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Classic Motorcycle Riding – Learning to Ride a Sidecar

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Krauser image courtesy Michael Krauser GmbH and BMW courtesy of iStockphoto

Classical and modern classic sidecars.

Michael Krauser GmbH and iStockphoto

Throughout the history of the motorcycle, sidecars have been attached to most solos at one time or another. In addition, purpose-built sidecars, such as the Krauser, have proven very popular. In the world of classic motorcycle riding, sidecars are often seen at events and by their extra carrying capacity; sidecars can be enjoyed by the entire family.

But of all the motorized vehicles on the road, these unique vehicles offer a special challenge for the first time rider.

The first thing a novice rider will realize is that a solo motorcycle and a sidecar are very different to ride; the sidecar is actually much more like a car, dynamically. It is particularly challenging for an experienced solo rider to transition to sidecar riding - when all said and done, the sidecar does not lean over in corners.

In particular, the new sidecar rider must consider the following:

  • From the get go, the vehicle will pull slightly toward the side on which the sidecar is attached (traditionally left in the UK, Australia and Japan, and right in America and Europe)
  • When braking, the vehicle will initially pull slightly toward the sidecar (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the braking system fitted)
  • The brakes will be less effective than the equivalent solo bike (allow for greater braking distances)
  • The vehicle will pull slightly toward the sidecar when changing gear due to the drag created by the sidecar wheel

Right and left-hand bends will not have the same dynamics. Riders must travel slower around bends to the same side as the sidecar. For instance, a right mounted sidecar must be ridden slower on right bends (the sidecar will become light on these bends).

In addition, weight distribution is very important. If the sidecar is carrying a passenger, the vehicle will corner more predictably. If the sidecar is empty (and carrying no ballast) the rider must lean toward the sidecar when cornering the same way as the attachment, and slower than when a passenger is on board.

First Ride of a Sidecar

The first ride of a sidecar should consist of driving away from a standstill in first gear, followed by pulling in the clutch and coasting to a stop. The same procedure should be applied but with the brakes applied.

As confidence increases, the rider should come to a stop using the front brake only, followed by using all of the brakes. This different application of the brakes will allow the rider to feel the different retardation characteristics of the individual brakes.

Note: Some sidecars have interlinked braking systems: application of the foot brake applies the front, sidecar and rear brakes together. These systems (if set up properly) allow a more stable braking dynamic.

Having started and stopped the machine, the rider should next increase his speed and change into the next gear until he reaches the cruising speed. It should be noted that a slight correction on the handlebars will be required if the throttle is practically closed as the vehicle will again pull toward the sidecar.

Special Notes:

  • As the sidecar combination invariably takes up more space than a solo motorcycle, the rider must position the machine (at all times) to allow for the extra width. This, of course, applies when overtaking another vehicle also.
  • Some sidecar owners carry ballast in the sidecar when not carrying a passenger. This ballast will improve the cornering ability of the sidecar when cornering towards the sidecar side.
  • Correct mechanical alignment of the sidecar and motorcycle is very important for stability. The alignment should only be trusted to experienced sidecar specialists.
  • Regular solo motorcycle street tires are not intended for sidecar use.
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