To ride a motorcycle with a sidecar is to travel into a different world. To ride a Russian-made Ural motorcycle with a sidecar is to travel into a different world tinged with a kind of magical unreality.

Riding it is also a bit like wrestling a seizure-prone three-legged bear drunk on vodka (the bear; you seem like more of an oatmeal-stout guy). The bear’s in the “silly” stage—just before he turns mean. But after a while you come to a truce with your hairy, off-kilter friend, and then it’s sort of like getting a lap dance from a drunken three-legged bear in a chair that is perpetually almost falling over backward. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what planet you’re from.

Okay, maybe riding the 2014 Ural Patrol isn’t exactly like that, but it’s not far off. It’s just really important to stay loose and sort of macro-manage your path down the road. When you accelerate, the bike wants to go right. When you brake, it wants to go left. Different bumps send it maybe one way or maybe another, almost like a boxer’s feints.

Don’t be scared. After a little seat time, the sidecar experience becomes the New Normal. Sure, you can argue that many of two-wheeled motorcycling’s essential joys are ruined by a sidecar. You can’t lean, you’re too wide for those holes in traffic, it’s harder to park, etc. But what the sidecar does is open up an entirely new, strange universe where everyone smiles and wants a ride and one where you can consider picking up lumber, or a hundred pounds of gravel, or a full keg of oatmeal stout and several gallons of борщ (borscht). You think about taking the Ural camping and riding in the snow. Or a surf trip to Mexico and riding down the beach. Especially because this Patrol model has two-wheel drive, power sent to the sidecar wheel through a manually locking hub and drive shaft.

Oh, you can also carry a passenger.

This is a big year of changes for Ural, too. Fuel injection made by EletroJet (a Michigan company) replaces carburetors, and the rig gets triple disc brakes instead of just the one disc up front. Brembo makes the front and sidecar caliper, while Hayes makes the rear because it includes a parking brake. An adjustable hydraulic steering damper replaces the old friction-style unit probably in use since the 1941 debut of this Ural’s basic design, when the bike was first copied from German wartime BMWs.

Anyway, I was going to make fun of Ural for discovering this new technology called “EFI,” but then I remembered US astronauts are hitching rides with the Russians to the International Space Station. So, well done, Ural.

Even with its upgrades, the $15,399 Patrol has an abundantly vintage feel, the modern touches unable to obscure the bike’s overall charm. That said, you have to accept the increased, but still relatively modest, power output and the bike’s recommended maximum cruising speed of 70 mph. EFI helps, but the new cam profiles and larger airbox do their part to boost the air-cooled, 749cc flat-twin’s output. Claimed torque is up from 38 to 42 pound-feet, the peak coming at 4,300 rpm, 300 sooner than on the carbureted bike. Claimed peak horsepower is 41 at 5,500 rpm. You can rev it up that high (and higher), but there is no tachometer, and there really is no point in searching for the rev limiter: One, the four-speed (plus reverse) gearbox hates it, grinding and clashing on high-rpm shifts; and two, riding the torque down low gets you there about as quickly. Why are you Russian around, anyway? (Sorry.)

2014 Ural Patrol static right-side view.

It’s best just to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience for what it is. Starting (kick or electric) is more consistent, the engine is smoother across the range, and stopping this claimed-730-pound rig is much easier than before. Thrum up to 60 mph and joy will be able to keep up with you. I hit 80 mph, and it still seemed to be accelerating, but I lost interest.

To test the Patrol’s dirt capabilities, I rode over some pretty tough stuff. Bump absorption and chassis composure off-road is surprisingly good, but you won’t be motocrossing. Don’t jump. Ever. One big revelation? Off-camber trails feel good only when the third wheel is downhill from you. In the other direction, it’s that falling-over-backward-in-a-chair sensation.

Most of the time, one-wheel drive was fine, but two-wheel made steep climbs easier, surely would work better in mud or on snow, but we haven’t seen much of either around here in ages.

Owning a Ural is not for everyone, but asking for a ride sure seems to be. More than anything else, this is the character’s character bike. Only now it works a whole lot better. Don’t be afraid of the bear. He’s harmless and fun, if somewhat hairy.

PRICE $15,399
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0 in.
HORSEPOWER (CLAIMED) 41.0 @ 5500 rpm
TORQUE (CLAIMED) 42 lb.-ft. @ 4300 rpm
FUN FACT The tool kit is massive, and a tire pump is included in the trunk.