An idiots guide to riding a sidecar

Published: 08 June 2016

In theory, it couldn’t be easier. It’s a motorcycle, it’s got a third wheel so you can’t fall off. No need to re-learn all the controls. It’s slower than a solo, so you can’t get into trouble. Yeah, right.

It was a Jawa 350 combo and I was pretty sure it was going to be a doddle, because nothing serious could happen at 45mph. Ha! Within 10 minutes, I nearly clobbered a pedestrian when I let the sidecar wheel bump up the kerb. I didn’t know grannies could be so agile: she hopped, gazelle-like, in the air and I missed her. 

Sidecar outfits are about the only road vehicles that are asymmetric: they behave in completely different ways according to whether you’re turning left or right, and whether you’re accelerating or decelerating. With a left-hand mounted chair (UK chairs are left hand, Euro and USA are right hand mounted), if you accelerate, the outfit swings left. If you brake, it swings right. The one thing you absolutely do not do if you go into a left-hander too fast is brake. Guess what I did? 

The bars snapped straight, the sidecar went up in the air, and I headed straight for the flank of a London bus.  You know how crashes happen in slo-mo? I had time to see every head on the impact side of the bus swivel, and every jaw drop. Thankfully, the outfit stopped a foot away from the bus and the sidecar wheel crashed back to earth.

Right-handers, though, are a hoot.  Yank the bars onto full lock as you slow down, and you almost pivot on the spot. 

Everyone who has ever owned an outfit has crashed. Once you get over that, though, you’ll love them. It will just take a little time and patience in learning to ride one and figuring out which one to buy, so here’s what you need to know...

The following applies to sidecars with a chair mounted on the right.

Going left-field 
Accelerate too hard around a left-hander and the bike’s rear wheel is in danger of lifting. The sidecar wheel travels further so throttling off helps the sidecar to swing round. 

Three become two 
Accelerate round a right-hander and the sidecar’s wheel will lift. The motorcycle has further to travel than the sidecar so you’ll need to apply gas for a right (if the sidecar was on the left side, this would happen when going round a left-hander).

Off the brake 
Applying front brake through a right hander will cause the handlebars to snap to the left

Follow that car
Apply gas and the outfit goes in the direction of the sidecar. 

Beefed-up front 
The front wheel is loaded under hard turns, the leading link fork is rigid enough to stop excessive compression.

There's an 11-page special on sidecars in the June 8 issue of MCN. Buy a copy here

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