Sunday, March 28, 2010

Springtime on Squaw Pass Road

 A beautiful sunny day was forecast by the weather guessers today for us in Colorado.  The high temperature was to end up in the mid 60s by the middle of the afternoon!  So I geared up and rode out of my home neighborhoods with temperatures in the low 30s but sunny.  I am happy to report that things warmed up pretty quickly and I was able to dispense with the heated grips less than an hour into the ride.

I took my usual route on US285 to cut across the Denver Metro area.  Less than 40 minutes after leaving home, I was at the outskirts of the town of Morrison.  I headed north on CO93 out of Morrison and made my way to the start of US6 on the west side of Golden where it junctions with 6th Avenue:

Here's the start of US6 near Golden

Traffic was light on US6 but there were enough cagers eager to go above the speed limits to make it annoying as they stacked up behind on the twisty road.    It was good practice though for doing my leanings into the turns to make sure the sidecar did not fly up on me.  I turned off of US6 onto CO119 headed towards Idaho Springs.  Soon enough, I had reached where the road junctions with US40 and the I-70 super slab.

From here it's a three mile sprint on the super slab until you get to the first exit for Idaho Springs.  I tanked up at the Shell gas station located on the CO103 exit off of I-70 and checked in with my loving wife.

That taken care off, I headed south on CO103 to see what kind of road conditions existed on this road which leads one to the Mount Evans Road.  I knew, and the signs confirmed, that the Mount Evans Road was still closed for the season.  The roads up to Echo Lake were really not too bad but I was glad to be riding Natasha, my Ural Sidecar Rig when I encountered the occassional snow packed surfaces along with melting ice patches.

Echo Lake, with the top of Mount Evans in the background

another view of Echo Lake from near Echo Lake Lodge

I pulled into the Echo Lake Lodge parking lot and visually confirmed that a snow berm blocked the way to Mount Evans Road and the Ranger toll station.  There was a group of hikers making their way up through the berm, I bet they wondered what I was doing there as they turned as a group to stare back at me.

I got back onto CO103, turning right to continue eastward.  I  made my way up the increasingly narrow and snow-covered pavement and soon was at a favorite scenic pullout:

on a clear day, you can see forever....

looking west back towards Echo Lake, not sure what mountain top that is though

I continued eastward on CO103 and soon arrived at and passed by the picnic/trailh ead area for Juniper Pass.  There was a good view of the mountains behind me and I pulled into a nearby pullout area for a shot:

Near Juniper Pass

I proceeded eastward for  a bit but another nice view of the mountains presented itself behind me as I rounded a turn.  I stopped, turned myself around when safe and moved back west to line up these shots:

Turning back to get a shot of the mountain tops

I was moving closer to the curve in the picture above to get a better angle on the mountain tops visible to me.  As I slowly moved along the snowy roadside, I saw a Beemer rider with what looked like a F650GS going east!  Kudos to that rider, conditions were beyond where I'd take my two wheeled motorcycle!

This is, IMHO, the best shot I took today.

So I got myself turned back around again safely and continued eastward.  Road conditions in the shady areas of the road were iffy at best.  Lots of melting ice and snow packed pavement.   Luckily, there were very few cars moving along at the same time I was so I was able to take it nice and slow.   I never did catch up with the GS rider either, which is good since that means he didn't have an incident on the really crappy traction conditions I encountered.

I came upon the turnoff for Squaw pass and turned onto it for the requisite picture of the sign at the pass:

Squaw Pass

The view from near the Squaw Pass Sign

As I got going again down the mountain road, I came upon another trail head parking lot and I caught sight of another Ural!  Yep, one of the newer models with the green camouflage pattern paint scheme.  I quickly slowed and turned to park by the rig, meaning to leave my calling car on it as the owner was off hiking somewhere nearby.

the original reason I stopped at this trail head parking lot

I'd noticed some folks trying to tie some flimsy looking rope onto the tow point of a sedan which was apparently unable to back out of its parking spot.  I walked over with the tow strap I carry in the sidecar and offered assistance.  The tow strap worked just fine as you can see:

My tow strap in action

I continued on my way after the car was unstuck and I'd retrieved my tow strap.  That was my good deed for the day.  The rest of the way down the mountain was nice and sedate, taking it easy on the iffier parts of the road and I got down to Bergen Park with no further incident.

I elected to swing south through Bergen Park and made my way down to the town of Evergreen via CO74.  I transited through Evergreen smoothly and continued on CO74 heading towards Bear Creek Canyon and Morrison.  This is one of my favorite twisting road to make my way back towards Denver and I was soon cruising past the small settlements of Kittredge and Idledale.

Soon enough, I was moving through Bear Creek Canyon Road and its high rocky canyon walls were partly covered by the recent snow storm's measure of snow.  I stopped below to get a shot of Bear Creek which has carved out the canyon named after it:

Somewhere on CO74, near Idledale I believe

I came upon a small park less than a couple of miles from the above site, which while it was closed to vehicular traffic, one could see folks hiking along the base of the canyon walls, along Bear Creek's fast running waters:

I continued onwards on Bear Creek Canyon Road and was working up a sweat doing my leanings right and left on the rig to negotiate the tight twisting turns of Bear Creek Canyon.  I made it to Morrison with no incident and decided to turn back south on US285 to get on the North Turkey Rd exit near Tinytown.

A brief "sprint" on US285 and I was then twisting my way on North Turkey Creek rd heading towards the fire station at Fenders.  I encountered a gaggle of riders of sports motorcycles heading the other way, the roads were pretty clear so I can't say I was surprised.

I turned onto Deer Creek Canyon Rd and made my way closer to the Denver area, enjoying the twists and turns provided by this road.  I guess the motorcycle gods must have thought I was having too good a time because as I reached the flatter portions of Deer Creek Canyon Rd, I got a flat tire!  

At first I didn't realize my rear tire had gone flat, I had felt the rear end go a bit squiggly on me on the turn beforehand and had thought perhaps I'd hit a patch of gravel.  Nope, I then heard a constant thumping noise and I quickly puller over to the side of the road where it was flat.

