Once the Bullet fires, you experience a plethora of sights, sounds and smells. You see your own fun-house reflection in the chromed tank. You hear the racket of the barely muffled pushrod single in all its cast-iron glory. You smell raw gas, exhaust fumes, oil and, oddly enough, curry.
Once underway you motor along in a stately fashion, aware every second that you're riding a machine from a bygone era. If you lean into the wind you can even pass a few vehicles. I passed an old bluehair in a Cadillac and a guy driving a diesel-powered Dodge Ram pickup pulling a trailer full of cinderblocks, although after dicing with him through a few stoplights he retook me on a long straight. A Ford Festiva with three fresh spark plugs will humiliate the Bullet in a stoplight dragrace, but at least the little Enfield will pass a cow, a fact not taken lightly in India.
Handling is the Bullet's strong point. Sure, the suspension and frame are antiquated, but the bike's light weight (Enfield says 370 pounds dry for the 500cc) goes a long way toward making up for such shortcomings. Once up to speed, the Bullet is a nimble little beast.
Unfortunately, the loose collection of cogs that passes for a tranny on the Bullet made it difficult to exploit the bike's feathery mass. Thanks to some ill-sorted linkage moving the shifter to the left side for the U.S. market, the shifter's throw is about four inches, which is about an inch further than the average human ankle can pivot. Shifting the stubby lever from neutral to first is the one shift that can be performed without a double-jointed ankle. After that, all bets are off.
The Ural's transmission is no model of perfection either, but it has a handy reverse gear, engaged with a separate lever when the tranny's in neutral. You'll look way cooler backing up to your local coffee shop than you would if you had to dismount and push your rig back up to the curb.
The Keihin CV carbs work pretty well, and the Ural starts right up on the coldest mornings-though it takes a minute or two of throttle blipping before it will idle. Ural America includes a battery charger with each bike (along with three tool kits, a tonneau cover and a tire pump) but it was never needed; nor was the easy-to-use kickstarter.
The CV carbs are improvements, but the switch to a conventional telescopic fork in place of the Earles-type hydraulic leading-link fork previously used is, I think, a step backward. The Earles fork was more stable in a sidecar application. Another step backward was the deletion of the spare tire mounted on the chair's trunk lid. While we experienced no tire problems, we would have appreciated the extra weight, since it helps stabilize the chair in right-hand turns. It looks cooler, too.
In fact, the same sticker that warns against turning also says an unweighted chair should be avoided like a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. After some experimentation with ballast, we settled on several 30-pound pails of cat litter. This stabilized the rig and increased its curiosity quotient. While unloading 90 pounds of litter to make room for a passenger, one onlooker commented, "Man, you must have a cat that craps up the wall."
We found a few nits to pick with the Ural. The chrome plating on the exhaust headers looks like Juicy Fruit wrappers. (You can actually see the metal through the plating.) The sidecovers appear to be made from the same material as take-out-food containers (chrome covers are available, though). And the carbs get in the way of planting your feet on the pegs. Such nits aside, the bike performed well during our test.
The chair itself is one of the best on the market. Fit and finish are excellent, and both the tub and frame are made from sturdy, heavy-gauge steel. Passenger accommodations are top-notch, and the storage area behind the seat will hold more cat litter than you can shake a stick at, though we wish it was lockable.
The Enfield's fit and finish look good from a distance, but come up a bit short on closer inspection. We had a few problems with our Bullet test bike, too. It overheated in stop-and-go traffic, causing its clutch to cease functioning. The throttle stuck open once, too, though it wasn't the cheese-whizzing experience it might have been on a ZX-12R; there was plenty of time to unstick the cable before approaching the next intersection. Our other failure forced an early end to the Enfield portion of the test. While performing the procedure, the kickstart lever came loose and fell off, fudging splines on the lever.
The Bullet is for people who want to relive-or more likely just live for the first time-the authentic classic bike experience. It harkens back to a less stressful time, a time when chuffing along an empty country lane was its own reward. Which is fine if you happen to live along an empty country lane. But if you live in a busy urban area, you'll soon discover it ain't 1949 no more. Like most exports from India, the Enfield is a curio, a conversation piece. As an object of curiosity, it functions quite well. Pull up to your local hangout on a Bullet and you'll generate the Deluxe model's $4495 worth of conversation.
The Ural generates at least as much conversation, and it has a practical side, too. At $8156, it's the cheapest way to get yourself into a ready-to-roll sidecar rig. Harley is the only other manufacturer to offer a complete sidecar rig in the United States, but its setup will run you upwards of $30,000, depending on which Electra Glide model you choose to power it. And Harley's chair comes up a bit short against the Ural unit. Rather than metal, Harley's sidecar is made of fiberglass, and it uses a leaf-spring suspension in place of the Ural's independent shock. The Harley sidecar doesn't have nearly as much storage space as the Ural. Sorry, but the sidecar advantage goes to the Rooskies.
Buying just the Ural sidecar and mounting it to a more powerful bike would result in a more useful rig, one capable of freeway duty. But in reality most of us have neither the time nor the mechanical aptitude to roll our own sidecar rigs. Besides, if you build your own from bits and pieces you won't get the Ural's nifty reverse gear. For the casual sidehacker on a budget, that pretty much leaves the Ural as the only practical store-bought rig. And after spending some time with the Bavarian Classic, we'd have to say that's not such a bad choice.