Adding A Third Wheel:
First part in a series on sidecar attachment
by Sev Pearman
One of the best things about the influx of sidecars here at Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly is the discussions it has started. All sorts of people, not just riders, are curious about our hacks. Parents have asked about their suitability for shuttling the kiddies, tradesmen have wondered about the carrying capacity. Don’t forget that a hack is a great way to bring your deer home. Best of all are the queries from Grandfathers and Grandmothers who want their grandchildren to experience a fun, non-threatening introduction to our wonderful world of motorcycling.
Regular readers already know that two MMM staffers have purchased complete Ural rigs with their own money, which says something based on the meager paychecks we receive from the Publisher. In addition, two other riders in the MMM circle have chosen to “Ride Russian.” All of these owners are happy with their machines and continue to pile on the miles.
While Ural continues to refine their bikes and sidecar rigs for the US market, MMM has found that many riders love their current machine and are reluctant to change brands. These riders are curious about a hack but do not want a second machine or a dedicated sidecar outfit. These people wonder about the suitability of adding a sidecar to their existing motorcycle. Their questions include:
• “Can you install a sidecar on any motorcycle?”
• “Is it difficult?”
• “Can I do it myself?”
• “Is it easily removable for a return to solo riding?”
• “Do I need a different license?”
• “Do I need special training?”
In this series of articles, we will examine the pros and cons of adding a sidecar to a “solo” bike and the special considerations that should be considered.
Can you install a sidecar on any motorcycle?
With a few exceptions, yes. Only Ural and Harley Davidson continue to design their frames to handle the extreme stresses created by running a sidecar. It is very easy to marry a Ural sidecar to a Ural bike. Most people dispense with this option and simply order the two together. While H-D doesn’t offer pre-assembled combos like Ural, they do offer a sidecar sold as an optional dealer-installed “accessory.”
All other motorcycles present different challenges. As utility has given way to weight-reduction in motorcycle design, the ability to easily accept and carry a sidecar has gone by the wayside. Even my beloved ’69 Triumph TR-6C Trophy came with frame lugs should one want to mount a chair.
If your bike has a traditional tube frame, mounting a car is pretty straightforward. Slightly more challenging are recent sport bikes and tourers with perimeter frames. While sidecars can be mounted to bikes with this type of frame, you will have to fabricate custom mounting points.
Most challenging are bikes that use the engine as a stressed member and/or bikes that are covered in bodywork. Stressed-engine machines have little-to-no frame to speak of. On these machines you will need to make points to accept the four struts that reach out from the sidecar. If your motorcycle is built like this, search the internet. You may find vendors offering kits for your specific machine. If not, you will need to either fabricate the points yourself, or trust your design to a motorcycle-friendly (and preferably sidecar-knowledgeable) machinist.
Bikes covered in ABS bodywork are another headache. You will have to cut many of the panels to accept the strut hardware. This pretty much creates a dedicated bike + sidecar combo. If you ever desire to sell the motorcycle separately, you’ll need to buy new body work [ka-ching] or find a used set and have it re-painted. This is more work and expense than most riders want.
Is it difficult? Can I do it myself?
A sidecar is easy to physically install, but very tricky to install correctly. You need to balance three structural relationships between the sidecar and motorcycle tug. We’ll explore this in detail in a upcoming article. If you are patient, can follow instructions, and can keep an open mind about motorcycle handling dynamics, you can probably install and ‘tune’ a sidecar onto your machine. If you have trouble doing routine maintenance or need help installing bolt-on accessories, we recommend finding a sidecar specialist to help you. Nothing is scarier than a driving maladjusted sidecar.
Is it easily removable for a return to solo riding?
Yes! If you have only one machine and want to ride it ‘solo,’ you simply disconnect any wiring and/or fuel connections, unclamp the struts from the bike, and be on your way. Carefully note the strut adjustment settings, as this will speed up re-attachment. Serious sidecarists modify their bike to reduce trail. This makes an outfit easier to steer and extends tire life. If you do modify the trail measurement of your motorcycle, then riding the bike solo is not recommended. As an aside, pre-1970 BMW models with leading-link Earles forks came with adjustable fork links. You could switch fork pivot positions which allowed both solo and sidecar operation.
Do I need a different license?
No. All US states and Canada recognize a motorcycle endorsement for sidecar operation.
Do I need special training?
Is it required? No. Do we recommended it? Yes. Sidecars are neither motorcycles nor are they cars. They have unique handling properties. They accelerate and brake differently than solo motorcycles. The technique for right turns is completely different than that for left turns. In the 1960s, the West German Army published a study that showed the safest sidecar operators were those who learned to drive a motorcycle sidecar rig before learning to drive anything else. Operators who had no motorcycle experience but knew how to drive a car were involved in a greater number of accidents. The worst operators of terms of crashes and injuries were those who had a previous motorcycle license before learning how to operate a sidecar.
MMM highly recommends the excellent Driving a Sidecar Outfit (MMM #71) This manual was written for complete novices and quickly teaches you the basics of sidecar operation. Comprehensive Safety Systems in South St. Paul offer sidecar/trike operation classes. The Washington State-based Evergreen Safety Council also offers group and individual sidecar instruction.
Sidecars are fun and practical. You can mount them to a variety of motorcycles. You don’t have to be an engineer to mount a car onto your bike, but help is recommended for wrench-o-phobes. It is easy to remove the sidecar and related hardware from your bike should you desire to ride the bike solo.
Next issue: MMM selects and purchases a bike/tug for our project.
Harley Davidson Motor Co.
Harley-Davidson sidecars (dealer installation only)
Ural motorcycle sidecar rigs
Side Strider Sidecars
Sidecars, installation, mounts and literature. Doug Bingham — 818.780.5542
Sidecars, installation, mounts and literature. Jay Geise — 866.638.1793
Texas Sidecar Company
Sidecars, installation, mounts and literature. 903.640.2149
Mr. Lee Bruns
Sidecar installation and mount fabrication.
Comprehensive Safety Systems
TC Metro-based sidecar instruction and literature 651.552.0682
Evergreen Safety Council
Sidecar instruction and literature
Motorcycle Safety Foundation
Motorcycle instruction and literature. 800.446.9227
Driving a Sidecar Outfit by USCA Sidecar Safety Program
Excellent operator’s manual for all sidecars. Available from above sources as well as online.