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Advanced Driving Skills

Recently I've been answering a personal inquiries about sidecar driving skills, both from S/TEP instructors and from sidecar drivers. One common question concerns the steering reversion that occurs when the sidecar wheel lifts off the surface. (Usually in a RH turn)
We intentionally wrote exercises into the S/TEP curriculum to help sidecarists understand what's happening and how to keep everything under control. But some folks apparently want to get it all straightened out in their brains before they get their muscles trained and habits reinforced.

My general advice is exactly what's in the Advanced exercises: learn to fly the car whenever you wish, whether in a curve or in a straight line. Yes, you can fly the car with square profile tires (photos available). If you remain paranoid about losing control in a sharp right hander, (or if you've already puckered your saddle cover getting out of control) I suggest the solution is to get your rig out on a wide open practice range, and keep practicing until the light bulb comes on. Preferably, take the S/TEP where a trained instructor will offer coaching. Alternately, buy the "yellow book" and practice the exercises yourself.

However, if anyone wishes to ramble through the theory, or talk through specific control techniques, we could certainly do that here.


OK. You get into a right hander to hot, the wheel comes up fast, directional control diminishes, and you start crossing the centerline (and the next S/TEP course within 300 miles is six months away). What's the best way to tighten the turn and get back in your lane as soon as possible?
I have puckered my saddle cover, read the books, and been out on the range, but I would still like some advice.

Excellent question. The main reason the sidecar flys is because the driver didn't hang his or her butt off toward the sidecar just prior to entering the curve. Unfortunately, lots of hackers (and some installers) believe that it's possible to set up a rig so that you don't have to crawl all over it while cornering. Yes, if you just toddle around at creepy speeds, you don't have to do anything special, except try to avoid getting run over from behind. But the key to your question is "aggressive" driving. If you want to enjoy zipping along smartly, it's very important to hang off, both in right handers, and in left handers.

Curiously, some sidecar installers hide the "yellow book" from their customers, in fear that if the customers realized how much there is to know about sidecar handling, they might cancel their new hack. As you might suspect, some of these same customers have crashed their new rigs in right hand turns.

The techniques for cornering are in the S/TEP course (800 521-0778) and also in the book Driving A Sidecar Outfit (800 736 1117) But there is no replacement for driving practice, hopefully on a wide open range where you can experiment away from traffic, curbs, potholes, wild animals, etc.

When cornering aggressively to the right, it's important to simultaneously squeeze the front brake while maintaining a bit of throttle. You stay on the gas to keep the rear tire drifting (high slip angle), and squeeze on some front brake to keep speed from increasing. If the car begins to fly too high, squeeze on a bit more brake to bring it down.

You also need to know how to control steering with the car flying. With all three wheels in contact with the surface, you steer the front wheel toward the corner to turn. But as the sidecar wheel lifts off, the outfit becomes a two-wheeler, and will respond to countersteering. On a two wheeler, to turn right you momentarily steer the front wheel more to the left to roll (lean) the bike right.

Sidecar drivers who have never mastered "flying the car" will have trouble with right handers. The priority is typically to get the sidecar wheel back on the ground so steering feels right again. But if you haven't mastered the "reversion" that occurs as the sidecar lifts off or touches down, you may just freeze on the controls, as "the outfit turns itself left across the road" If you want to be in control of where the outfit goes, I suggest you practice the cornering drills in the "yellow book". Don't merely read and assume you've got your brain connected to your hands. Set up the cones and do the exercises until the light bulb comes on.

And if you're using the excuse that the S/TEP is months away, I suggest either driving more conservatively until you take it, or find a course somewhere in the country that's available immediately. You don't need to drive your own rig to the course, since they'll have student rigs to drive. Get a cheap ticket on your favorite airline, fly in, and two days later you'll be flying home with improved skills. Frankly, it's a lot easier to polish your skills when someone else is running around setting the cones for you.


Dave,Excellent advice. However, more bikes are coming with integrated brakes; front brake lever operates rear brake as well (partially integrated). On some BMW's the rear brake pedal also operates the front brake (fully integrated). Honda Goldwings and most BMW has versions of integrated braking systems.How does your advice about slightly squeezing the front brake apply with partially integrated or fully integrated brakes?

I have stayed out of the steering reversion controversy for many reasons, mainly because this is a technique that must be really really practiced under many conditions before it can be used to any benefit.

