Big Bird flies on Russian bike beloved by Stalin

The Ural ranger is one of the only motorbikes to be assembled complete with a sidecar, rather than it being an optional accessory.

John ‘Big Bird’ Greig, of Warkworth, wanted a Harley but it couldn’t handle his size, so he had to import something a bit bigger from Russia.

His brand new 2019 Ural Ranger is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, and is a replica of the Russian 1939 model.

“During World War II, Stalin realised soldiers needed mobility, so he bought R71 BMW motorcycles, reverse engineered them, and then put a sidecar on,” John says.

“Thirty thousand sidecar units were made in 1942 and it became a Russian workhorse after the war.”

The 2019 Ranger has the same basic design with a few modern improvements, including disc brakes and fuel injection.

It still has a spade, a fuel can, and a spare wheel attached.

John bought it from a dealer in Christchurch and decided to tour the South Island on his way back up to Warkworth.

“I’m writing a book about the experience for my grandkids so they know where it came from. It’s going to end up with them because I’m never going to sell it.”

The Ural has a drive shaft which makes it ‘two-wheel drive’, as it is propelled by both the rear wheel as well as the sidecar wheel. It also has a reverse gear.

The engine is 750CC and makes a thunderous rumble known as the Ural growl.

John currently has a bag of cement in the sidecar to help balance it out when he turns corners at speed.

“Apart from me, no one has actually been game enough to try sitting in the sidecar while it’s being driven.”

This Mahurangi Matters reporter was the first to give it a go, and can confirm it certainly turned heads through Warkworth town.

“The only issue is you always arrive places late because of the UDF – Ural Delay Factor - because everyone wants to stop you and talk about it in the street,” John says.


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