Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
Motorcycles

Lenin Still Overlooks This Russian Motorcycle Factory

Meet the IMZ-Ural Motorcycle, a rugged sidecar that cares not for mud or snow.

The Urals are a rugged mountain range stretching more than 1,500 miles, from Russia's Polar region toward Kazakhstan in the south. They've also given their name to a workhorse motorcycle and sidecar that's been used to traverse tough terrain for decades. Designed and built by IMZ-Ural Motorcycles using an engine concept borrowed from Germany's BMW, these sturdy beasts have been taking the long way round the former Soviet Union for decades. Photographs by Andrey Rudakov for Bloomberg

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    Ural motorcycles have a recommended top speed of 70mph, and their roots date to World War II. The original wartime design was for two soldiers as passengers, along with weapons and equipment.

     

    Related Video: A Forgotten Sidecar Motorcycle Company From Russia Is Making a Comeback in Seattle

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    A worker seals the steel panels of a gas tank prior to painting. The original factory was hurriedly relocated from Moscow to Siberia in a bleak November 1941—on the slopes of the Urals and 1,200 miles east of the capital—to avoid capture by German troops.

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    Finished sidecar "outfits" sit on the factory floor. The company has produced several limited-edition models, including the "Red October"—inspired by the Cold War novel (and the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution).

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    Workers sanding steel sidecar shells in preparation for painting and fixing to motorcycle frames. During WWII sidecars were used for reconnaissance and to evacuate the wounded from battlefields.

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    Sidecar shells await painting. Unusually, some Ural models are two-wheel drive, which improves off-road traction.

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    A craftsman assembles a traditional spoked wheel on a balancing jig. Spoked wheels can be readily repaired compared to one-piece cast wheels, which are commonly used on modern motorcycles.

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    A worker screws in the handlebar brackets. The engine design was copied from the wartime R71 BMW. Some models are now fitted with a reverse gear (unheard of with regular motorcycles). The machines can also be started by pushbutton or kick-starter.

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    Gone but not forgotten. An image of communist leader Vladimir Lenin watches over a shelf of antiquated motorcycle parts at the production plant.

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    A worker pushes a completed "Red October" motorcycle and sidecar outfit on the shop floor. Some models weigh more than 700 pounds (317 kilograms).

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    Workers assemble a painted sidecar. The company got aboard the Star Wars bandwagon by selling "Dark Force" outfits with, yes, Lightsabers.

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    Testing the motorcycle on a dyno machine to verify correct performance of the engine and transmission.

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    A completed outfit ready for crating. Thousands of the original M72 model were produced from 1942, and they played an important role in the Battle of Stalingrad.

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    Final quality control checks ahead of shipping are made in an area designed to highlight production flaws.

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    Testing an outfit in a Siberian winter. With two wheels driving the outfit, neither snow nor mud are barriers to the machines.