A Short Tale of F2 Motorcycles by David Angel.
So there I was, age 13, in the school library with a teacher doing a bit of detention for reasons that escape me now. I scanned the shelves desperately looking for something to make the next hour bearable. Then in the hobbies section I found "The Encyclopedia of Motorcycles". Brilliant, I never knew a library could be so interesting. Flicking through I came across BMW and a picture of a hard-tailed army bike which was the business but not something I could ever own as I had learnt my history and politics from publications such as the Red Flag and Militant rather than the school books. (I failed 20th century political history O-level, can't think why). Then joy of joys I found at the back of the book a tiny picture of a Ural in blue and some Western propaganda about it being a copy of the aforementioned BMW, which incidentally it is not. So there it was, my dream bike found in the school library during what was supposed to be punishment. At 14 my uncle bought a CZ 125 and much to my delight would let me try to ride it up and down the back lane at the weekend, after only falling off 9 or 10 times I was hooked and decided to get my own wheels. I was at that time making a small profit in a local auction where I would buy a push bike one week, take it home and clean/fix it and then sell it again the next week at a small profit. If only I had known then what Raleigh Choppers would be worth today? I must have sold dozens at £15.00 each. So with all this profit I bought a Honda C90 which proved surprisingly capable off road until the frame broke in half after building increasingly higher ramps to jump it over. To save you the trouble of doing this yourself a C90 frame breaks from about a 5 foot high jump if it lands with the rider on it. So what do you do at this age with no wheels and so much time? Well, if your dad has a Honda Camino and he is out in his car you borrow it and hope to get it back before his return. All went to plan until it hit a dry stone wall. I use the words “it hit” rather the “I hit” correctly here as I was not actually on the moped when the impact happened. Result, I was banned from ever owning a bike and had to mow grass, clean cars, make tea, clean the house, etc, etc, for the foreseeable future. Well I made it to 16, which surprised some of my teachers, and me if I’m honest. I had been saving hard from my auction profits. Down at the local bike shop/breakers I bought a FSIE, a big bore kit, expansion pipe, big carb kit and went home only crashing once on the way (I still have the scares). Dad saw me come in with blood dripping from the bottom of my jeans and said he had told me I couldn't have a bike and no I couldn't have a lift to hospital. A year of tuning, blowing up, tuning, blowing up, tuning, etc, came to an abrupt end when I hit a car head on. This put my off a bit and I decided bikes where a bit dangerous after all and maybe I had better get a car. At 17 I got a car with help from both parents (it is possibly the only thing they ever agreed about) and joined the happy safe people on the roads of Britain. I use the words car fairly loosely as it was a 2CV and I hand painted it. At least I could kid myself that the flat twin engine was a little like the engine in the Ural I so dearly wanted. This was an amazingly reliable car and could actually go just about anywhere a land rover could get. Remember I was living in Cumbria so this sort of thing is really useful. I moved from Carlisle to Watford, and looked for proper work with a more reliable income than the local auction. I got my first real job (moving furniture, in case anyone cares) and bought a cheap canal boat to live on. Now, every time you move a boat, which is often if you haven't got a mooring, you need to walk back and get the car. What I needed was a light bike that could be chucked (or at least wrestled on board), so the car was sold to make way for a Honda 100 trail bike, which kept me in tiny cam-chains which could be cut up and sold as bracelets every time another one broke. Why Honda thought a chain big enough to make jewellery from could be used to drive a cam shaft is beyond me. Then I got a dog, which quickly out grew the panniers on the Honda. Now at long last I had the excuse I had needed to hunt down a Ural (up until now I had been hoping one would just turn up with a for sale sign on it as I got on with my daily life). I looked everywhere, I checked every small add in every paper and eventually found one in Carlisle of all places, so a quick phone call to check he would a least hold it until I got there and a 6 hour train journey later I was at the vendors house cash in one hand, helmet in the other only to be told I had missed it by half an hour. Rather than waste the journey I popped into my uncles, bought the CZ and rode it back to Watford along the back roads. This took two days and the CZ impressed me a great deal, this trip being a least twice as far as the Honda could go without a new cam-chain. When some local oily biker offered me a Jawa Combo I would have ripped his arm off had it not already been missing. Well those of you who have ever tried to ride a combo with no instruction will know the next bit. I managed to put it on its side before I left the car park, then again at the first left hand junction. My experience was made just that bit harder as all the handle bar controls where on one side. See, I wasn’t joking about the missing arm. I added some ballast to the sidecar, moved some of the controls to where I might expect them to be and after a week or two of terrifying both myself and anyone stupid enough to try and use the same bit of road, I had pretty much come to love this strange device. This happy state of affairs continued until one day while weaving through the back streets of Watford looking for somewhere to park I came across my dream bike resting on its rocker covers in a garden with weeds growing through it. Closer inspection over the fence revealed it was an early 6 volt Ural M66 which had been hard-tailed in the same way as the BMW seen in the Encyclopedia of Motorcycles all those years ago.
