In the early ‘90s, if you presented this stamped sheet of paper at a bakery in Irbit, you’d have received six 1kg loaves of bread in return. Operating in a collapsed economy, the company supported its workforce and the town it was located in by dispatching crafty employees to trade sidecars, tools and parts for supplies. In effect, it created its own economy.
Why bread? Well, similar coupons books were printed for other everyday items too. If you wanted something a little less common, an exchange rate could be worked out between it and whatever item you had coupons for. But bread was popular not just because families needed it to survive, but because the factory actually received a bakery’s worth of equipment in trade for a batch of sidecars, putting it into operation within their facility. The quality of the bread it produced was so good, it actually threatened the survival of Irbit’s established bakery, causing tension with the community.
The horse-trading didn’t just take place inside Russias borders either. The Egyptian military paid for an order of sidecars with bullion cubes. The residents of Irbit ate soup for months.
The problem was that the raw materials and human effort that went into building a sidecar or its component parts didn’t translate terribly well into liquid currency and the full value of the machines wasn’t realized in the grey market. Even with bizarre bread-for-motorcycle exchange rates, Ural was still selling its products at a loss.
This did nothing for the company’s domestic reputation and essentially destroyed the potential market for its goods as the Russian economy stabilized in the late ‘90s. The horse-trading actually continued until 2000, when Ilya took control. Stamping it out was one of his immediate priorities. It fed Ural’s workers and their families for years, but helped virtually destroy the company too.