To drive safely you must stay within the safe limits of operation, whether it is a bicycle, a motorcycle, a motorcycle with a sidecar, or a pickup. Of course, if you want to study and learn special racing or other non-conventional techniques you can raise the envelope. For example, you can drive a 4-wheel car on 2 wheels - done all the time on TV, and you can drive a MC w/ SC on its MC wheels balancing the SC wheel. Done for parades. Yes, I have done it long ago. Just for the fun of it. Not for any serious reason.

I for one would be very wary to advance aggressive behavior for righthanders where if it is not executed exactly and correctly could result in someone getting the pants sued off him or her. I might say, this is waht I have done in the past, but I do not want you to copy it. I am telling you just for the record, or for education.

For example, I might say, that I might want to enter a right hander gently, and to be able to drop down a cog (change down) one, two, or even three gears to get sufficient torque to break enough traction to place the rear wheel exactly and precisely just where I want it to be, or not, or I might want to independantly feather one disk of the front wheel brake, if I can, or I mught want to feather the brake on the SC just before the RH turn to just set the SC up prior to the turn before the SC wheel lifts, or I might want to add a few stones of lead sheet under the seat for added ballast, or..........

And I would practice going in circles to the right to find the lift of point, the point where the sidecar just leaves the road, and also point where steering reversion begins. Between these two points the sidecar rig will drive and respond as normal. Only beyond that point is reversion possible. You do not want to go there. Know your limits. Once you have brought your Center of Gravity over your centerline between your front and rear wheel you have nothing left. Keep this practice on that deserted field, not on the crowded highway.

Safe driving, and keep the rubber side down

Right hand cornering techniques vary from sidecarist to sidecarist.
When learning it is best to enter the turn at a speed that is
comfortable and then accelerate through it. This simple rule will
give the rider the control he or she needs to make a safe turn out
of it. Enter the turn from out by the yellow centerline. This allows you to see through the turn better and may help to recognise an obsticle or even a decreasing radius turn.
As experience builds one can try feathering the front brake
which helps to keep the chair down. It is kind of fun to be on the
edge with the front brake being played with and then feeling the
rig 'free up' and blast out of the turn when the brake is relased
fully. If a rider wants to get used to the chair coming up it can be
made to happen near the exit of the turn and not going into it. This
is much safer and good practice rather than getting in over your
head and then trying all kinds of stuff to
Blind curves should be approached with a little more caution. You
just don't know if the radius of the turn will get smaller
(decreasing radius turn) or if there is a dead cow in the middle of
the road or what.The unknown can be a big eye opener for the is then that you will have to react without really
thinking. The proper reaction will only come if it had been
practiced. Practice is a very good investment into one's future.
Reactions are born through practice.
Controlling the pucker factor while learning will promote more
skill quicker and will help you to not develope bad habits. As the
learning process goes on you will find that you are entering the
turns a little faster and a little faster and that maybe the sidecar
wheel is coming up sooner on the exit, if it is at all.
Counter steering is related to two things. It is not and should not
automatically be related to any rig with the sidecar wheel off the
One..Countersteering is a corrective measure in a turn to get the
chair down. It is many times the natural reaction that a rider makes
and many many times the wrong reaction. If the wheel comes up and
the bike is countersteered to the left immediately the wheel will
probably come back down all right but the rig will probably shoot to
the left across the centerline. (Look at tractor trailers for
sidecars in their grills get the idea.)
Two..Countersteering is also used when flying the chair.
(Lets say that 'flying the chair' and having the sidecar wheel come
up from hard cornering are not one and the same) Flying the chair is
when the sidecar is off the ground and you are now steering it like
a solo bike. (Countersteering..or..Steer right to go left and visa
Please please practice in the large circle .AS YOU INCRESE SPEED IN THE CIRCLE YOU WILL REACH A POINT WHERE THE SIDECAR WHEEL COMES UP. The typical first reaction will be to correct this by turning the bars away from the biggie. but..when you do this and the chair comes back down did you maintain the radius of the turn you were going in? No? (this is what countersteering does if not can kill you if you cross the centerline into the oncoming traffic)..the rig went wide. With practice you will find that you can go on around the turn with the chair coming up and maintain the radius of it. Do not try to get to this point right up to it.
It is fun and you will learn so much by doing this. We can ramble on
in writing about it but it will never become a natural reality to
anyone on an individual basis until they begin to practice it.
ON.(This , many times, applies to when riding with solo is
a ball though as you become more experienced to be able to keep up
with them knowing their pucker factor may be higher than yours

Excellent comments, fellas. I highly respect your knowledge and skills.

