Monday, October 05, 2009

Natasha's Swan Song?

I had a great adventure with Natasha, my 1996 Ural Sportsman Sidecar Rig, yesterday. LINK

However, that may have been her "Swan Song".

Today, as I rode Natasha to my new job, she started making sounds like "marbles in a blender". I feared the worst but I was already close to the new job location and I for sure did not want to be late on my first day!

I parked her, got ready for work and worried about her the rest of the day. I figured the alternator had finally started to go. They're known to be faulty RPOCs, with some of them apparently breaking apart into pieces and taking the engine along to their doom. Their other nickname is the grenade alternator. That paint a clear picture for you? It was these kinds of thoughts that weighed on my mind.

So, the first day of work is done, I gear up and walk out to a light rain in the parking lot. No big deal I thought. Then the electric started made the dreaded "death rattle" noise when one's battery is not fully charged. Damn.

Several kickstarts later, I got her going. Yay I thought. The rattling noises seemed to have abated a bit as well (this turned out to be not a good sign). I got going in the rain and she seemed to be running OK but noisier than usual. Then I noticed the alternator light was on. Didn't think much of it as I was concentrating on finding my way home in the rain.

Got lost of course, vision was not the best due to visor issues. Finally got turned around and headed in the right direction. I was on Inspiration Drive east of Parker when she started making like she was out of gas. I switched to reserve but still she continued to bog down. I finally coasted to the side of the road where she finally died. The battery, without the alternator charging it, had finally run down. Damn.

Called my loving wife and she quickly brought me my spare motorcycle battery. Of course, it was raining the whole time I was on the side of the road, a few nearby lightning strikes as well to "lighten" my mood.

Once my wife found me, I got the spare battery (which I keep charged), swapped them out and Natasha cranked right up. She was still making the marble in blender noises albeit less loudly now and I raced home in the rain; managing to get her home before the second battery was totally drained as well.

Dried off, got some dinner and finally got some courage to take a look at the alternator. My #2 son was most helpful in handing me tools and such I must say. I had to remove the airbox but finally managed to remove the alternator. It was toast.

This is what it looks like in one piece, note the gear on the left side of the picture

The small geared piece used to be part of the center shaft of the alternator!

Note the sheared off center shaft, and damaged areas surrounding it

Best shot I could get of the ring gear within the engine to which the sheared off gear from the alternator mated and was spun by

A closeup of the sheared off section, that smooth looking dome on top used to be part of the alternator's center shaft!

At this point, I am debating the following courses of action, your thoughts and feedback would be appreciated:

1. Have here trailered (if possible) to Golden, CO where the nearest repair shop that I know is located. Get an estimate. It's going to be at least $600 for a replacement alternator, plus labor, probably more since the ring gear that spun the sheared off gear shaft on the alternator was probably damaged too. This also assumes that the repair shop can find a replacement alternator....they're apparently very hard to come by and backordered everywhere. If I could fell confident the ring gear in the engine is fine, I could order a replacement alternator and put it in myself but how the heck do I do that?

2. Give up on this RPOC and just cut my losses. I must admit, as my wife pointed out, that at least Natasha failed in this manner close to home, not while I was on that mountain trail yesterday! The motorcycling gods were indeed with me then.

3. Sell her off on craigslist as a parts motorcycle. Try and recoup some money and move on.

4. Dismount the motorcycle from the sidecar, sell the motorcycle for parts motorcycle and explore the concept of attaching her to Brigitta, my 1987 R80 though I am loathed to do that. Brigitta is such a sweet, and reliable, motorcyle to run as she is today.

What do you think? I asked my sons, and though they loved riding in the sidecar, they left the choice to me. They're such good boys.


RichardM said...

I would vote for option 1. Option 4 seems attractive except for the 2WD feature. Hard to duplicate and, I think, very valuable. I would also opt to repair it myself just for the experience. I suspect that you would be able to determine the condition of the ring gear. Are there non-OEM parts available? But then again, it's your bike. Looking forward to your next post...

Conchscooter said...

Call Holopaw Ural (407 892 1901)in Central Florida and see what they say. They swear by these machines and do a land sale business shipping parts. Personally, in a world littered with reliable interesting and attractive motorcycles for all tastes, the reason for the existence of Ural for someone who actually takes the time to be on the road,(or off in remote distant places) as you do, is obscure at best and disappointingly irritating at worst. You could do a lot worse than buying a Velorex and attaching it to a machine from Japan or Europe that actually runs.I only mention it because you asked.

Learning to Golf said...

I’m terribly discouraged by the turn of events with Natasha. However, I am in total agreement with the wife on your luck in being close to home. I’m just now beginning to think about reattaching my hack to Petunia after the trouble I had after getting it.

My two cents worth is agreement with your plan to dismount and sell the bike. Look on Craigs List for a suitable scrambler type bike around 750-900 cc, maybe a KTM or Kawasaki, and attach the chair to that. Both seem to be reliable, parts should be easy to find in the event of, and you might find a good deal on one.

Good luck in which ever direction you end up going.

Martha said...

Wifey here chiming in...

Locate the parts, and fix her.
We knew going in, that this type of bike provided a different experience. That experience is not just limited to the "ride" but the care and feeding of Natasha.
It is a different type of bike than the others and there is a learning curve involved with figuring out what makes her tick and how to get her fixed.

Stay the course, dude!
The wife has spoken...

Unknown said...


