For a company that has been producing the same motorcycle, virtually unchanged, since 1941, the 2010 Ural Solo sT represents all the things motorcycling stands for: risk, uncertainty, freedom. But those qualities aren’t exactly the basis of most solid business strategies. If the Solo fell flat on its face, it might spell the end for IMZ-Ural’s 70 year dream. Can a clone of a pre-war German motorcycle go Solo?
In a word, DA! Instead of being hopelessly obsolete, hopelessly outclassed by modern competitors, the Solo points out a stark fact that should be more of a wake-up call to the big boys of the two-wheeled world than an ice-pick to Trotsky’s brain: the Ural Solo sT has no competitors. Expensive, heavily specialized bikes like BMW’s G/S bikes or more single-minded rides like a Kawasaki KLR simply aren’t the generalist the Ural is, which can do more for less with little in the way of compromise. You’re looking at the last of the truly utilitarian motorcycles – a bike so rugged, so understressed by what most pockmarked roads could throw at it that I’m half-tempted to trot out the zombie-apocalypse trope. Ural invited me out to their Redmond, Washington headquarters to sample the Solo this past week, and luckily the weather cooperated and the Solo didn’t disappoint.
If you think they’ve accomplished this out of sheer unsophistication, forging wagon-cart parts out of pig-iron in some crumbling Caucasian forge, you’d be wrong. Ural’s dipped into the same high-quality parts bins that feed most of Europe’s highbrow manufacturers, and they’ve come up with a simple and reliable formula that those other guys can’t seem to replicate. Brembo provides excellent 295mm 4-piston units up front, and 245mm 2-piston units out back. They provide excellent, well-modulated braking with no surprises. Likewise, the 40mm Marzocchi telescopic front forks and the Sachs shocks with progressive springs out back provide a remarkably supple ride. It reminded me a bit of how a Range Rover handles on the road – good dampening but enough articulation to take a hard jolt without breaking a sweat, and perfect for double-duty as a road-n-trail rig. Denso electronics mean you won’t be pushing the Solo when it rains, either.
Of course, it would all fall apart, like taking your grandparents to a Slipknot show, if the old and the new didn’t mesh well together. But even your grandparents would agree that the Ural’s 745cc boxer twin, with pushrod OHV and a pair of Kehlin L22AA carburetors, is a fantastically tractable motor. Torque is the name of the game: the Ural pulls smoothly with no drama, although terminal velocity is rather low. While 40 HP and 38 ft-lbs of torque doesn’t seem like a lot, the power compares favorably with Triumph’s 865cc parallel twin (58 HP and 50 ft-lbs of torque) or a Moto Guzzi 744cc v-twin (48 HP and 40 ft-lbs of torque) – and both of those bikes feature electronic fuel injection. The wide-ratio 4-speed is well suited to the engine’s power delivery, and despite the shifter’s vagueness I was always able to engage the gear I was looking for. I’ll admit that out of habit I sometimes hunted for a fifth gear, but the bike doesn’t need one at all. That being said, no bike out there save a Royal Enfield or a Rebel 250 is going to have much trouble keeping up, but that’s not the point. And “slow for a motorcycle” is a relative term – freeway merging and passing is completely adequate. I found the low center of gravity to be comforting in general, but there is a wobble above 65 mph that was disconcerting – the thin rear tire seemed nervous, although anyone familiar with bikes of the ’70s will be right at home. Perhaps a longer wheelbase and wider rubber is in order in the long term? Another quibble was the two-up molded seat on my solo tester. I found the tractor-type saddle found on the base model to be more comfortable, although your butt may have a different opinion. I’m 5’10” and was plenty comfortable despite cramped footpeg placement necessitated by the sideways protrusion of the cylinders, but the long-legged may want to think about some sort of highway peg situation to stretch out some.
I’d say there is potential here for a new genre – something inbetween a JDM and a scambler. I’d call it a utility standard – quite capable of handling a country road or a gravel track. It’s a rugged, well-built bike, and Ural points out it’s almost entirely metal, so it seems like you could beat on a Solo quite hard for quite a few years – as any bike in production continuously since 1941 should be. Strap a tent to the back and wind along a shady lane, up a forest service road, and toss a lure in the lake. Just like their more well-known sidecar motorcycles (more on that next Tuesday!), you have a whole host of options for modifying the Solo to your taste. Ural’s “a la Carte” program means you simply select what options (opens a PDF file) you want on your Solo, and they put it together at the factory and ship it over to the East Coast where it gets transported to your local dealer. While that takes time, it keeps inventory and overhead low, allowing the Solo to be competitively priced – the base model starts at $6,999. Ural is committed to testing and improving their offerings, so expect their loyal customer base’s ideas to slowly be integrated into future Solos (at least, within Ural’s admittedly tiny R&D budget).