Ural Motorcycles: History, Tech Specs, Facts

A Ural motorcycle is a heavy motorcycle with a sidecar produced by the Irbit Motorcycle Factory, russia. Its production originates from 1940 when the soviet union stole the design of the R71 BMW motorcycle – one of the best military motorcycles of that time, which had been used in the German army since 1938.

The first M-72 motorcycle was manufactured in the USSR in 1941. At the beginning, these motorcycles where produced by factories located in Kharkiv, Moscow, and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). Later, the production facilities were moved further to the East to Gorkiy (now Nizhniy Novgorod) and Irbit located in the Ural mountains, at the edge of Siberia.

Normally, M-72 motorcycles were equipped with sidecars, however, a certain number of bikes without them were produced as well. M-72 with sidecars were quite popular due to the non-differential sidecar wheel drive, which was quite efficient for the soviet impassable roads.

The first motorcycles were equipped with a four-stroke horizontally opposed double-cylinder engine producing up to 28 hp (20,6 kW) and a 4-speed gearbox. At that time, these technical characteristics were considered quite high, which was the reason why the Soviet Defense Ministry found these motorcycles suitable for military use.

As the motorcycle production got militarized, the Irbit Motorcycle Works (IMZ) had been continuously expanding since 1942. As a result, the production increased from almost 10.000 pcs during the World War II period to more than 30.000 pcs in the next decade. Later on, in 1953, the factory begins to export Urals to developing countries and the USSR allies.

A similar motorcycle called Dnepr MT was produced by the Kyiv Motorcycle Factory (KMZ). There are several differences between Dnepr MT and Ural motorcycles, still they have lots in common because of sharing the same origin (see the origin of cossack motorcycles). Both Dnepr and Ural bikes are known by the name “Cossack motorcycles”, generally applied to all internationally-sold Soviet motorcycles in the 1970s that had been marketed abroad by SATRA (the international New-York-based Corporation known for importing, modifying, and distributing the soviet cars and motorcycles abroad).

Models of Ural Motorbikes

The following are the road motorcycles – the most popular category of IMZ motorcycles:

  • IMZ M-72
    a fully restored M-72 motorcycle

    a fully restored M-72 motorcycle

    Although this model had never been called the Ural, it was produced by the Irbit factory and was a predecessor of Urals. It was manufactured to resemble the famous German BMW. First, it was a copy BMW R71 but it had been continuously upgraded and remodeled within its 20-year production history. Its last variant had been equipped with a short-lever telescopic fork and aluminum center bosses.

  • IMZ M-52
    Based on the M-72 model’s chassis, it was equipped with a smaller engine (only 500 cubic centimeters) and had no sidecar. This was a test model which had never been in mass production. All in all, only 250 bikes of this modification had been released between 1950 and 1957.
  • IMZ-61
    Another Ural’s forerunner had been produced from 1957 to 1963, this was a transitional model successfully combining the old M-72 chassis with the new 650 cubic centimeters engine and a lighter carriage facility. In addition, the front fork and the back suspension got an extended shock absorber travel resulting in more comfort on bumpy roads.
  • Ural M-62
    This entirely new model (the first to be officially called “Ural”) offered plenty of innovations such as a new gearbox, an improved suspension, and an advanced automatic ignition system. It also featured a modified profile of the camshaft for reduced wear and a refined steering with a chain throttle lever and duralumin clutch/brake handles. The model had been in production from 1961 to 1965.
  • Ural-2 M-63
    Two years later, after the M-62 had been introduced, a new technically advanced model was released. In the back, it featured a pendulum frame suspension with spring-hydraulic shock absorbers. Those were later installed on most sidecar wheels. Besides, the vehicle’s clearance was significantly enlarged due to a new exhaustion system.
  • Ural-3. M-66
    This model had been produced from 1971 to 1975 and featured lots of engineering innovations and know-hows. The engine’s durability and lifetime were seriously improved by applying the full-flow oil filtering system and a new crankshaft design. Besides, the model got a new headlamp and was the first one to have electric direction indicators.
  • Ural M-67
    Produced from 1973 to 1976, the M-67 was the first one to use 12 Volts electric equipment as well as offered an improved motorcycle frame.
  • Ural M-67-36
    The main reason why the newer M-67 modification had been so popular within the next 8 years is the increased engine power (up to 36 hp). This was possible due to an altered cylinder heads design, applying carburetors (K-301G), and an enlarged diameter of the exhaustion system.
  • Ural IMZ-8
    a nice Retro Solo Ural motorcycle

    Ural IMZ-8 Retro Solo

    The latest model of Ural motorcycles with different modifications. The various modifications of this model are also known as “Tourist”, “Solo”, “Gear-Up”, “Voyage”, “Cobra”, “Retro” and “Wolf”. The Wolf was the first chopper produced in russia. Its production started in 1999, but due to low demand on it the Wolf went out of production in 2011.

