Sidecar Frequently Asked Questions - "The Sidecar FAQ"
Thanks to staff at OVC (Club sponsor) for assisting in writing this FAQ
In the early days of motorcycling sidecars were quite common. Cars were expensive, and adding a sidecar allowed you to bring along your family or carry larger loads than would otherwise be possible.
This changed with the start of the 1960s when Japanese imports caused a bit of a revolution in how the motorcycle was designed and used. Lighter frames became the norm, which made attaching a sidecar more difficult, and many manufacturers stopped offering sidecars as a factory option.
A sidecar offers many advantages such as the ability to carry passengers in comfort, stability, making ice and gravel roads an easy driving experience.
One of the biggest reasons we love our sidecars however is that you are driving something unique. There is nothing else quite like driving a sidecar rig. People will stop to ask you questions, you will get looks and laughs and photos being taken. Do not expect quick stops at the gas station, and if you hate talking to strangers sidecars might not be for you.
All in all, there are many reasons we love our sidecars.
This varies widely with the type of sidecar chosen and the make/model of bike, but an average installation costs around $5k. The cost of the sidecar itself can vary widely, with prices averaging between $3k to $10k.As an example, the Cozy brand of sidecars (which are light, simple sidecars designed for small to medium sized motorcycles) retail for around $3,500. A mounting kit is required to adapt the sidecar to your bike, these usually cost around $600-$800 for this kind of sidecar.
Installation by a qualified sidecar installer would then be an additional cost. Expect to pay at least $800 for this. (If you have never installed a sidecar before, professional installation is recommended to ensure you end up with a safe rig.)Sidecars need to be properly mounted to the motorcycle to prevent causing structural issues with the motorcycle frame, and an improperly mounted sidecar will neither brake, nor steer correctly which may cause the machine to be unsafe.
There is no one answer for this since it depends both on the bike you are using as a sidecar "tug", and also what you will be using the sidecar for. Will your rig be for touring, or just around the city? Are you building something to carry your canine companion, or a rig for cargo? The possibilities are endless, and there are many options.
As a very general rule of thumb, a sidecar should weigh about 1/3 of the weight of the motorcycle it is attached to. A sidecar that is heavier or lighter than this by a large margin may cause undesirable handling, frame damage if heavier than this, or other issues.
This is best answered by the dealer you purchased your bike from. Most motorcycle manufacturers have a clause in their warranty that allows for sidecar installation if it is performed by a qualified installation shop, but you will need to confirm this with your motorcycle dealer or manufacturer as your results may vary.
There are a few sidecar companies that make so called “quick disconnect” mounting hardware so that a sidecar can be removed and installed in less than an hour.This really isn’t practical for a few different reasons however. For one, a motorcycle used primarily as a sidecar tug will have the tires “square off” as they wear, due to the bike always being upright. This tire wear can make cornering more challenging. In addition, even with a quick disconnect, removing and storing the sidecar can be difficult and potentially cause scratches or dings if you don’t have a sidecar dolly to hold it.
In general, best practice is to keep your sidecar rig as a sidecar rig – and get yourself a two wheeled motorcycle if you want one as well. (Though often we find that people with two and three wheels in the garage neglect their two wheeled vehicle for the sidecar rig.)
It all depends on your perspective, there are pros and cons to both, and both offer different driving experiences.
A sidecar steers differently depending on if you are going right or left, as it is not symmetrical and the drag/momentum of the sidecar will have different effects on the two different sides.
A sidecar rig has a wider wheelbase, and may have an easier time in snow and rutted roads since it has only two wheel tracks, where a trike will have three.
Sidecars will generally have more storage, and be more comfortable for passengers (and generally provide better weather protection for them.)
Both do not lean, and essentially are no longer standard motorcycles in how they handle – for both you are relying on a single front wheel to steer you around a turn – leaning isn’t an option.
Both are very safe when you practice driving and you are aware of their characteristics, but we personally tend to be of the opinion that sidecars are the better option of the two for safety, though we in no way feel that properly setup trikes are unsafe.
Some sidecar dealers will include lessons on how to drive the rig with the purchase of the sidecar (It generally is a sign of a reputable dealer that they will make sure you know how to drive it before letting you out on the roads.)
There are also organizations in the US that offer sidecar lessons, but unfortunately at this time we are unaware (outside of sidecar dealers) of any organization providing sidecar training in Canada.
We are happy to recommend self-practice methods to be used in an isolated environment (Parking lots, etc) if you have no other option, and we are always happy to give hints and tips at any of our events. We also recommend you read the excellent “Driving a Sidecar Outfit” manual by David L Hough, as it gives an excellent overview of the skills and mindset needed to drive a sidecar rig.
There are many different types of sidecars, to the point that we could never really list them all. Below, we will list a few sidecar types and manufacturers as a very general overview of what you will find out there in the sidecar world.
(Written by Mike Palmer, Sidecar Installer and Canadian Ural Dnepr Rider forum creator)
There are pros and cons to both styles of 3-wheeled adventure, but it all comes down to a matter of personal preference. Sidecars are and always will be my choice, but that is based on my needs and my experience which may not be shared by everyone else.
