SIDECARING and SIDECARISTS:
Flying the chair;
Practicing, becoming competent.
SUGGESTED PRELIMINARY READING: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/sidecarbasics.htm
If you drive your sidecar rig, even straight ahead, and a very substantial side-wind gust hits you and the rig; or, if you are in a reasonable turn at reasonable speed, and a modest to strong gust of wind hits you, the sidecar wheel might lift off the road surface. Unless conditions are quite extreme, the sidecar is not going to lift much, but any lifting may concern you, and if concerned, just slow down, back off the throttle.
In any turn towards the sidecar, depending on sharpness and speed, wind, etc. ....the sidecar wheel may lift. Normally, there is nothing much to be concerned about. If concerned, just slow down by backing off the throttle. There are variables if using the brakes (sidecar brake only? Coupled to tug brakes? To both front and rear? Only rear? etc!). I won't get into definitive instructions on using brakes here.If you are driving the rig briskly, and are experienced and competent, the sidecar wheel might come off the ground relatively often, and somewhat higher. Until conditions are extreme, just back off the throttle. DO NOT PANIC!
Every so often there is a discussion about 'flying the chair'; or 'steering reversion'; or 'counter-steering'; on the SCT or some other List or Forum, or around the campfire, etc. MANY "Purists" have a strong belief that folks should NOT be using the word 'flying' for minor excursions of the sidecar wheel coming off the ground. In a technical sense, that is quite correct. But, on a practical basis, "Flying The Chair" has become ingrained into sidecaring lore and talk, to mean any time the sidecar wheel lifts off the ground, no matter how little. My thinking is that the common usage, 'flying the chair' meaning for any time the wheel is any amount off the ground, will continue to prevail; but, both types of descriptions will remain in use, so, it can be important, sometimes, to SPECIFY what one means.
I don't mind the common usage ...BUT ...I do have some reservations! ...and I try to use the term properly, in a Technical Sense ...that is, the sidecar wheel height above the road is such that the tilt of the sidecar rig is well below any possible steering reversion happening.
The confusion, well, over-misuse of the saying, may well have come about for a number of reasons, besides such as ego gratification (bragging?) by a sidecarist who likely has never REALLY flown the chair, but only lifted the sidecar wheel a bit. A possible secondary reason is because of two widespread sidecarists publications ...and the perpetuation of false statements and false interpretations that is ever so common in our society. I specifically refer to the booklet almost always referred to as "The Yellow Book", entitled "Driving a Sidecar Outfit" ...and also to the book, "Driving the Ural Sidecar Motorcycle". These are both available to read or print for free from the internet, besides being available for purchase in print. Sometimes these books are handed out at sidecar dealerships, etc.
Both of these books, as good as they are, and they ARE really good books ...have/had SERIOUS errors ...in one very specific area. A revised edition has SUPPOSEDLY cleaned up some of this ...but, perhaps not all. I have yet to read the revised edition.I SUGGEST YOU DO THIS:
IN MY OPINION BOTH BOOKS, in the sections on Steering Reversion & Flying the Car (same title/section, both books) (page 71, Yellow Book; page 64, Ural book ....if revised, pages may be differently numbered now, are ABSOLUTELY WRONG about steering reversion for normal (and even quite high) 'flying' of the sidecar. It is entirely possible for someone to literally take the description and advice and get into serious trouble!
To be fair about this, I think that, in one way of looking at this subject, I am being overly nitpicking and harsh on those publications. In another way; however, failure to understand things properly can lead to disaster, even death. It is my strong desire that you learn to properly handle a sidecar rig, understand "how and why"; keep out of trouble, and THOROUGHLY ENJOY sidecaring. In keeping with that, I offer this short article you are reading, and offer many more sidecarist articles from me on this website. I ask that you PRACTICE acceleration, braking, turning, lifting the sidecar wheel, etc. I do NOT ask, EVER! that you practice, or even ever do, true, classical, steering reversion; that means lifting the sidecar wheel so very high that the rig is at the balance point. I've taught it as stunt riding, in figure eights formation, a most difficult maneuver, but almost never do that teaching anymore.
My major concern is when someone has their sidecar wheel come up some ... and it need NOT come up way far, either! ...in fact, the wheel need only lift off the tarmac the slightest amount. The driver will identify that situation as a considerable change in steering feel. If the driver follows that wrong book advice, that is, they wrongly & strictly follow the interpretation or advice ...they may/will turn away from the chair when that chair wheel is UP only modestly. That can lead to a real problem, in my opinion, under certain circumstances.
When someone is first learning to drive a sidecar rig, they often get 'advice' from friends, etc., to 'watch out' for lifting/flying the sidecar wheel. Actually, a bit of lifting now and then IS normal for sidecar driving. Sidecar driving practice should intentionally include some, but not extreme, sidecar wheel lifting. But, there may be apprehension, even fear, initially. Even if that occurs, with even a quite small amount of practice, that almost always lessens very quickly, and OFTEN goes the other way ...lifting the sidecar wheel becoming a fun thing to do. One should, in MY opinion, not be the type of person that 'shows-off' by purposely lifting the sidecar wheel, unless it is part of a formal handling lesson or a practice session. Yes, it is certainly possible to drive down a street for a long distance, with the sidecar wheel rather high in the air (whether or not at the technical Flying point); yes, it is certainly possible for a well-experienced sidecarist to lift the sidecar wheel and rotate the sidecar rig such that the sidecar wheel is above curb level, as the rig swings into a parking spot, ending up backwards. These things are not normal everyday occurrences. These are SHOWING OFF.
