Piloting a Sidecar


It's not a trike, not a car with three wheels or a strange motorcycle.
Sidecars are unique vehicles.

They are asymmetric with more weight on one side of the bike, they are one wheel drive with the driving wheel off centre and the wheel positions mean that not all wheels have the same loading.

To learn to ride an outfit you have to practice on one. 

Flying the Chair
Sidecars are not for everyone. They are arguably slower than solo machines, they cannot filter in heavy traffic and they corner flat. If you are a rider who enjoys sweeping turns, counter steering and the smooth, effortless riding characteristics of a modern sports bike, you may not like sidecars.
Cornering with a sidecar is different. You corner flat, there is no counter steering; you haul on the bars, lean in, the tyres scrub and bike a rider work hard to keep everything on track.

Piloting sidecar is a unique skill and there are a few points that the rider should be aware of in order to stay safe.There are many good guides on sidecar riding. The Sidecar Manual by Hal Kendall and The Sidecar Operator's Guide by the same author are both worth reading.

However there are some general rules worth stating here to help a new rider stay safe.
  
First of all - They can tip.
Unlike most road vehicles which are designed to slide before they tip over, sidecars are inherently more unstable. Similar to quad bikes and trikes, they have a reasonably high centre of gravity and as such are susceptible to tipping.

Additionally they are asymmetric, meaning there corning characteristics are different for left and right handed turns. These parameters can make piloting a sidecar hazardous. However it is precisely these things that make them challenging and fun to ride at the same time.

Don't try this
Sidecars can tip in either direction.
If you corner too fast when turning towards the sidecar the sidecar can lift.
If you corner too fast turning away from the chair, the rear motorcycle wheel can lift, digging the nose of the sidecar into the road (see photo above).
Both scenarios are best avoided and with a properly set up sidecar, neither should be a problem with responsible riding.

As stated before, left and right hand corners have different issues but both have their dangers to catch out the unwary. Many documents talk in detail about the centre of gravity, wheel track etc.... but essentially what you need is to get a "feel" for the centrifugal force of a corner. Centrifugal force is a combination of bike speed and corner radius. A gentle bend at 40mph might have the same centrifugal force as a sharp bend at 10 mph. Bend radius is not within the rider's control - but speed is. It is therefore imperative to get speed correct for a given corner and to stay away from the point at which the combination can tip. If in doubt slow down.

To get started, get some practice in an empty car park or similar (I used an industrial park on a Sunday). Drive some circles to find the tipping point both left and right at a slow speed. Once you get a feel for this limit you can take steps to stay within it on the road.

If preferred ballast can be added to the sidecar to stop it lifting up so easily. This will typically increase the possible cornering speed when turning towards the sidecar, but makes slewing during speed changes worse.

Finding the tipping point turning Left
 
If the sidecar wheel does lift you have a choice. You can either steer away from the sidecar to put it down again, or you can balance it in the air once you have the control. Which action you take is likely to be guided by the road situation at the time. Holding the sidecar in the air is called flying the chair and it is not a stunt to be used on the road but rather something that you "manage", in order to stay in control of the sidecar.
Be warned that it only takes a slight change to go from flying the chair to exceeding the tipping point of the combination. You have been warned.
     

Cornering Hard. Turning Right
Are corners away from the sidecar safer?

Corners away from the sidecar (right hand turns in the UK) feel more reliable. Although the bike cannot lean the cornering force is supported by the sidecar which is reassuring.
It is usual for cornering in this direction to have a higher speed before tipping than cornering towards the chair. 
  
However things can still go wrong and actually if the bike does tip in this direction it is more difficult to recover than when the sidecar lifts up. A well tuned sidecar combination will operate well inside this limit if driven sensibly and the tenancy of the sidecar to tip in this direction can be reduced by moving the sidecar wheel forward, at the expense of increased tyre scub when cornering.
 
Braking and Accelerating
Due to the off set nature of the sidecar to the bike frame, some sideways correction is needed when braking and accelerating. This gets worse the heavier the sidecar is or the more loaded up it is.

Progressive acceleration and braking help reduce this slewing effect, but you need to be prepared for it, in the event of a sudden stop.

An emergency stop is another thing to practice in an empty car park.

Direction bike will try to go under braking and accelerating
   
These steering moments imparted by the sidecar on the motorcycle can be used to the rider's advantage on the road. When cornering away from the sidecar slowing with the back brake or under engine braking will help the sidecar round the bend.

Likewise when steering towards the chair, slow down plenty so that there is no risk of the chair lifting and then add some acceleration to drive round the chair to execute the corner.

Perfecting these techniques makes sidecar riding most enjoyable and takes the strain off your arms during the corners.

Get some practice ................ and have fun.
 

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