Why you need sidecar driving training
by Jon Taylor
On this page are a few reasons to get sidecar driving training. But don't get the idea that reading this page constitutes training – it does not. This advice applies whether your sidecar is attached to a URAL, Norton, BMW, Yamaha, Suzuki, Triumph, BSA, Honda, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson, Indian or even a Vespa Scooter.
I learned how to ride a bike the hard way. My first ride was as a young teenager on a Harley WLA with a foot clutch. There was no training available in the 1960’s. I went on to ride motorcycles everyday working on the farm and riding competitions and recreationally at weekends. Nearly everything was learned the hard way with, fortunately, small accidents and big frights. I learned things that take years to figure out and never learned some things that would have been useful and potentially life saving to know. Even after 40 years of riding, I have recently learned some good stuff on defensive technique. There is more to safe and fun riding than just getting on a bike and going.
This is very much the case with sidecars and is hidden by the fact we have ridden solo bikes for years and think we know it all. You may have heard it said that driving a sidecar is completely different from riding a bike and may have asked yourself – that looks easy, how difficult can it be? Well it isn’t difficult, it is different, and that means that you need to learn new skills. It takes maybe 10 hours for your brain to learn to respond automatically to sidecar driving . If you revert back to solo riding technique in your first few hours on a sidecar, it could be fatal.
Here are some of the areas to be concerned about.
The peculiar three cornered geometry of a sidecar profoundly influences cornering, braking and acceleration.
Cornering - When driving a sidecar rig you cannot lean the bike into a corner, and you must steer the bike in the direction you wish to turn to, like an automobile, BUT - unlike a solo on which you have been counter steering around corners for years possibly without even realizing.
We have all seen pictures of people driving an outfit with the sidecar up in the air, commonly known as “flying the chair”. In Australia where sidecars are normally attached on the left hand side of the motorcycle. Sidecars may tend to go in the air when you turn left due to centrifugal force among other things. Turning right on the other hand tends to stick the sidecar to the pavement. There are separate techniques for each type of turn. They are not difficult skills but they must be learned as they do not come naturally and are potentially fatal if you leave the road or cross the centreline.
Braking and speed control - A sidecar rig is heavier than a motorcycle alone and puts extra strain on the brakes. Each wheel on an outfit has a different braking capability and heavy braking can cause side forces on the steering. This is not the kind of thing you want to think about as your life is passing in front of your eyes while trying to stop. You need to learn to think ahead and do more planning than with just a solo bike. In general terms a sidecar rig will not safely corner as fast as a solo motorcycle and this takes some advance thought and control. These skills are practised in our sidecar training program.
Acceleration and deceleration- of the motorcycle will cause the outfit to pull left or right. This effect and the outfits reaction to changes in road camber are unsettling initially and you need to become accustomed to this and learn to use it as a positive in your driving technique.
General size - It sounds simple, but it takes a while to get used to the idea that your motorcycle is quite a bit wider than it was before you attached the chair to it. It is quite obvious when first time sidecar riders hit all of the markers on our training slalom course.
Conclusion - Do yourself and your wallet a favour and take the time to get some proper sidecar training. If there is not a course near you, read everything you can get your hands on and practice a LOT in a safe space or paddock before you venture into the traffic.
Once you are proficient at sidecar driving, the extra stability makes sidecars safer than a solo.