April 27, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are three million of these things puttering around China right now, but here racing around a cornfield outside Gretna, this Ural sidecar motorcycle looks pretty unique.

Actually, it looks like something out of a PBS documentary on the German invasion of Poland. (In fact, the Ural is a not-terribly-modernized version of the World War II BMW motorcycles used in support of blitzing Nazis).

The ride in the sidecar, especially bouncing through corn stubble, is profoundly unrefined. The lumbar begins to numb. You feel helpless and vulnerable. It is by no means the most comfortable form of exhilaration in this world, but it is exhilaration nonetheless.

Here you are at the mercy of the driving skills of George Perlebach, the owner of this strange (at least to North Americans) contraption. Perlebach bought this limited edition 2012 Ural because that’s kinda what Perlebach does. In one of the outbuildings of his farm sits, among other things, several motorcycles (he’s been riding since he was 15), a powered parachute, a vintage Porsche 914, and, oddest of all, a massive U.S. Army transport truck that he bought because he, like too many men, should not being shopping online after midnight.

Perlebach, a family-practice doctor and business owner, is not naïve regarding the Ural drawbacks. Although the company has been adding some more modern technologies in recent years (for one, they now have a fuel-injection engine), the engineering and build quality is still, well, “vintage,” he admits. It is loud. The engine is underpowered by modern standards. With the sidecar, the motorcycle veers when breaking and accelerating. Turning corners is a challenge. “It’s not about performance or great build quality or anything refined,” he says. “It’s an experience unto its own.”

Now to the upsides: Perlebach can fit up to four people on the Ural if he can find three others who would dare. He gets to give someone the once-in-a-lifetime sidecar ride experience, which, he says, “ironically seems to be scariest to people who ride motorcycles” (perhaps, he says, because those who ride are used to being in control of the vehicle).

When he’s out riding—which sometimes includes trips to his business in Lincoln—he always is striking up conversations with people along the way. “It’s a novelty for everyone. I like talking to people. And on this thing, you’re going to be getting into conversations.”

If you’re a motorcycle rider reaching a certain age, you might appreciate one of Perlebach’s other reason for liking the Ural: Those larger motorcycles that were so cool in youth can be unwieldy in later years, especially if your back is bad. Perlebach spent much of January recuperating from back surgery. Having three wheels means the bike won’t fall over on you.

You’ve probably noticed the rise of the three-wheeled touring motorcycles. Sure, they’re starting to become a little cooler, but, as Perlebach points out, “a lot of folks probably still wouldn’t want to take it to Sturgis.”

“The Ural still has a bit of an edge to it—it’s unusual, it’s a bit funky,” he says. “For people who want three wheels, it gives them an option.”

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