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Looking into getting my first sidecar

MrMike - 7/6/2016 12:32 AM

What is this fascination with Urals?

No kidding, I showed my wife a pic of an Ural and she said "Yep, that's what I want." Oh no!
I don't get it, no power, they break all the time, and have a loyal following of folks that hate/love them.

Here's a riddle wrapped in an enigma -
Part 1. Test ride - I have never driven a sidecar, never ridden in a sidecar. I THINK I'd like to get a sidecar rig for a lot of the reasons mentioned in several of the newbie threads (including my own). BUTT - no local dealer has a a rig to test, I have no friends that own a rig & no classes that I can find. Several of you have said they would NEVER, EVER let anyone "just test ride" their rig. So the Q - how do I see if I'd like having a sidecar, let alone get experience w/o killing myself if I can't test ride one?

Part 2 I've pretty much decided getting a used rig is my best bet to train on, then move into a new sidecar for my bike. BUTT - I read the horror stories about a poorly set up rig and the problems associated with that. So the Q - How do I tell if a rig is poorly set up if I shouldn't test even drive it and if I don't know what I'm looking for anyway?

Part 3 Without a class or a sidecar driving buddy - how do I gain enough experience so as not to be a danger to myself or others on an actual road in real traffic?

btw - you guys have been great with all your insights, info and advice so far. Much like the guys on the Venture Riders forum. My thanks to all.

Red, which part of the country are you in? There are USCA members in every state. Maybe one of us can link up with you and help answer your questions in person.

redsimp - 7/20/2016 10:04 AM

Here's a riddle wrapped in an enigma -
Part 1. Test ride - I have never driven a sidecar, never ridden in a sidecar. I THINK I'd like to get a sidecar rig for a lot of the reasons mentioned in several of the newbie threads (including my own). BUTT - no local dealer has a a rig to test, I have no friends that own a rig & no classes that I can find. Several of you have said they would NEVER, EVER let anyone "just test ride" their rig. So the Q - how do I see if I'd like having a sidecar, let alone get experience w/o killing myself if I can't test ride one?

I ran into that situation myself. The local Ural dealer said he would let me ride in the chair, but his lot is too small for a test ride, and he isn't comfortable putting a rookie on the street.

I was able to get a local guy to give me a ride in the car and it was a blast, but I was a bit apprehensive because i wasnt in control.

That has led me to the idea that I should get a used Ural to train in, yea it's got no power, but they are set up from the factory, and the crazy Ural fan base seems to keep the values steady, so I can buy one to mess around with and then I can sell it without losing too much cash and get something a little slicker.

Red, while it's hard to get real experience without any seat time, you CAN gain a lot of insight by reading the Sidecar Manuals available on this forum - look at http://www.sidecar.com/links3.asp and you'll see them. Read them and you'll have a good idea of how to operate a sidecar - then you just have to find a dealer who will let you have a test drive. Some dealers insist on you being a passenger rather than a driver, but others will let you drive - usually in their parking lot.

IamDan - 7/20/2016 7:41 AM

That has led me to the idea that I should get a used Ural to train in, yea it's got no power, but they are set up from the factory, ...

Actually, they come from the factory in a large crate, in several pieces, and the dealer does the final assembly and setup. If the dealer is a Ural dealer then chances are good that he'll do a good job of setting up the sidecar; if he just sells Urals as a "side" business chances are he won't take the time to set it up correctly.

In response to Tim R. We just returned from Hotchkiss and the national rally of the 74 outfits there were 17 Urals. The newer models are more reliable than the early ones. They have improved the engines reliability but the transmissions and final drives are still designed for the old engines. The guys I talk to who have the new ones have more fun than they ever had on 2 wheels. The set up issue is really a non-issue because they have very little adjustment that has to be done after reassembly at the dealer. Our local dealer says he doesn't have to do much to get the set-up right after putting together a new one. All that having been said - Urals a great way to get into sidecaring. I can't resist quoting a comment I heard at the rally from a Ural rider. "They are the Harbor Freight of sidecars."

