Fish and bicycles. Icecream and oysters. Germans and humour. Some things just don't really go together. Up until about this time last week I would have happily added "Ural motorbikes" and "racing" to that list. Can you imagine? A racing Ural? People have be committed for suggesting less.
Then I laid eyes on this little green gem. I assumed, as you maybe did, that it was a BMW of some sort or another. But no, it's a government-issued comrade carrier from the hefty bossom of Mother Russia herself. And this one is built to go fast, not plough fields and carry plump babooshkas. Who's repsonsible for this fire and ice miracle, I hear you ask? May I introduce to you Jeff Yarington of Saint Motorbikes; bike builder and master alchemist par excellence.
PB: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live and what do you do for a job?
I’m from Mount Airy, Maryland, a suburb to DC & Baltimore. I had been a production auto painter most of my life & for the last 3 years I owned a shop. I just closed that shop a few months ago & I am trying the stay at home thing. My partner Matt & I just opened the Saint Motor Company, an online store that I hope will grow rapidly. I’m hoping this plus tinkering on bikes will let me stay home for a bit with my kids & dogs.
Sounds like you're living the dream. Take us through the build of the Ural; is there anything left you'd like to do?
The main thing left to do is get the carbs dialed in, which should be done by the time you read this. I think the bike's about perfect & I wouldn’t change anything really.
This bike was purchased new in 1994 in Russia by a gentleman from Virginia that was stationed there at the time. He rode it in Moscow a bit & then had it shipped back to his father in the US, then later shipped up to Virginia to a friends farm. The bike had 250 kilometres on it when I bought it from him. It had never sat outside & was cleaned to almost new condition, with the exception of hard wires & bad switch or two.
The build started with me staring at the bike for a few months trying to decide if I should do anything to it, or leave it as I got it, bone stock. After the staring contest for weeks, I had some ideas that just had to happen. I wanted it low & long, but this time keeping the swing arm (I usually go hard tail on the Brit bikes I do).
I raked the front, very easy to do on this bike's frame, a few cuts & re-weld existing tubes, neck & support gusset/box. I moved the top mount for the rear shocks forwards a good bit to lower the rear & get the swing arm level. Removed rear bolt on section of frame & made a new tubing rear & added the sheet metal, it's all solid welded in the rear, so you can lift the bike on a center stand grabbing the back easy.
I went with an early XS650 slim tank & re-tunneled it so it would sit down super-low to match frame/seat area. I welded bars to top tree; kinda a low board track look. I removed all the stuff from the front end, brackets & tabs from frame, anything not needed was removed. Then did simple wiring, hiding the regulator under tank & showing of the ignition modules aluminum fins on the side. Added a few Saint style touches in the reverse shifter (yes it has reverse) & some copper to the kicker.
Part of my vision that was a must was to run downdraft carbs & stacks that would be up by the tank on either side, & make the exhausts short & mean looking so the front & rear views of bike would be insane.
Trust us, it works. So did you sketch, Photoshop, or just improvise while building?
I never do, it normally involves me sitting in my Barber's chair staring at a bike stripped down to frame & motor for a few hours ‘till I figure out what it wants to be, then I start cutting & making, & repeat the sit & stare game.
Sounds kind of religious. Have you entered the bike in any shows?
Actually this Ural is the first bike I’ve shown at a real show (I did show the Black Lightning at a small show, tho.) The Ural was at the Timonium Bike show in Maryland; it is a huge show & we had a vendors spot in another building, so we figured we’d show a couple of bikes. To my total surprise, the Ural came in First in the Metric Cruiser Full Custom class.
Congrats! How have the mods you've made changed the way the bike rides?
It rides nice. I’ve done a few bikes raked out to about 45 degrees with stock front ends, they are a little heavy turning at speeds under 5 mph, but by the time your feet are up they handle great. Longer trail is more stable at higher speeds like more caster would be on a car. Ideal trails are 3-5 inches to most people, my stuff is using stock tires & front ends at 45 degrees will run at about 6-7 inches. The rear's a little softer than stock, the more you tilt the shocks, the softer it’ll get, but after adjusting the shocks to the stiff setting it felt about the same in the rear. Urals aren’t really the smoothest riding bikes to begin with shock & fork dampening-wise. It is a lot better being low in riding position compared to before, it was fun to ride stock, but I felt like I was sitting in a chair almost.
Any lessons you've learnt from the build? Any words of wisdom you'd like to pass on?
Urals are simple, neat bikes. To change a piston, you need one socket & one open end wrench & pliers. One nut, valve cover off, 4 nuts retain head & rockers, head's off, 4 more nuts remove cylinder, then two snap rings on the wrist pin & the piston's in your hand. Maybe a 5 minute deal. You could literally re-ring your Ural on the side of the road in a ½ hour. Remove the rear wheel, 4 nuts, & the transmission is out. 3 bolts & the motors out… it’s really a bike you can work on with a few wrenches. They’re not fast bikes, but they are fun bikes.
If money was no issue, what would be your ultimate custom bike?
That’s the hardest question in the world I think. I can’t even begin to answer it. But Shinya would be the one to build it with me if we are in fantasy land.
What bike are you planning to customize next?
I am presently finishing up a neat XS 650 café with removable tail cone so owner can ride solo & have traditional café look, or he can pop off the tail cone with the pull of a spring loaded tab & ride a passenger on the full length seat that hides under it. The dual exhaust exits under seat at rear as well. Benelli Tank, handmade muffler, neat build. I am also working on a Goldwing that is being stripped down & will have street tracker styling... and "Tesla", a triumph I’ve been doing for a while should be done soon; it’s a very, very different bike. Have a look at the www.saintmotorbikes.com site to peak at it. The XS café can be see on my blog at www.saintmotorbikes.blogspot.com.
If the bike had its own theme song, what would it be?
If I had the chance to do a killer video for this bike, its be riding thru the massive hills & fields of Ireland past old stone churches & buildings with the musical score being “the Mummers dance” by Loreena Mckinnett.
PS. Like what you see? Jeff has put the bike up on eBay and at the time of writing it's got a day and a half left and the price is only up to four large. Sounds like a bargin price for a gold trophy winning custom motorbike to me. Best make like a Russian mobster and pay the site a friendly little visit...