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The good, the bad, AND ...??
...an overview of sidecars and driving one


Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer
http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecarbasics.htm
sidecar section, item SC1A


Sidecars have been around for a very long time, probably since the late 1800's.   Sidecars were very widely used in Europe, still are.  In the USA, sidecars are relatively rare.  Today, to those who see them, a sidecar rig often creates a response that is a mixture of emotions, nostalgia, good times, etc.   Most everyone likes a sidecar rig and its pilot, the sidecarist.   Sidecar rigs carry more than a motorcycle can safely.  They don't fall down on slippery roads.  Most sidecar outfits do fine on slippery even snowy roads.  Sidecars do not carry the stigma that motorcycling in general carries with the public.  The public LIKES sidecars, WANTS to stop and chat, WANTS to have you take them for a drive!  MOST sidecars have QUIET exhausts, and the public LIKES that!  Sidecarists also tend to be extra courteous and friendly.

Sidecar rigs are used all over the world for commercial purposes, for basic transportation, and for just plain fun.

Spouses may prefer a sidecar to the rear pillion of the bike.  

It is quite possible that your riding season will be extended to year-round.  

Sidecar rigs in Asia, India, and China are considerably different.  Typically they are a SMALL engine (low displacement) motorcycle with a platform sidecar, and are built to haul the entire family AND a LOT of goods, all at the same time, as cheaply as possible.

An image folks in the USA have, is that motorcycles are typically not workhorses, but toys of some form or another, & that a sidecar rig is a substitute for motorcycles ...for old or handicapped folks not capable of handling two-wheeled motorcycles. There can well be some truth in those ideas ...but it is hardly the full story.  

There is a small percentage of motorcyclists who commute on their bikes, some year-round, some don't own cars.  A much larger percentage use motorcycles for yearly vacations or other trips. Sidecars can and do carry much more than two-wheelers, and this can include the spouse, children, and/or family dog(s), not to mention the much larger cargo carrying capacity.    While many motorcyclists put their motorcycles into storage in the Winter, many sidecarists enjoy driving them in Winter...after all, sidecars don't 'fall down' when in snowy, icy, muddy conditions.   In the USA in particular, sidecaring is, or is nearly, a way of life for many, and sidecaring is JUST PLAIN FUN!

Sidecars were always popular in Europe, but not so much in the U.S. (since somewhat before and during the Depression of the thirties).   In the U.S., 'trikes' were used for many decades for all sorts of things, including delivery of mail, goods, pizza, whatever.  Sidecars were used a lot prior to the Depression.

The Harley Davidson 'trike' was popular, with its "45" engine, in the Eastern Seaboard areas; but was also used out West for traffic/parking control by the police, and sometimes for a delivery vehicle.  In the last several decades, TRIKE conversions have become popular, with conversions using a Harley Davidson or Honda motorcycle being exceptionally valued.  Trikes have few advantages over sidecar rigs.  They are, more or less, balanced in operations to the left, to the right, ...and straight-forward (as in braking). They can be quite wide, but usually not as wide as a sidecar rig (especially a 2 person type).  Trikes are easier to learn to operate.

Sidecar rigs have some advantages, some are pronounced.  One huge advantage is the passenger/cargo area, and there are numerous other advantages.  I won't get any deeper into these ideas and variations, motorcycles to trike or sidecar, trike to sidecar, sidecar to trike.  Today, all sorts of interesting variations on motorcycles ...very broadly speaking ...are available.

There has always been sidecare groups in the U.S.   Since the late 1980's, sidecars have become moe popular again, & this trend is likely to continue.  More sidecar outfits are on the road today than just a few decades ago.   COMPLETE sidecars rigs are manufactured by only a few world-wide companies today.   Complete sidecar outfits, from the motorcycle frame and engine right to the finished drivable product, are produced in China, Russia, and by Harley Davidson in the USA (prior to ~2009, HD only supplied the sidecar and the bikes, the HD dealerships mated them).  HD is also again producing trikes (but modernized).   My suspicion is that considerably more trikes are produced than sidecar rigs, but I have no specific facts to back this up.

A motorcycle with a sidecar attached has numerous names, and sidecar folks themselves use terms like the following to describe either the sidecar, or the entire rig, or the tug, etc:
Rigs; Hacks; Chairs; Outfits; Combinations ....heck, even Sidecar and Sidecar Rig!  Gespanne is also used.

Sidecar rigs have been designed & built from simple and conventional to complex or even outrageous, and ridden (actually we sidecarists usually say they are DRIVEN) in almost every sort of imaginable way.  Some rigs have the motorcycle still capable of leaning, see http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/flexit.htm, some have this down so well that the motorcycle handles just like, or nearly, a motorcycle. 

