Snow won't slow this WWII-model motorcycle
By GARY DEMUTH | The Salina (Kansas) Journal | Published: February 8, 2014
SALINA, Kansas — Everywhere Tom Hatfield drives, he feels like he's in a parade.
That's because the Salina man drives a unique motorcycle: a 2013 Ural Gear-Up with attached sidecar, manufactured in Russia and based on military transportation developed by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Painted a dark green color called Taiga and detailed on the sidecar with the ferocious eye and teeth of a shark, Hatfield's bike draws attention wherever he goes.
"I get two questions: 'What is that bike,' and 'what year is it,' " said Hatfield, 33, who works as a systems engineer at ISG Technology, 127 N. Seventh.
"It's like you're in a parade," Hatfield. "Everyone waves and stops to talk to you. It's definitely a conversation starter."
Hatfield, who purchased the bike in December from an East Coast dealer, has been obsessed with motorcycles and other two-wheel vehicles most of his life. For years, he drove various mopeds around town, so he said purchasing this bike was a definite upgrade.
"No one laughs at you when you're driving this one," he said.
Unlike a two-wheeled motorcycle, Hatfield said this bike is ideal for driving in snow. That's because it's designed to be an off-road vehicle rather than a highway bike.
"It only goes up to about 65 mph, so it's definitely a backroads bike," he said. "People think I'm crazy for riding this around in the winter, but I feel way safer in this than I do my truck. This really does cut through the snow. It was made in Russia, so it was made for cold weather."
There's nothing Hatfield likes better than riding the Ural over snowdrifts and packed streets. So when a huge snowstorm hit Salina on Tuesday, dumping just under 12 inches of white stuff on the ground, Hatfield decided to comb the city on his bike, looking for stranded motorists or other people who needed help out of a snowdrift.
"My boss let me off early, so I drove around trying to help people out," he said. "Having a motorcycle like that on the side of the road is an attention attracter, so people would see it and slow down or stop and help out. It made me feel good about Salina that everyplace you went, there were people helping."
Hatfield may need to continue his motorcycle run because snow flurries are expected to continue early next week and temperatures aren't expected to climb above freezing throughout the week.
Ural is the name of the Russian maker of Hatfield's sidecar motorcycle, and it has its origins in World War II. In the early 1940s, Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin was preparing for possible military action against Nazi Germany and wanted to develop a dependable multiterrain vehicle for the Red Army to travel through the harsh climate and terrain.
So they used Nazi Germany's own technology against them by modeling their new motorcycle and sidecar after a late 1930s BMW sidecar bike called the R71, which the Nazis provided to the Soviet Union after the countries had signed a nonaggression pact in 1939.
The Soviets, in turn, sold the motorcycles to the American Army during the war.
Hatfield said Ural motorcycles still are hand-assembled in Russia and exported to more than 30 countries. After a long search, Hatfield bought his bike from a dealer in New England.
Although Hatfield declined to say how much he paid for his bike, he said a Ural can cost from $11,000 to more than $30,000.
"I had some custom stuff built in, too, like a windshield, and I powder-coated the engine black," he said.
Hatfield said there are three other Ural bike owners in Salina, one in Lindsborg and several in McPherson.
Besides being able to easily control it in the snow and in rough terrain, Hatfield said he loves his new bike for two other reasons: the convenience of being able to carry items like groceries in the sidecar, and the quiet purr of the 750cc engine, which has a lot of torque but is rated under 80 decibels for noise.
"It's so quiet, you can have a conversation with the person in the sidecar as you're riding," he said.
That said, Hatfield said his Ural is not the most practical motorcycle in the world.
"It drives more like a car than a motorcycle, and it doesn't accelerate much, so you can't go on the highways," he said. "It's kind of a lifestyle thing. It's not practical, but it's fun to drive."
Hatfield said he has plenty of plans for his bike once the weather warms up.
"I already have a lot of trails in mind for the summer," he said.