▲ Is this the shape of Urals to come? It might be. The Russian firm is tentatively exploring the leap from boxer engines to electric motors. There's no rush, apparently. But public opinion is being canvassed.
Ural "All Electric"
Zero Motorcycles | Z-Force 75-7 motor | Combination | Prototype
It's a bit of switcheroo, isn't it? Over the past however many decades, Russian motorcycle firm Ural has invested pretty much everything in the technology of yesteryear with its BMW-derived flat twin 750cc boxer engine. But now the company has started mucking around with an electrically powered outfit and is looking a lot further ahead that it perhaps ever has in the past.
Did we say "mucking around"?
Maybe we should rephrase that and use the terms "experimenting" and "prototyping" because this rig is evidently pretty far advanced thanks largely to the input (both practical and technical) from California firms ICG (experts in industrial and automotive development and design) and Zero Motorcycles (which needs no explanation).
Most of this rolling chassis is based around existing Ural underpinnings (specifically, an off-the-shelf CT frame and chair), whilst the motor, controller and batteries are, we think, taken from a Zero S.
Well Ural isn't yet directly giving too much away, least of all comprehensive specifications. But a Z-Force 75-7 brushless DC motor has been cited by one or two otherwise reliable sources, and we're happy to go with that. For now. And if so, we're probably looking at something between 46hp and 60hp with oodles of torque; enough no doubt (and take careful note) to send this outfit into a very rapid spin under inexperienced hands. And that handling aspect might sooner or later require some form of torque limiter.
As for performance, Ural is talking about a 100mph (or so) range with eighty-odd miles per hour maximum speed. To facilitate this, a smaller ZF6.5 battery has been fitted within the frame, whilst a heavier ZF13.0 battery has been tucked away 'neath the seat.
However, the fundamental question is whether these bikes—which are largely bought by people looking for wilderness adventures—will want to swap petrol for volts given the lack of charging points in most forests. Then again, there's a significant number of riders who buy Ural outfits purely for their quirky, old-world charm and use them almost entirely in the urban environment. Around 13 hours for a full charge is required, and you can eke out the range or modify your fun by selecting the appropriate riding mode from a sophisticated Zero-derived interface. Regeneration, therefore, is part of the deal.
▲ Suck, squeeze, bang, blow is probably on the wrong side of history. Tomorrow's petrolheads will probably be motorheads. This Z-Force 75-7 motor might today look, feel and sound bland. But right now, plenty of folk can't hear the difference between a single cylinder sidevalve and an OHV V8. It's all a question of sensitivity.
Ural doesn't appear to have a production target in sight—if indeed the concept ever sees an assembly line. But we suspect that the switch from fossil fuels to cleaner-at-the-point-of-use on-board volts is inevitable, either by more conventional battery packs or by hydrogen fuel cell, or by something in between. It's just a question of when. In the meantime, the firm is canvassing opinion and will be displaying the bike here and there, as and when opportunity allows.
We think there's still a lot of design work needed here. As it stands, it's an odd mix of old and new, notably due to what looks like an air conditioner jammed into the frame of an otherwise perfectly decent Ural—and that's probably the kind of comment that Ural wants to hear. That said, we wouldn't want to see some kind of faux boxer-shaped lash-up either. It just needs a lot more thought and sensitivity.
But as a concept, and as much as we're wedded to the sounds, smells and looks of internal combustion engine (not to mention the inherent vibration), we also broadly like the idea of electric bikes, especially during the busy season when we've got better things to do than twiddle spanners and skin knuckles on more maintenance heavy ICE technology.
It's just a question of making electric bikes less ... well, sterile. And if these motorcycles ever do go into production, Ural reckon the lead time will be around 24 months.
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"And if so, we're probably looking at something between 46hp and 60hp with oodles of torque; enough no doubt (and take careful note) to send this outfit into a very rapid spin under inexperienced hands." Where on earth do you get that from? People have been dropping BMW 247 series engines in Urals and Dneprs for decades, without putting them in a spin. My R80 powered rig has never tried any rapid spinning, no matter how badly I ride it. Guess the writer hasn't rode many sidecars. —Phill Spowart
[Phill, we were talking about electric motors which provide maximum torque at zero revs. In other words, different characteristic to ICE outfits. And for the record, people DO occasionally put outfits into a spin, and we did explain that we were referring to inexperienced hands. Finally, the writer doesn't have much experience with outfits, but he's got some experience of watching other people lose control of them. —Ed]
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