May 10, 2000 - 07:18 AM
of The Tampa Tribune
admits they look a little ``weird.
different,'' he says, pointing to one of the gleaming Ural motorcycles
on his showroom floor. ``But that's the attraction. You get attention wherever
``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
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
``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
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.
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
``I like the sound,''
says Probst, a 38-year-old native of Germany.
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 email@example.com.