The next are Ural motorcycles designed for road racing and cross competitions:

  • M-35
  • M-52C
  • M-52K
  • M-61K
  • M-62K
  • M-75M
  • M-76
  • M-77
  • M-80
  • K-1000
  • IMZ-8-201 Cross

Technical Specs of Ural motorcycle models

ModelGear-UPRetroSolo sT
Dimension LxWxH2509×1615×1379 mm (98,8×63,6×54,3 inches)2403×1582×1356 mm (94,6×62,3×53,4 inches)no data
Clearance173 mm (6,8 inches)125 mm (4,9 inches)125 mm (4,9 inches)
Dry weight330 kg (730 lbs)322 kg (710 lbs)200 kg (441 lbs)
Top speed, km/h112 km/h (70 mph)112 km/h (70 mph)150 km/h (93 mph)
Fuel capacity19 liters (5 gallons)21 liters (5,5 gallons)19 liters (5 gallons)
Fuel economy: city6-7 (liters per 100 km)6-7 (liters per 100 km)5-6 (liters per 100 km)
Fuel economy: highway4-5 (liters per 100 km)4-5 (liters per 100 km)4-5 (liters per 100 km)
Max Output42 HP
Startingelectric and kickstart
Gearbox4-speed with reverse
Primary drivedrive shaft
Transmission ratioI – 3,6; II – 2,62; III – 1,61; IV – 1,3; reverse – 4,2I – 3,6; II – 2,28; III – 1,56; IV – 1,19; reverse – 4,36I – 3,6; II – 2,28; III – 1,56; IV – 1,19; reverse – 4,36
Final drive ratio4,624,623,89
Brakesfront – hydraulic, discs; rear – hydraulic, drumsfront – hydraulic, discs; rear – hydraulic, drumsfront – hydraulic, discs; rear – hydraulic, discs

Ural Motorcycles Today

The modern-day products by the IMZ are mainly heavy sidecar motorcycles made to withstand the tough russian roads. The contemporary Urals are equipped with modern engines featuring a fuel injection system specially designed by the American manufacturer “ElectroJet”.

a fully restored M-72 motorcycle

a Ural motorcycle in modern art

At the moment, only 3% of Ural motorcycles are sold in russia and other ex-soviet countries. They are mainly exported to the USA, Canada, and Australia. Comparatively smaller numbers are also sold in Europe (the UK, France, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Germany, and Sweden), Africa (Egypt, South Africa), Middle East (Iran), and Southern America (Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil). The markets of countries like Japan and Korea are quite promising since the demand for this sort of vehicles with sidecars is quite high at a comparatively low competition.

Due to the decrease in demand for Ural motorcycles in the early 1990s, the company has switched from the complete production cycle to the original equipment manufacturer mode (OEM) which means it rather sells its brand or resells the customized product than manufactures equipment itself. In recent years, a certain amount of engineering improvements has been introduced in order to improve the motorcycles’ durability and make them more attractive for the customers.

Although the design, as well as many technical solutions of Ural motorcycles, is quite old, these bikes are now successfully marketed as reliable modern vehicles with a pure ‘masculine’ nature. The following innovations and upgrades are great evidence to such a statement:

  • Telescopic front fork by Marzocchi (Italy).
  • Hydraulic shock absorbers by Sachs (Germany).
  • Carburetors by Keihin (Japan) or EFI by ElectroJet (USA).
  • Fuel valve by Taiyo Giken (Japan).
  • Electronic ignition system by Ducati Energia (Italy).
  • Generator by Denso and battery by Yuasa (Japan).
  • Plugs and high-voltage wiring by NGK-Ducati (Italy) and Electrex (USA).
  • Oil pump, timing belt, gearbox shafts by Herzog (Germany).
  • Gearbox, wheels, and steering post bearings by SKF (Sweden).
  • Fuel hoses by Semperit (Austria).

Some Facts about Ural Motorcycles

  • In 2002, the Iraqi Ministries of Health and Agriculture ordered 2000 Ural motorcycles. In fact, those were used to improve the defensive strategy of Saddam Hussein’s military forces. Within the “Oil-for-food” program, Iraq got more than 1500 Ural motorcycles, which were later used to increase mobility during military operations in urban areas. No wonder the American army commanders often expressed serious concern due to Iraqi forces using the highly mobile Ural motorcycles equipped with flame throwers and light weapons.
  • Brad Pitt has added a Ural Tourist with a sidecar to his motorcycle collection in 2014.
  • They are the only 2WD bikes that can switch off the sidecar wheel and do over 110 km/h on a highway.
  • The new Ural Solo-sT model can be seen in the famous Hollywood sequel “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”. It’s ridden by Moreau.
  • Although the motorcycles are produced in russia, the majority of dealerships are located abroad. Only in the USA you can find up to 50 places where you can officially buy and service Urals.
  • There are over sixty choices of paintwork while lots of details are assembled manually.
  • Due to a large number of used Ural motorcycles in russia, Ukraine and other ex-soviet countries, these bikes are popular among local customizers who create custom cossack motorcycles.