Some sidecar rigs have two wheel drive, the rear wheel of the motorcycle (the motorcycle is called 'the tug') and the sidecar wheel.  The most well-known is the URAL, which are also available in conventional single wheel drive.   Some rigs are double wide, some 'chairs' are hearses, dog or hay or whatever carriers ...or other types of cargo carriers, anything you could dream-up, including detachable boats.  This website has some really strange sidecar rig photos on it, to give an idea of what has been done.  While some of the photos of sidecar rigs are scattered throughout this website, here is one page that has some 'interesting' ones:  http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecar-humor.htm

There is an entire sidecar section of articles on this website, near the very bottom of:
http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/technical-articles-list.htm

Having a sidecar may require the motorcycle to be serviced more often, due to the loads, strain, etc.   This need not be excessive, and properly done sidecar rigs do NOT have excessive maintenance requirements. The maintenance on the sidecar itself is usually low.

Sidecar outfits do NOT handle like cars, do NOT handle like motorcycles, do NOT handle like trikes, and CAN BE dangerous for the novice.   Those with NO experience should NOT simply venture out onto road traffic.   Novices/Newbies, whether very experienced motorcyclists or not, should take instruction, preferably formal, but a REAL regimen of learning and practice will do.   Information on setting up and also on driving sidecars, in depth, will be easily found on the Internet, at:
http://www.sidecar.com       Click at the top of the page in the red area at Links & Books, then click on Books and Articles.

In general, countries where driving is on the right, as in the U.S., have sidecars mounted on the RIGHT side of the motorcycle.  The reverse is also true, sidecars are mounted on the left in England, etc, where driving is done on the other side of the road.   Having a sidecar mounted on the 'wrong' side in a particular country can be dangerous, as your field of view for oncoming cars is poorer the closer you are to a vehicle in front of you. In addition, an oncoming car might be more inclined to turn in front of you, 'just past' the end of that truck, bus, etc., in front of your sidecar rig ...because they did not see you easily enough.   If you think about this, no matter if the sidecar is on the right or left, do not drive too close to the vehicle in front of you.   This is also good advice for a motorcyclist.

An experienced sidecarist can easily transition from one country situation to another; and same for 2 to 3 to 2 wheels.   Some motorcyclists with NO or little sidecaring experience, especially without training, have said that it is difficult for a motorcyclist to transition to a sidecar rig, and vice-versa.   This is NOT TRUE!

You will likely find the initial sidecar experience exhilarating, and while you will need training/practice, you will not likely have problems going back and forth between a motorcycle and a sidecar rig.  I do suggest that when getting on either, that you say, ACTUALLY OUT-LOUD TO YOURSELF, that you are on whichever one it is.    If transitioning back to a motorcycle, do remember to put down your left foot at a stop sign!

Sidecar rigs place a lot of forces onto a motorcycle that the motorcycle may well not have been designed for.   These forces must be taken into account during the design of the frame, attachments, suspension, tires, etc.    Some motorcycles will require many modifications, including a subframe.   Some actually require an entirely new frame.  One could write a huge number of words on all the variations.

One is said to RIDE a motorcycle, and DRIVE a sidecar outfit.    This is not an article on how to drive one; although I have hints later and in other articles.   GOOD articles on how to drive a rig are available in booklet/book form; as well as free on the Internet from such as the Ural folks, and from the late Hal Kendall, who posted them on http://www.sidecar.com

Sidecars have been made as very small ones to fit something like a Vespa scooter, to something as large as for the largest Harley-Davidson or Honda product.   Sidecars have been made that are capable of carrying half a dozen+ kids!   As an example, the school-bus types. There are bicycle-based sidecar rigs, and these are quite commonly seen in the Far East.


Things to know & consider:

The sidecar creates noticeable drag component. This comes from air resistance as well as the sidecar tire friction with the surface.   MUCH more horsepower is needed & will be used when driving with a sidecar, for the same speeds and conditions on a 2-wheeler. Fuel mileage will decrease.    A rigidly-mounted sidecar rig is susceptible to moving to one side of the road or the other, due to the crown and slope of the road (and, slope and crown on even flat-appearing freeways can change between your lane and the one next to you), and while some sidecar rig designs are adjustable for such, perhaps electrically via a control on the bars, most are not.   Thus, handling CAN be constantly changing.   A properly set-up and aligned conventional sidecar rig will have a minimum of these effects, and is normally set up for the more frequent-traveled-roads.  Resaying:  when one rides a motorcycle, the handling on a flat road is the same, left and right (with variations due to camber of course), but the basics are the same:  countersteering and leaning, and throttle on and off, etc., gives the same general sort of response.  NOT so on a sidecar rig.

