Archive for the ‘Motorcycle sidecars’ Category

Examiner Resurrection: Sidecar Racing: High-Speed Ballet

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017
sidecar racers prep

Wade Boyd and Christine Blunck gear up to race their #6 Formula 2 sidecar.

Money and horsepower do not produce winners in sidecar racing. It takes teamwork, and a good team can make a poor machine very, very fast.

So say the folks who ought to know, the sidecar racers I spoke with (and rode with!) at last weekend’s Bonneville Vintage GP and Concours.

Wade Boyd and Christine Blunck are the points leaders for both driver and passenger as this racing season nears its end, and they were the ones I chanced to strike up conversation with as I sought to learn more about this sport. I also spoke with Rick Murray, the outgoing president of the Sidecar Racers Association-West.

Wade got into sidecar racing unexpectedly when he showed up at the Isle of Man TT one year expecting to race in three events. Finding that he had been shut out of two events, “I told my girlfriend to find me a sidecar.” He had never ridden a sidecar before but she found a driver in need of a passenger and he agreed to take Wade.

“I had a dynamite time, and then for four years it was like I had my thumb out. I’d go without having anything set and I’d find someone who needed a rider. Then I got to drive . . .”

Christine’s first involvement with racing was as an umbrella girl at various races, but she had a friend who ran a motorcycle shop, and who said of sidecar racing, “We could do that.”

That’s often how it happens, says Rick. “Quite often you have two friends or relatives who want to race together. We have many husband/wife, father/son, sister/sister teams. We have a fairly high percentage of women in the sport.”

Wade concurs, saying “Where else do you get to take a buddy for a ride?”

Wade is a steel fabricator by trade and he built his own rig for the most part, although “Mr. Bill” Becker of Becker Motor Works helped him out putting the motor in and with some of the other big stuff. Mr. Bill is known by all U.S. sidecar racers because he helps nearly all of them keep their rigs running.

That sort of helpfulness is characteristic of sidecar racing. “We’re competitive but friendly,” says Wade. “We want you out there and I want to pass you fair and square.”

It’s all about teamwork
The key to running a fast race is the teamwork. Each team pre-rides the track and then maps out their strategy for each turn on the course. On most turns the passenger will hang their weight out to enable fast turns without the third wheel rising off the pavement, or floating. That loss of traction cuts speed. However, in some instances, “letting the chair float” allows the rig to cut the corner sharper in order to get up speed in a hurry for the straightaway.

The passenger needs to know his or her position on each turn and the driver needs to be aware of the passenger’s location. On occasion the driver will look back but usually, “I feel her, the ESP is strong,” says Wade.

The passenger also needs to make their moves smoothly and gracefully. Harsh, forceful moves from one position to another will negatively affect the handling of the rig. Wade calls this coordinated, smooth movement “high-speed ballet.”

Despite the seemingly dangerous risks the passengers take, leaning far out of the rig just inches above the ground, sidecar racing in the U.S. is actually very safe. By comparison, Wade says, at the Isle of Man TT “they put a bale of hay in front of a telephone pole. After doing the TT, this (the track at Miller Motorsports Park) is easy. We rarely touch, but if you do touch you’re probably going to spin out, and if you spin out the passenger can get launched.”

According to Rick, the last sidecar racing fatality in the U.S. occurred in the 1980s, and there have been only three fatalities since the 1960s.

Passengers do sometimes get “spit off.” Christine’s most memorable such occasion came in Ramsey, on the Isle of Man when her driver clipped a curb in an S-curve. “It spit me off and I flipped through the air and landed upright on my feet in some gentleman’s front yard. I said ‘Hi’ and introduced myself.” She adds that there are times when the passenger wishes he or she was a monkey, and had that tail as a fifth hand to hang on with.

Sidecar racing is an inexpensive way to race, Rick notes, because you split the cost two ways. Plus, using wide, slick tires, as modern sidecars do, the costs are low because a set of tires will last one to two years. And most racers run stock engines so reliability is very high.

Still, there aren’t that many sidecar racers in the U.S., and they’d love to see that change. That’s one reason Rick and others love to offer “taxi rides” to spectators when they can. These taxi rides let non-racers suit up and take two laps around the track with an experienced driver at the controls.

“I tell people you’ll love it or hate it,” says Rick. “I’ve never seen anybody go half way. They’re either ‘Get me off’ or ‘Where can I buy one?'”

And if you do love it, says Rick, “You can spend $4,000 to $5,000 and have something to have fun with.”

Biker Quote for Today

Sometimes your knight in shining armor turns out to be a biker in dirty leathers.

Examiner Resurrection: Playing Monkey On A Racing Sidecar

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

This experience was a real highlight, so I’m happy to run this as an Examiner Resurrection.

motorcycle sidecar rig and two riders

Rick Murray at the controls and me in the passenger spot.

“Grab this grip with your left hand and never let go.”

I figured that first bit of instruction was the most important of all. Especially when ignoring it could result in my hitting the pavement at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

I was going for a ride on a racing sidecar.

