nl:IMZ Ural sv:IMZ-Ural IMZ - Irbitski Motozykletny Zavod (Ирби́тский мотоцикле́тный заво́д = ИМЗ) is a Russian maker of heavy motorcycles (especially with sidecars). In 1939 development started on the IMZ through the secret purchase of five BMW R71 that then were copied. The first M-72 model was finished in 1941. Originally the factory was located in Moscow but due to the approach of German troops, it was moved to Irbit.

A similar model is the Soviet Dnepr motorcycle.

Both these models are known under the slang term Cossack motorcycle.


The Ural story begins in 1939, with the pre-WWII planning of the USSR. The Soviet Union knew it would soon be going to war (despite the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), against the German Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Nazi Germany. Joseph Stalin ordered the military to prepare in all areas, including the ground forces that would be defending the Russian "motherland" against the invading German Panzers, ground troops, and German special forces. Having seen the effects of the "Blitzkrieg" against the Polish Army, mobility was of paramount importance!

A meeting was held at the Defence Ministry of the USSR and the topic of discussion was what a model of motorcycles was going to be the most suitable for the Red Army. The Red Army wanted to modernise their equipment after termination of the military conflict with Finland. The motorcycles used so far had not worked satisfactorily, their technology was outdated and the manufacturing quality left much to desire. The official version reads that after long discussion the BMW R71 motorcycle was found to most closely match the requirements and 5 units were covertly purchased through some Swedish intermediaries in neutral Sweden and copied.

Soviet engineers in Moscow busily dismantled the 5 BMWs. They copied the BMW design in every detail and made moulds and dies to produce their own engines and gearboxes in Moscow. Everything about the bike was reversed engineered and early in 1941 the first trial samples of M-72 motorcycles were shown to Stalin and the decision was taken to produce them. (Incidentally, one of these original BMWs still survives and is on display in the factory museum. Harley-Davidson also copied the BMW design and delivered about 1,000 Harley-Davidson XA (Experimental Army) flat-twin shaft drive motorcycles to the US Army during World War II. Meanwhile in Japan, Riyushko was busy copyng Harley-Davidson V-twins!)

A more likely story is that the BMW factory supplied the construction drawings and casting moulds. As a result of the Molotov-von Ribentrop Pact transfers of technology had taken place to support their Soviet "friends" in different areas. Soviet engineers toured German aircraft factories and brought back complete cannons as samples. The OPEL Kadett was given to the Soviets just prior to the war, however it only commenced series production towards the end of the war as the Moskvitch 400.

In 1941 BMW began series production of R75, and did not resume production of R71. Supplying the Soviets with this supeceded model would have seemed a good idea at the time. This would also explain why the Soviets ended up making a copy of the Wehrmacht sidecar.

Soon a factory was set up in Moscow producing hundreds of Russian M-72 sidecar motorcycles. The Nazi Blitzkrieg was so fast and effective that Soviet strategists worried that the Moscow factory was within easy range of German bombers. The decision was made to move the motorcycle plant further east, out of bombing range and into the middle of the resource rich Ural mountain region. The site chosen was the small trading town of Irbit, located on the fringe of the vast Siberian steppes in the Ural mountains. Irbit had once been an important Trade and Fair centre in Russia before the Revolution of 1917.

The only substantial building in town was a brewery and it was soon converted into a R & D building to prepare for the construction of a massive new production complex to build the M-72 motorcycle. On October 25, 1942 the first batch of motorcycles went to the front and during WWII a total of 9799 M-72 motorcycles were delivered to the front for reconnaissance detachments and mobile troops.

After WWII the Factory was further developed and in 1950 the 30,000th motorcycle was produced. Since then over 3.2 million motorcycles, mainly sidecar outfits, have been produced.

The history of the "URAL" had begun with the glory of helping to defeat the terror of Hitler's armies on the Russian and European battlefields. The "URAL" was built for the military only, up until the late 1950s when another plant in the Ukraine took over that job and the Irbit Motorcycle Works (IMZ) began to concentrate on making bikes for domestic consumption. The popularity of the outfits grew steadily with the Russian people and in the 1960s the full production of the plant was turned over to non-military production.

The export history of URALs started in 1953, at first mainly to developing countries. But starting late in the 1960s deliveries started to developed countries (including Australia) and more and more URALs are there on the roads of all continents. URALs are a unique combination of price, classic styling and side-car, just like my "dad's or grandad's bike".

The main products of the plant today are the heavy duty URAL sidecar motorcycles designed for rough Russian roads, and the custom Wolf. There are a lot of places in Russia where only horses and URAL motorcycles can be used to transport gear to where you need it. URAL motorcycles are equipped with four-stroke air-cooled flat-twin engines, a four speed gear box with reverse gear, shaft drive, two disc dry clutch, spring shock absorbers and drum brakes. Although new solo models have been developed for western markets and watercooled engines have been available.

The motorcycles are mainly sold to the internal Russian market. They have also been exported to Australia, Britain, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Iran, South African Republic, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, the United States and numerous other countries. The total number of sales since the factory was founded has been over 3.2 million.

UralMoto Today

IMZ-Ural is the only Russian manufacturer of large capacity motorcycles and one of few manufacturers of sidecar motorcycles in the world. IMZ-Ural is a conglomerate of companies producing and selling classic motorcycles in both solo and sidecar combinations.

The plant was founded in 1941. In November 1992 it transformed into an open-end joint stock company "Uralmoto Joint Stock Company" a privatized entity owned 40% by management and employees through grant, 38% by auction with privatization vouchers (mostly management and employees also) and 22% retained by the government. In July 2000, the company was re-organised with the governments shares being redistributed to investors.

At the beginning of 1998 the business was bought by private Russian interests and it is no longer a State Company, bringing new ideas, new investments, new management, new production techniques, new design, technology and above all quality control of incoming, in-process and finished products. IMZ have been given a new lease of life, with new models and an engine that benefits the standards required by the sporting and leisure rider of modern times. Whilst the outward appearance of the engine is the same as before, quality control techniques have use of better alloying and casting, better engineering tolerances, better paint and chrome whilst retaining the advantage of continuity with the inherently balanced design of a horizontally opposed flat twin engine with roller bearings in a solid frame.

The future looks bright for IMZ, constantly improving its role as an economic form of transport that is fun to ride and easy to maintain. The story is far from over.

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