The most important part of this is the PRACTICE part. You can read until your eyes glaze over, but eventually you need to make the connection between your brain and your hands. Practicing out in traffic isn't too clever. It's much smarter to do your practicing and flirting with the limits in a wide open space--a training range or parking lot with no cars and no dividers or power poles to run into. And I always suggest that the appropriate way to learn is to take a course where a trained (certified and insured) instructor can offer coaching.

Hal, I suggest that errors are much more likely when you don't know where the limits are. I honestly believe that the best way to learn to manage what happens to steering when the car wheel lifts off is to practice flying the car on purpose. We wrote this into the sidecar course for this very purpose. One of the "two wheel only" S/TEP advisors felt (as you apparently do) that flying the car is a dangerous parade stunt best avoided.

But most of the sidecar accidents I'm aware of occurred primarily because the sidecar driver didn't know what to do when the outfit started to capsize. Some of these were fatalities, where the new sidecarist got confused with steering, froze on the bars, and went straight ahead into a concrete divider as the road curved gently to the right.

Even on the training range, I've seen experienced sidecarists who lifted the sidecar wheel in the steady circle, and when it came up they froze on the bars and let the outfit head off in whatever direction it wanted. It wasn't immediately apparent that they were steering the outfit in that direction. It takes some students a few tries before the light bulb comes on that it's steering that controls roll, as much as throttle and hanging off. Suddenly they get it, and can control the outfit.

I've also seen "experienced" sidecarists arrive for an S/TEP with absolute fear of the outfit rolling over. One guy arrived with a GL/Hannigan with two large sandbags on the sidecar floor. He drove his own rig in the course. When the novice exercises were completed, and it was time to remove the ballast, he was white knuckled. But after learning and practicing the skills necessary to control roll (including flying the car on purpose) he left the course without the ballast, and a lot more confidence about his skills.

I've seen more than a few nervous sidecarists who load up the hack with ballast, worrying about the unknown in right-handers, not realizing that the bike can roll over the sidecar in a left-hander. And of course, ballast in the sidecar can contribute to roll. So, I agree with the need to bolt on some ballast with a too-light sidecar, but I suggest that the goal should be being able to control the rig under any circumstances. I also agree that we need to be careful about offering advice that could result in liability. That's why I seldom offer advice that hasn't already been documented in a curriculum--that's been scrutinized by an insurance company--and proven in courses.

Back to that note about integrated brakes. The Honda GL approach leaves the front brake lever controlling the left front disk. So, that allows you to brake while staying on the throttle. Score points for the Gold Wing. The fully integrated BMW power assisted ABS brakes do not allow the option of independent front wheel braking. Even the partially integrated BMW ABS system doesn't allow front-only braking, since the front lever applies both front and rear brakes together.

(my opinion here:) I happen to dislike the BMW integrated brakes, even for a two wheeler. My personal preference for a sidecar puller is independent, non ABS brakes, to allow you to brake on any or all of the three wheels. My K1 outfit happens to have ABS, but the brakes are completely independent, not integrated. The sidecar brake is non-ABS, controlled by a parallel "rear" brake pedal, not tied hydraulically into either bike master cylinder.

The current trend seems to be that manufact

The following is a little long. It is an exchange of comments that were posted at SCT. There are also two pictures posted in my album onthi ssite depicting what we are talking about.

SNOWBUM WROTE(In response to another post):
>>If you have solo motorcycling experience (no chair), then you
might want to consider that you are car-like for steering when the
chair wheel has some grip on the ground, but at the lifting point
you transition to a motorcycle, with the countersteering that a
motorcycle does....meaning that as the chair
goes to flying, the effect of YOUR input to the BARS is 100%
Another way of saying this is that with the chair tire on the
ground, you steer like a car, turn the bars right to go right, left
to go left. That is reversed with the chair really flying.<<


