The Perfect, Perverted Logic of the Ural Dark Force

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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2016: A Sneak Peek

 

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2016 promises to be the best moto year yet.  We don’t have full details yet, but here is a sneak peek at what 2016 will offer:

 

2016 will be 12lbs. lighter than 2015 and have 15% more torque – that’s more grunt and go than any year this decade.  To manage that power, this year will also have improved brakes and upgraded suspension.  Combined with better ground clearance and a higher-revving mill, 2016 looks to be a hell of a ride.

 

For optimal handling, 2016 will have three centers of gravity: one low, one high, and one “floating” CG that will be continuously controlled by the onboard computer.  The rider can select between four modes for the floating center of gravity: “Cruising,” “Bopping,” “Hooning,” and “Flay.”  It will also feature the first on-the-fly adjustable wheelbase, which will let you convert from a cruiser to a sport-naked with just the touch of seven buttons.

 

The riding position has been redesigned by Swedish furniture craftsmen, and the “rider’s triangle” has been upgraded to a “rider’s pentagon” with the addition of knee and elbow pegs.  The passenger handlebars are also a bold new touch.

 

2016’s ride-by-helmet interface will provide direct input from the rider’s brain to the onboard computer.  You just have to remember to think in Russian.  Rider’s thoughts will become property of the manufacturer under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and may not be reproduced by the rider.

 

This year will be available in seven all-new special edition paint schemes, including three with flames.  Actual flames.  Be careful.  There will also be a Dead Celebrity special edition, but it has not yet been announced which dead celebrity it will be.  We are hoping for Harpo Marx.

 

For styling, 2016 has definitely gone the naked neo-retro-chopper/bobber-scrambler-tracker-hillclimb-wall-of-death route.  The styling says, “heritage,” but also says, “what the hell am I doing?”

 

Optional features include a chrome seat and calfskin gas tank, fully opaque windscreen, carbon-fiber tires, and right-side kickstand.  The ultimate add-on for 2016 will be the dual side cars, which are mounted on both sides of the machine for that P-38 look.  Little decorative propellers for the noses of the sidecars are also available.

 

Will 2016 be the ultimate ride?  With so much innovation, there will certainly be some bugs to work out, but we think this years looks like it will be a real blast and we can’t wait to get it on the street.

Cleveland Cyclewerks Unveils New Misfit

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In the heart of Cleveland’s rough-but-hip Near West Side is the headquarters of the pan-global motorcycle empire that is Cleveland Cyclewerks. It’s an empire built on the idea that people might want to own fun, well-designed, reliable transportation that is extremely affordable – the Schreckengostian idea that good design can be for everyone.

DSC_0079Like in a lot of cities, Cleveland’s old industrial spaces are being repurposed as lofts, boutiques, foodie pop-up venues, and hipster happenings, but CCW has repurposed an old industrial space as. . .  a new industrial space. It’s a bare-bones factory yard that reflects their hands-on, entrepreneurial approach to design. This is where Ace, Heist, and Misfit owners gathered this weekend for a Cyclewerks Homecoming. It says a lot about the company and the rapidly growing loyalty of their riders that this event was rider-initiated, not invented by the marketing department. The crowd was fun, unpretentious, and serious about bikes – very Cleveland. Their loyalty was rewarded Saturday with the unveiling of the new Misfit.

Probably the most recognizable CCW bike is the retro-bobber Heist, but the the sleeper fun-bomb is the little cafe racer Misfit. The original Misfit was styled in homage to the mid-60s Ducati 250 GP, particularly the tank shape. This is a very ‘inside’ styling reference, probably lost on 90% of buyers, and it is especially subtle in the stock black paint. Still, the design stands on its own even if it was upstaged a bit by its showier brothers the Heist and the Ace (sorry – I can’t bring myself to write “tha”).

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No more. The new Misfit has come into its own and looks more forward than back.

DSC_0114While still true to its cafe forebears, the lines are tighter, keener, and more aggressive. The same basic bike form has an entirely new impression and attitude.

DSC_0118The model unveiled Saturday was Hot-Wheels green, which will be a standard color (perhaps taking a swipe at Moto Guzzi?).

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The attention to detail in things like the taillight, turn signals, and instruments give the impression of a much more expensive bike.

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But the styling is only the introduction. Improved front suspension, a stiffer frame, better brakes, and bigger wheels all promise a bigger riding envelope and better feel. Maybe most exciting thing is that club racing is planned for next year. What could be more fun than barnstorming a track on a solid little 250 zoomer?

