One of the first dealers of motorcycles Ural in the United States explains why the Americans prefer to buy this Russian brand motorcycles
In the U.S. market of motorbikes, regardless of the dominance of Harley-Davidson, the Russian brand of bikes Ural occupies the retro niche of the market and show pretty worthy results of sales. One thousand bikes a year is not a bad number.
Moreover, Ural Bikes have its fan-club the members of which organize the “National Ural Demo Day.” This year, “National Ural Demo Day” took place on March 21, in Osceola County, the town of Holopaw, not far away from Orlando. It was held in an average size hanger on an almost empty Highway. The owner of the hanger is 80-year-old Gene Langford who is one of the first who became a dealer for the Russian brand in the U.S.
In all, the U.S. counts about 50 dealership centers of Ural Bikes and one of them who participates in the event is located just 200 miles away from Florida.
Gene Langford was born in 1939 in Portsmouth, Ohio. At the age of 12, he moved to Miami, Florida. After graduating from High School, Gene joined the U.S. Navy as a maintenance mechanic. The next stage was a career at Eastern Airlines, where he was an electrician and aviation technician. A strike by airline employees forced Gene to look for alternative income to make ends meet and he began rebuilding Corvettes.
In 1998, Gene went biking Week in Dayton where he first time saw and instantly fell in love with a Russian sidecar motorcycle.
Gene then met a man who owned one of the early models of Ural, and he described it as too slow to overtake its bad brakes. It didn’t stop Gene, however, and that is how he became one of the first dealers of the Ural in the country. Gene describes the Urals of that time as "buckets."
Gene got so immersed in the topic that he decided to go to the homeland of the Urals production in the mid-2000s. Together with his son, he flew to China, from where they went by train towards Russia. In 4 days they crossed Mongolia and reached Yekaterinburg, from where Irbit is just a stone's throw away.
It was the period when that the Urals, willingly or unwittingly, laid the first bricks of their American success.
Gene explains why the Americans buy the Urals. According to Gene, other brands almost stopped releasing motorcycles with sidecar, especially 2WD. The second reason is that the Urals can be driven in winter and summer, including off-road. The stroller can be used as a trunk, or you can put children or pets there. Thus, Urals turn out to be the perfect transport for adventure and even one that is rarely seen.
Some of the buyers choose the Urals because of its military past.
In the Wehrmacht, the main and most popular army motorcycle by that time was the BMW R12 — a very simplified version of the R71. The main difference is the stamped frame, which was inferior to the welded tubular in all respects, but was simpler and cheaper to produce.
Soviet engineers were not afraid of these difficulties, so by the spring of 1941, a promising model was copied. The only difference from the original was an enlarged gas tank at the request of the military. Everything else was repeated thoroughly. At least outwardly. Inside, domestic engines were much inferior to German ones, since the Russian factories simply did not have the right equipment that could give the same precision of manufacturing parts and surface treatment quality. Nevertheless, the engines somehow worked, and the motorcycles-went.
Gene added that some of the Americans purchase the Urals because it just “isn’t a Harley.” The Americans are ready to willingly pay $15,500 for the simplest single-wheel drive version and $2,000 more for the Gear Up version with an additional wheelchair wheel drive. For comparison, for similar money in America, you can buy a Softail family cruiser from Harley-Davidson or a sports superbike Yamaha R1 of the current model year.
These are those customers for whom at least once a year the rallies sponsored by Gene’s dealership are being held. Regular rides and just gatherings in the open air — one of the entertainments for fans of the Urals. In particular, one of the exercises involves riding a motorcycle blindfolded, relying on the words of a "sighted" navigator. This is exactly what people buy this equipment for. Despite the small sales, a couple of hundred activists come to such gatherings.
Gene's hangar doesn't look like a typical dealership. It's more like a motorcycle garage or an interest club without any particular design standards or even corporate colors.
Gene suggested that there are about 50 thousand Urals in the United States, including new and old ones. The Urals have already ceased to be associated with unreliable Soviet technology. And this is partly the reason that they are bought mainly abroad and not in Russia.
The phenomenon of longevity of the Urals can be explained by several factors. Its consumer characteristics are so unique that it has lost its competitors naturally. They simply died out! In the omnivorous American market, there is always a group of enthusiasts who need just that.
In addition, the Urals, like some cars, like the Niva, turned into a technique "out of time". When such machines are just beginning to become obsolete, then total modernization is asked, but after another round of evolution, it becomes clear that modernization is not just not necessary, but contraindicated. After all, an attempt to return to the market will automatically exacerbate competition, in which laggards will most likely no longer have a chance.