I am so sorry that this has happened ? I'm not a mechanic but I wonder if someone can take that alternator apart and machine a new shaft for it.
I kind of like ArizonaHD's idea of finding a more reliable propulsion system like a KTM or KLR, and Conch's suggestion of phoning Holopaw to see if they have one in stock to do the self repair

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

FATTKAW said...

I gotta say go with the wifes idea.
Get the parts and do it yourself, simple bike!!

good site --

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

What a pain in the ass! But it is a mechanical thing, on the exotic side, made by people who have a strange concept of quality control. If it was up to me, I'd do this:

1) Find a Ural club, list, or cult and start putting together the info on tyhe parts that fail, the failure rate, and sources for replacement.

2) I'd seek out a local shop, as local as possible, get their opinion, and start to figure out the cost of getting the rig flatbedded, the cost of parts, and the cost of all repairs. I would add this to current value of the trade and figure out how much I was willing to invest in the experience.

3) I'd call the place Conch mentioned to get a second opinion and to introduce a little competition into sourcing the parts.

4) I would then compare all the information. If the cost of all repairs was doable, I might keep the machine if I loved it. If the last part of the equation was that the bike's hardware is totally substandard and that a new alternator could also break within hours of installation, I'd think asbout moving the machine on.

5) You could get a really nice low mileage K75 for about $4-$5 grand. If you babied it like you do, you'd get $4 grand back when you sold it.

6) I wouldn't mount a side car on a bike that wasn't made fot it.

7) Keep the wife.

I'm sorry you're having this trouble. It's not only an old BMW... It's an old BMW made by people who brought you the Trabant.

Take a ride on the real bike tomorrow. I wasn't kidding about the K75. It's older technology that runs like a Timex.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

PS: From Jack Riepe --

Dom, pull out the anonymous book and see if there is anyone who can help you trailer the bike to the shop for free. You might make a new friend. Plus I don't think $600 for a new alternator is that expensive. I would consider a $1200 motor repair job on a Beemer to be "average."

You might also find out that new alternators may not have this defect.(I don't know.)

At least you still have the other bike.

Allen Madding said...

Even if you are considering selling the RPOS, I would go ahead and fix it. Running working automotive/mechanical pieces always bring a better price than those that "just need this one thing fixed".

Sorry you are having such a less than ideal time with her. Hope you find a happy resolution!


redlegsrides said...

Richard, thanks for your thoughts....and yes the 2WD option is rare. Having trouble just removing covers right now, never mind the actual timing gears!

Conch....thanks, did call Gene at Holopaw and he confirmed the options that other dealers had given me. Very helpful guy.

AZ Harley...yeah, it's not going to swap tugs though, it's either the ural which is designed for it or time to move on.

Bobskoot, the alternator is not really repairable I am told. A rebuilt one of same type is only $200 vice the unobtainable in the foreseeable future aftermarket version that costs $600.

Fattkaw, thanks, knew about that link...and reviewing it tonight, I think I've hit the limits of where I am willing to try my own hand at fixing it.

Jack R....thanks for the suggestions...working on cost estimates now, but its looking more like I'll have to have it towed to the mechanic in Golden, CO. The complexity level is nearing the point where I don't think my skills will be enough or have the right tools. I am going to ask the guy who specializes in towing motorcycle how much he'll charge me to tow it to Golden.

I did ride the R80 today, she ran sweetly. What a difference between her and the Ural.

Thanks to all for your suggestions and feedback...more to follow.

Unknown said...

Cut your losses. Buy a used Z4 so you can stay a BMW fan and take the kids.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

You had me intrigued last night, so I started reading up on Urals. I found this 4-year-old report on a coast-to-coast ride this guy took on a Ural "Patrol." The machine was 8 weeks old, and broke down a lot. The list of what they ended up replacing on a brand new bike over two weeks was positively scary. The amount of readjustment this particular unit required on a day-to-day basis was unbelievable.

I hope things have improved in 4 years. The link is:

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

1weekender said...

Hey Dom, I've read the opinions and looked at prices. I agree with the wifes suggestion. I hate that Nashasha went down and is giving you problems, but I think she will be worth it in the end for your travels. I think you have the skills to replace the gears yourself. Might need a few more tools and more advice but the experiance will make you a better mechanic. Hand in there.


cpa3485 said...

Others are wiser than me, but after all the work you put into it, I'd hate to see you give it up.
Your wife seems very wise and supportive. It will be great for the kids too and that is very meaningful in the long run.
Hang in there!

mq01 said...

sorry im late, but i just must chime in and say, i love your wife!! :) hang in there and stay the course for now anyway...thats my 0.02...

Anonymous said...

hi ..i feel for you as i had the same happen to me.
another option might be to not replace the altenator at all and change you lighting to led bulbs and use deep cycle marine batterys to power your journeys ..i havnt tried this option myself but have read about others who have. defi worth looking into
good luck with it

dowey (ireland)

redlegsrides said...

Vafer, no way, Martha told me how your nephew was holding back tears when he asked her if I was going to get rid of the Ural...he loves riding in the sidecar.

Jack, am told that the newer models are more refined and maybe more reliable...but mines a 96 with the foibles and "features" therein.

Phil, CPA3485 and Mq01, not giving up yet, my meager skills, coupled with the greater skills of my russian friend Andre and the internet may yet carry the day. See tonight's posting.

Dowey, yeah, I'd seen the postings about "total loss" systems but not sure what it entails....still it's an option. Thanks for reading and commenting!