Yep, a flat tire.  I also found several of the wheel spokes loose!  Heck, they were disconnected from their mounting points and one was completely missing!    Lucky I stopped as fast as I did.

I checked in with my loving wife to let her know I'd be delayed.  Then after a couple of attempts, finally got the rig jacked up on the small bottle jack that I carry.  It's good that I carry that bottle jack, as the flat rear tire did not allow me to deploy the center stand enough to allow me to lift the rear end onto it!

I went to the nearby steep creek bank and got a rock to make sure the motorcycle did not move on me and got to work.  The hardest part?  Getting the dang safety cotter pin off the castellated nut which holds the axle for the rear tire on the right side of the motorcycle!  It was a bit of a pain but I got the old wheel off, dug a small trench for the spare tire and got it mounted on and secure with no real big problems.

As I was doing this, several bicyclists passed me by without stopping.  One even had tire trouble and had stopped on the other side of the road as I worked.  Several motorcycle riders came and went, and not one stopped to ask if I needed help.  Rather disappointing, don't you think?  To add insult to injury, two other bicyclists stopped and rendered assistance to the previous bicyclist!  Oh well.  Got everything mounted, secured and tools put away by 2:00PM and headed towards CO121 which is where Deer Creek Canyon Road ends.

I stopped where the bicyclists one sees on Deer Creek Canyon stop to park their cars to check in with my loving wife as I'd forgotten to do it before leaving the breakdown site.  I opened the pocket case and there was NO phone!  Aaaarrggghh.  I did some quick searching of the sidecar, no luck.

I turned around and headed back towards the breakdown area and got there around 2:15PM.  No sign of the phone.  Damn.  I was getting ready to fully unload the sidecar in a frantic search for the phone when it occured to me to search the creek bank where I'd gone to pick up a rock to secure the biek during repairs.  Damn if the darn phone wasn't right there!  Pheew!

I checked in with my wife, counted my lucky stars again and then headed back out to Wadsworth Blvd aka CO121.  I headed north on Wadsworth until I was able to turn eastward again on US285, making my way back through the Denver Metro area.  The rest of the ride was no problem and my spare tire did just fine in getting me home safely.

A fine day of riding, flat tire notwithstanding.  I wonder if the spokes had been loose from when I bought the wheel from Linden Engineering?  I'd not checked the spokes for tightness since I'd bought the wheel, hmmmm.  It would kind of explain the slight tendency the rig had been displaying lately of pulling slightly to the left while riding at higher than 50 mph speeds!  

Natasha and I covered 335 Km today, about 201 miles ridden in about 7hrs of riding.  I was tired and sweaty but still, it was a good ride!

EOM Mileages:  Brigitta: 83,871 Miles.  Natasha: 16,027 Km

Saturday, March 27, 2010

All about Natasha and her kin

 This post will list the information I've gathered on my 1996 Ural Sportsman, Natasha, to answer the typical questions I get when UDF'ed (Ural Delay Factor) while riding this sidecar rig.

It's a Russian motorcycle, made in Irbit at the foot of the Ural Mountains, initially a copy of a German BMW motorcycle sidecar rig.


Ural is pronounced "ooral" by the Russians.

Manufacturer's website:

History, according to IMZ: LINK


  • Five R-71 BMW motorcycles covertly bought through Sweden by Russians, taken apart, copied down to last bolt and approved as M-72 motorcycle for Soviet military starting early 1941.
  • October 25, 1942, first M-72s sent into battle with Soviet Army, with almost ten thousand produced during the course of the war.
  • 1950, the 30,000th motorcycle was produced.
  • Late 1950s, the factory in the Ukraine dedicated for military production, the one in Irbitz for civilian consumption.
  • 1998, the factory is fully privatized.
Design really has not changed much since the 1940s.  More recent models have outsourced components such as Hertzog Timing Gears, Ducati Ignitions, Italian handlebar controls, Brembo Front Disc Brakes.

Over 3.2 million copies have been delivered world-wide.

Natasha was made in 1996 and originally had a 650cc engine. The previous owner had it replaced with a 750cc engine, a deep oil sump, a Harley Davidson solo seat which replaced the hard rubber "tractor" seats.

Max speed is 65 mph but these rigs prefer to run at 55 mph when run for extended periods of time.

Transmission: Four forward and one reverse gear.  "Loud Gears Save Lives".

Natasha has fulltime 2 wheel drive, in that both the motorcycle's rear tire and the sidecar's wheel are driven. Newer models don't have this, instead their 2Wd is manually engaged by the rider when in difficult terrain to get the rig unstuck, then disengaged once free of the obstacle as its difficult to steer with 2WD engaged.

5 Gallon capacity tank, about 35 MPG depending on whether or not the sidecar's windshield is mounted or not.

Natasha came with a Russian 35 amp alternator, which imploded, now using Total Loss Electrical System.

These motorcycles require regular maintenance, with service cycles every 2500-3000 kilometers.  Seem short to you?  Well, if you were a 40 HP engine, powering a drive train designed for 19HP, and pushing along about 1000 lbs of'd require short maintenance cycles too!  : )

While you can't neglect their maintenance they are also very simple in design and easy to work on for the most part.  I can usually, working slowly at that, swap out the engine, transmission and final drive fluids in less than one hour.

Rides pretty good on snow, and it traverses stuff which my car has gotten stuck in.
Read about the adventure of 4 Ural Riders in the 2010 Elephant Ride.

Training in sidecar rig riding is a must.  These beasts are night and day when compared to their two-wheeled counterparts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oh, so tempting.....

Saw this on the techie blog, I must admit it would be quite tempting to attach it to the back of my motorcycles for the more than occasional tailgating cager!


From the posting:

Ever wish you could do something to get the idiot behind you from riding on your tail down the highway? Over in England, Colin Fruze developed a way to keep drivers away. He built a flamethrower into the tail of his motor scooter. Trust me, you don't want to follow this guy too closely.

