Adventure on Three Wheels
by Ray Peabody
“Practice before you head out,” said Jeff Bottrell, Sales Manager at MotorCity Motorcycles. “The Ural handles differently than any two-wheeled motorcycle you’ve ever ridden and you should get used to it before hitting the road.” Mr. Bottrell said that after completing trip around the parking lot while balancing on two wheels with the sidecar in the air. He explained that the sidecar will lift off the ground quite easily when making a turn to the right (the side of the motorcycle to which the sidecar is attached). Like a car, the weight of a sidecar rig (or a trike) shifts to the outside of the turn. When making a turn to the right, the weight shifts away from the sidecar thereby allowing it to come off the ground quite easily. Turns to the left shifts the weight to the left and firmly plants the sidecar tire on the pavement; the rider has to muscle the motorcycle through the turn since it won’t lean as it would on a regular motorcycle. Bottrell’s tips and insistence on practicing before going out onto the road made good sense. With a little practice, my ability to handle the Ural improved and confidence grew, even in those instances where the sidecar came up off the ground. Out on the road, the Ural feels… “industrial.” Modeled after the 1930s-era BMW R71, the first Urals were designed for the Russian army for heavy-duty use against the German army in a rugged environment with few roads. The modern Urals retain that rugged design. Hence, the “industrial” feel. Powered by an air-cooled, 749cc, four-stroke, fuel-injected (since 2014), flat twin (boxer) producing 41 horsepower, the Ural is no speed demon. The company’s website says that the Ural is “happy cruising between 65 and 75 mph” but 75 is the upper end of the speed range. If you’re planning to use the Ural for long-distance drones down the freeway, you might want to reconsider. This machine is better suited for 55 mph two-lane roads and even slower dirt roads or trails. That industrial feel also comes through in the way the four-speed forward and one-speed reverse transmission operates. (Reverse gear is engaged by a foot pedal next to the rear brake pedal on the right side of the motorcycle.) Riders will feel a heavy-duty clunk with each shift up or down. That feel is similar to that of any Harley-Davidson transmission or the older BMWs. When approaching a stop, riders will have to pull in the clutch separately with each downshift. Riders will not be speed shifting through the gears on this motorcycle so this isn’t an issue. If anything, it’s reassuring to know that you have a heavy-duty transmission when you’re 100 miles from civilization. Despite the retro looks and industrial feel, the new American owners at Ural initiated a program to overcome many of the quality issues that negatively affected the brand’s image for years. For example, in 2012, improvements included new piston rings with tighter tolerances, a new camshaft with improved materials and bearing surfaces, improved two-piece design for sidecar driveshaft yokes, and new 2WD gear hubs for the final drive and sidecar swing arm drive. In 2014, the company introduced electronic fuel injection, a hydraulic steering dampener, new aluminum triple clamps, disk brakes on front, rear, and sidecar wheels, and a new final drive housing. These types of quality improvements have continued to the present day. The primary drive from the engine to the rear wheel uses a driveshaft similar to that on a BMW. A driveshaft is also used to engage the on-demand twowheel drive (the second wheel being the sidecar wheel). The two-wheel drive feature is not intended for everyday driving but instead for those challenging conditions in either mud or snow. As mentioned previously, getting comfortable with the Ural’s handling is a challenge because it’s not like a typical motorcycle. The sidecar hanging off the right side tends to pull the rig to the right; not so much that the rider is constantly have to muscle it to go straight but enough to cause a drift in the lane if attention is not paid. The rider will have to muscle the Ural through turns to the left while turns to the right are easier except that care should be taken if the sidecar comes off the ground. The handling works the opposite of the way I thought it might. Before the test, I thought the Ural would be harder to turn to the right since the sidecar is on that side while turns to the left would be easier. For that reason, that practice session prior to getting out on the road was invaluable. Brembo disk brake calipers are used on