I'm not an instructor nor a builder, so take my advise accordingly. That being said, if anyone coming across this thread is an instructor or builder or pilot with experience and notice that I've provided false, misleading or dangerous info, please speak up! I won't be offended and promise to learn from your knowledge. Besides, the life you save may be a future customer/riding buddy!

A couple of quick static tests to tell if the rig is set up good 'nuf (for parking lot practice):
- overall condition of the rig. Does it look like it's been well cared for? Standard bike inspection techniques applies here.
- tire wear. Are the tires wearing evenly? Are they wearing too fast (owner complains they are only getting a few thou out of their tires. If the owner is a potential seller, be sly when asking about tire wear)
- does the rig sit level when empty and when loaded? By loaded, I mean a driver AND passenger/ballast.
- grab the handlebars, put your right foot on the LEFT peg (you are now hanging off the left side of the bike). See how easily you can pick the sidecar wheel off the ground with just your weight. You are testing not only the rig with this maneuver, but how YOUR weight when added to the rig will affect it's handling.
- Hint, the wheel should lift but not real easily. If it's too easy, add ballast to the car. Add heavy inanimate things like water jugs, bricks or WELL CONTAINED sand bags. Your ballast loading WILL vary, you are in a way tailoring the rig to YOU as the driver.
- Only add people or pets to the car if the driver is experienced! (special note: wives HATE to be called BALLAST!)
- when you pick the hack wheel up, look for any flex or play in the bike-to-car connections.

Now, if you and the owner are comfortable with you taking control of the rig:
- FOLLOW THE OWNER'S INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER! You are asking to borrow his baby. Put yourself in his shoes by remembering back to your daughters prom night!
- show up well rested, you are going to use mussels you didn't know were there.
- do your test drives in a BIG parking lot with no obstacles and is mostly free of dips and slopes.
- Go slow and straight, planning for a wide LEFT turn at the end.
- Don't leave first gear until the owner thinks you are ready.
- When driving straight and slow, apply the brakes. If the car wheel does not have a brake, you should feel a slight push to the LEFT from the weight of the car. Correct this yaw with steering and speed.
- similarly, the car will want to pull the bike RIGHT when you accelerate. Again compensate with steering and speed.

Now for your first turn.
- slow, wide LEFT turn at the end of the straight away.
- You may feel the car wanting to nose dive. Compensate with speed and steering and now also by shifting your body weigh AWAY from the car. Your body weight is PART of the rig's balance/counter-balance system. On a solo bike, you become one with the machine, leaning as it leans. On a rig, you are a separate entity. You shift your body weight counter to the bike to keep the rig balanced and in contact with the road. Watch some videos of sidecar racers and you'll see what I mean! You'll also understand why a sidecar racing team consists of a "driver" and a "monkey"! (FYI, wives also HATE being called a MONKEY!)
- Rinse and repeat straight away driving, acceleration, braking and LEFT turning, maybe adding a little speed (VERY little) each time.

- When you are ready AND THE OWNER SAYS OK, switch to RIGHT turns, but VERY slowly. Things will get exciting now!
- This time, you should feel the car's wheel wanting to rise.
- Correct this by shifting your weight TOWARDS the car and widening your turn. Avoid grabbing the brakes hard if you feel the rig tipping. Hard braking will only worsen the tip. Plan your right turns with some run-out space in case you need to straighten your line to set the wheel back down. See, I told you it's guna get exciting!
- if the rig seems too tippy, try adding more ballast.
- Rinse repeat

If you aren't hooked on sidecars at this point, thank the owner, offer to buy lunch, then walk away. Sidecars are asymmetric and drive like no other vehicle out there. It's not everyone's cup of Scotch, er, I mean tea! Yes it's TEA in that cup!

