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Newbie seeking advice from experienced sidecarists

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Hello folks !

I'm Steve from McKinney (near Dallas) Texas. I've been riding 2 wheelers most of my life with a brief 15 year or so hiatus for raising kids and doing family stuff. After almost 20 years on 2 wheels since my kids left for college, My wife and I are ready for some changes to our favorite mode of transportation. The current decision is between a trike or a sidecar, and if a sidecar, which one to get.

Our bike is a 2008 Honda VTX 1800 R. It's set up for touring with a fairing, big hard saddlebags, etc. We both love the bike. We had a Harley Electraglide for 10 years, and liked that bike too, but IMHO the Honda is just a better motorcycle (in all fairness, the Harley was a 2002 model, and I read they're much improved lately). The VTX 1800 is a big, heavy, powerful motorcycle that I'm sure will pull a sidecar.

So I'm looking for advice from the folks who know sidecars (trikes are a whole other matter, and far more complicated than a sidecar). The reasons for a sidecar are:

Better stability, especially in wet weather. We ride in the rain now when we have to, which is usually in the middle of every trip. We haven't wrecked yet, but wet slippery roads freak my wife out (and make me real cautious) so we end up going about 30mph tops.

A more secure "feeling" for my wife, who has always been a willing and eager passenger, but lately has developed a case of the "worries". I guess it's inevitable as folks age. We don't want to stop our fun. We want to continue on a vehicle with a bit more stability.

More cargo space. 2 saddlebags and a touring bag are pretty minimal.

Nobody is going to ride in the sidecar. My wife rides behind me always. The sidecar's only purposes are more stability, and more storage space. I don't really care about cosmetics. If I don't have to paint it, that's a plus for me.

I found this sidecar on the web: http://towpacusa.com/product/sidepack/

It seems to fulfill my two main goals, storage and stability. I'd REALLY appreciate feedback from anyone who owns this sidecar. I have one or two concerns about it:

It has no brake for the third wheel. The Honda VTX 1800 has dual front disks with dual 3 piston calipers (basically the same setup as a Gold Wing), and it stops excellently. What feedback can you kind folks offer about no brake on the sidecar wheel ? I'm thinking it might be OK, but I have no experience to base that on.

It has a rather small, 8 inch trailer wheel. I'd prefer a motorcycle wheel at least 16", with a spoked rim to save weight. I don't know how the small wheel/tire will work over s and rough pavement. Can anybody offer some advice ?

Thanks in advance !

Steve

I would be glad to talk with you about trikes, sidecars and the tow pack if you phone as I can give you much more nuanced answers then via email.

In very broad generalized terms. Trikes are slightly easier to learn to ride and have better fuel economy, less maintenance and better fuel economy then a sidecar however their ride quality sucks. All trikes have stiff suspension so that they do not lean the wrong way in the corners. It does not matter if it has an IRS or non IRS rear suspension, they all have a harsh ride quality about them and being a three track vehicle if there is a pot hole you are finding it with at least one of your wheels. Trikes also do not provide any extra passenger capacity.

Sidecars have a much better ride quality to them then trikes, they are slightly harder to learn to ride. They tend to eat up rear tires however the good news is your bike can have an automotive tire right on its stock rear wheel which will greatly mitigate this. An automotive tire lasts significantly longer, has a better ride quality due to running at a lower pressure, has a higher load capacity, better traction and is a lot less money. They also give your passenger a lot better view with the ability to move around more. You can also carry and extra passenger be it a grandchild or pet.

As to the tow pack, there are several issues. First technically they are not legal. Federal law defines a motorcycle as having 3 or fewer wheels. While this is seldom enforced for a while at least in Washington State were I live they were ticketing for this. Next are some safety issues. I was involved with the start up of the sidecar trike education program (S/tep) which teaches sidecar and trike riding techniques. We tried a tow pack set up as well as a Voyager brand on the training range and found them to be so unsafe that they are band from the class. The issue is we do a swerving maneuver in class. Lets say you are riding along and a deer jumps out in front of you. So you swerve, now you are may be faced with oncoming traffic, so you swerve back. What happens is that when you swerve one way you load up the suspension on that side, when you swerve back you release this energy which then throws you onto the other sides wheel, which in turn throws you back onto the first wheel putting you into a head shake that can only be recovered from by coming to a complete stop. Next issue is braking distance. You have added to the overall mass of the bike while reducing traction on the rear tire and as none of the companies making these products think that brakes are all that important they do not put any brakes on these extra wheels. Also as these extra wheels do not have any drive to them, what happens when you pull over on to a soft shoulder? You may find your self stuck.