If you watch sidecar racers scream around the curves, often with the passenger hanging much of their body out of the car and inches from the ground, your first impulse is to say “Those guys are crazy.” Well, crazy or not, I wanted a piece of it and I was going to get it.

I went to the Bonneville Vintage GP and Concours last week with antique motorcycles on my mind but was quickly caught up in the excitement surrounding the sidecars that were also there racing, both vintage and Formula 1 and Formula 2. And as luck would have it, the sidecar guys love to take other folks on what they call “taxi rides” for a couple laps of the track. Where do I sign up?

So Rick Murray, with Team RGM, who would be taking me for a ride in his rig, was explaining to me what I should, and most importantly, should not do. As you move around from left to right to center, the right hand moves from grip to grip. But the left hand never moves from its grip. A lot of the rest I was told was forgotten as soon as we got out on the track but I did remember this.

Then Christine Blunck, with Subculture Racing, walked me through the entire track, showing me how to roll on my legs from left to center, where to brace my feet as I moved right, and what move to make on each turn in the track. She noted that sidecar passengers at times wish they were monkeys so they would have that tail, that fifth hand, to grab on with.

Wearing my own helmet and gloves and a borrowed leather suit, I was mounted and we were ready to roll out on the track. There would be one other taxi rider on the sidecar ahead of us. Let’s go.

Around the track we looped, through turns with evocative names such as “Gotcha,” “Mabey Y’ll Makit,” “Agony,” and “Ecstasy.” If I remembered anything Christine had told me about each turn it became moot as I quickly lost track of where we even were on the course. Initial thoughts of shifting left to right and back to left were dashed at the realization that, oh yeah, sometimes you have two lefts in a row, or two rights in a row. Guess I’d better pay attention to the track.

But even then it got confusing. I’d be figuring that I needed to be going right and I’d look ahead and the guy in the car in front of us was going left. Who was correct and who was confused? I know I was confused even if I was correct.

Of course, in all honesty, it didn’t matter if I screwed up. We were not going at full race speeds and Rick told me he could run the whole course at that speed with no problem regardless of what I did. And afterward I asked him if I screwed up and he just said, sort of noncommitally, that “You did fine.”

So we did the first lap and were well into the second when I heard the engine rev and felt us picking up speed. I knew Rick was opening it up to give me a taste of real race speeds and I hung on tight to enjoy the sensation. I have no doubt that my own personal land speed record was set at that moment.

Then we swept again through the clubhouse turn and into the pit lane and off the track to a stop. I stood up and realized I was breathing hard, not to mention feeling like I’d just had a work out. And I’m sure I was smiling. Here’s your leathers back, and thank you for the pin that reads, “I rode a racing sidecar.” Thank you, thank you, thank you. When can I do this again?

Biker Quote for Today

I have no interest in living a balanced life. I want a life of adventure.

Thoughts While Riding

Thursday, September 10th, 2015
Looking toward the plains.

A stop on the way up to Mount Evans.

You have a lot of time to think when you’re riding, particularly if you don’t have a communicator and someone to talk to. On this ride Alan and Dan and I took up Mount Evans last week they were linked via radio but I was alone in my helmet. But there was a lot going on in there.

Alan, of course, is now riding a Gold Wing with a sidecar. He had an encounter with a deer and the Harley died. Now with the sidecar he and his wife go out together a whole lot more than they used to. He’s sold. I included a Biker Quote for Today awhile back that read, “Nothing like trikes and even less like three-wheeled automobiles, sidecars accentuate the balance and ineffable grace of a single-tracker in approximately the manner and degree that crutches improve the performance of steeplechasers. — Jack Lewis” and Alan emailed me to say something along the lines of “All true, but they’re still a heck of a lot of fun.”

This was the first time I had seen the new rig and yes it looks fancy and cushy. As we took off it made sense that he take the lead because going up the canyon to Evergreen–not to mention up the mountains–he was not going to be able to blast around corners the way those of us on two wheels could. So he set the pace.

Winding up along Bear Creek I got a little lazy. I knew that any turn Alan could take at whatever speed, I could certainly take at the same speed. So I hardly paid any attention to what speed I was going. And my expectations were met.

Up on the road over Squaw Pass I was thinking more about the wet road. And the increasing cold. I was thinking how I just might need to break down and get a riding suit like those that Dan and Alan were both wearing. My rain gear was very close at hand but stopping to put it on is always a pain, and if you don’t put it on you can get wet. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an all-weather suit that you just routinely wear when you ride and then the wet is no longer an issue. I could definitely live without the mad scramble to pull that suit on as the rain pelts you. Not to mention the awkwardness of removing it when it’s no longer needed.

We turned up CO 5 to go up the mountain and the ranger at the entrance told us it was snowing on top. Now I had plenty to think about. How bad is the snow on top? The sign board said the temperature up there was 34 degrees, so that’s not freezing, but what if there was ice on the road nonetheless? How good an idea is this? Alan at least had three wheels; he would be fine. And my bike, the V-Strom, is pretty light so I felt confident I could manage with it. But Dan was on his big Harley. This was exactly why I didn’t ride the Concours.

