) even when driving with a sidecar. After the USSR had collapsed and the newly-independent states got access to the more advanced European motorcycles of its time, the Dnepr Escort-86 production was terminated.
  • Dnepr KMZ-8.157-022 “Chopper”
    Due to high popularity of the Dnepr KMZ-8.157-02, the KMZ started the production of this modification. This model was equipped with electric starter and a 5 speed gearbox. As it’s seen on the photo, the alternator was modified as well.

    a "chopper" model of a Dnepr motorcycle

    a Dnepr KMZ-8.157-022 “Chopper” model

  • Dnepr 158-02 “Enduro Dynamite”.
    This is probably the most outstanding model by the KMZ that was never put into mass production. Not many people were driving this motorcycle while there’s hardly a dozen of Kyiv citizens who had ever seen it in the real life. Its newly-designed engine was placed on the rigid frame made of larger steel pipes welded together to form an unusual but durable construction. The 5-speed gearbox, Bing carburetor, front disc brake, and an electric starter along with its powerful 1000 cm3 engine (70hp) made it quite good for the maxi-enduro class of that time.

    an extremely rear Dnepr Enduro Dynamite model

    a Dnepr Enduro Dynamite model

Interesting Facts about Dnepr MTs

  • Dnepr vs. Ural.
    Although both motorcycles originated from the German BMW and may seem pretty similar at first sight, they don’t have that much in common. The engines construction, the materials used for their creation, and their placement are quite different. The same works for the crankshafts, connecting rods, and the roller bearings. But the biggest difference is the semi-automatic gearbox allowing Dnepr changing speed without the clutch lever. Even now, the Dnepr gearbox is considered to be much better than the one normally installed on the Urals.
  • Dnipro MT in the movies.
    While you will definitely spot this motorcycle in many Soviet and Russian movies, the Hollywood has also shown it in the legendary “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the German Mercedes-Benz truck with Harrison Ford as the driver was persistently chased by the Nazi soldiers in the… Soviet MT-10 with the sidecar. Either the Indiana Jones film directors liked the motorcycle so much or they really believed Dnepr was a true German motorcycle, but you can also spot the Dnepr MT-11 in one of the following parts of the famous sequel “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“.
  • The Soviet bikers.
    Since the Dnepr 11 turned out to be the most suitable model for tuning, the first Soviet bikers (or as they usually called themselves “rockers”) chose this motorcycle in the early stages of their movement. They often turned them into real pieces of art that were later included in many private collections.
  • Export variants.
    Traditionally, all vehicles that had been exported from the USSR were much better than the ones manufactured for the internal market. That’s why when the first export Dnepr motorcycles appeared in 1976, the majority of users wanted to get them since they were much more advanced than the serial models. However, that wasn’t easy since the export models were limited and were never officially sold in the soviet union.