They kept the seat height low, and of course the weight is light. This is a low barrier-to-entry bike. This would be a perfect first bike that you don’t get rid of even if you get another bike. In fact, I think this will be my official go-to recommendation for the legions of earnest fledglings coming to me for advice on a first new bike.

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One look at the parking lot outside the factory on Friday would tell you that CCW owners tend to be tweakers, tuners, and modders, and all their bikes lend themselves to easy personalization.

DSC_0100I know they are going to have a lot of fun with the new Misfit.

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Ride it Like Beckham

Why would you want a replica of some celebrity’s bike? Knowing you, you probably wouldn’t – unless that bike happened to be a tight little custom Triumph Scrambler.

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If you’re not familiar with sportsball hero David Beckham’s motorcycle trip through the Amazon, there is a BBC documentary called “Into the Unknown” that is worth checking out: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b046prs6

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One of these gents is probably Mr. Beckham

Let’s be honest, this is exactly the kind of trip we all wish we could do and would jump on if we had the chance. Being a man of discernment, Beckham didn’t just embark into the jungle on any ol’ German GS or big enduro bike. He rode a Scramblerized custom Bonneville T-100 what was customized in both the UK and Brazil. It’s a lovely custom job: classic, understated, tough-looking, and functional. And it looks great covered in muck and filth.

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I bet you wouldn’t mind flogging around roads and trails on a bike like that. Motolegends, the British retro-clothing and bike gear specialists, are putting up a chance to win a replica of the Amazon custom bike. Graham Elliott and Phill Sharp of FCL Motorcycles in Cranleigh, UK, have built the replica to win. Like the original, it is built on a Bonneville, and it has key desirable bits, like the Arrow exhaust. It is stripped down, cleaned up, and blacked out, just as it ought to be.

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Visually, what really makes this bike is the custom tan leather seat. This was critical to getting the bike right, and these blokes (“dudes” for our USA readers) nailed it. It is the punctuation on the design, and is very well executed. beckham bike 3

A particularly pleasing detail is the blacked-out “garden gate” nameplate, which I consider an improvement over the “eyebrow”-style nameplate on the original Beckham bike.

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This bike shows the real potential lying just under the surface in the Hinckley classic twins. These bikes are essential – elemental, and anyone with a little skill can bring that character through. I think the boys at FCL have more than a little skill, and they have done a fine job.

Go over to the Motolegends site and register to win this bike. Good luck, chaps!

Why the Feds Should Lay Off the Mongols’ Colors

Donning your motorcycle gear does not mean renouncing your constitutional rights, even if – and pay attention here – that gear includes motorcycle club patches.*

While most of our readers probably agree with that statement, the Department of Justice apparently does not. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government is seeking authority to seize the patches and logos of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. This literally means the power to stop on sight anyone wearing a Mongols cut, or anything with a Mongols logo, and confiscate it on the spot.

The mechanism for doing this would be the federal government legally taking over the trademark of the Mongols’ emblem, which is the intellectual property of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club. The justification, in simple terms, is that the logo amounts to a “license to commit crime.”

Many people have correctly asserted that the wearing of colors is a type of speech that should be protected under the First Amendment. However, it is another clause of the First Amendment that is more directly under assault here: the right of assembly. A motorcycle club’s colors are a statement of association with a group. This is penalizing individuals not for any acts but for their identity and associations.

Of course, the First Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” It doesn’t protect, for example, riots or criminal conspiracies. The problem is, the government has not shown that the Mongols as an organization are a criminal syndicate. While some individual members have been convicted of crimes, that does not indict other members nor the organization per se. The DoJ just finds guilt by association much more convenient than the long way around. Unfortunately, this handy shortcut goes right though the First Amendment.

I am not saying that the Mongols are or are not a criminal syndicate. That is for the federal government to prove, and unless they successfully do that the rights of expression and free assembly of the Mongols’ membership should remain intact.

By all means, we should vigorously prosecute violent and criminal activity, regardless of what badges, pins, patches, logos, jackets, vests, or – ahem – uniforms the perpetrators are wearing, but it is difficult to imagine any way whatsoever in which the power to seize the clothing of bikers would serve the public interest or public safety. On the contrary, it is likely to be a distraction from the actual investigation of criminal acts. It would surely be very satisfying for the federal officers, but merely antagonizing people who are perceived as low-lifes and outsiders is not a compelling government interest.

Cuts are deeply valued, highly personal possessions and statements of identity. Taking a biker’s cut is much more than confiscating some piece of paraphernalia – it is akin to stripping their identity. It is a humiliation.