the front (four piston) and sidecar (two-piston) wheels while an HB big-bore, single-piston caliper provides stopping power at the rear. The brake set up effectively brings the 730-pound (dry) Gear Up to a stop. As with the acceleration and cruising, care must be taken when braking because, when actuated, the brake on the sidecar wheel pulls the rig to the right. This effect might be a big surprise if the rider isn’t prepared for it. The Gear Up comes standard with a variety of features sure to attract adventure riders including a sidecar spot light, sidecar power outlet, sidecar tonneau cover, jerry can, utility shovel, luggage rack, and a universal spare wheel that fits all three positions. Every Ural comes with two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Once I acclimated to the Ural’s handling characteristics, I enjoyed the ride. The pre-ride practice certainly helped. I can get past the heavy duty, industrial feel as long as the rig is dependable. Recently, my preferred type of riding has been slower-speed explorations of areas in which I haven’t previously ridden. The Ural seems perfect for that type of riding. One last observation: the fit and finish of the Gear Up is excellent. The retro styling is appealing; so much so that Ural enthusiasts have a term for all of the attention Urals get on the road, at gas stops, or anywhere else. It’s called “UDF” – Ural Delay Factor. It’s a travel delay caused by all of the people who want to talk with Ural owners about their rigs. Many thanks to MotorCity Motorcycles General Manager, John Erickson, for loaning his personal Ural to me for this test. Thanks also to long-time friend of this magazine and MotorCity Motorcycles Sales Manager, Jeff Bottrell, for his riding tips and instructions for the Ural test. For more information about Ural motorcycles, visit MotorCity Motorcycles at 1765 S Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Hills, MI, give the dealership a call at (248) 920-2000, or visit their website at www.ridemotorcity.com. MSRP for the 2017 Ural Gear Up starts at $16,499. MSRP for the Gear Up with the Bronze Metallic paint and blacked out drivetrain like the test bike is $18,499.
Road King Special
by Ray Peabody
Finding a demo of the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special is close to impossible this soon after the upgraded model was released. Each new Special is apparently sold before it reaches the showroom. Good for the dealers but tough on journalists who want a test ride for a review. The Special is especially appealing because 1) it is a stunning upgrade / modernization of what is a successful model and 2) the new-in-2016 Milwaukee 8 engine powers this beauty. Fortunately for us, we have
connections. Mike Moakley, owner of Battle Creek Harley-Davidson, arranged for a test ride on his employee Wayne Paull’s new Road King
Mr. Paull’s Special is highly modified, mostly with Harley-Davidson genuine parts and accessories. The exceptions are the Bassani 2- into-1 pipes (running down the right side of the bike. Those on the left side are fake but provide a balanced look when viewing the Special from the rear) and the Memphis Shade windscreen (the Road King Special doesn’t come with a windscreen, unlike the standard Road King.) Mr. Paull installed a Screamin’ Eagle Stage 4 Kit to increase the eight-valve engine’s displacement to 114 cubic inches; up seven from stock. He also installed a fan for improved air flow through the oil cooler especially when the bike is stopped. Other modifications include a 7" Daymaker Projector LED Headlamp, LED turn signal upgrade, combination Analog Speedometer/Tachometer, flush mount gas cap, chopped engine guard, and blacked front axle nut covers among others. The blacked out engine, exhaust, and front end combined with the Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake make Mr. Paull’s Special a functional work of art. He was brave to allow us to ride his motorcycle. Out on the road, the Special leaves multiple impressions. The strongest is the awesome power of the engine. The Special comfortably putters through city traffic, along two-lane country roads, and on higher speed freeways if that’s what the rider wants to do. However, if quick acceleration is needed, riders will feel the shoulder-stretching, G-force
acceleration of the torquey Milwaukee 8 engine with a flick of the throttle. If you ride a Special, hold on tight. This motorcycle launches! (Yes,
the test bike had a Stage 4 kit installed. However, it’s hard to imagine that those seven extra cubic inches add so much more torque.)
