This project had its genesis in the spring of 2001, when I somehow got the idea that learning to ride a sidecar would be cool. I signed up for the STEP – sidecar and trike course through Evergreen Safety. In retrospect, they had some pretty challenging rigs there for training. I spent most of my time on a Suzuki Cavalcade 1400 with a big chair on it, and with no steering changes. Not only did I learn how to ride a sidecar, I got a free upper-body workout too! The other rigs were 250cc bikes with Jupiter sidecars on them, adequate little rigs but nothing special. Near the end of the course, one of the other students let me take his Harley Road-King with a Liberty chair on it for a tour of the parking lot. It had enough power to pull the chair easily, and it steered like a dream.
Having decided that I needed a sidecar rig, I had to decide what to use for a base. I had two bikes at the time, both BMWs: an R1200C and a K1200LT. The LT was my commuter and I decided I didn’t want to live with the sidecar compromise day-in and day-out. So I investigated a bit, and discovered that there had by that time (fall of 2001) been several R1200C’s converted into sidecar rigs. One of them commissioned by the BMW factory, and then paraded around to motorcycles shows, though neither BMW nor the builder had any intention of building any more. I cursed their parentage – it was a cool rig. So I decided I’d do something with the R1200C
Now came the search for an appropriate chair. Did I want something modern, to play off the modern-art part of the C’s character, or something retro, more in line with the, as a friend termed it, ‘Starship Wurlitzer’ quality? I also needed someone to build a sub-frame and attachment hardware for me, as I am not a fabricator. My searches eventually led me to Motorvation Engineering for the sidecar, and to Peter Smith, of SideEffects for the fabrication and sidecar attachment. A few phone calls, and deals were struck. I would be buying the sidecar through SideEffects, taking delivery in Seattle, and then hauling the bike and sidecar up to Peter in British Columbia for the sub-frame and rigging work.
I drew sketches of the paint scheme I wanted on the chair, and sent those, along with a few key parts of the bike (to assure color and texture matches) to Motorvation. They crafted up one of their Spyder sidecars, superbly matched to the Ivory/Navy color scheme on the C. Eventually, the day came when a phone message announced that there was a crate awaiting pick-up at a freight dock in Kent. Down we went, trailer in tow. We arrived, dutifully handed over the paperwork, and waited for them to bring the crate. It arrived to gasps and deflating hopes: in the side of the crate were two jagged holes, the shape and spacing of forklift forks. ‘Was like that when we got it’, said he. We pried the lid off, and fearfully peered inside. Miracle of miracles, Mr. Forklift Klutz had missed all of the important items within. Home we went.
After hauling the bike and sidecar to Kamloops, BC behind the most underpowered of all Range Rovers, the chair and bike were delivered to Pete at Motorvation.
After months of waiting, and many phone calls, she was ready. Arrangements were made to meet at the Tim Horton’s in Abbotsford, BC. Then I’d ride the hack the rest of the way home. The date was December 4, 2002. The plan was for us to meet at noon so that I’d have time to ride home before it got totally dark. Plans, as they say, seldom survive clashes with reality. Pete called about 11:30, there was heavy fog coming over ‘The Hump’, the toll-road over the mountain range that separates Kamloops from southern BC. Pete finally arrived about 3pm, and we unloaded my new rig. She was gorgeous, but there was little time for lollygagging; daylight is waning and I was 200 miles from home on a strange vehicle I’ve never driven before.
The ride home was a bit chilly, and a bit tense, especially after a bare wire in the sidecar harness decided to short out and take the tail and brake-light fuse with it. I stuck pretty closely to my wife driving the Range Rover for the remainder of that trip home. Once safely at home, the project was into the finishing stages: matching pin-striping, and matching taillight for the sidecar fender.
Pete modified the front suspension, a BMW ‘Telelever’ fork, by fabricating and TiG-welding an extension to the rear portion where the suspension arm attaches. This pushes the bottom of the forks, and the wheel forward, increasing the trail, reducing the self-centering force, which on a sidecar rig can make for high-effort steering. But reducing that self-centering force can lead to self-reinforcing wobbles in some cases, so a small steering damper was added. The end result is a rig that is easy to steer, but never shakes it head, even over bumps. The braking system is another clever piece of engineering by Pete. Instead of fooling around with hydraulics and interconnected systems and balance bars, he just made a lever for the sidecar brake that sits directly below the standard rear brake on the C, so that after the first bit of brake pedal movement, the pedal starts operating the sidecar brake as well. With a little adjustment the system works almost like magic. A gentle push gets only the bike brakes, but a firmer stomp (i.e. the kind of braking that can cause ‘sidecar-swerve’ in earnest) brings in the sidecar brake and the rig pulls to a straight stop.
Over the years there have been improvements and experiments: a car battery in the sidecar trunk, a large windscreen, no windscreen, flat police-style bars for the bike, etc. In the end, it works best in the form you see in the pictures: slightly pulled-back, ‘Phoenix’ handlebars, and a tiny ‘Brooklands’ screen for the sidecar. The rig is quite nice to ride, due to the increased trail built into the front suspension, the steering stabilizer, and the brake on the sidecar wheel.
Simple, lightweight, and effective. My kind of solution.