However, the article ends with the author stating he'd been told that using it on public streets would be equivalent to using a firearm.  Still, it would be quite amusing in the short term until the cops caught up with me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Freezing Rain Commute

The Denver Metro area was under a Winter Storm Warning starting at 3:00PM today.  The weather guessers were right for once, it started raining right at 3:00PM on the eastern side of town where I now work.  The rain quickly turned to freezing rain, thunder and lightning.  It was a very heavy rain too, I watched the cars and poor Natasha get soaked out there and gradually get covered in mushy ice.

Mushy you see because the temperatures were still above freezing at this point.  I got out of work close to 5:00 PM after the heaviest of the freezing rain had passed to the east.  It was just mildly raining, almost snowing as I got to Natasha and took this picture of her in the parking lot.

Yep, that white stuff is ice but it wasn't frozen hard....kinda mushy if you know what I mean.

I rode on home down the usual backroads, there was mushy ice particles/pellets (kind of like a soft hail if you will) collecting on the roads but preceding cars had cleared channels in the parts where it counted so no major concerns.  That is except the one time I allowed my pusher to touch the ice-covered centerline of my lane, then I experienced a momentary wiggle which got my attention!  But that's it for the exciting part; the rest of the ride was without incident.

The only major issue was keeping my visor clear of the ice which would fall out of the sky and just stick to the visor.  Had to keep wiping the stuff off to the side of the helmet, so my gloves were quite wet by the end of the 12 mile commute.  My ATV grip covers?  Well, I'd left them on, they got rained on for at least an hour, so were soaked through and unusable as they wouldn't hold their shape to allow me to slip my hands in and out as I worked the controls; I had to take them off.

Got home safe and on even more positive note, the modification I'd done to the Ural's air box apparently works to keep water out of the air filter.  This is a known issue with Urals of the 90s where air is sucked in from an opening in the top of the air box.  Succeeding models had the hole in the air box on the bottom to try and alleviate this issue but it still exists.  Here's what I did:

Basically, it's adding a second top lid in place of the small "top hat" that my air box comes with.  The OEM "top hat" is only a bit bigger than the opening into the air box and so water apparently gets sucked in during heavy rains, saturating the air filter and causing combustion issues due to lack of air.

Of course, I also had the K&N oiled air filter inside so the test was not as thorough as I'd wanted.  Sure, I'd gotten a heavy rain hitting the rig, rode in rain and everything went fine but I want to try this with a plain paper filter as well to make sure.  More testing to follow.

Here's a belated shot of my sidecar's trunk, now containing two deep cycle batteries hooked up in parallel, giving me 250 amp hrs of electrical power.  So far, it roughly translate to a range of roughly 400 miles with the headlight on, about 700 with the headlight off.  More than enough for a day's ride on the Ural.  Not much for a Beemer but then ain't a Beemer!

Looking in from the right of the sidecar, the batteries are currently on the charger being topped off

Yeah, using a Total Loss Electrical System (TLES) is somewhat limiting but there's hope for a better alternator solution.  I saw the below pics on, and I am hopeful a commercial application will be available someday:

Basically, a car alternator is mounted on top of the engine, and slots are cut to allow a belt that drives the alternator to spin on the flywheel of the engine. 

A side view of the car alternator, driven by a belt spun by the flywheel

Presently on Urals, the alternator has a gear which is driven from the timing gears under the front cover of the engine. On older versions like mine, the gear tends to shear off and destroy the timing gears as well.  On the newer versions with a Nippon Denso Alternator, the bearings tend to dry out and of course destroy themselves, requiring a new adapter for the alternator if you're lucky, a new alternator if you're not lucky; and those Nippon Densos are not cheap! 

So until the above solution is available to me or something as reliable, I'll be using my TLES.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Training: Basic Ride Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day 2+3

I finished ABATE's Two Day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider Training Course today.  It actually took us three days as weather had caused postponements of the training last weekend until 1:00 PM today.  Botttom line: It's a well-thought out and well instructed course for folks who've never even swung a leg onto a Trike or Sidecar Rig.

Day Two last weekend began with about 3 hours of classroom training that covered such important subjects as driving in traffic, swerving, traction control and tip over lines for three wheeled vehicles.  There was much discussion about the physics involved with sharp curves, the speed you enter them at and the consequences of not slowing down and shifting your weight into the turn.  Good riding practices such as aggressive scanning, following distances, and creating safety buffers around you were covered or reinforced.

The considerations one must take while carrying cargo or passengers was covered, similar to the load triangle idea that is covered in the Basic Rider's Course for two wheeled motorcycles.  Finally, a good coverage of the effects of alcohol and drugs while riding a motor vehicle was done, to include actions one can take to prevent dangerous situations from happening perhaps.  Alan continued the good job he'd done as an instructor during Day One, making sure subjects were covered well and ensuring there were no questions on any particular subject.

As we started the Day Two riding maneuvers and practice though, it started snowing on us.  Since the maneuvers we were going to cover involved faster speeds and harder braking action; Alan decided to postpone the course to ensure safety.  I must say that while I was a bit dissappointed,  I had to agree with Alan's call on this, no sense getting hurt, especially since the other two students were new to Trikes.

The week went by, ABATE rescheduled things to today and we picked up where we left off pretty smoothly.
The maneuvers were similar to Day One's but now we were called on to upshift to second gear, pick up more speed (around 20 mph), lean aggresively and brake more aggressively and control our stops while at the same time downshifting back to first gear.  Lots more going on with each maneuver!

We had nice sunny weather this afternoon, here's a shot of Natasha with the Suzuki GZ250 next to her.
The afternoon passed pretty quickly as Alan ran us through all the remaining training maneuvers.  We learned such useful things as the feel for and control of a stop involving heavy braking.  For one set of maneuvers, we intentionally picked up enough speed and braked hard enough to skid the tires.  Good stuff!

