Where Have All the Sidecars Gone?
By Frann Leach
According to the Oxford Compact Dictionary, the definition of a sidecar is:
sidecar. noun, a small, low vehicle attached to the side of a motorcycle for carrying passengers.
Well, I guess that's not a bad definition, although I have seen some sidecars that definitely could not be described as "low" in any sense of the word. Nor are all sidecars particularly small. In fact, when you boil it right down, the Oxford Dictionary's definition of a sidecar sucks! Maybe I should write and let them know.
Anyway, this article isn't about the Oxford dictionary's accuracy or lack of it, but about sidecars.
Where did they all go? You hardly ever see a sidecar nowadays, unless you are an afficionado, of course. When I was a teen, in the mid-late 60s, the law in the UK said that you could ride a motorcycle on a provisional licence up to a certain cubic capacity. I think it was 250cc or thereabouts. But, if you stuck a sidecar on, you could ride anything! So that was one reason why you saw a lot of sidecars in those days, although to be honest some of them really weren't any use for anything except making the rider legal - just extra wheels stuck on the side on whatever attachment they had managed to juryrig together.
The other reason sidecars used to be popular was because it was much cheaper to run a motorcycle combination than a car. In those days, insurance on motorcycles was not as prohibitive as it is today. It wasn't uncommon to see an elderly couple going out on a motorcycle (or even a scooter) with the husband on the bike, and the missus in the sidecar, well wrapped up against the cold.
I suppose the little group of fledgling bikers I belonged to should have had more respect for them, but we used to laugh at the pensioners next door with their Lambretta and its matching sidecar. Well, they did make such a picture. And anyway, they used to take it to a mechanic when it needed a service! We just didn't understand that at all, as we spent almost every weekend stripping down one bike or another, just because we enjoyed it.
The standard type of sidecar on sale in those days wasn't much to look at, in fact they could be downright ugly, but if you can get the balance sorted out properly when you hook them up, they are very practical. In the late 80s, we took one down to the Kent Custom Bike Show from East Ham in London, him and me on the bike, and the two kids AND all our gear for the weekend, including a whole crate of Budweiser, in the sidecar.
It was unbelievable just how much this thing would hold. We took with us a 4-man auto-erect tent, another smaller dome tent with a separate flysheet, the Budweiser, a two-burner camping stove, sleeping bags and mats for all of us, clothes, food, a water carrier... plus the kids, of course, sitting on the seat (the luggage all went inside the nose and in the space behind the seat). The weight of all this stuff actually helped it to grip the road, as it was normally a bit light, particularly on right-hand bends.
That outfit is long gone, as is the guy on the front, and I have to say sidecars have become something of a niche market. To be honest, they were already that when we took ours down to Kent, but at least you saw them around reasonably often. I used to know a guy in Ilford who had a Triumph outfit. He got it after he became paralysed from the waist down, to help keep the bike upright! I would often see him flashing by (his injuries didn't seem to have affected his enthusiasm for speed one little bit). But I moved away, and recently the sight of a sidecar outfit on the road has become rare enough that you get the impulse to flag them down for a chat, not that I ever actually do that.
Rare beauties So, what's out there? Can you still buy a new sidecar in the 21st century? Well, you may be surprised to hear that you can. In fact, there are at least a dozen different models available in the UK alone, mostly home produced.
If you're interested, there are three main sources available that I've been able to trace, although there may well be more.
In my opinion, the most attractive of these is the selection available to order from Merlin Sidecars. They only do a couple of different styles, but both are very nicely put together, and they are made individually by a family firm. They also have second hand outfits available.
There's also Hedinghams, who have a number of different styles to choose from, all very nicely turned out, and Watsonian-Squire, whose range is very comprehensive, all attractive in their own way. They also sell complete outfits.
Should you be the proud owner of a Ural motorcycle, there is a supplier of specialist sidecars designed specifically for this marque, though to my mind they are rather odd-looking.
Finally, if you're on the lookout for a second hand motorcycle combination, you may be lucky at Free Bike Ads.
If you're looking for a sidecar or outfit, I hope this article has been helpful to you. It would be nice to see a few more of them out there.
Frann Leach ('Tig') is a webmaster (?mistress) who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. For more on motorcycles, visit her site at: motorcycles and motorcycling.
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