I knocked on the door and was told to f**k off, no it isn't for sale. I took this to mean "I'm a bit busy right now, but please come back in a few weeks". I hatched a plan to wear him down. I called at his house every two weeks and after only 5 or 6 months he changed his mind, and agreed that if I handed over £300, took it away there and then, and promised never ever to go near his house again I could have it. I was in a Ford Anglia at the time, so siphoned a bit of petrol and connected the 12 volt Ford battery to the 6 Volt Ural, and had it running after a fashion. The previous owner gave me a cheery victory salute as we spluttered off up the road. After a mile or so I stopped trying to exceed 40mph and just settled down to a somewhat rattley 30mph cruise. Looking behind all I could see was gray smoke, the brakes didn't really seem to do much and the handle bars only made half hearted attempts to change the bikes direction. Still we got home and after begging a lift back to collect the Anglia it was time to get the spanners out and take a look inside. Sump bolt undone and about half a gallon of water came out but very little oil, which could explain all the gray smoke and rattles. Perversely, the fact that it had just been ridden 20 miles on a sump full of water, rather than make me chuck the whole thing in the canal, sort of endeared me to it. I also realised that getting my new pride and joy into a condition that might even be vaguely reliable was going to take a bit more than checking the tappets and some new oil. Boats do not come with garages, workbenches, or indeed even the space to strip a Ural, so a phone call to my longest suffering friend (many thanks Ian) secured the offer of storage and help until the ordeal was over. Over the next few weeks everything came apart and the big bits were carried up the stairs to Ian's flat and stripped on his coffee table. With the crank back in and all the broken/worn bits replaced it was painted in various coloured tractor paint and was finally ready for the road. A Dnepr sidecar was found and fitted so the dog didn't feel left out. For the next few years I got into a routine of running it all summer, going to rallies, and then with the summer over take it off the road for a month, change the colour scheme and replace worn parts then get it back on the road ready for the next season. All was well until I decided that it would be good if it went a bit faster. So a new routine was settled into, which was take it apart, try some modifications, run it in, then see how fast it went by holding the throttle open until something major broke. Then it was just a case of modifying the bit that broke. After about five years of this there was very little in the way of Russian parts still in the engine. I had managed to create a bike that looked like a Ural, went somewhat faster than a Ural and was considerably less reliable than a Ural. Then after a trip to Devon, then up to Carlisle and then back to Watford which had been faultless I opened it up for the last mile just to see what would happen, and as the speedo slowly crept its way round to the magic ton, which is going some for a Ural combo, it dropped a valve and destroyed most of the moving parts. As I coasted to a halt with the clutch in it occurred to me that maybe I was asking too much of the old Ural and if I put it all back to standard the money I saved in yearly rebuilds would buy a cheap fast Japanese bike.
I moved from the canal to a mobile home with garage so the Ural was put back to almost standard reliable trim and off I went in search of a fast Jap. At the tenth dealer I met a chap outside on a nearly new Kawahanki thing that had just had his first service and he was bitterly complaining to anyone who would listen about the cost. He mentioned he had traded in a Jawa 500 Rotax about a month earlier. I had spent the whole day finding it very difficult to part with cash for a Jap bike, so when I heard this I was straight through the door demanding to see this wonderful piece of Czech technology. The salesman at first denied any knowledge of it but after going to see the boss admitted that there was a strange thing in the shed out the back. I followed him through the workshop to the shed and there lying on its side covered in oily knackered Jap parts was a blue Jawa 500. "It's yours for £800 he said", after some negotiation along the lines of "if it's worth £800 why is it in the shed with the scrap" we settled on £200. The Jawa did have a certain amount of charm but after a month I just couldn't see the point. It was no faster than the old 350 I had owned all those years before but it was harder to start, vibrated more and engine parts cost loads more. The Jawa went to a mate and I went off looking for the fast Jap I should have bought in the first place. Don't ask how but I came back with a Jawa 350 solo. A week later the Jehovah's Witnesses came a-knocking and as I like a bit of a debate I invited them in and made them coffee, (no really they are very interesting folk). It turned out that I didn't need saving right now as the end of the world was still a little way off, but they did know where there was a Jawa sidecar for £20. This was bought and fitted to the Jawa. I now had a slow but reliable Ural and a slow but reliable Jawa combo and no fast Jap. I sold the Jawa and went off looking for a fast Jap again, and came back with an MZ 250. You will be getting the idea by now that I'm not really very good at buying Jap bikes. This cycle continued for years during which time I owned for short periods loads of bikes including some Jap ones, but no fast ones. The list includes, SR 500, Z750 twin, CBX 550, Z550 four, MZ ETZ, CZ, Moto Guzzi G5 (actually this was fast, but not altogether reliable in the electrical area), XS400, Dneprs, more Urals, more Jawas, and a home made multi-coloured Skoda trike. The trouble really was that the Ural did what I wanted it to do and none of the others really got under my skin in the same way, so throughout this whole time the Ural stayed.