The swerving training was very interesting to me as it's highly different on a sidecar rig than on a two wheeled motorcycle.  One has to do some quick and smooth shifting of one's butt from one side of the seat to the other while steering your way around the obstacle.  It took me some practice runs but I got it down enough to be comfortable with the notion of swerving now with a sidecar rig!  The best thing remains to be alert and scan forward enough to not have to swerve but instead slow and stop around obstacles, but it's a good skill to learn and practice!

Another difference for three wheeled riders is that when forced to stop quickly on a curve, one does not "square" the handlebars before coming to a stop.  Nope, you maintain your lean into the turn and come to a stop.  Took me a couple of tries to "ignore" the muscle memory I'd developed while riding two wheeled motorcycles to get it right.

Finally, as I was the only sidecar rider, Alan covered two remaining maneuvers that involved sidecar rigs.  The first was taking the sidecar rig and going around a circle of cones, the objective being to "fly the chair" and try and make it around the circle with the chair in the air!  I had my reservations but it turned out not as hard as I thought it would be.  Though not as smoothly as Alan, I was able to "fly the chair" and almost made a complete circle with the chair in the air!

The last remaining sidecar only maneuver involved going into a right turn around the same circle of cones but this time as I came out of the circle, I was to go in a straight line across the parking lot while continuing to fly  the chair!  Alan made it look easy as he demo'ed it, I was not able to go more than a few feet in a somewhat straight line before the rig would start turning to the right again!  I tried several times and while I apparently can keep a rig going in circles with the chair in the air, going straight is going to take some practice!

Still, I was quite pleased that I could fly the chair when I wanted and keep it in a curve.  Since I've read that many sidecarists get in trouble when their sidecar lifts when in a tight right hand turn, they over-correct and go into a straight line onto oncoming traffic.  The fact I can keep her turning until I get the sidecar back down I regard as a good thing!  Again, speed while in the turn is the key factor.  One most shift one's weight into a turn and keep the speeds down enough to not fly the chair and yet not be an obstacle to the car behind you!

We now all went through the skills testing that would allow those of us who passed to skip the riding test at the DMV for the Three-Wheeled Endorsement.  All of us did well enough, I am happy to report, to pass the test!  Smiles all around when Alan made that announcement.  He issued us our training cards and after making sure there were no questions, ended the class.

Roger, one of my fellow student's husband, asked Alan how his Harley Davison sidecar rig did with "flying the chair".  Alan offered to show us!  Heck, he even asked me if I wanted to take his rig out for a spin.  I declined but felt gratified that he was confident enough in my skills to allow me to ride his rig.  I have to tell you, the man can "fly the chair" and make it look easy!

Here's Alan Mason, our instructor, getting his Harley Davidson rig ready for the demo

There he goes, straight down the parking lot, preparing to turn right to come back towards us

Here's Alan as he was coming back towards us, aimed straight at me really, making it look easy.
Note:  his sidecar was up the whole time from shortly after the start all the way to the finish!

As Alan finished the paperwork, he OK'ed my going out on the now empty parking lot with Natasha and try "flying the chair".  Here's what I learned:

1.  Yes, picking up the chair is not difficult at all, but it was a tad  harder on Natasha (most likely due to the ballast weight of the batteries) than on the empty training sidecar provided by ABATE.  

2.  I am now more at ease with the concept of the chair coming up on me on a tight right hand turn, I believe I have the basic skills (which I must practice) to handle that situation when and if it occurs.

3.  The powered sidecar wheel on Natasha keeps spinning and I think gaining speed while I am flying the chair.  Each time I touched down the sidecar wheel without pulling in the clutch first, I heard a small squeal as the tire touched pavement again!  So, not a good idea to keep my sidecar wheel up a long time, as I knew beforehand and as the manual says.   I've mentioned it before, but apparently when the sidecar wheel is in the air, the differential transfers all power to the sidecar wheel!  Theoretically, if I was able to keep flying the chair long enough, I'd come to a stop and the sidecar wheel would be spinning!   This is not something I intend to try and find out what happens!

So, I got some great training on advanced sidecar rig handling.  Learned some basic techniques that I'd not been using properly on my own sidecar rig but will from now on.  A great course of instruction and something I'd strongly recommend any sidecar rig rider or trike rider take!  ABATE of Colorado are the only ones in the whole state that offer this course.  I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Day of Spring Ride: Barr Lake State Park

Ah, the First Day of Spring here in the great state of Colorado.   Of course, we had snow on the ground.  It was not much snow in the eastern portion of the Denver Metro area, I believe they got about a foot in the Foothills and more in the mountains to the west.

To celebrate the arrival of Spring to the Rockies, I rode out around 8:00 AM with the temperature in the high teens, on rather slick neighborhood roads, to less slick but with plenty of icy slush main roads.  I was headed north and would end up cruising on Tower Rd all the way to where it ends at the southern end of Barr Lake State Park.

source: googlemaps

In spite of sometimes iffy road conditions, I made good time in the very light traffic on Tower Rd.  I turned east on 128th Avenue until I reached Picadilly Rd which I took North, pretty much working my way around the eastern half of the lake.

I reached 152nd Avenue and took it westward looking for the entrance to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.  I was hoping for a good site at the observatory to pose Natasha by with Barr Lake in the background you see.  Well, I did find the road but the entrance to the observatory was closed.  Oh well.

I backtracked my way back to Picadilly Road and I entered the state park at its main entrance.  I paid my $6 fee at the self-service station and proceeded on down to the park's boat ramp to see what I could see.

Not surprisingly, the boat ramp was closed even though the lake was not frozen over.  There were some good views of the water and hazy views of the distant front range mountains though:

 You access the boat ramp area via a small narrow bridge, the bridge turned out to be the only scenic background object in this particular state park today.

Can you make out the hazy outlines of the mountains in the distance?

Barr Lake State Park's main focus is fishing apparently, there's not much in the way of paved or unpaved roads that I could see.  I did ride by a small herd of whitetail deer but we kept out of each others way.

