Street Savvy - Hacked On Sidecar

Learning To Operate A Sidecar In S/TEP

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Tire warmers were insufficient. Pushing through the 27-degree fogbank, I wanted asphalt warmers. A lousy morning to be up on two wheels, but just right for sidecar frolics.

Boeing Space Center hosts several ranges of riding instruction administered by the Evergreen Safety Council (www.esc.org). Holding the contract for Washington State motorcycle safety instruction, Evergreen is the elegant avenue to buffing up your endorsement collection. Completion card in hand, you belly up to the DoL counter, pay 25 bucks for yet another lousy picture and walk away with another skill set franked onto your license.

Once you pass the course.

Evergreen's S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) instructors are serious people packing a detailed syllabus. Riding a three-wheeler isn't rocket science, but it's remarkably unlike any two-wheeled experience. Like SCUBA or skydiving, you must absorb unnatural knowledge: tip line equations, accelerating against your brakes and sudden shifts from truck steering to countersteering.

Like college, there's no money-back guarantee. For 125 bucks, you get a one-weekend opportunity-come rain, shine or hyperborean fog-to grasp something new and demonstrate competence.

Can't hack it? Try again in a few months. Because this constituted my only chance to S/TEP up before a planned Ural adventure, I paid close attention to primary instructor "Krash" and tried not to smart off too much.

Starting with ballast monkeys, we progressed through basic turning and braking to complex maneuvers, throttle-brake balancing and emergency evasions. Once our monkeys climbed out, vehicle dynamics instantly became less balanced and more interesting. Like youth soccer, swerving sidecar outfits amuse onlookers more than participants.

I spent my weekend on a Ural Tourist, a de-militarized (i.e. no machine gun mount) Soviet army M-72 sidecar rig. The beast carries more ferrous metal than our hatchback, and a pair less horsepower than my 1969 BMW R60/2. Fortunately, our instructors were good enough to point out where the transitions lurked between "riding" and "driving," because this was like no motorcycling I've ever done.

Left turns-performed on the gas with front Brembo dragging, power wheel spinning and car wheel drifting-were a cross between snowmobile shredding and sprint car driving. Hard rights were like wrestling, ever so politely, with an amorous alpha sow. You do not want to wear a 717-pound hat.

After a written exam on Saturday night, we took the performance evaluation around noon on Sunday so the instructors could cut loose the two trike guys, then proceeded to dessert: flying the car.

That's a bonus, not a testable item. Lofting the hack, like spinning an aircraft or sliding a motorcycle, is something you can either practice under control or learn on your way to the crash site.

Finding the balance point to live that long, delicious moment as a gravity scofflaw is epiphanic. So nerdy it's cool, it's the white guy's funky chicken. Cage drivers are outraged by sidecar riders lifting their leg at the world. It looks like cheating.

Maybe, on a bleak January day with black ice on the road, it is.

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