The timing was right, everything lined up perfectly, tax cheque came in, quiet at work for a couple of weeks, and a 2008 Ural Gear Up sidecar comes up for sale in Melbourne. So myself and my 10 year old son jumped on a plane with enough camping gear, tools, spare tubes, tyre levers and compressors to hopefully ride it back.
I have bought bikes over the internet from interstate and always found the people I deal with honest and friendly, again, this was the case with the owner who picked us up from the airport and fed us and gave us a bed for the night, we spent the evening drinking beer, comparing war stories and packing the bike, the bike itself was in pretty good shape and after pumping up the tyres and a good look over it, I was feeling reasonably confident about the ride back.
I’ve ridden outfits before, and as some of you know I have a soft spot for old Russian bikes, being the proud owner of an M72 1950 Ural and a 1963 M73, and have been thinking for the last few years about completing the set and buying a Ural outfit, and after recently throwing my BMW 1150 GSA down the road at high speed, a change in direction was on the cards. I know they are slow and noisy, underpowered and don’t handle very well, but for some reason, an outfit appeals to me, and a Russian one seals the deal.
We’re off!, first day heading for the ferry to cross Port Philip Bay, wow, these things are all over the place!, all my concentration was taken up with trying to keep it in my lane, dealing with Melbourne morning traffic whilst following the GPS in the drizzle, something’s wrong with this thing, it shouldn’t be so hard to handle!, tyre pressure, I’ll check the tyres, sure enough the rear drive tyre was 20 psi too low, pumped it up and wow, what a difference!
Ferry ride completed, and off towards the Great Ocean Road... now, if ever you need a really quick, intense lesson on how to ride a sidecar, pick a windy, hairpin-laden, unfamiliar road, throw in intermittent showers and lots of traffic, OMG! How the hell am I going to do this?, every corner was a heart in the mouth moment, my shoulders, arms, back were on fire trying to wrestle this wet sponge around ever increasing hairpin bends.
210 klm later and we booked into some chalets in some obscure little town, as I listened to the rain that night I wondered how am I going to ride this back to WA, I’m 210k’s into 3700 odd ride and I’m spent. After a phone call to a mate who has one of these crazy Russian contraptions, and explaining the issues I was having, he explained that what I was going through was completely normal and that the pain will pass, road camber can be your friend or your worst enemy... these words of wisdom replayed through my mind as I cried myself to sleep.
Over the next day or two, things improved, I learnt to use my ample body weight and road position to help guide my new Russian bride along the coast until Warrnambool, where we decided to head inland due to the sub zero 40 knot gale blowing straight off the Antarctic, poor James was suffering in the side car with the cold, but putting on a brave face so as not add to the list of worries his poor old dad was having.
We took as many back roads as we could partly to stay off the main roads and heavy traffic, and also because I prefer the slower, quieter towns and roads, the countryside through northern Victoria into South Australia is beautiful and we both enjoyed the sunny weather, rolling hills and frequent tea breaks in small towns.
Up through the back of the Barossa Valley and soon we were skirting Adelaide and starting to head west!, things were looking up I was actually starting to enjoy the Ural and my confidence in both not crashing and actually triumphantly riding it home were growing kilometre by slow kilometre. The bike was going strong, I changed the rear drive oil for some nice thick 90 weight as the light engine oil they recommend just doesn’t seem right to me, the rear drive tyre was starting to square off and wear down at an alarming rate and I was trying to judge when I might need to swap it out for the spare. Eucla was my chosen distance I wanted to try to make the tyre last.
Bush camping from now on, the weather was now looking good and there is nothing like camping out, and with James my son, it was one of the highlights of the trip for both of us. A 10 year old boy has lots of energy to burn off, and sitting in a sidecar for the most part of a day doesn’t allow for much burning off, every time we stopped he was like a coiled spring, and jumped out, ran around, climbed trees and generally tried to wear himself out, so the hour or two before dark was time for setting up camp, exploring, lighting fires, making traps to catch rabbits and asking too many questions.
Port Augusta and Ceduna rolled by and soon we were heading towards the Nullarbor, just about every fuel or food stop we had to deal with the UDF (Ural Delay Factor), people asking questions, chatting, telling stories of their own. The bike does draw a crowd and everyone thought it was a great adventure for young James, we were Kings of the road!
Road trains are things to be avoided at all costs, we cruised on about 85-90 kph most of the time so I’d decided to pull over and let them go when I could and hang on for grim death when I couldn’t, all in all we had no real problems with traffic.
Dead wombats and kangaroos were everywhere which gave James something to do, on one stretch he counted over 600 pieces of dead things!, that’s bits, not whole animals. A strong headwind blew up and we pushed into it, with the aerodynamics of a brick, the sidecar got pushed back to 75kph at one stage but we actually did our best day of nearly 600klm that day.
The border was nearing and so was the canvas on the rear tyre, so we pushed for Border village and arrived just after dark to a camp out the back, $2 showers and $9 beers, that tasted just like my $4 beers at home!
The morning started with a light drizzle and a rear tyre change, bike check-over, an engine oil top up (first and only for the trip ˝ a litre), all before James stuck his head out of the tent. After a big breakfast we set off, 7klm down the road and bang, the rear tyre blew!
I drifted across the road as there was no oncoming traffic and the bike wanted to go that way anyway, so we preceded to jack up the bike again and slip in the second hand tube I’d brought over for a just in case moment, we’d just had it, I had brought puncture repair kit, compressor tyre levers etc, but now I was down to no spare tube, hoping we’d have no more punctures.
We were now smashing out the kilometres and I was loving the bike, the weather was sunny and the wind had dropped off, Balladonia and Norseman came into view, were nearly home!
Psssssttt, the rear tyre decided to exhale at the bowser in Norseman, bugger, still could be worse, at least we have the road house airline to make it a bit easier, wrong, vandals had taken the air nozzle so we had to resort to the old fashioned method of plugging in my little compressor. The tube was deemed unsuitable for repair and after a quick ring-around, we managed to find a couple of tubes locally, with the kind assistance from a couple of Kiwi’s riding V Stroms around Aus I had the tubes delivered and one fitted, ready to hit the dirt road towards Hyden.
20 klm down the road, nope, doesn’t feel right, stopped and checked the rear hub that was red hot, brakes are dragging. When I’d changed the wheel, the brake shoes had fallen off, I must had put them on back to front (leading and lagging shoes). Ten minutes and a few burnt fingers later and we were kicking up the dust heading for Hyden, nice to get on the dirt, the sidecar took it in its stride and we camped about 100 klm short of Hyden, our last bush camp.
It’s been great, woke to an overcast day and rain soon settled in to make our last day a soggy one. We arrived home to a hero’s welcome... nobody home, we’d done it!, fantastic, epic, wow!
I’d grown to love riding the Ural sidecar over the week and although it’s slow, I really think you wouldn’t want to go any faster on it. It’s since had a birthday with fresh oils and tappets done, a wash and a couple more rides into town and around the traps at Bridgetown. The one thing I did wrong was to only take an open face helmet, man it was cold in Victoria.
I’m now looking forward to more epic adventures and good times on the Ural Gearup sidecar!