After racing motorcycles for over 20 years, British Superbike star Chris Walker has added an extra wheel to his career.
hris Walker spent 20 years racing British Superbikes, World Superbikes, World Supersport and 500 GPs and became one of Britain’s most popular riders. In 2016 he switched to three wheels to race in the British Sidecar Championship on a Santander Salt Kawasaki-powered outfit. We asked him how sidecars stack up against superbikes.
What were your first impressions of riding a sidecar?
I didn’t expect it to feel as fast - it feels like a missile because you’re so close to the ground and you’ve got so much more grip. The 0-60mph time is probably the same as a superbike. I was surprised at how race-like a sidecar feels too - they’re very squat, very taut, and the tiniest movement of the steering really has a huge effect.
What was the biggest difference that you had to master?
The huge unknown to me was having a passenger on the side and how important their job is. The outfit either steers or doesn’t steer, and stops or doesn’t stop, depending on how good your passenger is. The job they do is way more involved than I’d ever realised - passengers affect your lap times to an incredible extent. That really blew my mind, so you have to make friends with these guys super-quick because they determine how fast you can go!
How aggressive are sidecar riders compared to superbike riders?
That really took me by surprise too. You have to plan overtakes on a superbike with a certain finesse otherwise you end up touching bars, touching bikes, and you can both end up crashing. On a sidecar, you have to make a gap as opposed to waiting for gap. It’s not quite stock car racing but it’s not far off! The limits are far above what you can get away with on a solo - you can spin it, you can slide it, and you’re not gonna tuck the front, so they’re a lot more brutal in the way they overtake and the way they put a lap together.
How difficult is it to get off the start line on a sidecar?
It’s a balance. If you dump the clutch you just get wheelspin so it’s finding the balance between spin and drive without stalling or bogging it down. The passenger can also help by weighting the rear of the outfit to reduce spin.
Can you brake much later in a sidecar?
Yeah, you can brake much harder and much later than on a superbike - I’d say between 25 and 50 metres later, depending on the corner and the length of the preceding straight. You can also get off the brakes earlier so you’re not trail-braking all the way to the apex. You’re back on the power well before the apex so mid-corner, a sidecar is faster than a superbike.
What about corner exit?
You’ve got the weight of two people and the outfit to haul so corner exit is slower. The drive from 50mph to 150mph is where we really lose out.
What’s the difference in lap times between a superbike and sidecar?
I know that at Brands Hatch Indy the solos will be doing low 45s while the sidecar crews will be doing 48s, so it’s closer than you might think.
Is it actually more fun to race a sidecar?
It’s definitely more of a wild ride! For me, riding a solo is the norm but nothing about riding a sidecar feels normal yet – spinning it, sliding it, having your passenger slap you on the back when you’ve had a moment. There’s a lot of fun to be had in a sidecar, for sure.
Have you ever had a go in the chair?
I went round Mallory park with Mick Boddice once and absolutely crapped myself. Sidecar passengers should all be knighted – they’re a special breed!
Are you a sidecar convert now?
Absolutely. I’m looking at getting a Royal Enfield outfit for the road. I need to start taking my daughter to school in one because she feels like she’s missing out! But I don’t call my racing outfit a sidecar – I call it the time machine because, in changing from superbikes to sidecars, I’ve gone from being the oldest on the grid to one of the youngest on the grid, so I reckon I’ve got another 20-year career ahead of me!
Words: Stuart Baker / Photos: Jamie Morris