The Ural is the perfect motorcycle if you want to ride across the frozen surface of the deepest lake in the world. It is also the perfect motorcycle for the casual rider who cherishes Walter-Mitty-esque fantasies of riding across the frozen surface of the deepest lake in the world.
American motorcycling always has some element of fantasy in it. Escape to something bigger, faster, more extreme, more dangerous than our everyday lives. For many riders around the world, a motorcycle is simple, efficient, practical transportation, but for American bikers it contains a bit – or sometimes a lot – of indulgence in adventure, real or imagined. We are always a little bit more than ourselves on a motorcycle. This sense of adventure can be romantic, even ennobling, but it can also be fucking ridiculous.
The rugged, anachronistic Ural certainly encourages romantic ideation. Forged from rock in a Siberian city-factory and able to go places that make other “adventure” bikes whimper, it is the three-wheeled avatar of The Bear. The bike has a fearlessness that few of us actually achieve in real life. This low-key but massively powerful attitude has always simply emanated from the nature of the bike itself: its clunky detailing and earnest ugliness only enhance its bulldoggish persona.
In 2012, Ural started to capitalize on this in a little more self-aware fashion with the Yamal. This bike, named after the Yamal Peninsula north of Siberia (yes, NORTH of SIBERIA), whose name means something like, “The end of time and frozen death. Turn back now,” featured a Flying-Tigers sharkmouth paint job and a paddle. This tongue-in-cheek accessory included humorous survival instructions that what with “Abandon all hope,” and which, come to think of it, just might not be ironic.
I do take some delight in the possibility that Ural actually wants their customers to perish beneath the Arctic Ocean. We are also still left wondering whether the sidecar could actually float, and are waiting for Ural to send us one to test in Lake Erie.
The Yamal ramped up the fantasy element, but at least it was still fantasy within the actual universe. The Ural Dark Force takes dadbiker fantasy into the universe of Star Wars, a movie franchise for children which makes billions off of middle-aged men. The man-child – that stunted homunculus which dominates male culture in the US – cannot get enough of Star Wars in the form of every goddamn product known to man. A clever Star Wars tie-in can be a make-or-break difference for a company. Just ask Lego.
A Star Wars themed motorcycle was sadly inevitable. This particular manifestation, however, was a bit of a surprise. Ural is building only 25 Dark Forces, which definitely makes it one of your more exclusive “special edition” bikes. And what did they do to the base Ural to create this special edition? They painted it black. That is basically the full features-and-benefits list. It is shiny black, like a Dark thing, get it? The sidecar looks a little like Darth Vader’s codpiece.
Oh, and it also has a pretend Light Saber, so you can… do what? Walk into a bar and pretend to cut some alien’s arm off?
But here is the real genius of the Ural Dark Force. Nowhere does it say Star Wars or have any Star Wars related graphics. There isn’t the logo of the Empire on the tank (which would’ve been kinda cool), or an outline of Vader’s mask, or the Star Wars name or logo anywhere. Even the name “Dark Force” is a little vague – they don’t actually say “Dark SIDE OF THE Force.” It’s easy to forget: is it “Dark Special”? “Dark Custom”? If it weren’t for the logo typeface (which isn’t quite the Star Wars typeface), you might not make the connection. Apparently, the only thing Ural actually paid to license was the word “Light Saber.” Everything else just hints around it.
This is like all those ads for nachos and plasma TVs leading up to the Super Bowl that refer to “The Big Game” because they can’t say “Super Bowl.” It’s actually like when you were a little kid and you asked for Legos for Christmas and you got Tente. Ugh.
So when it comes to draping a tough motorcycle in the trappings of boyhood playtime, the Dark Force isn’t even the genuine fantasy. It’s a sham of a fantasy. How about instead of buying into this preposterousness, just get out and ride far, far away and let the real romance of riding be your inspiration.
What could’ve saved this bike? Instead of calling it the “Dark Force,” call it the “Dark Helmet.” Have a plaid button on the dash marked “Ludicrous Speed.” And painted across the back of the sidecar, “May the Schwartz be with you.”
That, I would buy.