The second impression is the comfortable ride. For me personally, riding a cruiser in the last 10 to 12 years has been a painful challenge. The feet-forward position has me sitting up straight (rather than a forward lean as on naked or adventure bikes) which means every pothole or frost heave – even the smallest bumps – sends a shockwave up through my spine. On the Special, that seating position generated zero pain in my back. The saddle is firm and the suspension pliable enough to create a plush ride, even on Michigan roads. It’s been years since I last felt entirely
comfortable on a cruiser-styled motorcycle. The Special changed that.
Finally, the Special handled exceptionally well for an 818-pound
(stock and wet) motorcycle. The only time the weight is noticeable is
when pulling it up off the kickstand.
Once underway, even at slow speeds, the motorcycle is well balanced. While I didn’t run the Special hard through curves as I might a sportbike, the pace was spirited; the motorcycle was controlled no matter the line taken through the curves. I assume the dual bending valve front suspension and adjustable emulsion rear shocks improved the handling over previous models I’ve ridden. The fact that it wasn’t necessary to
muscle the big bike through the curves was impressive.
This Road King Special uses the Reflex dual disc linked Brembo
brakes with ABS which means both front and rear brakes are simultaneously actuated whenever the rider pulls the front brake lever
Continued from previous page or pushes the rear brake pedal. While
some purists scoff at linked brakes, these systems are highly effective at
bringing a motorcycle to quick, controlled stop, even in emergency
situations while riding an 800-pound motorcycle.
The six-speed transmission still has the industrial, heavy-duty clunk with every shift but shifts are clean with none missed. Getting used to the floor boards and heel-toe shifter takes some time if you don’t typically
ride a motorcycle with this set up. I found myself upshifting into a higher
gear when I intended to downshift on several occasions. (Down on the rear
of the shifter to upshift; down on the front to downshift.) Nonetheless, a
little practice and a few miles were all it took for consistent shifting.
The test ride was over much too soon. This was the most exhilarating, comfortable ride I’ve had on a Harley-Davidson in years.
The combination of eye-catching style (love the look of the Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake paint with everything else blacked out) and awesome
performance is sure to make the Road King Special a successful model for The Motor Company. MSRP for the stock 2017 Road King Special is
Giant Loop Fender Bag
By Ray Peabody
If you’re planning to travel to remote, less populated areas, you had better have the skills and carry the tools necessary to make roadside /
trailside repairs. That was the thinking when assembling the tool kit for the XR400 adventure bike.
Having identified the tools that would be most helpful should the XR suffer a breakdown, I had to figure out a way to carry them on the motorcycle. Having had great success with Giant Loop products (and having previously had a business relationship with the company), I looked at their products and thought their Fender Bag would be the right solution for my problem. The fender bag is made of a rubberized canvas (500D PVC tarpaulin body) and is 100% waterproof. I especially liked the four-point mounting to the fender using large plastic clips. The system looked secure. The 10.53 x 5.53 x 33 size and three-liter capacity seemed like plenty of room for my kit. Unfortunately, two issues changed my plan to carry the kit on the front fender. First, the kit was quite heavy; too heavy for the front fender. Second, even if the fender was reinforced sufficiently to carry the weight, the fender bag – puffed up with the 8.5 pound tool kit – would block air flow to the oil cooler mounted on the steering head. That wouldn’t work. I decided to mount the bag on the Nomadic rack above the rear fender. Voila’! Perfect. The mounts held the bag tight to the rack. The fender bag didn’t interfere with the Giant Loop Great Basin Bag I mounted at the rear of the seat nor with the tarp and tent mounted on top of the kit on the rack. I didn’t need to access the tool kit during the Shakedown Tour. However, with the fender bag mounted on top the rack, my camping kit acted like a sail in the wind and at higher speeds. The situation wasn’t
unmanageable but I’ll have to consider alternative ways to pack the bike. The tent is older and quite large compared to modern, smaller tents. I may have to replace it to reduce the size of my load. When not loaded for travel, the Fender Bag doesn’t interfere with the ride or the performance
of the bike. MSRP for the Giant Loop Fender Bag is $65.
