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Dnepr History

The first heavy Russian motorcycles were the NATI-A-750/PMZ A 750, produced from 1933 until 1939. They were V-twin SV 750s in a pressed steel frame with a leaf spring front suspension based on the early BMW units. They were replaced by the M-72, which was first produced in 1941 in Moscow. 1753 units were assembled before the 1st Moscow Motorcycle Factory (MMZ) began its arduous relocation first to Kazan, then Chelabinsk, then Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) and finally Irbit. The factory arrived late in 1941 and produced its first motorcycles at the end of February 1942. Also, the TIZ AM-600 can be considered a heavy motorcycle, so I guess the M-72 was the third production heavy motorcycle.)

Many Dneprs
Interesting Dnepr photo links:
TMZ-53  |   TIZ-AM-600  |   NATI-PMZ  |   More NATI-PMZ
These motorcycles were called the M-72. They were created to fill the needs of the Russian Army first and foremost. The M-72 was a Russian adaptation of the finest motorcycle in the world at that time - the BMW R-71. (Far from being the finest motorcycle in the world at that time - the BMW R71 was a reject. The Wehrmacht rejected the R71 as a replacement for the R12 and instructed BMW to build the Zündapp KS 750 under license. BMW quickly cobbled together the R75 as a face-saving means of compliance).

Soviet engineers copied R-71 without any drawings, charts or documentation of any kind. They had to copy every detail, match the materials and production technologies. Their success proved that the Russian engineers, while perhaps not up to speed in the subtleties of design, were capable of 'deconstructing' a proven good design and making it even better to suit the harsh conditions of Russian Military use. (OK - that's the "official" story. The truth is that the Soviets licensed the R71 from BMW to be built at three plants - Leningrad (St Petersburg), Moscow and Kharkov. Workers from these plants and the ancillary plants were sent to Bavaria to learn on the tools that they would be using in the plants. The only changes to the R71 were a 22L fuel tank instead of the original 14L, grab rails and a Wehrmacht sidecar. It was not until 1944 that the clutch mechanism was changed to twin plates, the plunger reinforcements were added and the sidecar wheel received the second support. Some sources claim that the final drive ratio was changed from 3.89 to 4.625 in 1944, others assert that this change did not occur until the Red Army captured Eissenach in 1945.) Although the M-72 never had a driven sidecar wheel or reverse gear, a modification known as the M-73 with an engagable sidecar drive and a sidecar brake was developed in 1943/4 but was never put into mass production due to the ready availability of jeeps by this time. The plant in Irbit switched to civilian production around 1954 in order that the Russian people could have mechanized transportation.

A couple of years prior to that, the government opened a production plant in Kiev, Ukraine that was devoted to the highest quality military production. This is the plant in which the Dnepr motorcycle was produced. In 1949 the GMZ plant at Gorkiy (Nizhniy Novogorod) was transferred to the KMZ factory in Kiev to manufacture the M-72 for the Soviet Armed forces. KMZ was set up in 1945 on the site of the 8th Armoured Car/Tank Repair Base to build the K-1B a 98cc, 2-stroke motorcycle received from the German Wanderer plant as reparations. This motorcycle and the 3-wheeled invalid carriage, the K-1V, were built until 1952 when production facilities were transferred to SMZ (Serpukhov Motozavod). The first M-72s were built by KMZ in 1952 when they received 500 engines from IMZ. In 1959 a 'modernized' bike first appeared - the K-750. It had lost the old plunger frame design in favor of a swinging arm design that gave more suspension travel and a better ride quality over rough terrain. (Some documents say 1958 others 1959. Soviet documents often include prototypes in the production year runs.) The first production OHV engine was the M-52 of 1957, a 494cc engine rated at 24 PS. The first 650 was the M-61 of 1958 and it was rated at 28PS. At the Kiev factory the OHV engine was also created for the K-650 motorcycle. The K-650 was released in November 1967 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. It was rated at 32 PS and appears to be the first model from KMZ to be called a Dnepr. It owes its engine ancestry to the Zündapp KS 750. Despite the claims of many BMW enthusiasts, the K-650 is not a copy of the /5 as it predates it by 3 years. In 1971 Dnepr MT-9 changed this model. This motorcycle had gearbox with reverse and half-automatic clutch. In 1974 the Irbit factory started to produce the M-67, and the Kiev factory started Dnepr MT-10. Both bikes were then equipped with 12 volt electrical systems. Higher powered 36 PS engines came with the MT-10-36 and the M-67-36 of 1976. (Interestingly, the MT-10 seems to have been constructed with a M-67 style frame, whereas the MT-10-36 definitely had the older style swing-arm frame.) The Kiev factory at the same time produced motorcycles with 2-wheel drive called Dnepr 12 with K-750M engine, frame and suspensions. Change came about rather slowly in the Kiev factory over the years - reliability was almost always favored over innovation. The Dnepr improved steadily in its quality and reliability while retaining the rugged, easy to service benchmark that had been achieved years earlier with the first M-72. In the years since, Dnepr has proven to be a valuable asset in the military's arsenal - the unstoppable vehicle that the Russian army had been looking for. The Red Army also had many thousands of unstoppable vehicles in the form of captured KS750s and R75s. And under reparations arrangements, they received parts to keep them serviceable for many years. This probably explains why the Red Army did not require the manufacture of 2WD motorcycles before the 1964, though both IMZ and KMZ had built prototypes in the 1950s. More than 1,500,000 Dnepr motorcycles have been produced for the armed forces around the world.

The finest Soviet Army bike ever produced in the USSR was the TMZ-53 made in Tuemen, east of Irbit. This bike was essentially a BMW R75 with a M-72 based 1000cc engine. Soviet engineers under the direction of Ya. V. Kagan copied the R75 without any drawings, charts or documentation of any kind. They did copy every detail, match the materials and production technologies. Their success proved that the Soviet engineers were capable of 'deconstructing' a proven good design and making it even better to suit the harsh conditions of Red Army use. It is perhaps this bike that led to the legend of the "five BMWs purchased through Swedish intermediaries." It is not known how many of these bikes were built, probably only a few hundred and production ceased in 1943. It is only speculation on my part, but it was probably due to the shortage of aluminum. By 1943 M-72s in Irbit and probably also Gorky were being built with cast iron crankcases, gearcases and final drive housings. It was not until the war's end that they reverted to using aluminum for these components.

It should also be noted that the M-72 was not the most common bike in the Red Army during the war. Far from it. Only 9799 M-72 were produced by all factories from 1940 to May 9, 1945. The US however provided 35,170 motorcycle and 32,200 arrived all H-D WLA and Indian 741. The British also supplied some 20,000 motorcycles. The most common Red Army motorcycle during the war was a WLA fitted with a GMZ sidecar.

It's probably very fitting that the WLA was the most numerous Soviet motorcycle, for it is highly likely that the Soviets provided the M-72 plans to both H-D and Indian allowing for the production of the XA and 841. Just like the "official" Soviet version of the origin of the M-72, the "official" US version of the origin of the XA and 841 doesn't hold water.