If you know Big Five’s fearless leader, Ashish, then you likely know that he adores all things mechanical that move. New or vintage, two wheels or four… you can’t slow him down. Cars, boats, mountain bikes, go carts, and even a two-wheeled personal vehicle like a Segway – as long as it has wheels and some kind of motor, he’s good to go.
We now know that includes 1940s Russian-designed motorbikes with sidecars. With all the talk of Russian connections these days, Ashish managed to discover a Russian-produced motorcycle in Morocco! Indeed, he was seen scooting around Marrakech’s narrow crowded streets with an enormous grin on his face.
“I love anything with wheels,” said Ashish. “And this sits very low, which gives you the sensation that you are physically connected with your surroundings. You see what’s happening around you, on the ground in front of you, on the streets around you. You also realize just how much of a utility these machines were in the 40s. They don’t build them quite like they used to.”
This specific bike was one of the originals that was found in the factory in Russia and eventually found its way to Marrakech. It has the sturdy look and practical no-nonsense approach you expect from Russian manufacturing of the day.
The company that built this bike is IMZ-Ural, established in 77 years ago during the era of World War II by the Soviet government. According to official accounts, the BMW R71 motorcycle seemed to be the best match for the army’s needs. Five bikes were secretly bought through Swedish intermediaries and transferred to Moscow where Soviet engineers dismantled them, and reverse engineered the design in every detail. Early in 1941, the prototypes of the Dnepr M-72 motorcycle were shown to Joseph Stalin, who ordered the mass production of this design, and hundreds rolled off the assembly line.
As production escalated, the Moscow Motorcycle Plant was established, producing hundreds of Russian M-72 sidecar motorcycles. But Germany’s Nazi Blitzkrieg was so efficient that Soviet leaders were concerned that the factory would be bombed. The plant was moved east to the town of Irbit on the fringe of Siberia in the Ural Mountains.
Initially, the “URAL” was built for the military only, but after WWII the factory was expanded, and in 1950, the 30,000th motorcycle was produced. In the late 1950s, production at the plant turned towards non-military uses.
Today, the now-private company produces heavy-duty Ural sidecar motorcycles with two-wheel-drive designed for rough, rugged terrain, and the sleek cT model for urban commuting and paved roads. The motorcycles are mainly exported to Australia, UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and US. The number sold since the factory was founded exceeds 3.2 million.
IMZ-Ural is the only Russian manufacturer of large capacity motorcycles and one of few manufacturers in the world to still produce sidecar motorcycles.
The next time you think about exploring Marrakech, think about taking the low road in the low-riding sidecar of a vintage Russian motorcycle – President’s Pick Morocco Mazes & Mysteries.