I’m a sport rider. I like twisting, flowing roads, where I can feel the left-right-left transitions, bending corners and rolling road changes. Attaching a device to a bike that makes counter steering impossible is just crazy. So when I decided to attend the United Sidecar Association National Rally, July 8- 11 in Essex Junction Vermont with nearly 200 sidecar enthusiasts, I knew I had something to learn. What attracts someone to a hack?
“I think people like it because it’s different. You can have something that no else has,” said Joyce Canfield, USCA President.
The Show and Shine contest demonstrated the variety among sidecar rigs. Rides ranged from brush guard equipped, mud ready BMW GS 1100’s with floodlights and spare fuel canisters to slipstream, pavement-missile, Kawasaki based, sport-touring machines.
Goldwing sidecars raised the passenger standard by including amenities such as waterproof enclosures, reading lights, and stereo speakers with passenger volume control.
A 1972 CB750K2 with a California sidecar was at the other end of the luxury scale. The sidecar is minimalistic: a flip-up footrest that folds to allow more legroom is the only amenity. The sidecar has advanced suspension for its age with a swing arm and shock equipped wheel, but leaves the passenger skimming inches above the pavement.
Being unique isn’t the only attraction of sidecars. For enthusiasts like Phil and Linda Reed from Lakeville Massachusetts, the attraction is the ability to include the whole family.
“My oldest daughter moved out in September,” Phil said. “So we lost our built-in babysitter.” Adding a sidecar to their 2002 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic enables the Reeds to take their 10 and 11 year-old daughters and dog along on rides. The Reeds travelled to the rally with Linda’s mom and dad, Joe and Jackie Rebeiro of Berkley MA. The Rebeiros won Best of Show for their Honda GL1500 Goldwing with California sidecar and trailer.
The Reeds and Rebeiro’s are not the only multi-generational sidecar family. Bob Liberty from Leicester Vermont grew up with sidecars. “I’ve always been around them. My father had them. My uncle had them. My grandfather had them,” he said.
He currently has three sidecars, including a 1970 Harley Davidson police model that hasn’t been driven. The tank has never had gas in it and the motor has never seen oil, Liberty said. Purchased as a police fleet parts bike, mechanics cannibalized it from the beginning. Liberty is just now getting the parts needed to get it running.
Sidecars are more stable than two-wheelers and some riders convert from standard motorcycles as strategy to extend their riding years. Peter Tourin of Jericho Vermont, who currently rides a restored Norton Commando 850, said he is considering a sidecar rig for when he can no longer ride his solo motorcycle. “I can’t ride forever. Maybe a sidecar is my next step,” he said.
Avenell Lewis on her Burgman 650
Seventy-nine year-old Avenell Lewis might agree, assuming you could catch her to ask the question. Avenell came to the rally from Texas with her husband. She pilots her own Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter sidecar, rather than riding passenger. She was active in the sidecar games taking multiple runs. She even hung off the side of the car to place balls on traffic cones in one game.
The sidecar games included the blindfolded obstacle course, a study in male-female relations. The typical team paired a blindfolded male driver with a sighted female navigator. To be successful, the driver had to follow instructions without question and the navigator had to provide clear, precise directions. One combo had this driver to navigator exchange, after running over a cone:
Driver: “Why didn’t you tell me the cone was there?”
Navigator: “I did. You just weren’t listening”
After the formal sidecar games ended, an impromptu game of flying the car began. Drivers used the open paved section of the fairgrounds to prove that sidecar motorcycles can lean – at least to the left. When the driver leans left far enough, the chair comes off the ground. Some drivers rode in the flying car position for a quarter mile, with the chair five or six feet above the ground.
There is no doubt that this niche of motorcycling has strong enthusiasts. Charlie Chidgey came all the way from Australia to attend. At home, he has a BMW GS1100 sidecar and a Yamaha XS1100 sidecar. He was planning a trip to Vermont when he learned of the USCA event and planned his trip around it.
Before the rally, I had never ridden in a sidecar. When I got my chance, I was initially anxious about riding so low to the ground, but quickly adjusted. I found the ride smooth, stable and relaxing. Riding in the sidecar is great way to sightsee and take photographs. And while it is unlikely I’ll give up my Ducati for a sidecar any time soon, I learned to appreciate why these motorcyclists choose sidecars. I also learned that sidecar drivers are friendly, fun-loving and a bit crazy – but only in the best ways.
Sidecar games are a test of human relations