I strongly believe that someone just beginning to learn to drive a rig should start out in a huge EMPTY parking lot or HUGE flat open area ...at quite low speeds ...with no nearby obstacles. A flat PAVED OR GRASSY area is near perfect, and can eliminate serious changes from bumps, etc., that would otherwise make it more difficult to learn proper technique. In fact, that type of area is perfect for even an advanced sidecarist to practice on. If you have a choice, start on grass ...it is slippery, especially noticeable at nearly any (even quite slow) speed in turns ...and you will learn slightly quicker.
It is normal for humans to react in certain ways, often wrongly, when they feel certain forces ...in particular those brought about by their use of machinery. Knowing what to do, and having it ingrained into one's brain by actually practicing and remembering, is how we become competent and safe. Airplane pilots are well-trained in this respect. If not trained, your body may tell you something, and coupled with an untrained reflex of fixing or fixating on the 'sudden problem' ...you could then have a much bigger problem. The Yellow Book and the Ural version of it, can be confusing to the amateur; who may do the wrong thing IN THIS ONE AREA I will now more deeply discuss.
No one should be advocating for normal driving being such as going into a turn towards the chair with excessive speed or sudden extreme direction change, and thereby whipping the chair to extreme heights, to where steering reversion may exist. In fact, MOST who are showing off their prowess at 'flying the chair' do NOT lift the chair that far either. Once the chair is really truly exceptionally high up, steering reversion CAN take place. That is where things get interesting, to say the least. Practice, Practice, Practice, is, of course, the bottom line here. I don't advocate practice to the reversion point, unless the Student asks, and I or a competent instructor is there to intensely supervise.
Steering reversion takes place when the sidecar could tilt further to either side, by a slight change in forces. This means that the sidecar rig is at the balance point. This is the TIP OVER POINT that is talked about. At this point the sidecar wheel is usually VERY HIGH UP IN THE AIR! There is another way that reversion or tipover can occur, hardly ever talked about, and my only mention will be in this paragraph. That is when the sidecar receives a very sudden and very exceptionally huge amount of force. This could happen with the sidecar tire hitting a very large obstacle. The forces are so high that you cannot recover and the rig is tipped over.
If you want to feel what simple steering reversion is like ...actually what the actual tilt and wheel lift required, ...and do this in a TOTALLY SAFE manner, ...without having to be driving the sidecar rig, ....you need to enlist the aid of a friend. While you may be big and heavy enough to stand on the tug's outside footpeg to cause the chair to lift, you won't be able to get the real feel unless you are sitting on the tug's seat! I consider this little demonstration for you to be something you SHOULD do! Here is how to do it quite safely ...with the engine off:
Sit on the tug's seat in normal position, handlebars straight forward, hands on the bars in normal position. I suggest you hold the front brake lever with moderate pressure. Have your friend LIFT the far side of the sidecar as described. If your friend cannot immediately lift the sidecar rig, you can help start the process for him by you leaning considerably away from the sidecar rig, shifting your weight in that direction, and it can be helpful for you to stand on your 'away' foot on the footpeg. Let your friend slowly lift the sidecar and as it rises considerably, YOU BE SURE to move your weight and foot back to a NORMAL seating position on the seat. Let your friend continue lifting, and let HIM feel where the balance point is. BE SURE to ask him if he has a solid grip! The balance point is where a minimum pressure is required by HIM to balance the sidecar rig. Have him hold the sidecar rig AT THE BALANCE POINT. YOU should be noticing how HIGH the sidecar wheel is! If you wish, you can inform the friend that you will be shifting your weight slowly and gently, back and forth a bit, if so, see next paragraph. See what all this feels like to you.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that your friend does NOT remove his hands, as the sidecar could drop, hard. Still at this balance point that your helper has determined, YOU will find that YOU can control the balance, by simply shifting your weight a bit to the left or right. Try it, but be sure your helper knows you are going to do it, as his forces will change some. NOTE THE ANGLE OF THE SIDECAR, what you feel like, etc...with respect to the ground, etc. Extreme, isn't it! Note that the sidecar rig balance can go either way with a modest change in your seating position. THIS is the steering reversion point. One last test: Again tell your helper you will be making a change; and, this time, continue to have the forks pointed straight ahead to start with, you seated squarely. NOW>>>MOVE the forks gently to left of center, then back to center and then move the forks to the right. What happened? THINK about and discuss it!
No matter how fast, how sharply, etc., you turn, you must get to that high angle of balance (give or take perhaps suspension movement) to initiate, or have, steering reversion. If you do not have such a high angle, or relatively close to it, you can steer the sidecar rig normally, turn right to go right, turn left to go left.