If you want to continue and the owner is OK with it, figure-8s are your next exercise.
- big, slow figure-8s
- slowly (VERY slowly) add speed and tighten the pattern.
- remember to plan for run-out space on your turns.
- when you get to the point that you consistently feel the tipping points, you've learn enough for now.

Time for your next gut check, are you still hooked?

You should be getting fairly comfortable by now with shifting your body weight and adjusting your speed and steering to compensate for turns and acceleration/deceleration induced yaw. Be aware that this is when things get down right dangerous! As confidence builds, so will the urge to challenge yourself and thus get yourself into trouble. Be focused and disciplined as you add new skills!! ALWAYS RESPECT THE RIG AND IT'S ABILITY TO HURT YOU!! When it comes to the science of sidecars, always keep Newton in charge, never Darwin!

If you want to continue and the owner is OK with it. Time to try panic stops.
- With added speed and harder braking, the yaw effect of an un-braked sidecar wheel will get more pronounced. Be ready for it.
- Chose a wide open area with several run-out options. DON'T CHARGE HEADLONG AT A BRICK WALL!
- hard breaking and turning at the same time IS TO BE AVOIDED! Keep 'er pointed as straight as possible when hard braking.

At this point, you should know if sidecar ownership is for you. Thank the owner, buy lunch (or more likely dinner by now!). Find yourself a rig to buy. Buying a practice rig and selling it after a few years is preferable to building your own at this point. I learned the hard way that an inexperienced driver (me) plus and inexperienced builder (also me) is just asking for trouble! As I said above, sidecar rigs are like no other vehicle out there!

Think you are ready for the street? NO YOU ARE NOT! So far the only entity that has been trying to kill you is the rig itself. On the street there will be cars and trucks and pedestrians and animals and pot holes and shredded tire pieces and gravel and off-camber surfaces (be sure to read up on these little beauts!) and all sorts of things out of your control. Your run-out options will also be severely limited. Correcting a wonky right turn by widening your line into on-coming traffic will make for a very bad day! Were I a religious man, you can bet I'd be tossing an extra nickel in the collection plate for every time I think about my brushes with this all too common noob mistake! You will need much more parking lot practice AND A CLASS if at all possible to ready yourself for the streets!

Good luck and again, welcome to the slightly off-center world of sidecars!

P.S.
Sorry about all the edits, but more things pop into mind...

OK - more very solid info & ideas.
CCjon - N central WI - 15 miles from Oshkosh - 1 hr. + north of Milwaukee. We have a Ural dealer in Neenah, but no used one, no test rides.
IamDan - had a similar thought, but the used Urals in my "try it" budget are very old - pre-2000 and still near my $$$ limit. Newer used ones are near the price of getting a new car on my current bike - Didn't make "cents" to me. I haven't completely ruled one out - guys do seem to actually sell the used ones for the asking price - I've checked. Which amazes me.
Alan - yep I've taught myself all kinds of things by reading and then doing - researched trial & error I call it. And I expect I'll do the same here. I will read the manual you linked to, thanks.
jwshort - Ural went to EFI and all disc brakes in 2014 (pretty sure) - so those rigs (14, 15 & 16) are still selling for premium - $15K or so. The 2000 - 20013 with the old tech - are still getting $5K - 14K. And stuff from Harbor Freight is not exactly synonymous with "quality", to me. Stuff I bought from HF usually breaks just when I need it most. I also looked at a 2016 Ural & sat on it just yesterday - not a lot of room for my right foot at all! Just my $.02
OldSchool - now that there is an ANSWER! Does that come in paperback! LOL Thanks!! Now I might not look like a complete idiot checking a rig out. And not getting too confident too quick - good advice to extend my earthly existence.
I will read the manual, the answers here and other threads and continue the quest. So far - I have not been deterred, only educated by you all.

Just downloaded the books to my tablet - wow! There's a TON of info there. Just a quick glance answered a couple other questions. OK - will read first - ask Q's later. My thanks to Hal.