Having exhausted the park's scenic photo possibilities, I headed back home retracing my route along Tower Road.  The sun, as you saw in the photos, was out in force by now and with the temperature in the mid to high 20s,  the roads were no longer icy in spots, just wet.  This was another reason to go home for lunch as I don't enjoy riding when there's a lot of splashback potential from cars and such.

A short ride, but a nice ride all the same.  I hope to finish off the training for the ABATE Sidecar/Trike Training Course tomorrow afternoon.  Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Training: Basic Rider Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day One

Last weekend, I attended the two day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider training course put out by ABATE of Colorado..  Its part of my commitment to get training where I can to make me a better and safer rider.  I had arranged for participation in this course last year but then I had "issues" with Natasha which delayed participation.  Natasha being a rare beast in terms of having fulltime 2WD, I wanted to use her in the more advanced portions of the course.

This course was the first iteration for 2010 and I was one of three riders scheduled.  The class was at the Mile High Marketplace flea market near the junction of I-76 and 88th Street (they're other regular location is in Colorado Springs).  They've their own section of the vast parking lot that surrounds the flea market and ABATE provides you with either a sidecar rig or a trike, whatever your interest might be.

If you've ever taken the Basic Rider Course put on by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), then you'll be familiar with the curriculum in ABATE's Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider course.  Alan Mason was our instructor and he got us settled into about three hours of classroom instruction with practiced ease and confidence.  My fellow students included Mike and Becky.  Both of them were seeking instruction in riding a Trike, I was the only one there focused primarily on learning good sidecar rig riding techniques.

The course is built on the building block concept, and the instruction was clear and unhurried. It is geared for a student who's never been either on a sidecar rig or a trike.   Allan made sure to get class participation by involving us students in the discussions.  Then it was time for us to get on the motorcycles!  ABATE had small Suzuki GZ 250 motorcycles with Velorex sidecars attached.  There were also two Honda Trikes, one with a 750cc motor and the other with a 1300cc motor.  Becky and Mike settled onto these trikes respectively.

Here's the Suzuki GZ 250 with Velorex Sidecar Rig I rode most of today

Here's one of the two Honda Trikes

This gives you an idea of how much bigger the Ural is compared to the smaller Suzuki Rig

Using again the building block concept, we started with basic training such as motorcycle controls, hand signals, basic stop and go of the motorcycles, slow turns and maneuvers.  At first, it was a bit slow for me since I'd been riding Natasha, my Ural sidecar rig, for over 6000 miles now but things got interesting fast enough!

Riding a sidecar rig that does not have a driven sidecar wheel like my Natasha was "eye-opening".  I was now experiencing the yaw forces that riders of rigs that are 1WD experience. For example, when you accelerate from a stop, the sidecar resists due to inertia for the tiniest but noticeable bit.  Left hand turns mean that while the tug is slowing to make the left turn, the sidecar still has the momentum to go straight for a bit.  Right hand turns were pretty much the same as on Natasha, you got to slow down or risk "flying the chair".  Quick stops are marked by the sidecar still having forward momentum which forces you to compensate with the handlebar.  All very new experiences for me since Natasha, with the exception of right turn behaviors, does not do these things!.  Day One, all sidecar riders are given 50lbs of ballast in the form of a sandbag, Day Two, the ballast is removed!

All the maneuvers you do will be familiar if you've ever taken basic rider training.  It involves riding specific tracks outlined by orange plastic cones and explained by thorough instructions and demonstrations by Allan, our instructor.  Allan always made sure to provide immediate feedback, but what I liked best is he did it for the other students in a manner which built up their confidence and with a sense of humor.

Here's a couple of pictures of a home built VW Trike.  I'd never heard of these until today, but Mike, my fellow student had mentioned he had one as well.  It's apparently a VW beetle which has been chopped in half and the front end of a motorcycle grafted on to make it a trike!  The rider was there during lunch to be given the driver's test for Trike endorsement by Allan.  Third party driver license testing is apparently one more of the offerings of ABATE.

Definitely an eye-catching beast

The rider/owner said he built it himself, and took about a year to do it.

After lunch we practiced more involved maneuvers and courses.  I was having a good time with the small Suzuki GZ250 sidecar rig and apparently was getting pretty comfortable with it.  I say this because after I returned to the staging area after one exercise which involved figure eight tracks and tight right and left hand turns, Allan walked up to me and held up two of his finger as if he was squeezing a two inch object together.

He had a big smile on his face and I asked what he meant by the gesture.  Turns out he was indicating that I had taken a right turn fast enough that I'd managed to "fly the chair"; the gap between his fingers indicated the amount of space between my tire and the pavement for a brief moment!  I never even felt the sidecar come up!

I'd told Allan one of my objectives was to "safely and intentionally fly the chair" and to learn to deal with it in a safe manner.  The fact that I'd done it without even knowing was initially surprising, hence Allan's smile at my shocked expression; and subsequently both a bit amusing and thought-provoking.

4:00 PM came around and we were done for Day One.  Allan asked if we had any more questions or wanted to try anything else.  I asked if I could run the same course but this time on Natasha.  "Of course!" said Allan.  All day he'd repeatedly asked us if we wanted to swap bikes and such.  I walked over to Natasha and did a couple of runs of the figure eight course.  You have to upshift into second gear and get up to at least 20 mph in the straightaways so I had some good speed going into the tight right handed turns.

First run, I felt I had kept all three wheels on the pavement.  Second run, I think I must have picked up a bit more speed because at the apex of the right hand turn, I felt the side car lift up!  I immediately rolled off the throttle and pulled in the clutch and the sidecar tire settled back onto the pavement with a gentle bump.  Wow.

I rode over to where Allan was standing and he gave me some pointers about what had just happened and what I would learn the next day.  I apparently had the sidecar wheel up a good 6-8 inches off the ground that time.  Kind of scary but exciting too.  I learned a lot about sidecar riding today, and Day Two promises even more advanced stuff.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My experience with riding a Ural - much better now....

