Touring California on a 2012 Ural Sidecar | Side By Side

A Father-Daughter Foray Into Three-Wheeled Travel

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kiva Carman-Frank

After a few hours spent standing among giants, we chug the rest of the way down the mountain into Santa Cruz, and follow the signs to the world famous “Mystery Spot.” One of the great joys of traveling with child is that I now have a reason to pull over and explore roadside wonders that I’ve always rushed past before. We spend an hour tripping out on the weird effects of this so-called “gravitational anomaly,” walking on walls and rolling balls uphill, before continuing along to our overnight spot in Monterey—but not before Kiva slaps the iconic Mystery Spot bumper sticker on the back of the sidecar. We believe.

Day two, which takes us down the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, is an all-day epiphany. It turns out that Iron Butt-type “touring” like I usually practice, racing the odometer and stopping only for gas, is doing it all wrong. PCH is even more remarkable at 50 mph. At this pace, you don’t spend the entire time cursing RVs, making dodgy double-yellow passes, and glancing over your shoulder looking for the CHP pursuit plane. Of course, it helps to have an endlessly curious 12-year-old along for the ride. She falls in love with the elephant seals beached at Piedras Blancas—a spot I typically blow right by—and I enjoy careening down Nacimiento-Fergusson Road like some runaway carnival ride, engine turned off so I can hear the block-tread tires squealing and Kiva’s terrified screams as she peers over the sheer cliff drops just inches away. Later, heading south on the 101, I pause from worrying the mirrors and look down to see that Kiva has fallen asleep in the chair, her helmet gently bouncing against the side rail.

Day three starts slowly in Solvang, when UDF strikes three times before we even leave the hotel parking lot: a scruffy Deadhead-type, a bicycle tourist headed to the Mexican border, and an elderly military history buff who wants to know if I “restored it” myself. We finally sneak away and shoot down the 1 from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, hogging the right lane all the way. Our only distraction now is the constant stream of cars pulling up beside us to snap cell-phone pictures with the shimmering blue Pacific Ocean in the background.

We make it to LA just in time for Kiva, a militant vegetarian, to have her birthday lunch at a vegan café near Venice Beach. We wander down to the waterfront in search of dessert, dodging medical-marijuana hawkers, transvestites on roller skates, and underground hip-hop promoters. She’s thrilled to watch for a few minutes while Shaun White films a television commercial at the skate park, and she decides a dish from Yogurtland is a fine substitute for birthday cake.

Then it’s time to head to El Segundo for our anniversary event. We merge onto Venice Boulevard just as afternoon traffic peaks, and what’s usually a 20-minute trip with lane splitting becomes an hour-long odyssey on the two-track Ural. I feel like I’ve just wrestled a bear when we finally arrive at the office, my arms are worn out from working the bars just to keep the bike going straight in all the stop-and-go traffic. A convenient urban commuter the Ural is not.

That night’s event lived up to its “party of the century” promise. “Just don’t say ‘um’ a lot, and please don’t tell any jokes,” Kiva advises, before I climb the podium to announce Honda’s CB750 as our choice for Motorcycle of the Century. We stick around the MC shop until almost midnight, while Kiva entertains herself collecting autographs from Kevin Schwantz and our Motorcyclist of the Century, Malcolm Smith. The Ural sits at the center of the garage all evening, looking right at home alongside the antique motorcycles assembled for display. At one point I see Dan Gurney posing for a photo in the sidecar, no doubt making mental notes of the chair’s comfortable, recumbent seating position.

Our only remaining three-wheeled task before returning to Wisconsin is an early-morning photo shoot in the Palos Verdes hills. “I don’t know how to say this,” photographer Andrea Wilson says, “but can you try to look less bored, Kiva?” Welcome to my world... I fly the chair a few times to wake her up, but that just makes Kiva look angry and leaves me with a bruised right thigh from her punches.

I make one last phone call before we catch our flight home, dialing Bekefy again and begging to keep the Ural a few days longer. Our adventure is over, but there’s a long line of other MC staffers who want to experience sidecar life. Our publisher, Dave Sonsky, borrows it to ferry his wife and their small herd of Italian Greyhounds around; Ari Henning and his wife explore the dirt roads crisscrossing the Santa Monica mountains; then Ari and his brother-from-another-mother, Zack Courts, ride it to Bakersfield to retrieve a Honda MB5 purchased off Craigslist.

Everyone who rides the Ural is utterly charmed—especially Kiva and me. I recently showed her photos of the new Ural Yamal Limited-Edition, resplendent in its icebreaker-inspired flat-orange paint, with shark’s teeth painted on the side and an oar to replace the shovel.

“We need that, Dad. Seriously.”

I totally agree. But only if we take delivery in at Irbit America’s offices in Seattle and ride it back to Wisconsin via the Arctic Circle. She says she’s in if I am.

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