I wrote about my mate Rod Young and his custom sidecar building operation some months ago. He's a genius engineer and inventor, and I haven't use that description as a throw away comment. He is constantly turning theory into practice in the unique specials he devises for his customers; particularly those who are disabled or confined to a wheelchair. Check out the Triumph Rocket Three build at his website

A chat and a brew

It's always a pleasure to drop into Rod's workshop and mull over his latest projects and thoughts over mugs of tea. On a recent visit there was a striking creation that I'd never seen before standing by the exit doors. It was striking at first view because of the paint work, but also because he'd married a Suzuki SV650 with a Ural sidecar. This maybe a good point at which to describe his left field thinking when it comes to the art of what's possible.

Detail of the coupling between bike and sidecar
The SV had been knocking about the workshop for some time, not fulfilling any useful purpose. The Ural had arrived as the result of a build Rod had carried out for a customer in Ireland and it was left with him to dispose of after he'd replaced it with one of his own models. Rather than scrap it he decided to carry out one of his 'experiments'; iron out the rough spots, produce an eye catching paint job and couple these two unlikely suitors. It's not just a pretty thing, he and his partner had taken off to mainland Europe with the outfit for a camping trip in the summer, but that's another (interesting) story.

Get on your outfit and ride!
By some communication osmosis we arrived a point in our chat where I asked if I could ride it, and he agreed to teach this complete sidecar driving novice how it was done. At this stage it's probably fair to mention that I have previous form with sidecars as my brother and I used to compete in off road enduros with a Norton Commando engined beast. But I was always in the 'chair', until my body told me: enough!

In a large car park on a chilly early autumn day Rod prepared to put me through the basic course he has devised for the people he builds outfits for, most of whom are changing their mode of motorcycle transport after solo riding. First he explained the physics involved.  This was not the stuff I was rubbish at in my schooldays, nor the Stephen Hawking mysteries - simply that attaching a weight – a heavy one in the case of the Ural – to a solo means that it is trying to drag you in a direction that you do not necessarily want to travel. Tricky. The other element involves forgetting everything you know about riding motorcycles. This is a completely different and unrelated experience but before I go any further, I can tell you it is a whole lot of fun.

Lesson one:
'Do not put your feet down when you stop! If you do and the outfit moves forward, you're likely to get your lower leg painfully trapped in the mountings.'

Rod then explained how you needed to forget everything you had ever learned from riding a solo as the handling characteristics of a sidecar bear no relation. It's more complex, physical and dynamic.
Assertiveness training!

Sidecar racing
The SV650 was hauling quite a weight, and in one sense this was good for a novice, as the power would be gentle. My first on-the-move lesson was to make a series of large ovals to the right. The theory here is to drive into the turn assertively and then go through the turn on a neutral throttle. On right turns the motorcycle wants to 'overtake' the sidecar, which is why we see racing passengers clambering to hold their weight over the rear wheel. There is much more physical use of the handlebars in steering compared to a solo.

Turning right
Left oval turns next, and here the technique is to use a more responsive opening of the throttle to guide the outfit through the turn. And now the sidecar wants to 'overtake' the motorcycle, so it's possible with this manoeuvre to lift the chair wheel. In making this series of circuits I was really aware of the straining muscles in the arms and shoulders.

Then it was figures of eight, and then a series of left circles with Rod's instruction to give the throttle a burst at intervals with the aim of getting the sidecar wheel to lift. It took a few circuits, but he said I managed a few; and then he asked me if I was ready to go out onto the road...gulp!

Gulp! Feet up!

Remember; feet up, the width of the lump of metal on the side of the SV, keep the bike near the centre white line, neutral throttle right, assertive throttle left, steer. On the road with cambers, lumps, bumps obstacles, concentration is key. Rod was ahead on a solo leading me over the route he generally uses to give people a variety of road situations to deal with, then it was out towards the Chiltern Hills and the road that wends its way through Wendover Woods, an area of outstanding natural beauty managed by the Forestry Commission.

This wasn't too bad, and stopping at junctions without having to balance or be aware of loose gravel, slippy diesel, squashed fruit or other foot down 'hazards', was a welcome novelty. Reaching 40mph on the road, I was aware of how physical the ride was, and how Rod estimates that it can take around six months to become a sidecar driver(?) rider(?) of competence.

We treated ourselves to a decent lunch at the Cafe in the Woods, and snapped a few pictures, before it was time for the busier public roads again.

Over confidence...

We were on the back lanes and dropping downhill through a series of bends when a longish left hander really caught me out. I'd gone in at a decent lick concentrating hard as the outfit responded skittishly to the bumpy road surface. I made the mistake of thinking a positive throttle would pull me through and forgot to put enough steering into the bend. The outfit drifted dangerously onto the opposite side of the road before I gathered my thoughts and muscled it back on course. I fessed up to my mistake when we stopped for a 'story so far' review, but Rod had seen the show in his mirror.

More road work.

We were getting into the afternoon; school run time and there was more traffic to be aware of. We'd completed a couple of circuits and stopped for Rod to point out how, on a couple of stretches I could pick up speed, and push the outfit through a couple bends if I felt confident. Yes, this was great fun, and a very different motorcycling experience that I could easily get into, and would like to try again.

At several points during the ride/drive I couldn't help but think of those big old sidecars that they used to call 'double adult', hitched to 650 BSA or similar. They were used for every day transport and family outings and holidays when they packed in everything; kids, dogs, solid suitcases, and the proverbial kitchen sink. They surely took some handling on the move!

It's hard to shake the years of enjoyable solo riding and the fact that with more and more traffic you will be likely to need the flexibility of a solo to avoid congestion. Can I envisage a time when I might be down in Rod's workshop talking about building an outfit for me? Probably...France, open roads, warm air, sunshine and sunflower fields, relaxed passenger in the chair sipping cold white wine.

Many thanks to Rod Young for taking time away from his workshop, and for leading a complete novice through a new motorcycle experience.

John Newman
for Wemoto News

Posted by John Newman
for Wemoto News on 30 October 2013 in General News

Edited By: Lucy England



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