It’s no secret that I am coming into the motorcycling world a complete noob, not to mention no prior deep interest in mechanical terminology like ‘horse power’ or ‘cylinders’. To me if a machine works, use it, if it doesn’t, get a new one.
Suddenly with this project, all this stuff matters, and not only that, advise given is to try out lots of bikes and get experience and build a preference. Erm, with no license, this is hard to do. So I have followed a journey on cold facts, and interestingly, in many respects, I am not sure that preference would have helped me make the right choice, only an emotional one.
The first thing I learnt very quickly was that the bigger the numbers the bigger the bike. I also learnt very quickly that not all motorbikes have chains, like bicycles. This was a fact I latched on to quickly, because I know about chains on a bicycle, and when it comes off, it can be a fiddle to get back on – heaven knows what that must be like on a motorbike! The other type of motorbike has a drive shaft which sounds much simpler to me, safer, and less likely to go wrong.
So looking at bikes with drive shafts, I immediately honed in on two motorbikes that are designed as adventure touring bikes with this configuration – the BMW 1200GS and the Ural (all their bikes have this configuration).
You really couldn’t get to bikes more opposite on the spectrum of what is available. Its like saying that the choice is between a Bentley and Lada car (if Lada’s where still in production) literally. The BMW 1200GS has every comfort and convenience accounted for on those hazardous roads around the world. The Ural is a solid Russian bike that hasn’t changed much since inception in the 1930s, it was built to last. It has only been in the last year or so that they have included fuel injection as standard, a modern technology that now means that ‘software’ has finally made it onto the Ural. Thankfully the Ural, much like Skoda did in the past, has looked outside of its knowledge base for these upgrades, and in this case I believe that the fuel injection has been supplied by Ducati.
So there we have it. Large choice, suddenly diminished to 2 bikes. I chose the Ural.
1- Sidecar fitting on the BMW changes the standard structure of the bike so that it is no longer supported by warranty. This is actually a very important point. I know many say that the BMW will never break down, especially to the degree where BMW would have to get involved. Personally, with my daughter in tow, I’m not sure I want to take that risk and ride into Africa on belief alone.
The Ural on the other hand is specifically designed with the sidecar, and with the fuel injection upgrade, they now provide warranty cover. All thumbs up with Ural.
2 – Fix-ability is a major issue with the BMW. The motorbike has so much technology now that really you need to have diagnosis tools, software programming degree, and 5 years working in BMW to even have a chance of fixing anything more major than a flat tyre on the road.
The Ural, however, is still as simple as it can be. Not as simple as the carburetor version, but you still have a good chance off fixing most problems with the bike on the road, and if you can’t do it yourself, you can probably find someone with a spanner who can. Strike 2 to Ural.
There are other minor graces of the Ural over the BMW, but needless to say, to me, travelling with my daughter in some remoter areas of the planet, my confidence will be much higher with the Ural. Ok, so it isn’t fast, it isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t have 5 suspension options controlled by a panel on the handle bars, but it works, it gets from A to B, is a lot of fun and if it lets me down, there is a real chance of being able to fix it.
Thank you to everyone who has given me advise over the last few months! I really couldn’t have gone through this process with out your input. If the sidecar wasn’t in play, I think the BMW would have been my top choice.
16 thoughts on “OMG! What to Choose – BMW or Ural?”
Was wondering , in short , if you have a moment what breakdowns have you had ….. greatly appreciated…
Also congratulations on undertaking such a courageous & wonderful adventure …… God bless & Best …. Ny Mike
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Thx 🙂 – major break in Ethiopia – engine stripped. Again in Ethiopia – interrupter and carbs – Tanzania we lost a structural bolt causing problems with 2wd – changed coil in Zambia as suspected to be failing – carb problem incl diaphragm puncture & petrol tank relined & piston plus valve damage in Zimbabwe. Listing like that makes me realise how persistent the problems have been!
I’d like to respectfully add my 2 cents ………. BMW ? Ural? blah blah bla ……the important thing here is that YOU’RE GOING! and THATS the important thing! ………
lets put things in perspective……you’re NOT crossing oceans here! So you break down , OK! ….. #1 make a cup of tea and take a break ! these are actually some of the best times to meet people etc. it’s very unlikely youre going to die…..or even get injured! …… to the contrary you’ll most likely experience nice people get a great story to tell AND learn something! not that anyone actually WANTS to break down but it could happen ……. SO WHAT!
i believe some equally important thinngs to consider are , 1- plan youre route / do not put yourself in extreme locations that would be almost impossible to recover from in the event of innjury or breakdown ….. middle of NOWHERE jungles , deserts etc. . if so leave a “ride plann” with someonne for that remote ride…. try not to travel at night . be sure to travel with plenty of drinking water & emergency rations.