Someone emailed me the other day and asked for my thoughts on Ural ownership.  It seems he was in the initial stages of the same affliction which led to my trading a perfectly well running BMW 1150RT with a mere 80,000+ miles on the odometer for my '96 Ural Sportsman Sidecar Rig!

Snow?  Not a problem usually on a Ural!
This photo was on the way up to Loveland Pass

Six months and a bit over 10,000 kilometers on the Ural's odometer, I give you the results of my riding, wrenching and exploring experiences for those amongst you who wonder about these beasts.

One of his questions was on the differences in the handling and control of two wheels vs three wheeled vehicles.  Well, that's a lengthy discourse all by itself.  They are basically night and day in terms of handling.  First time I rode a motorcycle with an outrigger wheel (not a sidecar), I damn near took out a neighbor's mailbox.  Damn thing wouldn't lean into the turn I was trying to force it into!  : )  You have to steer it into a turn, kind of like a car but it just feels wrong the first time.  I also had to stop myself from putting my feet down when stopping.  Very weird.

If you can get training on a sidecar rig, I highly recommend you do so.  I'll be writing soon about the training I am currently going through.  At the very least, put 80-100 lbs of ballast (I used sandbags) in the sidecar and practice the maneuvers in the Sidecar Owner's Manual in following link:  LINK

Tight right turns, done too fast, will cause your sidecar to lift and possibly overturn if you don't react correctly.  This is called "flying the chair".  Some guys make it look fun and easy.  I briefly "flew the chair" during training and it was "interesting".

The days of zipping through tight curvy mountain roads will be replaced by occasional moments of sheer terror when that right handed curve turns out tighter than you thought.  Don't get me wrong, still a lot of fun but you really have to slow down for right turns.  Left turns I hear are somewhat easier but can be tricky for one wheel drive (1WD) outfits.  2WDs like mine make left turns easier apparently.  This is important, you have to shift your weight in the direction of the turn!  Not lean, shift, as in move your butt so part of it hangs off the side of the seat closest to the inside of the turn!

Once you get used to it though, it's a blast to ride!  By the way, long distance touring is possible on a Ural, given certain conditions:

Service intervals are short, and you have to like working on your motorcycle.  Nothing mysterious, just a willingness to get greasy and turn a wrench or three (a BFH is a required tool).  Its recommended you change out the oil every 3000 Km, not miles,'s easy, and you might as well change out the transmission (same as engine oil) and final drive fluid (80w90 oil) while you're at it, it usually takes me an hour, moving slow.

I've learned, via Bill Glaser's, how to service wheel bearings, work on sidecar drive shafts, replace wheels, replaced u-joints, changed fluids, oil filter, air filter and soon will be servicing my shocks.  There's nothing inherently complex about a Ural, really.  You have to consider, these were machines originally designed to be worked on in the middle of nowhere, with minimal tools, by an uneducated Soviet Army private, probably while under fire!

If you want to get there fast, don't take the Ural.  Even the new ones are more comfortable at 60-65mph for hours on end but no faster. Oh, and that 60mph drops by a bit when climbing hills, get used to being on the right hand lane and being passed by damn near everybody.  (off pavement though, you'll zip by most everyone else).

Passenger comfort:  I've only ridden very short distances in the sidecar, it was comfy enough and you can get a windshield to keep the wind off your passenger.  That windshield though will direct rain right into your right leg, just be prepared.  Mileage by the way, suffers with the windshield on in the sidecar.  I've seen shorter version from third party but don't know much more about them.  My wife has gone on short rides with me, she says she enjoys the riding.  She definitely is not up for two-up riding.  I also feel better about my two sons riding with me as well.

Ural Sidecar Weaknesses?  Where do I start?

It's basically 50 year old design,  I hear the newer models are leagues ahead of mine in terms of quality and newer non-Russian components, and they do look nice, the ones I've seen and ridden with.  My 1996 model, required more "attention", but now seems to be all sorted out.

The welding is rough, but they use really thick steel.  The speedometer is not exactly accurate and cold weather tends to send it into "windshield wiper" mode.  Running lights are "weak", I ended up replacing mine with brighter LED lights.  Rust is something that you have to watch for and treat, especially if you ride in the winter like I do.

Most everything on the motorcycle is exposed to the elements, dielectric grease will become your electrical connections' friend and protector.  

I've had the throttle cables freeze at the junction where the one cable from the throttle grip splits off to the two carburetors, resulting in the throttle stuck on high....very disconcerting.  The fix is easy, deice and/or lubricate that split and you're good to go.

If you keep your rig outside in freezing weather, you may get water in the carburetor float bowls, simply drain off the water and ride off.  Good old Ivan provided drain holes at the bottom of the float bowls on the carburetors that are not too hard to get to.

The stock seats are flat hunks of rubber, I imagine tractor seats to be the same.  Mine came with a Harley Davidson Solo seat, very comfy.

Not the smoothest or quietest ride in the world, but it's definitely got character!  You will draw attention wherever you go, it's called the UDF or Ural Delay Factor.  If you don't like complete strangers walking up to you and asking questions about the rig, the Ural is not for you.

Urals are the tractors of the motorcycle world, slow, gobs of low range torque, go anywhere kind of motorcycles.  Snow is no longer a concern for me, well snow no deeper than 6 inches anyways!  Hell, they even come with a kick start!  Being on three wheels, they're easier to push as well.  Done plenty of that in the beginning of my ownership period.

When you get stuck on snow though, you can usually pull them around in another direction easily enough and get unstuck that way. 

The stock air box is a known weakness, basically air flows into the middle of the donut shaped filter and then out to the plenum box and thence to the carburetors.  It can get wet easy or oily since the drain tube from the engine's front cover goes into the air box too.  Once the filter is compromised, the engine starves for air and performance suffers.    Some Uralisti have crafted their own air boxes or "adapted" air boxes from other vehicles with differing degrees of success.  Others use oil-impregnated K&N filters.  I carry a spare air filter.  They're cheap, and its saved me from one incidence of almost being stranded by a fouled air filter.