When one drives a sidecar rig, one will find that going faster means greater drag from the sidecar, which tends to make the rig turn towards the sidecar ...which YOU must compensate for, by electric lean, more muscle, or some other method, depending on the setup.  Most sidecars are aligned and set up so that at the normal speeds and loads used, they track, more or less, straight down the road.  A well set-up sidecar rig WILL drive nearly the same from slow to high speeds.  Such alignment can take some time to achieve, playing with adjustments one at a time.

In a more basic driving description, one steers a sidecar rig just like a car ...up to a point....  BUT....when the sidecar outfit is making a turn towards the sidecar, if the turn is tight enough, and/or fast enough, forces will eventually cause the sidecar wheel to come off the ground. A small amount of sidecar wheel lifting is of no concern, is normal, and there is NO CHANGE IN STEERING ...there is NO STEERING REVERSAL ...NO COUNTERSTEERING NEEDED.   You need to practice.  It is not at all dangerous ...any danger is likely only IF YOU PANIC.

At some point, generally if the driving style is QUITE brisk/aggressive, if the wheel comes WAY off the ground enough (this will be VERY steep), the motorcycle with the sidecar attached, will want to GO THE OTHER WAY!   This is at the balance point.  The sidecar wheel will be WAY high off the road.    At this point you can have steering reversion.   Your rig has now decided to be a motorcycle.  You are riding to one side of center of the tires ...and seriously leaning ...just as in a hard turn on a motorcycle.  This can be extremely dangerous for the INexperienced; and even for experienced sidecarists, because this situation is almost never practiced.    Stunt drivers do it, in straight lines or turns.   There is NO GOOD REASON TO DO THIS SORT OF STUNTING or SHOW-OFFING.

Many folks describe any time the sidecar wheel is not in contact with the surface, as "Flying The Chair", but REAL flying of the chair is to the that just-mentioned tip-over or balance point, the center of gravity being, at that point, over the line between front and rear wheels of the tug. You have to be an idiot, or a show-off, to get to that point.   But, Flying is the word used, quite often generically, for any time that the chair wheel is off the ground ANY amount.  It is wrong to use it that way, but that is how it is used by many, if not most.   Just the sidecar wheel bobbling on and off the ground is NOT AT ALL truly flying the chair.  In fact, it is NORMAL at times.   There is in-depth information on this website:  http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecarcountersteering.htm

It is UNlikely for the normal average, even spirited/aggressive sidecarist, to EVER get near so much of an angle as to truly fly the chair and thus experience steering reversion.  

In normal driving in sharper turns or big sweeping turns (and even sometimes straight ahead in strong winds at highway speeds), the sidecar wheel may lift a bit, and backing off on the throttle provides instant re-contact.   There is NO steering reversion, contrary to what some writers would have you believe.  THEY ARE WRONG!   A sidecar rig, with the sidecar wheel off the ground in normal such usage, is 'steered' normally, NO steering reversion.   See later herein, with my disagreement with ONE small section of some published booklets ...or, just go to the link, above.

At this point I have covered turning towards the sidecar, now I will get into turns in the other direction:

When you turn away from the sidecar, if the speed and turn is sufficiently aggressiveness or sharp, or some combination, you could cause the sidecar nose to dig into the ground, causing a spectacular flip and serious accident.   If you picture this in your mind you will see that as the sidecar outfit is steered away from the sidecar, the motorcycle rear suspension will EXtend and depending on various factors such as how much the sidecar wheel axle is ahead ('leading') of the motorcycle rear axle (if any, some Harley and other rigs do not have 'lead'), the motorcycle suspension is extending more and more ...and the rear wheel may actually lift off the ground before you dig in the nose.   Most sidecarists will experience the feeling of the rear suspension rising in a turn away from the sidecar, and will feel the rig bobbling, for lack of a better word, as the rear suspension lifts enough, and the sidecar nose moves some towards the ground.   This is a signal to either back off your aggressiveness or to reduce speed.  I avoid getting to a serious point of sidecar nose going down too much.  The reason is that it does not take too much more (depending a LOT on the particular rig) to cause the nose to dig-in, and you to then flip the rig.  This can happen VERY SUDDENLY.

Having an excessive amount of weight at and behind the motorcycle rear axle, such as a passenger on the rear of the motorcycle seat, will add INERTIA when turning, and in this situation one must be EXCEPTIONALLY careful, and it is best to avoid a situations. It is definitely best to put passengers in the sidecar, where their weight CONSIDERABLY HELPS handling on turns TOWARDS the sidecar, & has only small effects on turns away from the sidecar.