...everything snowbum wrote was excellent advice on getting to
know the quirks of a sidecar that has or is about to lift it's wheel
in a corner. The above is true too but I want to say that as you do
the exercise of going in the circle and increasing speed or
decreasing the radius of the circle..DO NOT be so concerned about
the steering going from right to go right to left to go
right ..or..what is known as 'steering reversion'.
I do not want to confuse things here so read carefully. The delima
is when does the reversion actually take place? What kills new
sidecarists is countersteering too early!!
Consider this: In a right hand turn and the sidecar wheel begins to
float is off the ground. Do we automatically go into the
reversion mode? NO! Now ..we are in a righthand turn at a little
more speed and the sidecar wheel comes up..are we into reversion
mode? Probably not !
If a sidecarist corrects too quickly what happens? Right..the chair
comes back down..Good? NOT REALLY...WHY? If this happens the rig
will steer quickly to the left and across the centerline
and..and...well it could be good or really bad.
Practice like snowbum mentioned is an excellent exercise in getting
to know your rig and it's limits. It is also an excellent exercise
to expand the rider's limits.
Just do the exercise.(Talking about riding in a circle here and increasing speed gradually or tightening the circle) It will feel strange at first and you will
correct too early many times. When you correct you will find you
have turned to the left and are off the circle. Keep doing the
exercise and soon you will be turning to the right with the chair in
the air while going on around the circle. At this point you can
begin to think about steering reversion and how it affects control.
A proficient sidecarist can turn to the right and to the left with
the chair in the air. He or she can also come to a complete stop and
if the rig is not too heavy can start off again. Sure it can be done
to show off but these things are also good exercises to do to get to
know your rig.
Start slow in the circle and do as snowbum is a
gratifylibg experience and a lot of fun too. Your sidecar is pretty
light. i would practice with it empty and then go ahead and add
ballast to go out on the road. DO NOT BE SCARD OF KEEPING THE
you gain experience you will probably reduce the amount of ballast
you carry but if not..who cares.
One more thing probably would benefit a lot with a stiffer
suspension on the bike and the sidecar. A stiffly spri=ung rig is
much less suceptible to varioations in loading , road camber
changes, wind etc.


100% agree with Claude here. AND...I hope I did not give the impression one
needed to correct instantly in countersteering as the chair rises. Take
your time, you have a big lot you are practicing

Also, the only reason I suggested you PRACTICE with no ballast is to make
it easier for the chair to come up at low speeds (or less tight a circle).
I would suggest that ON-ROAD you might well want to

Excellent advice. Since the topic is "advanced" skills, let's dig a little deeper into that mystery called "countersteering". Some riders have the idea that it's steering the front wheel over to one side and holding it there. Others have the opposite opinion, that there is no such thing as countersteering.

I've suggested that we redefine "countersteering" as moving the front tire contact patch opposite the way you want to lean. Consider an automobile rounding a left hand curve. You steer the front wheels toward the left, and the car rolls right. You might not think of that as a classic example of "countersteering" but that's what vehicles do. With a four wheeler or three wheeler, the outside wheel resists the lean (until centrifugal force overcomes gravity pulling down on the vehicle).

Now, let's say you are cornering your sidecar rig swiftly into a left-hander, using some muscle to point the front wheel toward the curve. At the exit, you ease up on the grips and allow the front wheel to point toward the straight. In the turn, the rig was rolling toward the right, with rollover resisted by the sidecar wheel. As you ease up on steering pressure, the roll is reduced. You probably don't think of that as countersteering, but it is. Countersteering isn't the opposite of direct steering, it's a momentary input to cause the machine to roll ("lean") in a specific direction.

Let's temporarily consider a two wheeler in a "straight line". It may feel like a straight line, but actually there's a little weave as the bike's front end geometry and the rider's steering input correct the bike's path back toward center. In a curve, the bike doesn't follow a precise arc, but also weaves slightly as the bike and rider make small corrections. The actual time spent steering the contact patch opposite the way the rider wants to go is only a small percentage of riding time. So, we can't say the rider countersteers "all the time" on a two wheeler.

When pointing a sidecar rig in a "straight line", it can actually make a perfectly straight line. There is no need for steering geometry or rider to make any change to input, unless the situation changes. (road camber change, crosswind, curve, etc.) However, in a curve, suspension allows the rig to roll as the suspension on the outside is compressed. And steering input has an effect on that roll, as we pointed out with the auto example above. So, here you are, putting some effort into pointing your front wheel toward the curve, and you feel the sidecar start to get too light for comfort. Easing up a bit on the steering will allow the rig to take a slightly wider line, decreasing centrifugal force slightly, which decreases the roll forces. You don't have to think of that as "countersteering", but it fits the definition I'm suggesting.

