Well, there I was minding my own business when I received a call suggesting I took a ride in a gentleman`s conveyance. Who was I to refuse? “What is it,” I asked? “A motorbike and sidecar from Ukraine; a 1992 DNEPR MT11” came the response. Well, that was all new to me. We met at Squires Cafe at Sherburn in Elmet, the Mecca for Yorkshire bikers, and off we went, amidst a host of bemused superbikes.
The engine sounded very agricultural, loud with plenty of torque. A 650cc horizontal with 32 bhp (!), the gentleman’s pride and joy. He said he`d never had such fun before he bought it, although I found that hard to believe.
Upon leaving Squires, as I perched in the “chair” I was saluted by a chain of passing bikers. It was a very sociable experience. People standing at bus stops waved, gangs of kids shouted out to me, stopping at roadworks pedestrians commented what a nice evening it was for a `ride out`.
I enquired about its design and how it had come about. Whilst the basic design is that of a pre war BMW, apparently, there are two lines of thought doing the rounds. Firstly, that the DNEPR was made under license by agreement with Germany before the second World War.
Secondly, the Russians acquired a pre war BMW, and reversed engineered it because they thought the design was cracking! Neither story is substantiated.
So, after enjoying the wind in my hair, and `whoo hooing` with my arms in the air akin to being on a Blackpool roller coaster, we pulled into a quiet country lane where upon it was my turn to take the helm.
So, a quick lesson on handling, firstly, the gearing. Toe down for first, and then heel down to go up through the gears. Oh yes, and of course, not forgetting a reverse gear on a `special handle`. Then a crash (!) course on turning.
Handling left hand corners required me approaching underspeed and accelerating around the sidecar. Turning right was approached over speed with the power being shut off to bring the side car around the bike. Not the easiest bike to handle; a bit ratty.
It went (almost) in a straight line but the camber of the road was more severe than what the machine had been set up for and I found myself being pulled either across the road or towards the ditch. The camber, plus the weight of the person in the chair, made me feel like a contestant in the Gladiator programme fighting to take control.
Ride the beast
I had to ride the beast, not like the latter-day slick Japanese bikes. The other thing which rather took me by surprise was that braking required planning well ahead, coupled with judicious use of the engine, which is its main brake. Sorting the braking time was like preparing for Xmas and remembering to get your sprouts on in June.
There was low revving, with long gear changes; a very heavy fly wheel.
The DNEPR rides on the ignition points which is, referred to by initiated as, `a mixing bowl of doom` due to its capabilities of destroying the engine. Anyone wanting to make sensible modifications would fit an electronic ignition!
Other pointers I gleaned were that all three of the wheels were interchangeable, it had a shaft drive as opposed to a chain drive, and the brake drums were slightly oval, not round which may have contributed to my lack of effective stopping!
All in all though, it was ridiculously exciting riding in the chair; it was exciting riding the bike but for a host of other reasons and I would like to thank the dapper DNEPR owner gentleman for his time and patience.
Van Van Hayes