Learn to use the heel shifter. Put light pressure on the lever so you can feel when the bike wants to shift, not when you want to shift.
With the exception of two BMWs, all of my motorcycles before the Ural were made in Japan. The transmission on all of those bikes, especially the Japanese ones, were crisp, and “notchy.” Shifting was easy.
I did years of research about Urals on Soviet Steeds and ADVRider before buying my mine this year.
I knew that the Ural transmission was a little rougher around the edges, especially at first. There were a lot of comments about how you had to rev match the transmission, about being gentle on the shifter, about being hard on the shifter, etc. etc but not many specific instructions on how to do any of those things.
Here are some things I’ve learned in the first 1500 miles (on two Urals) that might help you as you’re starting out.
- Learn to use the heel shifter. At first I thought I had too much to learn about riding a sidecar, and attempted to only use the toe shifter. It takes a lot more effort to shift a Ural, and trying to upshift with the toe shifter was difficult, even with my Sidi OnRoad riding boots.The heel shifter is way easier to use. Don’t be concerned about muscle memory with your other bikes. Once you get the hang of “stomp shifting,” you’ll miss a heel shifter on your other bikes.
- Slow down. If you’re used to sport / sport-touring bikes, you may be used to doing everything fast. Accelerate fast, take corners fast, shift fast, brake fast, modulate the throttle fast, etc. You have to slow everything down on a Ural, especially when you’re learning.If you try to shift when you’re in a hurry, or when you didn’t plan ahead, you are more likely to have a jarring experience. This is partly because rev matching is critical with the Ural’s rough transmission, and also because part of making a smooth shift is timing what you do with the handlebars. The sidecar is going to move to the left as you roll off the throttle and pull in the clutch, and move to the right as you re-engage the clutch and throttle.The movement of the bike can be very disconcerting at first, and being prepared for it is a key part of shifting a Ural. You’ll apply pressure to the right handlebar when engaging the clutch, and pressure to the left handle bar when you re-engage it.
- Shift by feeling, especially at first. Eventually you will learn to shift the Ural by engine sound. Until then, I found it helpful to pull in the clutch and apply gentle, but consistent pressure to the shifter. You will feel the transmission start to change gears, and that’s when you want to apply more pressure.I found this easiest to practice while downshifting from 2nd to 1st. Go slow, and in an environment with minimal stress (like an empty parking lot). If you watch my video on “good” vs “bad” shifts, you’ll see how I do it. The ideal downshift will be almost silent.Heel shifting by feel is a little more difficult, but you can still do it. Rest your heel on the shifter, pull in the clutch, and wait for the feeling of the bike changing gears.
- Be confident, not violent, with the heel shifter. Once you feel the bike start changing gears (or you graduate to audio cues only), you need to shift with determination. My worst heel shifts came when I second guessed myself.This happens for two reasons: you start to shift later than you wanted, and it takes too long.Once you decide to shift, shift. You don’t have to bash the shift lever like a bad guy trying to hurt your family, but you can’t baby it, either.