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 again....it 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 sovietsteeds.com, 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.


RichardM said...

There are some hot rodders that drive their alternator off of the drive shaft (less stuff under the hood). Maybe something like that would work with the Ural. You would still need the batteries since there would be no charging at a stop. Also the Ural drive shaft turns much more slowly than on a four wheeled vehicle so that would add to the challenge.

redlegsrides said...

Richard, good point. I had thought of hooking up a belt to say perhaps the sidecar's drive shaft but I've no idea what the minimum RPMs are to generate say 35 amps from an alternator.....

RichardM said...

At 50 mph, your drive shaft is turning around 700 rpm. The alternator may need at least 3x that (based on Snowbum's airhead alternator testing article) so the pulley on the driveshaft may be large enough to impact ground clearance unless it is right next to the side car wheel. Maybe even incorporated into the brake drum.

redlegsrides said...

Richard, ground clearance shouldn't be an issue....turning fast enough, that's the issue.

Unknown said...


You've given me a lot to think about, but without a photo of your engine and how much clearance you have to mount an external automotive alternator I can't come up with any suggestions, other than a Honda Generator for emergencies.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I found this blog episode to be very interesting. Even though I have no mechanical aptitude, I love reading the exploits of those who do. I think your modification for the air box was pretty straightforward. You explained it t me once, but I still do not grasp the concept of an oiled air filter.

The adaption of a car alternator to the Ural engine seems about the best answer to a lingering problem that I can see. I'm surprised that you don't have a cottage industry, based in your garage, making a buck at this. While the original Ural alternators sound screwy, the Nippon ones don't seem like a much better alternative. Of course, this is the ultimate niche market.

And I think your total loss electrical system is a very cool way to avoid investing in problematic alternators.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

redlegsrides said...


thanks but I am just waiting for a commercially viable solution similar to mounting a car alternator and using the flywheel....at all costs I dont want to ever put anything in the way of the timing gears. : )


thanks for the comments, and oiled air filter is just that....its not made of paper per se, some other material which still flows air while lightly saturated with special oil from K&N (of course) though I hear others say that other light oils work fine (can't recall which right now). As the K&N is lightly oiled, it repels (to a certain extent) any moisture sucked in via the tophat's opening in the air box. All I've done is keep the moisture (or at least a major part of it) from getting sucked in while riding or from just blowing in when its snowing/raining outside.

volksrod said...

Hello Charlie,

I find the conversion of the alternator on the photo very interesting. Unfortunately I can not find it in the forum to the article, you know still called as the article? Many greetings from Germany.

volksrod said...

Hello Charlie,

I find the conversion of the alternator on the photo very interesting. Unfortunately I can not find it in the forum to the article, you know still called as the article? Many greetings from Germany.

redlegsrides said...

Mike I don't think that belt-driven alternator solution ever got anywhere. You may want to look at this though I hear its pricey: LINK