Up the hill we went and soon Dan, who was in the rear, was dropping behind at the switchbacks. With the light, agile V-Strom I was using trail-braking to just walk around the tight turns at about 5 miles an hour. I don’t know what cornering technique Dan was using but at the very least, that Harley can’t have as tight a turning radius as my Suzuki. And we were constantly encountering cars going down right as we were negotiating these switchbacks.

Then another thing I had noticed previously started popping into my head repeatedly. From the rear, Alan’s sidecar looks a lot like the back end of a PT Cruiser, in miniature. I can’t count the number of times I looked at him and thought there was a car on the road ahead of him a ways, only to realize it was the sidecar. You would think my brain would have gotten over that misperception after awhile but for this entire ride it happened again and again.

Of course, on the ride up my mind eventually turned to the pool of water collecting at my crotch and soaking into my jeans, and wishing I had had the common sense to put my rain pants on when I put the jacket on.

So we got to the top and didn’t stay long and then headed back down. I had intended to get out my camera and shoot some pictures on the way down but my hands were numb and there was little to see anyway because of the cloud we were in. So I left the camera in the bag. But the weather shifted dramatically while we were up there and as we headed down it had cleared off and also gotten warmer. My hands were no longer numb. And it was gorgeous. I wanted so much to be getting pictures of this spectacular scene with the road, the bikes, the clouds–everything. But it was not to be. And my thoughts turned, as they often have, to getting a GoPro camera and using it to capture all the incredible rides where I have so often in the past had this same regret.

Being alone in your head so much while riding, as all riders know, makes it all the more fun then to stop for lunch or whatever and talk with the guys about the ride and everything else. Which we did in Idaho Springs.

Some people don’t do well by themselves. I guess when they only have themselves for company they find that they aren’t very good company. I wonder if folks like that don’t ride motorcycles much. Me, I never get bored. If nothing else I’m putting thoughts into words and phrases and hoping I can remember them when I sit down to write. Maybe I could rig something up with a voice-activated microphone and record my thoughts as I ride, rather than trusting to memory. There’s got to be an app for that.

Biker Quote for Today

Dear motorcycle: Thank you for make me feel alive. P.S., is is the weekend yet?

First Report From New Sidecar Rider

Monday, October 6th, 2014
Goldwing sidecar rig on Red Mountain Pass

Alan and Cheryl with the Goldwing sidecar rig on Red Mountain Pass.

My friend Alan, whose Harley got wrecked when a deer ran him down, has replaced that ride with a sidecar rig. I had put him in contact with another sidecar rider I know, Dom Chang, and I presume Dom provided Alan with some good information on the subject.

Alan sent along a report of a recent multi-day trip he and his wife, Cheryl, took in the new rig and I’m taking the liberty of passing that along. Alan reads this blog so hey Alan, if you object, just let me know. But I’m guessing you won’t.

The ride was a blast! Cheryl loved it. Some things we learned about the rig that we will make some minor additions and modifications but overall we are pleased. We purchased an oscillating fan in Moab and used it. Although the sidecar has ventilation, there are times when it is hot outside but you don’t want to lower the top and remove the windows. Having a fan to move air even when you are stopped helped a lot. We will mount the fan inside the sidecar and put in a switch so you can use it when needed. Have a very tight window to snap shut on the left side and I will have to do a little stretching of the window to make it easier to snap shut. Also, I am going to add two plastic labels to the switches on the left side so you can tell which one opens the top and which one is the PTT for the CB radio. We brought a blanket along and found it helpful when the temps got to 39 degrees one night in Gunnison but it was also helpful generally. That is about it. Really some minor items in the whole scheme of things.

Was it comfy? Yes, very. So much so that Cheryl fell asleep many times just like when she rides in a car.

How did it handle? Well this is definitely not the rig to do canyon carving but it did well. Handles similar to a Harley trike but with differences. Pulls to the right on acceleration and little to the left when braking. Noticeable? Yes? Anticipated? Yes. Problematic? Not really.

I think we gave the rig a thorough workout. I really like the power and stability of the Goldwing. Also, having reverse without having to pay $2,000+ is definitely worth it. We traveled Denver to Moab (took the river road and overnight), then to Naturita, to Lizard Head Pass, to Telluride, to Montrose (overnight), to Durango, to South Fork, to Lake City, to Gunnison (overnight), to Fairplay, to Denver. We put 1,000+ miles on the rig, went over 10 10,000 foot mountain passes, had Interstate, 4 lane and 2 lane roads, highway speeds 75mph+ and 2 lane mountain pass roads of 15-40mph. The rig did everything we asked of it and yes, we like it!!!

Sounds good, Alan. Enjoy the ride. And now I guess Cheryl gets to enjoy the ride, too. That definitely works.

Biker Quote for Today

A shot of espresso is worth another 100 miles.