As they say in equine circles, horses for courses, and Explore Indochina’s fleet of 49 Russian Ural motorcycles are (in my opinion…) perfectly suited for the roads and traffic in Vietnam.
An idiosyncratic machine based on an original German BMW M71 design from WWII, the Urals are still made to this day in the town of Irbit in the Urals Federal District of Russia. How the BMW came to be made in what was then the Soviet Union as the Ural, and in China as the Chang Jiang, is a story well worth reading…
Developing a motorcycle touring business based on 30+ year old bikes, not known for their reliability, was the idea of Digby Greenhalgh who saw the opportunity when he heard that the Vietnamese army and police had decided to part with their Urals. Digby bought the lot, including all their spares, and used them to establish Explore Indochina.
My introduction to the Ural, and the preparation for the next 12 days, was a tour of Hanoi with all the other Rally Indochina participants on sidecar outfits led by a WWII jeep. We really created a stir as the Urals have a real presence and are not seen very often on the roads of Hanoi these days.
Actually riding the HCM Trail on the Russian Ural turned out to be a very pleasant (if somewhat agricultural) experience as they possess charisma by the bucket load, a quite comfortable riding position and loads of torque that makes gear-changing semi redundant!