The History of the Ural Motorcycle
The origins of the IMZ-Ural are linked to developments in the Eastern Front during World War II. The Soviet Union was preparing for possible military action by Nazi Germany. Joseph Stalin ordered the Soviet military to prepare in all possible areas, including the ground forces that would be defending the Soviet Union against invading German panzer tanks, storm troopers, and special forces. Mobility was especially stressed after the Soviet Union had witnessed the effect of the blitzkrieg on Poland.
A meeting was held at the Soviet Defence Ministry to come up with a model of motorcycle that would be most suitable for the Red Army. The Red Army wanted to modernize its equipment after the suspension of the Winter War with Finland. The motorcycles used up to that point had not worked satisfactorily; their technology was outdated and the manufacturing quality was not adequate to endure the often harsh Russian climate and terrain.
According to official accounts, after lengthy discussion, the BMW R71 motorcycle was found to most closely match the Red Army’s requirements. Five units were covertly purchased through some Swedish intermediaries. Soviet engineers in Moscow dismantled the five BMWs, reverse engineered the BMW design in every detail and making molds and dies to produce their own engines and gearboxes in Moscow. Early in 1941, the first prototypes of the M-72 motorcycle were shown to Stalin who made the decision to enter mass production. One of the original BMWs purchased through the Swedish intermediaries still survives and is on display in the IMZ-Ural factory museum.
In 1941, BMW began series production of the R75 and ended production of the R71.
As production escalated, a factory was set up in Moscow producing hundreds of Russian M-72 sidecar motorcycles. The Nazi Blitzkrieg was so fast and effective that Soviet strategists worried that the Moscow factory was within easy range of German bombers. The decision was made to move the motorcycle plant further east, out of bombing range and into the middle of the resource rich Ural mountain region. The site chosen was the town of Irbit, located on the fringe of vast Siberia in the Ural mountains. Irbit had once been an importantTrade and Fair centre in Russia before the Revolution of 1917.
The only available substantial building was a brewery outside of town, beyond the railway line. It was soon converted into a research and development building to prepare for the construction of a massive new production complex to build the M-72 motorcycle. On October 25, 1942 the first batch of motorcycles went to the front. During World War II a total of 9,799 M-72 motorcycles were delivered for reconnaissance detachments and mobile troops.
After World War II the factory was further developed and expanded, and in 1950 the 30,000th motorcycle was produced.
Initially, the “URAL” was built for the military only. In the late 1950s, the KMZ plant in Ukraine took over the task of supplying the military and the Irbit Motorcycle Works (IMZ) began to concentrate on making bikes for domestic consumers. In the late 1950s the full production of the plant was turned over to non-military production. In 1957, the M-72 production lines were sold to the People’s Republic of China.
The export history of URALs started in 1953
The first Urals were exported in 1953, at first mainly to developing countries. In the late 1960s, deliveries to developed countries began, and since then more and more Urals have appeared on the road on every continent. Urals are a unique combination of price, ageless styling, and sidecar functionality.
In November 1992, the State-owned factory transformed into Uralmoto Joint Stock Company. Uralmoto was a privatized entity, 40% of which was divided among management and employees through a grant, 38% of which was sold by auction with privatization vouchers (which went mostly to management and employees), and 22% of which was retained by the government.
In early 1998, Ural was bought by private Russian interests; it is no longer a State-owned company. (Shortly after the purchase, in 2000, the government shares were redistributed to investors.) New ownership has brought new management, fresh ideas and production techniques, modernized design and updated technology, and above all, a commitment to quality control at all points of production. Ural motorcycles have been given a new lease on life. While the outward appearance of the engine retains the look of a classic Ural, quality control techniques and use of better alloying and casting, better engineering tolerances, better paint and chrome, make for a stronger, better bike. Everything good and unique about the old Urals has been maintained, including the inherently balanced design of a horizontally opposed flat twin engine with roller bearings in a solid frame.
The main bike models built in the plant today are the heavy-duty Ural sidecar motorcycles, designed with rough Russian roads in mind, and the custom Wolf. There are many places in Russia where only horses and Ural motorcycles can be used to transport gear where you need it. Ural motorcycles are equipped with four-stroke air-cooled flat-twin engines, a four-speed gearbox with reverse gear, shaft drive, two disc dry clutch, spring shock absorbers, and drum brakes. New solo and sidecar models have been developed recently to better suit the tastes of Western markets.
Ural is the only Russian manufacturer of heavy capacity motorcycles, and one of few manufacturers of sidecar motorcycles in the world. Besides sales of Ural motorcycles on the Russian market, they have also been exported to Australia, Britain, the United States, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and numerous other countries. Over 3.2 million motorcycles have been delivered since the first M-72 rolled off the production floor.
The future looks bright for Ural, constantly improving its role as versatile and economical form of transport that is fun to ride and easy to maintain. The story is far from over.