There is only one common point between sidecars and trikes and that point is the reason why people opt for them in the first place - stability. The current crop of seasoned riders (aka the Baby Boomer demographic) are getting aged to the point where holding up a big touring bike or cruiser is getting hard on the body; a sidecar or trike removes this issue and allows one to extend their riding adventures for several more years.
But beyond this point of stability, the different reasons and dynamics of choosing sidecars vs trikes begins. Trikes are the more popular option these days because they are closer in form to a two wheeler and, to some, less damaging to the ego when they make the conversion. Having Piney from SOA roaming around in a Harley Tri-Glide has done wonders to the "image" of the trike, but sidecars are still perceived to be the option of doddering old fools and are plagued by perceived and inaccurate issues of bad handling and sudden chair flights.
It has been my experience that this wrongful image of sidecars being hazardous is due in no small part to the results of many DIY back yard mechanics and bike shops who don't know shite when it comes to the proper installation and alignment thereof, as well as a complete lack of formal training provided to ease the rookie hack owner into the new skill sets required for safe and competent operation.
Working at Old Vintage Cranks has been a real eye opener on this, I've lost count of how many poorly executed and flagrantly dangerous rigs that have crabbed into the shop for me to correct their numerous handling issues. In most cases it has required a complete re-installation and alignment to set up the rig properly, but you should see the faces of the owners the first time they take it for a drive after it has been reworked.
That being said, oVc has recently become authourised installers for trike conversions. As much as we love sidecars, a simple search of facilities willing to install them in Ontario is very revealing when compared to the amount of trike conversion shops in existence.
Trikes are simply way more popular. Trikes benefit from their complexity, from a shop owner's point of view, in that very few DIY types are willing to take on a conversion project on their own. A basic conversion for a large cruiser or touring bike can run in the $10k-$13k range installed and taxes in, while a basic sidecar install can be had for $6k-$9k.
Obviously, people are more willing to fork over the extra cash required for a trike and to let a professional do the job, so we've had to broaden our vision in order to snag some of that cash flow.
But what exactly are the pros and cons between sidecars and trikes, with all bias removed from the question? Here's how I see it...
Trikes - Pros
- - Large aftermarket support for accessories
- - Good brakes that allow for quick stops
- - Usually more narrow that a sidecar
- - Less weight than a sidecar
- - More aerodynamic than a sidecar
- - Better fuel economy than a sidecar
- - Equal handling characteristics in both left or right turns
- - Usually easier to adapt to than sidecars
- - Will not tip over at stoplight
- - Quick, easy u-turns
- - Long lasting car tires on rear
- - Suspension is designed to handle cornering, acceleration and impact (potholes) forces
Trikes - Cons
- - Driver must train themselves to use rear brakes more to avoid overloading front brake
- - Once converted to a trike, it cannot be reverted back to a 2-wheeler without great expense
- - Most insurance companies will not insure a trike if done as DIY project
- - Drastic course changes needed around unexpected obstacles on road (potholes, road kill, etc)
- - Conversions only available for popular, late model bikes
- - Expensive
- - Driver must remember BOTH sides are wider than a two wheeler and not visible in mirrors
- - Limited cargo space
- - Room for only one passenger
- - Same passenger comfort level as a two wheeler
- - Warranty may be voided if converted to trike
- - Difficult to drive in snow (front end easily loses grip)
- - Potential to flip over in left AND right corners (think of 3-wheel ATV's and why they were outlawed)
Sidecars - Pros
- - Driver can use front and rear brakes in the same familiar manner as two wheelers
- - Sidecars and mount system can easily be removed for resale and bike can resume as two wheeler
- - Some insurance companies offer safety discount for sidecar rigs, even if done as a DIY project
- - Less drastic course changes needed to pass over road obstacles (driver need only position rig so neither bike wheels or sidecar wheel will contact)
- - Sidecars can be adapted to almost any bike
- - Cheaper than a trike conversion
- - Lots of cargo space
- - Plenty of room for passenger
- - Passenger can be carried on bike and in sidecar
- - Safer to operate than a trike on cold or snow covered roads
- - Will not tip over at stoplight
- - Quick, easy u-turns
Sidecars - Cons
- - Limited aftermarket support
- - Wider than a trike (some applications are wider than a small car)
- - Heavier than a trike and requires permanent ballast weight
- - Not as aerodynamic as a trike
- - Fuel economy generally worse than a trike
- - Right hand corners require more due care and diligence than left hand corners
- - Warranty may be voided if sidecar installed
- - Reduced tire life on drive wheel (although some bikes can use car tire to negate this)
- - Extreme cornering, overloading and pothole impact can affect alignment
Sidecar and Sidecar Setup Information
United Sidecar Association - Documents Page
The United Sidecar Association has several articles and manuals on both sidecar operation and setup. We recommend downloading Hal Kendall's guide to sidecars - a free PDF available HERE. Their books and guides page is HERE