Practice lifting the chair wheel a small amount, at slow to moderate speeds, by doing circles of decent diameter, perhaps in a very large paved parking area ...because you NEED to know how to correct, in the case of inadvertent lifting of the sidecar wheel. Someday, sometime, you ARE going to have the chair lift when you do not expect it, perhaps in a highway turn that you are familiar with but are taking just a wee bit faster than normal; or, perhaps a wind gust comes up; or, more likely, you will have misjudged the slope of a road, on a turn you are sure you have the correct speed for. It really is no big deal, and the exercises will almost immediately give you confidence and your fear will disappear. All sidecarists will eventually lift the chair wheel a fair amount for whatever reason, sometimes it is just misjudging the shape of the road. There is no problem if it happens, if you understand what to do ....AND, have muscle/brain memory to do what should be done, immediately.
Having the chair wheel come off the ground a bit is a NORMAL part of sidecar driving. It happens now and then. If the chair wheel lifts a bit, the rig should be completely controllable by STEERING and THROTTLE USE. If you turn a bit more into the chair, the chair may lift a bit more; and then, turn completed, you continue onwards down the road. If you back off the throttle and slow down, the chair wheel will drop right back to the road. Use of brakes is to be avoided until you are ready to experiment with them, and the effect of front and rear brakes are different; and, effect of brakes varies with the make & model and year of motorcycle, and can vary a lot with how the brakes were modified (if they were). Because of all those variables, I am not going to tell you hardly anything about how to use the brakes here. One thing to try to avoid is use of the sidecar wheel brake when the sidecar wheel is in the air ....as if the brake is still ON when the wheel returns to the ground, the rig may try to quickly snap-turn in the sidecar direction. It is also usually best, not to have the sidecar wheel stop rotation, while you are turning, because it will spin up causing a turning mode, when the tire touches the ground. There ARE times the maneuver is useful. Wait until you have the basics mastered.
You should always avoid suddenly whipping into a turn, at any speed ....the wheel can come WAY up, quickly ...but in rare emergency driving, that IS a prime way to avoid some problems with traffic, etc.
Do some practicing:
No need to be aggressive ...nor to use much speed ...these exercizes can all be done below 30 mph ...and often MUCH slower. You want a very large area, that is flat, preferably no bumps, dips, etc., and IDEALLY it is dirt or grass to begin with, but pavement IS OK. The more bumps and irregularities in the surface, the longer it will take you to learn. You might want to lay out some traffic cones, or chalk, etc. ...but, they are not a must.
1. In constant very large circles, use a consistent and quite modest speed, which can be rather low, even 8 mph will do. Practice keeping the same diameter. When you can maintain relatively the same diameter, then begin to tighten the turn in small increments, bit by bit ...until you lift the chair. Try small changes of throttle, and also when repeating the exercise try turning a bit towards and also away from the chair while the wheel is still lifted a bit. Repeat dozens of times!, with every sort of variation of what I have mentioned. Get comfortable with how the sidecar rig handles. Doing this on a slippery surface such as dirt or grass can be helpful as you learn what to do. Be sure to practice braking too. Pay attention to what happens with the wheel lifted a bit, when you then turn left, and also when you then turn right ...these turns need NOT be much change from what you already were turning.
2. Use the same diameter circle, this time not changing the diameter, but this time vary just the speed to cause lifting. Practice reducing throttle and braking.
3. Try moving the speed towards 20 mph, or somewhat beyond. A really big paved parking lot, with no obstructions, on a day where there are no cars is best! You might even find such a practice area behind your Department of Motor Vehicles! ...they often have practice or teaching areas.
4. Consider, strongly, doing these exercises now and then, even if you become a seriously competent sidecarist.
5. Add braking practice at every practice session. Be SURE you not only practice braking straight ahead (and, emergency braking too!), but in turns. Try to learn how to brake that avoids swerving from the braking. Especially practice braking straight ahead, and panic braking straight ahead. You will probably find you skid and turn some; try to brake straight ahead in a panic mode.
6. Figure eights, even quite slow ones, are one of the most difficult maneuvers for both beginners AND experienced sidecarists. When starting out with figure eights, it is helpful to greatly extend the center crossover area, so you have longer straights. Once you can do those adequately, time after time, then bring the two circles closer to each other.
If you practice these SAFE maneuvers a goodly amount, you will fast become a competent sidecarist.
When you reach the point that you can control the rig in figure eights, with the chair wheel constantly off the ground, you are in the quite advanced area.
06/25/2011: Clean up and clarify into plainer language.
03/28/2014: Update article.
10/05/2014: Fixing for smaller screens, clarity, emphasis, etc.
11/08/2014: Minor revisions for clarity, emphasis, and additional practice.
11/13/2016: Scripts, metas, layout, fonts, clarity, fix overly complex HTML.
04/21/2018: Reduce excess HTML; improve layout, clean it up. Somewhat better explanations.
© Copyright 2018, R. Fleischer
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Last check/edit: Monday, May 14, 2018