That is one thing about replacement parts for Urals, they're cheaper than Beemer parts!  An oil filter is less than $7!  The manual says to use 20w50 oil, no synthetic stuff.  So I buy whats on sale at the local auto parts store.

The older rigs came with cheap pot metal screws and fasteners, absolute crap.  I've replaced most of mine with good steel fasteners that use Allen wrenches vice flat tip screwdrivers for removal!  Loctite is your friend and you should check your fasteners on a regular basis.  I am not kidding here.

The old design also makes them simple to work on.  When my rig's 35amp Russian alternator "grenaded itself" (they are known for that), it took out my timing gears as well.  I was able, with a little help from a friend, to tear things down, and put the new timing gears in place with no major travails. 

The newer ones comes with Nippon Denso alternators with a cushioned adapter for the gear that engages your engine timing gears.  It's supposed to be better but there's minor issues there as well.  You have to service it, make sure the bearings involved don't dry out.    They cost a bit over $500 though and are scarce.  Me?  Until someone comes out with an alternator solution as bulletproof as the Airhead Beemers, I will run a Total Loss Electrical System(TLES).  The TLES takes up a lot of space in the sidecar's trunk though. 

If you can test ride one before buying one, that would be the best thing.   Lots of guys buy one, find out its not what they thought and sell them.  It's a shame they don't invest the time, because the Ural is a fun vehicle.  Oh, and after riding mine all winter, it makes my 1987 R80 Beemer seem like a rocket!  : )

You know how they say Beemer transmissions are "klunky".  Russian transmissions make Beemer transmissions seem silky smooth.  The joke is that the final machining of the transmission gears is done by the owners!  There's a break-in period for new rigs that must be strictly followed by the way.  The more miles you put on the transmission, the better it'll get but you'll always be thinking of the phrase: "Loud Gears Save Lives" in the back of your mind.

Oh, and having a spare tire can be quite the Godsend.  Get a flat, pull the motorcycle onto its centerstand or jack it up with a small jack (not standard equipment) and with a bit of luck you're back on the road in less than 30 minutes.  Practice swapping a tire in your garage, this will pay off in dividends on the side of the road, in the dark under a pouring rain.  Trust me.

To sum it all up, a Ural Sidecar Rig will make a mechanic out of you or help put your local Ural dealer's kid through college, your choice.

Snow, rain, mud, deep gravel or loose sand?  No problem!  Though it is better to have another Uralista along for "moral support" sometimes on the more "interesting" terrain.

Your now vehicle enforced cruising speeds will allow you a closer look at your surroundings and perhaps not miss some of those sights you blew by before.  Ever wonder where that dirt trail went?  Wonder no more, just ride on down the trail and see what there is to see!

Regrets?  Not really, but if I were to do it over again, I'd probably try and get a newer Ural, say 2007 or newer.  They've really improved a lot.  I hope this posting helps someone out there thinking about getting a Ural Sidecar Rig, they really are a lot of fun but you do have to spend the time to take care of them as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the space of a few nanoseconds....

A lot can happen in a seemingly short amount of time.

Today I finished my first full week of work at Sungard and I think it's going to be a good place to work.  The work is challenging but within my abilities, the people are friendly and easy going, lots of room to grow in the organization and the commute is easy.

I got home before 5:00 PM and as soon as I walked in my sons yelled out: "Mom got a job!", they seemed quite excited.  I looked at my wife and she confirmed the news with a big smile.  She's going to be the school nurse at the high school my sons will someday end up at.

The first thing out of my mouth?  "So, can I quit my job and ride around the world on my motorcycle?"  I said this half jokingly but my Martha, my loving wife replied: "You want to?"

As I hesitated for those few nanoseconds, my mind's eye saw me astride Natasha.  She and I were cruising along the steppes of Mongolia, in the tire prints of my hero Hubert Kriegel who's currently there on his Ural Sidecar Rig.  He's currently on his sixth year of his ten year ride all over the world.  LINK.

In the space of those nanoseconds, I was riding the Nürburgring on my '87 R80 BMW, slinging her around the tight turns with ease and verve, passing Ducatis and Porsches as if they were standing still.  Well, maybe not Ducatis and Porsches but definitely K75 Beemers!

In the space of those nanoseconds, I'd just turned off my engine on my motorcycle after having ridden from Deadhorse, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina along the Pan-American Highway of legend.  Surviving bad roads, bandits, kidnappers, corrupt customs, police and border agents, terrifying weather and of course without a single flat tire or mechanical breakdown.

In the space of those nanoseconds, I revisited by motorcycle all the places I served at when on active duty with the Army in Europe.  Circumnavigating Italy and Germany, surviving the traffic of Rome and Florence, twisting the throttle till it turned no more on the autobahns of Germany and maybe passing a Ducati or two while doing so.

In the space of those nanoseconds, I'd returned home after all the above traveling and hung out a shingle running a tour service for motorcycle riders who wanted to explore the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and points beyond.

In the space of those nanoseconds, I'd ridden through all fifty of these United States, meeting folks I've only met online and come home richer in friends and with incipient cirrhosis of the liver caused by too many drinks while spending time with those friends after having ridden our motorcycles on their favorite roads.

Yep, a lot happened during those few nanoseconds.  Then I came back to reality and said: "No, but thanks for offering" or some such words.  I married a good one didn't I?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Back among the working

Today was my first day as a fulltime employee with Sungard Availability Services at their Aurora Data Center.

Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming so far, the bureaucracy minimal so far, and I received my company laptop in the afternoon so I can hopefully become productive in short order!

Best part?  Not only is it an easy commute to work via motorcycle but parking is not only plentiful but I was able to park, quite by coincidence, right outside the windows by which my cubicle is located!  I need only stand up in my cube and gaze out into the parking lot at my motorcycle of the day.

