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May 10, 2000 - 07:18 AM 
Retrocycles 
JIM TUNSTALL
of The Tampa Tribune

Reinhold Probst admits they look a little ``weird.

``They're something different,'' he says, pointing to one of the gleaming Ural motorcycles on his showroom floor. ``But that's the attraction. You get attention wherever you go.''

He laughs.

``They call it the UDF - Ural Delay Factor. When you go somewhere, people stop you to ask questions or get a better look. It takes you that much longer to get where you're going.''

They're also what he calls ``an antique with a warranty.''

``They look old, but they're brand new.''

Fact is, Urals have pretty much the same appearance they had 61 years ago. That's when the Russians stole the design from BMW motorcycles built for the German army, added a few ideas of their own and started manufacturing them in the Ural Mountains. They've built more than 3 million but didn't start selling them in the United States until 1993.

``At first, they weren't very good by U.S. standards,'' Probst says.

``One problem was that they were built for leaded fuel. When you ran them a couple of months on unleaded, they just self-destructed. Also, the Russians didn't build to Western standards. But they were interested in U.S. dollars, so they made a lot of improvements.''

Those include adding an electric starter and improving a 650-cubic centimeter, 35-horsepower engine that now burns unleaded fuel. Prices go from $5,000 for a basic bike to $10,000 for a fully loaded, sidecar model.

Probst began selling them in January at his business, Ural Motorcycles of Tampa Bay in the West Pasco Industrial Park. He recently started selling another old-looking motorcycle, the Royal Enfield Bullet.

Probst sold 10 Urals his first three months, almost all of them with sidecars.

He's pretty open about their shortcomings.

``They're not fast. They're not good on a freeway - you'd kill the engine with prolonged use at 70 mph with a sidecar. And the Russian tires lose air. You have to fill them every two weeks.

``Also, the engine has a little leak,'' he says, looking toward a spot on the showroom floor. ``If you can't tolerate that, buy Japanese.''

Fans don't seem to care.

``It's a brand-new old motorcycle,'' says Inverness resident Art Hubbell, who bought one as a 50th wedding anniversary present. ``It's a reincarnation of the old BMW German motorcycles, but they upgraded them significantly for sale in this country.''

Hubbell found Probst on the Internet (ural.com).

So did Curt Wild of Hollywood, Fla. 

``It's a crowd gatherer - people think it's 30 years old,'' Wild says.

``The sidecar's what attracted us. I just retired, and we tow it behind our motor home. I've also been having some vision problems. We're looking ahead to the day when she [his wife, Donna] may have to do the driving.''

Donna Wild has no qualms about the prospect.

``It's my first sidecar and I love it,'' she says.

``You have the stability of three wheels. It feels more comfortable.''

Probst says Enfields were pretty popular until the late 1960s, when they and other British-made bikes fell out of favor with buyers. They're still built at a plant in Madras, India. They, too, have been mildly modernized - but they still look exactly like they did when they were first designed in the 1950s.

The Enfields come in 350 and 500cc models that have 18 and 22 horsepower, respectively. They're lighter than the Urals, are sold without sidecars and cost between $3,500 and $4,500.

``I like the sound,'' says Probst, a 38-year-old native of Germany.

``They're throaty, like half a Harley.''

The downside: They only have a kick start.

``So they're not a good choice if you're worried about stalling at a light and embarrassing yourself trying to start it.''

Probst's Ural is a family bike.

``My wife drives it,'' he explains. ``She's small and her feet don't have to reach the pavement'' thanks to the third wheel on the sidecar. ``The kids love it, too, because most of the time when they get in we're heading to the ice-cream store.''

Jim Tunstall writes features and can be reached at 352-628-5558 or at jwtunstall@aol.com.