If a motorcycle could be judged solely by its ability to attract attention, then the Ural M70 Anniversary Edition is one of the coolest and most captivating rides on the road. This sidehack is motorcycling’s equivalent of the Death Star: It has its very own brand of tractor beam (Russian, we presume!) that sucks men, women and children out of their cars, out of stores and off sidewalks to check it out.
Of course, comparing the $13,599 M70 to anything that futuristic is like comparing a sword to a light saber.
A brief history lesson: In 1939, the Russians knew that war with Germany was imminent, so Stalin ordered his military to prepare. Key to the ground war were motorcycles, particularly those with a sidecar, since they could carry up to three soldiers and a variety of gear.
BMW’s R71 outfit was the perfect fit, but that design belonged to the Third Reich. According to Ural, one of two scenarios took place: Either the Red Army purchased five R71s from the black market and reverse engineered them to create the Ural M-72, or Germany supplied the blueprints and casting molds in an exchange of technology in friendlier times. Either way, the original Urals were exact copies of the BMW.
Located in the Ural Mountains—originally to avoid Hitler’s Blitzkrieg—the Irbit Motorcycle Works (IMZ) began building civilian models after the war and started exporting outside of Russia in the mid-1950s. Since 1998, the company has been in private hands, which led to significant upgrades across the lineup.
Although the air-cooled, 749cc flat-Twin remains essentially the same pre-WWII design, improvements such as Keihin carbs and electronic ignition bring it, well, not exactly up to date, but much closer to modernish. The same goes for contemporary components like a Marzocchi fork, Sachs shocks, aluminum rims and a Brembo front brake. Beyond those improvements, you are looking at essentially a 70-year-old evolution of the original.
As much as those items improve reliability and functionality, the riding experience probably hasn’t changed much. Despite the inherently odd dynamics of a sidecar (steers like a car and wiggles like a crab), the Ural is massively entertaining and enjoyable to ride. The fact that staffers—usually spoiled by 190-horsepower sportbikes, six-cylinder luxury liners and seamless high-tech commuters—literally begged to take the Ural for a ride says a lot about its charm. So far, we’ve chauffeured a pregnant wife, art directors, lots of kids and even some dogs…
So, yes, the Ural has curb appeal, but to witness the full impact of its magnetism, nothing beats flying the sidecar around a right-hander in the shopping-mall parking lot. Judging by the mouth-agape looks it generates, despite this rig’s obvious pre-war facade, you may as well be piloting a UFO. When the fun is over, you can go pick up lumber, a keg of beer, munitions…