And let’s be totally honest here: the Justice Department is not starting a collection of patches. The effect of this policy is to give them carte blanche to stop, harass, and search bikers without a warrant or probable cause. It gives them an excuse to get in the door and under the sofa cushions. It’s not really the bikers’ First Amendment rights they’re after, it’s their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The fundamental premise the government is working on here is that wearing the colors constitutes a presumption of guilt. The unspoken intent is criminalizing identity, and it sets a dangerous precedent for stop and seizure on sight.

We have stated before that there is a huge difference between the lives, lifestyles, and culture of outsider motorcycle clubs – the so-called 1%ers – and most regular bikers you see every day at the bar. That is true. However, there really is no legal distinction between the Mongols and the Christian Joyriders of Kenosha. Neither the Mongols as a club nor a majority of its members have been convicted of a crime. This is an attempt to short-circuit the hard, important work of prosecuting criminal activity.

The ACLU is supporting the Mongols, and so should the AMA. Not that AMA funds should to toward the Mongols’ legal defense, but the AMA should take the official position that motorcycle club insignia are the intellectual property of the club and not subject to seizure, and that bikers should not be stopped on sight.

*In this essay, we will use the terms “club” or “motorcycle club” and not the terms “outlaw” or “gang,” because part of the question at issue is precisely whether the club is legally defined as a criminal organization. In other contexts, we use terms such as “outlaw” or “gang” to indicate cultural or aesthetic distinctions, not legal ones.

Photo Shoot: Bonneville Blue

Sometimes a color tells a story.

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The Sherwin-Williams automotive paint shop can get you pretty much any color you can imagine, which makes working on a color scheme harder than you had hoped.  I wanted something tough and cool, but elegant.  Something that would justify sanding off the perfectly good factory black paint.

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This first-world problem was processing in the background of my brain CPU one evening while drinking IPAs and talking about legendary bikes, when the topic of “Big Sid” and Matthew Biberman’s epic Vincati came up.  Apart from its historical and mechanical achievement, the Vincati is one of the most strictly beautiful bikes I’ve ever seen.  Should I copy that color?

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No, this isn’t about copying someone else’s color; it’s about finding my own statement.  Still, I loved the Bibermans’ story of father-son reconciliation through a mechanical adventure, something I wish I could have had with my own father.  As it happens, they talk about the color in their book, Big Sid’s Vincati (which you should get if you don’t already own.)

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The color they selected is “Lynndale Blue,” which was named after the Lynndale Farms Raceway in Wisconsin, and which adorned the 1966-67 Corvette Stingray.  This struck me like an omen:  My parents, both sports car & racing enthusiasts in the 1950s & 60s, both owned corvettes, and even met one another through the local SCCA.  It’s likely they even went to races at Lynndale: they went to Sebring, Watkin’s Glen, and lots of other tracks.

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The “stinger” on the ’67 Corvette hood was black, which inspired my diagonal matte black stripe on the tank.

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I also added a “smoking rabbit” Mad River canoe emblem on the side panel, an echo of memories paddling the Grand River with the family as a kid.  I still love taking out my Mad River Explorer 16 when I’m not riding.  I think the bike would look great with a canoe trailer attached.  Have to figure that one out.

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The bike has several other modifications.  Nothing visually radical — things replaced here, cut off there, holes drilled in baffles there, and so on.  It will continue to change, so this is just a portrait of how it happens to look right now.  It’s not and will never be a real custom build, but it is a kind of homage to the custom builders, and a nod to Mom and Dad and all the great things we can do outdoors.

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Fuel Cleveland: The Details

Admiral Rickover, the ‘Father of the Nuclear Navy,’ liked to say, “The devil is in the details.”

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.”

Both were right.  These were difficult, demanding men who did incredible things because of their passion for details.

In design, including custom bikes, the details make all the difference.  Great ideas are a dime-a-dozen.  It’s the execution and the detail that makes a great design.  Unlike, say, custom cars, on a bike there is nowhere to hide.  Everything is exposed — that’s part of what draws us to motorcycles: their unavoidable honesty.

Details tell the story.  Some tell of age, or of hours spent at the polishing wheel.  You see the laborious application of layer upon layer of paint.  Some bikes are so iconic that they are recognizable from one detail.  The details are the ineluctable expression of the bike’s inheritance.  They are the final interface of maker and materials.

Here are a few of the great details from Fuel Cleveland.  Every picture here has something to tell you:

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