IMZ-Ural (Russian: Ирбитский мотоциклетный завод, tr. Irbitskiy Mototsikletniy Zavod) is a Russian maker of heavy sidecar motorcycles. Recently the company has developed a solo motorcycle with no sidecar.
In 1940, the Soviet Union acquired the design and production techniques for BMW R 71 motorcycles and sidecars. The first M-72 model was finished in 1941. Originally, factories were to be located in Moscow, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), and Kharkov, but due to the approach of Nazi German troops, the Moscow facilities were moved to Irbit, and the Leningrad and Kharkov facilities to Gorkiy (now called Nizhny Novgorod).
A similar model is the Soviet (now Ukrainian) Dnepr motorcycle. Both Ural and Dnepr motorcycles are sometimes known by the generic name, "Cossack motorcycles," which was used between 1973 and 1979 by SATRA in the United Kingdom.
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 The motorcycles used up to that point had not worked satisfactorily; their technology was outdated and the manufacturing quality was not adequate to endure the often harsh Russian climate and terrain.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 important Trade 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, at first mainly to developing countries. Between 1973 and 1979, Ural was one of the makes marketed by SATRA in the United Kingdom as Cossack motorcycles.
The main products today are the heavy duty Ural sidecar motorcycles designed for rough Russian roads, and the cruiser Wolf and Solo. There are many places in Russia where poor roads, or an altogether lack of roads, makes horses and URAL motorcycles necessary to transport gear. URAL motorcycles are equipped with four-stroke, air-cooled, flat-twin engines, a four speed gear box with reverse gear, shaft drive, two disc dry clutch, spring shock absorbers, and drum brakes. Some newer solo models have been developed for western markets, and the company has developed an engine that meets the standards required by the modern sporting and leisure rider. Though the outward appearance of the engine is the same as before, new quality control techniques employ better alloying and casting, better engineering tolerances, and better paint and chrome while retaining the advantage of continuity with the inherently balanced design of a horizontally opposed flat twin engine with roller bearings in a solid frame.
The motorcycles are mainly exported to Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the United States. The total number of sales since the factory was founded has been over 3.2 million. IMZ-Ural is the only Russian manufacturer of large capacity motorcycles and one of few manufacturers of sidecar motorcycles in the world.
Like most motorcycle manufacturers, Ural now sources pre-made components in many cases — buying alternators from Nippon Denso, brakes from Brembo, handlebar controls from Domino, forks from Paioli, ignitions from Ducati Energia, etc. The company still makes the frame, the engine and the body parts.
The 2003 USA model featured a newly designed crankshaft and a disc brake in front. The crankshaft had a longer stroke which increased engine capacity by 15% from 650 to 750 cc (40 to 46 cu in). This also addressed weaknesses in the older five-piece, press-fit crankshaft. The old crankshaft was fine for the low-compression models made in the 1990s, but it did not hold up to the higher compression that it took to pass United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and the higher speeds on US highways. In 2004, the company fixed another weak point, the alternator attachment. The alternator is gear-driven off the camshaft. All pre-2007 UK model Urals were fitted with a Russian designed alternator. Post 2007 models are fitted with a Nippon Denso unit. In 2007, Ural switched to a Ducati electronic ignition and used new engine and transmission gears, designed by Herzog in Germany, making for a quieter engine and smoother shifting transmission. For the 2010 year, the rear drive was strengthened. Production in 2010 was 800 vehicles and the factory employed 155 people. Major changes were made to the motorcycle for the 2014 model year, including disc brakes on all three wheels, fuel injection and a hydraulic steering damper. Also, most models are powder coated for extra durability.
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IMZ-Ural is a conglomerate of companies producing and selling classic motorcycles in both solo and sidecar combinations.
In November 1992, IMZ-Ural transformed into an open-end joint stock company "Uralmoto Joint Stock Company" a privatized entity owned 40% by management and employees through grant, 38% by auction with privatization vouchers (mostly management and employees also) and 22% retained by the government. In July 2000, the company was re-organised with the government's shares being redistributed to investors.
At the beginning of 1998 the business was bought by private Russian interests and it is no longer a State Company. The private owners have mandated new ideas, investments, management, production techniques, designs, technology and quality control of incoming, in-process and finished products.
In 2000, the company was sold to three entrepreneurs and broken into three components with the power production facilities, and foundry and forge being sold off. They took that opportunity to reorganize the remaining factory. It was originally spread over many, many acres because it had been such a major manufacturing plant, making thousands of motorcycles per month. Many employees were let go in the ensuing reorganization.
- Ballard, Peter. "Russian Motorcycle UK History". Cossack Owners Club. Archived from the original on 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- "History of Ural Motorcycles". UralMotorcyclesLinz. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Kramer, Andrew E. (2011-05-28). "History of Ural Motorcycles". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Smith, Robert (November/December 2010). "2010 Ural Patrol and Solo sT". Motorcycle Classics. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
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