Riding a sidecar gets me a lot of stares and a lot of questions….and a lot of assumptions. People assume that I ride a sidecar because I’m a girl and I’m afraid of falling over. They assume that I wanted a sidecar because it’s more stable and therefore safer. They assume that I ride a sidecar because I’m short.
Only that last statement is true by the way.
I’m going to disabuse you of the incorrect assumptions before I move onto why I chose to ride a sidecar.
- I’m a girl and afraid of falling over. Yes, I am a girl and like any reasonable human being, I’m not a fan of falling over. However, a motorcycle will not tip over willy-nilly like some folks seem to think. A two-wheeled motorcycle is a machine made up of two gyroscopes that you sit between. The gyroscopic motion means that the bike wants to stay upright. You have to bully it into tipping over for a turn. When a rider wants to turn a bike that is traveling at speed, the rider turns the wheel in the opposite direction they want to go and then look towards the direction they want to turn. The forces the bike to lean in the direction the rider is looking. It’s odd to think of but the physics track. The bottom line is that the bike wants to stay up unless you forcibly act upon it to change its direction. Physics is your friend. Sidecars also have gyroscopes but you steer by moving the gyroscope in a new direction. That’s why sidecars need things like trail and rake adjusted on the front end to assist you in steering. The bottom line is that a sidecar is not less likely to tip over than a two-wheeled bike. In fact, there are times when it is much more likely to do so. Which brings me to my second point.
- A sidecar is more stable than a two wheeled motorcycle. No, it’s not. At least not a speed. I’ll admit that at slow parking lot speeds I am much more stable than a two wheeled bike. That gyroscopic motion that the bike uses at higher speeds is not up and running at 5 miles an hour and that maks parking lot mishaps very, very common. My three wheels give me one more contact point with the pavement so I never have to balance the bike with my body like a two wheel rider does. Yet, once the sidecar is up to a reasonable road speed, all that stability goes away. A sidecar is an obtuse angled triangle and I’m sitting on the long side. As long as I’m going straight she is pretty stable. She’s very stable in the wind unless the wind is coming from the sidecar side. Then the entire rig wants to slide to the left. Under acceleration, the rig pulls to the right and under braking it pulls to the left. In left hand turns the sidecar turns around the bike accelerating you out of the curve at speed. In right hand turns the car will try to lift up off the ground. The result of this is that you are suddenly riding a two wheeled bike again that thinks it should be going left. Sidecars are not stable and they are not symmetrical. It takes skill and geometry to put them together. That’s why I find shops with experience that I trust to put together sidecar rigs for me. An improperly rigged sidecar is extremely dangerous. A properly rigged sidecar is only moderately dangerous.
So why in the world do I ride a sidecar? That’s hard to put into words because it’s just so much a part of who I am. However, I can give you a few reasons.
- I’ve loved sidecars since I was a little girl. I remember the sidecar Edgar the butler rode in Disney’s The Aristocats. I remember a sidecar in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Both of those images stuck with me. They were my favorite part of the movies aside from the groovy music. So from an early age, I just thought sidecars were cool. I also happened to catch a few sidecar races on TV when I was young. I loved watching the monkey (the passenger) crawling all over the rig like an acrobat. I thought it looked like they were dancing with the rig.
- Sidecars are odd things. You don’t see many on the road. All my life I’ve gravitated to the things that would make me the odd one out. I like dancing to a different drum. Some of that I think comes from the fact that I’m not a competitive person. In fact, I actively dislike competition. I do things to set me apart to take me out of any competition. I want to be similar but a bit different.
- I am a short person. With sidecars, I never have to worry about reaching the ground. That fact helped me decide 10 years ago that sidecars were the way to go. Sidecars opened up some bikes to me that I would have never been able to ride otherwise. My current rig is a BMW 1150 GS. It’s big and really, really tall. The pegs hit me about my knees. There is no way I could ever ride that bike without a third wheel. Which would be sad because she’s the perfect dual-sporting, mile-eating, go anywhere, do anything, takes-a-licking-and-keeps-on-ticking, partner in crime for me and my life would be emptier without her.
- Sidecars require some very specific skills. I’ve been riding for 10 years now and I’ve got those skills. I’m not good at a lot of things, especially physical things. I’ve never been athletic and I am always the last person picked for a team. Driving a rig gives me a big sense of accomplishment and I enjoy that. It’s hard, it takes thought and patience and nerves. And I’m good at it. I’m not bragging, it’s just true. The other side of that is that if you put me on a bike, I would be lost and would crash in about 15 seconds.
There is one more rather sexist reason that people often assume I drive a rig for. It involves the ability to pack more clothes…or makeup…or whatever it is that I, as a woman, apparently need. I usually shrug and tell them, “Someone has to carry the beer.” This isn’t true. I don’t carry all the beer…..but I do have all the tools.