Taken with my camera phone, through the window screen slats
Now does it get any better than that?  I believe I am going to like working for Sungard.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Uraling to a monthly gathering of British Iron

Back in February, I had been riding my Ural Sidecar Rig on Gun Club road, minding my own business and looking forward to exploring a nearby abandoned air park.  I had spotted a police patrol vehicle behind me as I rode along and had consciously kept to the speed limit (not that hard to do on a Ural, in fact sometimes its hard to achieve the speed limit!) and using turn signals as I went to turn right onto Jewell Avenue.

No sooner had I made the turn that I spotted the patrol vehicle still behind me and now with his lights flashing! I quickly pulled over and removed my helmet and gloves wondering what I had done to merit the officer's attention!  Turns out, it was a supreme moment of  UDF (Ural Delay Factor).  The officer was a fellow rider who owned not only a vintage Triumph Bonneville but had recently become the proud owner of a 1986 R80 Airhead Beemer.  The man just wanted a closer look at my rig!  He'd at first thought Natasha was an old Beemer with a sidecar.

While we chatted, Hans invited me to the monthly meeting of the British Motorcycle Association of Colorado Motorcycle Club. 
-->These British Iron enthusiasts meet at the Yukon Tavern at 525 South Circle Drive  Airport Blvd and S. Circle Drive) in Colorado Springs the first Saturday of every month.

This Saturday morning, I met up with Hans, near the intersection of Parker Rd and Arapahoe Rd.  It was a cool morning with temperatures in the low 30s but with the strong Colorado sun out, it felt a bit warmer than that.  Hans was riding his '72 Triumph Bonneville and we set out at a sedate 60 mph pace down Parker Rd for the 10:00 AM meeting in Colorado Springs.

Here's Hans and his '72 Triumph Bonneville

Beautiful riding weather today, we saw lots of other motorcycles enjoying the spring-like temperatures and sunny conditions.  We were met with the sight of over 30+ motorcycles at the parking lot for the Yukon Tavern, most of the motorcycles were British but I spied a Beemer or two, a Honda and a couple of undetermined sport motorcycles as well.  The BMAC encourages all brands to make a showing at these meetings and they turned out to be a pretty friendly bunch.

Hans and I walked in and the meeting was shortly called to order.  As we drank coffee and some ate breakfast, I listened in with about 50+ other riders to the club notes and business items.  I'll mention some of the things in a minute.

But first, a few pictures of the beautifully classic looking British motorcycles I saw parked outside:

 A very clean looking Triumph

 I liked the blue and white color scheme on this Bonnie

 A very clean looking BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) Circa 1970s

 Another pretty Bonnie

OK, eye candy break over for now, here's something that was announced that might be of interest to you:

I've written about the wonderful motorcycles, especially to HD riders, that are on display at the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum.  Well, on the 27th of March, they're doing a "spring cleaning" of the museum and are still looking for a few volunteers to help clean the motorcycles that are on display!  I was told its not a "detailing" of the motorcycles, but more a general wiping down and dusting.  If you want to help and lay your hands on a bit of motorcycling history, check out the BMAC site for details!

In a small informal ceremony, Kris Geller, twice president of the club was "knighted" by the club for his contributions to the club.  I thought that was a nice touch for members who serve over and beyond the call of duty.

I also learned that  the editor of the club newsletter, Jerry Pokorny, established a still unbroken land speed record at Bonneville Flats in 2008.  He did it on his 1945 3HW 350cc single cylinder rigid tail Triumph, achieving over 50 miles per hour on the salt!  

Now before you say that's not very fast, you've got to consider the competition "class" he was riding in which is Production Vintage (stock as they came from the factory – no hop up’s allowed) and this motorcycle seldom saw speeds of over 40 mph when it was used as a military dispatch machine during WWII.  I am also told riding on the salt of the Bonneville Flats is a lot harder than riding on regular pavement!

The club also had an interesting "show and tell" segment of the meeting.  This month, Dan showcased his 2001 Triumph Triple Speed which is also known as "The Hooligan motorcycle".  It's apparently a very fast motorcycle, with 108 horses on tap and capable of achieving 145 miles per hour!  What made the presentation unusual was that the motorcycle in question was right there inside the tavern with us!  Now that is one accommodating tavern!

photo courtesy of Jerry Pokorny

Soon enough, club business was over with and a planned ride to Sedalia got underway.  I took some more pictures of the motorcycles and their riders as they lined up for the ride:

 A newer Triumph Thruxton, next to Hans' '72 Triumph Bonneville

 The BSA from earlier and its lucky rider

More modern Triumphs, there were several of the large TR6 Rockets at the meeting.

Once the riders departed, I stayed behind and chatted a club member by the name of Todd who happens to own a Chiang-Jang Sidecar Rig.  Similar to the Ural I ride, but made in China and he bought it from a dealer there that specializes in putting transplanted Beemer airhead engine of 900cc capacities into a Chiang-Jang frame.  I hope he'll ride it the next time we meet.  He mentioned that he'd  recently attended the monthly Club 404 Bike Night (first Thursday of every month) so maybe I'll see him there next month.  The meeting place is apparently a "dive" but lots of cool looking motorcycles make a showing

I retraced my route, sans Hans who'd gone riding with the club.  It had warmed up into the 50s and it was nice and cool riding all the way back to Parker and from there to my home neighborhood in Centennial.  So, if you're a rider of a British Marque, this club is something you should check out; especially if you live in the Colorado Springs area where they are based.  Even though “Brit Iron” is their focus, they welcome riders of all marques and are quite friendly to visitors.  I am glad I rode down there to meet these folks.  Thanks Hans, for "pulling me over" and introducing me to the BMAC's friendly riders.  Thanks also to Jerry for his edit and information which helped "flesh out" this posting.

Great riding day today, hope you were able to get out and ride.  If you were in the Front Range area, you really had no excuse, it was gorgeous!

Other of my articles involving Vintage Motorcycles:
Riding in the Old Bike Ride #7
Visiting the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum
The Vintagemotos Museum - Italian Iron Heaven