When practicing flying the car in a circle (one of the exercises in the S/TEP) I always demonstrate at a very slow speed, to emphasize that balance is a matter of steering, not simply speed control. A momentary countersteering pressure will lift the car. What's not so obvious is that steering the contact patch slightly wider allows the car to drop slightly. Very minor steering input allows you to balance the outfit around what appears to be a perfectly round circle. In fact, the circle isn't exactly round, but rather a slight weave resulting from the driver's steering/balancing input.

Hey, the horror images of smashing into the oncoming Kenworth as a result of suddenly attempting to countersteer are fearsome, but the whole point of this is learning what outfits tend to do and then learning to control your rig to make it do whatever you need it to do.

I coined the term "steering reversion" to describe the change in the rig's behaviour as it becomes BALANCED on two wheels. But even in a curve, with the sidecar wheel off the ground, your steering input can control roll. If you can make your rig do whatever you want, it doesn't make any difference how you define the inputs. But if you're attempting to teach students in a training class, that's a much d

HOW FAR DO WE WANT TO GO HERE? Are three wheel drifts in right handers next? Your call Dave 🙂
Dave wrote:
>>I've suggested that we redefine "countersteering" as moving the front tire contact patch opposite the way you want to lean.<<
Agreed! Good accepted definition for countersteering. I think se could go a little futher with this..When is countersteering or steering reversion to take place? Can we rely on both terms being used interchangebly? I think not.

The misconception is that as soon as the wheel leaves the ground one is in the countersteering, or steering reversion, mode. This can cause trouble. Especially for a rider who has not practiced enough to understand the dynamics taking place. Does he or she need to know all the right terminiology? No not really. I have posted a picture of Eric Oliver, 4 time world sidecar champion,in the album section. Eric Oliver never heard the term 'steering reversion' and probably never thought of countersteering the way it is pertrayed today. But..if you look at the picture you may see a small amount of counterstering on his part. This is a finesse thing that can only be learned through practice and experience by a diligent student who is willing to expand his or her skill base.
Lets simplify this.(oh brother.. we have probably lost our audience already lol)
There IS a difference between the wheel leaving the ground and flying the chair. I know we may seem to be dealing with symantics here but please hang on. When the centrifigul forces that are generated as a rig changes it path are such that the center of gravity rotating around the roll center exceeds the dynamics and weight distribution of the outfit's design the inside (sidecar) wheel will leave the ground. When this initially happens the rig is still a dual track machine running on two wheels. At this point..THIS POINT..THIS POINT..any input by the pilot to turn left to go right (steering reversion) will bring the sidecar wheel back down but will also make the machine turn in the direction the input was put to...this means left. So with this being true it is not,cannot,be the result of steering reversion! Steering reversion would say turn left to go this case it just ain't so.

To rely on the act of steering reversion alone to safely negotiate a turn to the right as soon as the wheel leaves the ground is not correct and can be fatal.
Now the fine points...countersteering.To correct a tipping sidecar rig countersteering can be a benefit...whoa..Claude has his foot in his mouth now! No I don't think so. It is a fine point but countersteering can be of benefit if the sidecar pilot is able to keep up with it. Like the picture of Eric Oliver at speed it is a finesse thing! It is not cranking the bars to the left to go right! No way! It is not steering reversion! It is a corrective measure in this case to keep the sidecar wheel from coming on up. It has to be done in a gentle manner and the pilot cannot let it get ahead of him. If he cannot 'catch up' with the steering input he has done he will veer to the left and probably cross the centerline. Crossing the centerline is a no no. the traffic is one concern.Another concern is that the road camber may change which aggrivates the tipsy deal. The other factor is that if the centerline is crossed and the sidecar did come back down and if the spped is still up there then a decreasing radius turn has just been manufactured by our own doing. What does this mean? It means we now have to react all over again possibly in a tighter turn. (we is runnin out of road space here..our life is flashing before us...the decision to jump off this heap is crossing our minds etc).
There is really no need to get ourselves into this situation if we slow down ,practice good habits and continue to build our skills.
Folks we are talking about advanced skills here.Are they needed? Maybe not..I would even venture to say probably not. But it is better to learn these skills and have them than to freeze at the helm when the grim reaper is starin