Sidecar Types and Designs

Sidecars can be broadly placed into 4 categories.

Saloon sidecars - Comfortable, but large and old fashioned.

Sports Sidecars - Small, light and more affordable.

Military - heavy and basic, but versatile and tough.

Custom builds - Variable quality and require fitting.

This page looks at the merits and limitations of each type.



Saloon sidecars were popular in the 1930's and 40's when car ownership was too expensive for many. These sidecars were designed to transport individuals or families cost effectively. 

Saloon sidecars, by definition, had an enclosed passenger area and as a consequence they were quite large, even a single seat version being significantly tall to provide enough headroom and therefore a large front area is to be expected.
Plus points are their load capacity and comfort (some have radios and heating) and larger models could take a whole family on holiday with luggage besides. On the downside they produce considerable aerodynamic drag and their overall weight is high, so bike performance may suffer.

Most saloon sidecars available today are secondhand. Amongst the largest Vintage models, there is the Busmar Astral Double Adult sidecar, the Canterbury Carmobile which can seat 3 adults and the Briggs Dolphin. However the Watsonian Oxford is a more modern take on this concept, it is wide enough to seat 4 or more. There are also smaller single seat saloon sidecars such as the Watsonian Palma and the Velorex Tour.

Busmar Astral Double Adult sidecar


Canterbury Carmobile with heater, radio and table inside.


Briggs Dolphin


Watsonian Oxford

Velorex Tour

Sports sidecars make up the most common type of sidecar available today.
They are typically single seat, open top chairs and are therefore lightweight, suitable for pulling by any medium sized motorcycle. Some designs incorperate a boot or behind seat storage and others have screens and fabric roofs for all weather motoring.
The iconic Steib S350 model is perhaps most people's idea of what a sidecar should look like. The eight sided 'Zeppelin shaped' body has very classic lines and it looks good attached to any motorcycle.

However there are other good designs available, the Velorex 562 is a fine looking, good value sidecar; and the Watsonian GP Manx has similar classic looks to the Steib.
Steib S350
Classic Steib Sidecar
Velorex Sidecar
Watsonian GP Manx
Watsonian GP Manx Sidecar

Military sidecars are the motorcycle equivalent of Jeeps. Tough, rugged and built to withstand abuse. The definitive open military sidecar was developed by Zundapp and now modern copies are available from Ural and Chang-Jiang.
Construction is all steel and therefore these chairs are heavy. Passenger comfort is not a priority, it is more about being versatile and tough; and accessories such as external fuel tanks, spare wheel, spotlights, ammo boxes and machine gun mountings make it useful for many purposes.
These sidecars are ideal sidecar for lugging cargo or adventure touring.
Ural's also have the added benefit of leading link forks, reverse gear, square section tyres and in some cases 2WD. Fantastic machines especially if you like cammo paint.

Modern Russian Ural Sidecar

Finally there are custom built sidecars. Many people build for a specific purpose, perhaps to carry two children, a disabled passenger or for a dedicated cargo box. Others are made for extreme adventuring or to re-create a retro design. Chassis are available to enable just the coachwork to be homemade.

Simply Sidecars can supply a sidecar chassis for customisation.

A large custom sidecar

Which type of sidecar you prefer will depend on how the sidecar looks on your bike, what you need it for i.e. how many passengers or how much luggage, and your budget. Choice may be more limited if you wish to fit a sidecar to your existing bike. The bike's capacity, weight, frame type and engine torque all come into the equation.

As a general guide for fitting a sidecar to an existing bike; the sidecar should be 1/3 the weight of the bike. Too light and sidecar will lift too easily making handling difficult. Too heavy and performance will suffer along with brakes and tyres.
Sidecar bikes can be left fairly standard or heavily modified.

Some people make simple changes such as wider handlebars and different tyres, but others go for more radical and costly changes such as leading link forks to give less steering trail, lower gearing and stiffer suspension.

BMW Leading Link Forks

A Removable sidecar.
The notion of having one bike which can be used both with and without a sidecar sounds tempting. You get the fun of a solo machine for days when you are traveling alone, and the novelty of the sidecar when you need it.
However the reality is that when a sidecar is added to a motorcycle a number of modifications are usually needed to the bike and this can make it inconvenient to switch between the two modes on a regular basis. To fit the sidecar you may have had to remove the centre stand and side stand. These would need refitting. Tyres are often worn into a square profile which is not ideal for solo riding. You may have added wider bars and a steering damper and the electrical connections need to be reconfigured.
However by minimising the alterations to the motorcycle it is possible to attach or remove the sidecar reasonably quickly such that you can chose to ride solo for a season or two and then swap back to the sidecar for another duration with reasonable convenience.