Sidecar wheel leads of zero to 12 inches are common.  The more LEAD the sidecar wheel is forward of the tug rear axle, the more the tire wear, due to scuffing on turns.  As in ALL sidecar things, the lead amount is a compromise.  Typical leads are 6 to 8 inches.  The selection of wheel lead when building a rig is a subject unto itself.

Driving a sidecar rig vigorously & aggressively ....and/or just competently ....will require more skill than simple motorcycling.    Most folks learn to handle a sidecar rig competently, decently, and safely, after just one weekend of instruction & practice.  They won't be competent for very aggressive and very fast driving, but they will be safe, and be having A LOT OF FUN. 

But, lest you might be told or believe otherwise, a competent driver with a very high performance 'rig' may outperform a solo motorcycle, even in the twisties.

Some sidecar outfits require a fair amount of muscle energy to drive, particularly in the mountains or other twisty roads.  Thus, some rigs can be especially tiring on trips, and you may also find that your usual motorcycling road speeds will be reduced, for a variety of reasons.  You may find that if 700 miles is your limit any day on a solo bike, that 300-500 is your limit on a sidecar.  In general, sidecar rigs with car tires, which are considerably wider than motorcycle tires, take more energy to muscle-around.

Do not enter into the world of sidecars without a LOT of pre-investigation, pre-planning, and reading and discussions!   Try to get rides in several types of sidecar rigs, and try to have a few people 'loan' you the sidecar rig, whilst they sit in the sidecar, and talk you through some mild beginner-type driving in big open areas.


Here are some resources:

1. Driving a Sidecar Outfit, a booklet.
2. Driving the Ural Sidecar Motorcycle, a booklet, most any Ural Dealer has one.

The late Dr. Hal Kendall had a CD available before he died, but his information IS AVAILABLE FOR FREE, on the Internet.  I HIGHLY SUGGEST you go to http://www.sidecar.com and download the material ...and print it!
  One of the available publications is a translation of a German booklet that is very good, if very technical.   There is a place to click for Hal's publications, that you can download for free, near the top of that website, in a red block area.

Join the United Sidecar Association (USCA).  Obtain a copy of "Riding with a Sidecar".  The USCA has sidecar rallies, scattered across the lower 48 of the USA.  They can be a lot of fun.  In 2009, the USCA National Sidecar Rally was held at Lake Tahoe, California, and my wife and I were the organizers and hosts.  If you are interested in sidecaring, and would like to see a LOT of sidecar rigs at one time at one place, DO go to one of the major sidecar rallies, if you can.   You will find yourself looking, asking, having many conversations, etc.    You may see me there.

My PRIMARY disagreement with the Yellow Book, as it is called due to the color of the cover(s) (and the URAL book, which is practically the same information, inside) .....is with, at least, early versions of the books:  David Hough's wording (and, again, my my total disagreement is JUST with the  descriptions on steering reversion) (and, generally, no disagreement at any other place with these books). I think the way flying the sidecar and reversion is presented deadly wrong.  Other than that, these are GREAT books, and WILL help you quickly learn how to handle a rig.  This may be fixed in a later edition...but I presently do not know.   See http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecarcountersteering.htm   that is an article on this subject, on this website.

Yahoo Groups has a sidecar list ...I ADVISE YOU TO JOIN!
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SCT/info

http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecartech.htm on this website for some URL contacts, etc. ...for the literature you WILL want.

Here is a link for the training folks at Evergreen: http://www.esc.org/   I have a few disagreements with the Evergreen organization and its policies, but you will be prepared, if you read the free downloaded booklets from http://sidecar.com.



Revisions:
Initial release:  03/09/2004
05/24/2004:  Add link to sidecartech.htm.
05/26/2004:  Add esc link.
09/04/2004:  Update.
10/26/2004:  URL's.
07/21/2005:  Minor editing.
07/24/2005:  Corrected Hal Kendall's e-mail address; expand on comments, driving with the sidecar on the 'wrong' side; minor other editing.
04/26/2006:  Update Hack'd information.
01/15/2010:  Remove Hack'd information, as Hack'd is no longer published.  Clean up a few other areas, for clarity.
10/14/2012:  Add QR code, add language button, update Google Ad-Sense code.
06/11/2013:  Update Hal's e-mail address. 
Sometime in 2013, removed the language button due to javascript problems.
03/28/2014:  Update the article.  Remove links to Hal's E-mail, etc.
03/28/2016:  Update meta codes; revise article for better use with small devices; format, layout, details.
11/13/2016:  Cleanup.

Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Sunday, November 13, 2016