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, only small accidents and big frights. I learned things that sometimes took years to figure out and never learned some other things that would have been useful and potentially life saving to know. Even after 50 years of riding, I have recently learned some more 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.

Importantly, the three wheeler is neither a motorcycle or a car, but an entirely different vehicle with unique operating characteristics.
There are four main differences to a solo motorcycle for which your riders licence has been endorsed. Even a veteran motorcyclist with many years of experience becomes a novice when placed on a sidecar outfit for the first time.
  1. On a solo you use indirect steering, turning away from a corner to initiate laying the bike over into that corner. A sidecar however does not lean over into a corner. Driving a sidecar you will use direct steering, turning towards the corner as you do in a motorcar. If you accidentally use your solo motorcycle technique to corner, you will leave the road! It is not uncommon to make this mistake when learning to drive a sidecar and you may unconsciously revert back to solo technique for a moment!
  2. On a solo, changes in camber along the road do not change the vertical attitude of your motorcycle. On a sidecar however camber changes will cause the outfit to lean according to the angle of the road surface. It is not uncommon to find the sidecar outfit leaning in the opposite direction to the corner you are taking! After years of solo riding this can lead to feelings of instability especially while you are still learning.
  3. Acceleration or braking on a solo motorcycle does not cause directional changes.  A sidecar outfit however, will pull to the left when you are accelerating because the sidecar holds back, and then when you decelerate the sidecar rolls ahead making the outfit want to deviate to the right and incorrect side of the road. This also is unsettling especially when you are still learning.
  4. 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.
Learning to drive a sidecar will take a while and you must be mindful that you can subconsciously revert back to solo technique momentarily especially during the first 10 hours of sidecar driving. If that happens it usually leads to unexpected loss of control and likely crossing to the wrong side of the road.
Avoid the ”know it all” approach and take time to learn safe sidecar driving techniques.

For at least the first 10 hours drive more slowly and carefully
Keep your speed down so a mistake is less likely to lead to injury
Keep your rides shorter so you are not tired or losing concentration
Carry some sidecar ballast to improve bike stability.

Once you are proficient at sidecar driving, the extra stability makes sidecars safer than a solo.

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