Production of the MT-11 started in 1985, as an all-purpose civilian machine. Top speed was around 105 kilometers per hour, or just over 65 mph. The engine made a claimed 32 horsepower at the beginning, though it bumped up a bit over the course of the MT-11's run. The gearbox had four speeds and a reverse gear. Later on, the MT-16 came along—which took the basic idea of the MT-11 but made it 2WD (which the MT-11 was not).
The MT-11 is, of course, one of many sidecar descendants of the former Soviet-era M72, which was derived from the civilian-market BMW R71. For those unfamiliar, the sidevalve-engined, 750cc R71 was originally meant to replace the R12, which was in heavy use by German military forces of the time. The R12 had a cheap, pressed-steel frame, which wasn’t exactly suitable for the stresses of sidecars. Meanwhile, the R71 utilized a shiny, new tubular steel frame—which worked much better on sidecar duty.
Still, the R71 proved to be rather unpopular, and was quickly phased out in 1941, after just three years of production. The exact details of how its designs ended up in the hands of Soviet engineers of the time are, unfortunately, lost to the ravages of World War II.
However, the 1939 signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union is widely believed to have granted licensing rights for the R71 to the Soviets. The war helped bring about the evolution of both IMZ and KMZ—those acronyms are short for Irbitskiy Mototsikletnyi Zavod and Kyivskyi Mototsikletnyi Zavod, or “Irbit Motorcycle Factory” and “Kyiv Motorcycle Factory,” respectively; IMZ went on to rebrand as Ural, while KMZ rebranded as Dnepr)—as well. Prior to WWII, motorcycles were made in Moscow, but the relocation of the factories to Irbit and Kyiv seemed a wiser strategy during wartime.
At some point in IMZ’s history, the company seems to have claimed that the designs were stolen and/or reverse-engineered from the R71. Now, that obviously makes a handy bit of propaganda if you want to say you stole the enemy’s designs to use against them. Who wouldn’t be interested in that story, simply as a narrative framing device?
However, as we all know, real life is often not so simple. Even though there aren’t official documents to point to regarding licensing agreements, it seems significant that although BMW pursued design infringement claims against other companies prior to the war, it did not do so against the Soviets. This key point, along with other detailed pieces of information, is part of engineer PJ Ballard’s compelling and well-researched case for why the M72 was almost certainly produced under license from BMW (don’t worry, we’ll link it in our Sources).
[Endnote: To tie this all up with a neat little bow, Ukrainian electric bike maker Delfast, which we mentioned in discussing MT-11 use during the 2022 Russo-Ukraine war, now owns the Dnepr IP in 2022. In fact, the e-bike maker recently revived the Dnepr name in a world record electric motorcycle run during the pandemic.
In an interview we did with Delfast CEO Daniel Tonkopi earlier in 2022, he told us that going forward, the brand will be known under the Ukrainian pronunciation and spelling of “Dnipro.”]