Then just as I was settling into a rhythm of buying, getting bored and selling all these bikes, I sold up everything including the Ural, but not the Skoda trike as rather surprisingly selling a multi-coloured trike quickly is not that easy, and went to the USA to blow all the money. This took about 11 months during which time I cruised around on a Goldwing 1000. The GL1000 was exceptionally smooth, totally reliable and could eat American roads all day long, but, and this is the thing, I just didn’t love it like the Ural. On my return to the UK, I got a fairly well paid job as a mechanic for a hire company and managed to find a rather nice Dnepr MT9 which served me well, never really going wrong properly but occasionally stopping just to remind me who was boss. While attending a Cossack rally on the Isle of Wight I bumped into the newly formed Uralmoto, who were there trying to drum up enthusiasm and find potential dealers. I was on board like a flash, only losing my house, my wife and the well paid job in the process. Some horrid (read affordable) unit was rented and F2 Motorcycles was born. F2 stands for flat twin as in the Ural engine design. The unit was stocked, the adverts placed, and the company was VAT registered. To my surprise the queues did not form and sales were almost non existent. I just couldn’t understand why, given the opportunity everyone didn’t want a new Ural. I was living in a caravan at the time so my out goings were fairly small.
Fortunately my new girlfriend, Lizi, who I'm very pleased to say is now my wife was and still is very supportive so things were able to continue without me either going mad or running out of money. She even took her bike test and rode her Dnepr MT11 combo to the Elephant Rally which I for one think is pretty brave. For those who don’t know, the Elephant Rally is up some hills in the snow in Bavaria in winter, and they camp! I didn’t go as unfortunately someone had to look after the shop, and, well, it sounded a little chilly to be honest. Things picked up and after some discussion Lizi agreed that if I moved to bigger and better premises with at least a plumbed in toilet she would give up her well paid job, come and help at F2, and we would both be poor together. The business expanded, people do form a queue in the form of our waiting list, and new products including Jawa and Velorex have been added to compliment the range of Urals. We try our hardest to source spares for the older models and the other Soviet era bikes. We still sell on quality of service rather than the lowest price, which was my original intention. Many of our customers have become good friends. We even received awards from the owners clubs in recognition of our services to the brands, which was pretty nice of them. The original Ural importer went bust over some silly arguments. For some time we got the bikes directly and then direct from the distribution centre in Europe, but if you get to the end of this you will see even this has changed. The Ural range improved massively over the years, but I stilled checked every single one just in case. Lizi now has the time to pursue her creative side as a working artist and musician. Her work is very good, you can find a link to her site on our links page. It all seems to have worked out very well, and when I look back at those early days in the first industrial unit it’s really hard to believe.
Along the way we have moved a few times and expanded our range. In May 2013 we moved from our 2200 square foot unit in Banbury to a 5500 square foot premises near Wisbech. This has allowed us to add more products to our range and further increase our stock of spares. F2 Motorcycles Ltd has grown from a single make dealer in a tiny run down workshop to a multi franchise dealer and importer with more than enough space to store everything needed to support our customers. We are now the sole importer for Jawa motorcycles continuing to supply the traditional 2-strokes in road legal form long after many people said it couldn't be done. We are also sole UK importer for a range of sidecars from Velorex and UK agents for Chang Jiang motorcycles.
At the end of 2020 Ural had another change of infrastructure which means a new importer for the UK. Since establishing F2 in 1998, we have seen 4 importers come and go. In that time we have been here selling, servicing and supporting Urals in the UK. Many other dealers have come and gone, and yet we are still here. The new importers are taking Ural in a direction that we do not feel that we want to be a part of. We genuinely wish the new importers the very best in finding and keeping a new breed of dealers, and whilst they would be happy to have us on board, we have declined to take this journey with them. From the 1st January 2021 F2 Motorcycles Ltd will no longer supply new Urals. Don't Panic, importantly, we will continue to offer the highest level of support for all customers with Ural motorcycles built before 2021. We will continue to sell, service and support quality second-hand Urals. We have a vast spares stock, many years of knowledge and experience, and are able to continue to buy new, genuine factory parts via the official channels. The only change is we no longer supply brand new Urals.
So that's it really, we work hard, we just about pay the bills and F2 Motorcycles Ltd has grown into a respected but very specialist bike shop. If you are one of the people who had enough faith in me to purchase a motorcycle from the original dodgy looking unit in Banbury I thank you, we could not have achieved all this without loyal customers. I now ride the latest Jawa 350 and a Chang Jiang 650 which is the dogs’ dangley bits - but I'm always on the look out for my very first Ural, which I wish I'd never sold. So if you know of HNN 115N's whereabouts, please let me know......
David Angel - www.f2motorcycles.ltd.uk - email@example.com - 01945 410165