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 How I Ended Up On A Dnepr


Back in the seventies, I attended a motorcycle swap meet at the Stepping Stone Ranch in Rhode Island. I was a young gearhead hippie with a 1947 Harley Knucklehead that I had bought as a basket and assembled to ride...certainly not "restored". I was with some other young "Harley Dudes" who were really into the whole Harley biker scene. I was more open minded towards bikes......it was all the same wind to me when riding something. So there I saw my first Indian four-cylinder bike. It was faded red original paint, accompanied by a blue cloud of smoke. But it ran, and it sounded cool (to me). It was for sale for $850, and it was late in the afternoon. I had the cash. I liked it. My Harley buddies laughed when I talked about buying it. They said "it sounds like a stinkin' MG. If it ain't a Harley, it ain't sh*t". So I didn't buy it. The same guys also talked me out of buying a Rokon in the early eighties because "it has a stinkin' two-stroke ringie-dingie motor". Free advice is free for a reason..... because it isn't worth sh%t if it is only another person's opinion. I finally learned to follow my own desires, and not ask other people for their opinions about motorcycles or any other cool toys. OK, that sets the stage for 2001. So I am surfing ebay when I stumble across a Rokon. I win the bid. I get it home, and of course it is not exactly as described. But it is so utilitarian in construction that after some simple wrenching it is running just fine...and I am having the time of my life on it. Ah, if only I had not asked or listened to my buddies back then! The one thing I did do right back then was to buy a rusted out HD sidecar at a Harley rendezvous in NY. I was in my '66 Bellaire, so we just got a bunch of guys and hoisted it up onto the roof and tied it down. We made it home with no problems (try that today). The tub was so rusty that it got stuck in the back of the garage, and a nice big wooden crate became the body on the sidecar. It looked like a vintage package truck on my knucklehead. The problem was, the only one who would happily ride in it was my black lab. My girlfriend would have no part of it. So off it went. In retrospect, I should have ditched her instead. The sidecar virus had invaded my psyche. I always had a longing for a good sidecar rig in the back of my mind after that early experiment. Shortly after I got married, I bought a beauty of a 1964 BMW R60/2 with the idea of putting a sidecar on it so I could take my wife riding. She said, "I'm not riding in a sidecar, I'd feel like a clown". So off the BMW went.

Some years later, I am still playing with cycles, but now I have a daughter (who doesn't get enough of my time). I start to realize that we should be spending more time together doing cool stuff. I buy her a kittycat snowmobile for Christmas. She loves it! My wife tries it. She loves it! I can't rationalize buying snowmobiles for the limited time we would get to use them. Renting will be the answer. But a seed is germinated in the old gray matter. My daughter likes motorized toys. My wife actually likes them too! I like motorcycles. Hmm. My daughter likes riding on the Rokon. My wife does too. So I start to realize (or possibly rationalize) that a sidecar rig might just be the perfect family motorsports toy! So off to ebay I go. I search for "BMW sidecar". I find several nice rigs, but hey, I can't drop that kind of money on a.... toy. I broaden my search to "sidecar" and things become more interesting. Goldwing with sidecar. AJS with sidecar. Harley with sidecar. And then.....Ural with sidecar.

I watch the listings for a while, and see a lot of new rigs being sold. Usually, they are too far away to pick up, and to difficult to ship. Finally, I see a ratty old one (boy, I love 'patina' on a bike) in Baltimore. It looks like it worked as a golf ball retriever on an active range. Ugly, dented, greasy, pinstripes done with a stick and a rag. But it was within driving distance. The seller stated that it would run "with the usual cleaning the carb and minor tinkering". We have all heard that before! So I stuck out my neck and placed a bid. I watched it like a hawk. I couldn't sleep. And in the end, I had won the Ural. And then I thought to myself "what have you done"? I shanghaied a buddy to make the drive with me to pick it up (with a stop on the way back at an AMCA antique motorcycle meet). The meet was nearly vacant compared to usual, but the bike generated a lot of interest on the trailer. I knew I was onto something. And then it was home to the acid test.

Neither my wife nor my daughter thought much of it at first. After all, it was pretty raspy looking, just a static black lump in the driveway, and they have seen their share of lumps in the driveway! I checked the fluids. All the components had oil! I checked the fuel lines. They looked like trouble. I replaced the fuel lines, put gas in the tank, borrowed the battery from my tractor, hooked it up, tickled, kicked......and it started!?! I couldn't believe it! It sounded like a coffee can full of jumping nuts and bolts, but it ran, and only smoked a bit (probably the 2-cycle mix I used). Now things got interesting. My daughter burst out the door, and asked for a ride. What could I do? I gave her a ride! She loved it...and my wife was smiling too (very important)! Then my wife took a ride, and she loved it too. Now, every day, my daughter and I bomb around the field for a while, and the Ural runs like a champ. Except for the "surprise". It turns out it is a Dnepr! But that is OK. A Polish student of mine told me Dneprs are better. Wait; is that a fact, or an opinion? I must find out. I must buy a newer Ural to ride while I restore my vintage Dnepr. I don't know what it is about this bike, but I really enjoy spending time with it. As I learn more about it, I appreciate it even more. It is definitely built for roads from a different time, and that is a good thing, because I appreciate the roads of an earlier time. All pangs of "buyers remorse" are long gone! And that is how I ended up on a Dnepr.

Hal Kolding

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