I have done much long distance riding on harleys , bmws and some on my ural. my #1 choice is the Harley / their support network is 2nd to great even in europe , and both simple annd reliable…. unnless youre going off road etc. (although mine has never broken down in 75k miles)
fyi-the bmw’s are awsome machines and i do love them but my 04 GS left me stranded with only 8k miles on the meter with NO WAY to jerry rig it. yes , they are NOT perfect and fairly complex…..
but hey! The ural is what it is …… Tons of Fun! basically a utility vehicle. keep the rpm’s and the speed down <55 mph and check nuts and bolts and change oils frequently and you should be fine!
the importannt thing is YOURE DOIN IT! best, mike
Sent from my iPad
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Great advise – thx 🙂 we on the journey now and what you say is absolutely true – we are meeting the best people on our break downs 🙂
Well, this is a pleasant article and I actually at one time considered a Ural. I hope you enjoy your experience and that which ever way you go with it you hav good luck. However, let’s get a few facts straight. The Ural fuel is injection made by EletroJet (a Michigan company not Ducati unless something has drastically changed) which the replaces carburetors. Improvements also include triple disc brakes instead of just the one disc up front. Brembo makes the front and sidecar caliper, while Hayes makes the rear because it includes a parking brake. An adjustable hydraulic steering damper replaces the old friction-style unit probably in use since the 1941 debut of this Ural’s basic design, when the bike was first copied from German wartime BMWs. Yes, the Ural is a more simple and basic design which is easier for the average shade tree mechanic to bust his knuckles on, but make no mistake, if you go in that direction, you will be working on it. While there is a good community of Ural enthusiasts to debate the best method of guiding you along vs the internet you will need to make sure you can get parts in the middle of where ever you plan to go vs. the dependability of the BMW and its service department. Which is less impacted by current political trends. Plus don’t dismiss your ability to learn or be over intimidated by servicing the BMW. Though much if it’s technology does surpass some of that in the Apollo missions, it’s not strictly rocket science and there’s a good support community as well. Also, the two wheel drive is a benefit with the Ural which the BMW isn’t going to have unless you’re having one of the systems from Mobec installed which doesn’t seem to come across in you’re article, with the possible exception of a mention by a reader of stresses to the final drive which is vague and unlikely. That drive system depending on the plans you have for travel might make or break the deal for you and really should be part of your considerations unless you make the fatal error of wasting your money on a Ural without the 2wd, in which case what would be the point of it all anyway? Good luck you’ll need it. Please make sure you have the proper experience and/or training under your belt before undertaking an epic journey you may not be prepared for. The bike choice is only a part of the important decisions and preparation. Failing to prepare in this case is preparing to fail.
Thx for your input – I am certain that I am making the right decision though. Interesting that you still suggest bmw dispite the fact there will be no service support from them if a side car is put on it…. Personally I would rather wait a month for the right piece to arrive than be stuck not knowing which (very expensive) piece to get because internet forum can’t agree on what the problem is. ..
I think we are having miscommunication about manufacturers service and support availability and network vs. warranty which would have certain limitations to manufacturer defect vs damage, wear and tear, regardless of the model you choose. The point as to BMW access is moot since you’ve decided to go with Ural. However, please know that if your concerns lie with warranty repairs even with the Ural within the two year unlimited mileage they give you it may very well be that what problems you come across may not be covered by the warranty, and improvised repairs (often associated with the simplicity of the Urals design) that may become necessary along the way to keep you mobile may conceivably void the warranty anyway.
Since there is some demand for sidecar rigs, maybe BMW should engineer one with full factory warranty. I might even buy one. But like you, in this case I’d choose the Ural. Have a great ride!
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Not bad for a noob….whoops! Your not a noob anymore, happy trails!
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If you’ve not done so already, you may want to join the online discussion forum at sovietsteeds.com. There’s lots of knowledgeable folks who ride and wrench on their URAL sidecar rigs and always willing to help out the new owners.
I ride a 2014 Fuel-Injected model and it’s quite the upgrade from my 1996 URAL which started me down this three-wheeled path. Better quality, performance, but still not something you just “gas and go”…..
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Thx – will be there as soon as I have my own steed and lots of questions 🙂
You’ve made the right choice with the Ural, yes they have quirks and can have problems but most are easily and cheaply fixed. The BMW whilst a great bike have their own problems and are definitely not easy and cheap to fix. Adding a sidecar to a BMW also adds stress to a final drive that it’s not designed to take which can cause major problems later down the track.
I hope you enjoy your ural. They aren’t fast or flashy & don’t have lots of bells and whistles but they do have character, are lots of fun to ride and they draw attention wherever they go.
Oh, and the Ural fuel injection is made by Elecrojet in the USA, and Ladas are still in production 🙂
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Thanks Paul – and thanks for the updates too 🙂