2017 BMW R nineT Scrambler
by Ray Peabody
Blane and Andrea at BMW Motorcycles of Grand Rapids, I jumped at the chance. While I’m skeptical of the modern day scramblers as being too heavy and lacking sufficient suspension for dirt work, I like the styling and have long been a fan of the boxer engine, having owned two older models with that engine configuration.
The Scrambler is one of several retro-styled BMW models – including the Racer, Urban G/S, and Pure – based on the R nineT foundation. All are powered by an air/oil cooled, fuel-injected, 1170cc, 110 horsepower, eight-valve, opposed twin (boxer) engine. Different versions of this powerplant were mounted in all of the “R” model BMW motorcycles for years. When the liquid-cooled version of the Boxer engine was introduced a few years ago, BMW opted not to abandon the mature air/cooled version but instead used it in these retro-styled models. Stripped-down styling is a key feature of the Scrambler. Bodywork that would cover up the engine and frame is missing as is a tachometer. A single speedometer tracks the speed and offers a variety of indicators and trackers. Also missing is a windscreen. The 32.3 inch high thin, flat saddle rises slightly in front of the passenger pillion. Call me a Luddite, but one of the features I like best is the old-school, round headlamp. The deep, throaty exhaust note emanating from the copper-colored
raised pipes demanded my attention from the moment I hit the starter
button. That sound suggested torque and speed that should not be casually dismissed. Revving the engine also reminded me of something that was missing: that engine torque twist present with boxers of an older vintage.
I rolled out of the parking lot and headed east looking for curves and
dirt. A scrambler that can’t handle some dirt isn’t a scrambler.
Shifting the six-speed transmission was smooth, without the industrial heavy-duty clunk of earlier BMWs. Once I found some curves, I was surprised how effortlessly the
Scrambler sliced across the apexes. Riders might expect that a 485-pound (wet) motorcycle with a heavy cylinder heads jutting out from either side of the engine would be heavy on the steering. Not so. The wide, rolled-aluminum handlebars provide precise control. The balance was excellent as I shifted shifted back and forth on the saddle A short distance beyond the curvy section, I turned onto a dirt road.
The surface was mostly hard packed with light gravel in some sections; especially on hills where the surface had eroded from recent rains. The 120/70R19 front tire performed well on the hard pack but the steering was heavy when the dirt and gravel were loose. This is not a motorcycle I would want to ride in sand. The sporty suspension that was flawless in the curves was less pliable in the dirt. With only 4.9 inches of travel up front and 5.5 inches in the rear, the Scrambler is not equipped for big bumps. The cast aluminum wheels are not especially at home in the dirt; spoked wheels would likely be more forgiving when the road or trail gets rough. The test ride was not a long one but sufficient for a cursory review of the Scrambler. On the road, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The engine was exciting in its torque and speed. Handling was precise and effortless. The ABS-standard brakes – twin disk brakes up front and single disk out back – brought the Scrambler to quick, controlled stops even in emergency stops. Modern brakes systems on most brands are so effective that commenting on them is almost irrelevant. The ride is comfortable with an upright seating position. The footpegs are high for better ground clearance both on the street and in the dirt; not as high as rearsets on a sportbike but high enough that they might be uncomfortable for those with longer inseams. I wouldn’t ride the Scrambler in the dirt. Despite its name, this
motorcycle doesn’t offer the features – lighter weight and longer suspension travel - necessary for fun dirt rides without causing serious damage. Hard packed dirt roads would be fine. Anything more challenging would foolish for any but the most skilled offroad rider.
If you’re looking for a cool, retro-styled motorcycle with modern
features (i.e., fuel injection, ABS, heated hand grips, self-canceling turn signals, and more) and performance for your street riding, the Scrambler would be an excellent choice. MSRP: $13,000 including ABS.
Many thanks to Blane Kamp and Andrea Chappell at BMW Motorcycles of Grand Rapids for making the Scrambler available for this test. For more information about the Scrambler or any of the BMW motorcycles, visit BMW GR at 5995 S. Division in Grand Rapids, call them at (616) 530-6900, or connect at www.bmwmcgr.com. Also
available at other BMW dealers.
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