As to brakes on a sidecar, many companies tell you that you do not need a brake, and they may be right, you may never "need" a brake except for the one time that you do. A brake is a lot less money then a trip to the ER. We make brakes an option on our lower priced sidecars as many people do not get past looking at price. On our more expensive sidecars a Brembo disk brake is standard.

With the sidecar your wife really should ride in the sidecar, it is a more comfortable place for her to ride with a much better view. It is also by far the safest place for her to ride. There are safety issues with her on the back of the bike and an empty sidecar. It can be done but you need to have the sidecar loaded very heavily. Perhaps your wife has always ridden behind you as there was no other option.

One thing you should consider is taking the S/tep class. Sidecars and trikes are provided. http://evergreenmotorcycletraining.org/ Sidecars and trikes are provided. I am a certified instructor for the program should you have any specific questions. If you can not take the class or even if you do take the class the book "Driving a sidecar outfit" is a great resource. It will answer questions you do not even know to ask. White horse press has it as to we. We sell it for $34.95

If you do go with a sidecar, make sure that the sidecar is strong enough for a bike as heavy as yours and comes with proper bike specific NOT universal mounting hardware. Of course we can provide you with these as well as proper trike kits.

Jay G
DMC sidecars
http://www.dmcsidecars.com
2328 Roosevelt AVE
Enumclaw WA
98022
866-638-1793

Jay G DMC sidecars www.dmcsidecars.com 15616 Carbonado South Prairie RD Buckley WA 98321 866-638-1793 Hours Monday - Thursday 6-4:30

Welcome to the slightly off-center world of sidecars, Steve!

As the cost of converting an existing bike to any of the three options you present can be quite pricey, consider the idea of buying something already set up in the configuration of greatest interest to you. That way, you can learn to ride/drive/pilot the rig quickly without the wait and expense of conversion. The big advantage here is if you discover that the reality of a rig doesn't match your fantasy, you can sell it again, recovering most all of your investment, maybe even make a profit. If you find you absolutely LOVE three-wheeling, then you can sell the "trainer" to help finance the conversion of the bike you love.

Plus one on taking a S/TEP class. That might be a way to decide on the configuration you like the best before buying a trainer.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to write that reply Jay. I appreciate your comments tremendously ! And thanks for your phone number. I'll absolutely take advantage of your kindness and give you a call in the near future as my plans develop.

The Tow-Pac link that I pasted in my previous message is for a sidecar. Tow-Pac makes one. They call it the "SidePack. Here's the link again: http://towpacusa.com/product/sidepack/

I've seen their trike kit, and I'm not going with that. I call them "training wheels for motorcycles". They're not attractive to me for a lot of reasons, some that you mentioned, and others. If I go the trike route, I will go with either Lehman, or Champion, as both have VTX1800 specific kits with three wheels, not four. I've seen one or two training wheel trikes in Texas, and I guess the police either don't notice they have 4 wheels, or just don't care. They're treated as motorcycles.

As for my wife riding in the sidecar, that's a deal breaker. If that's a requirement, then it's a trike for us. She's already sensitive about being scared on two wheels, since that's come up pretty recently, and she's already said that she won't be "the old lady riding in the sidecar". Tow-Pac says the Side-Pac sidecar weighs about 200 lbs, and can hold another 300 lbs, which I would never push that far. We'd probably load about 60-70 lbs of gear for our trips, and I'm not opposed to adding another 50 lbs of so of barbell weights to keep the rig stable.

Tow-Pac lists VTX1800 R as a model they support. The first picture shows one installed on a Honda Stateline 1300, which is similar, but certainly not identical to my bike.

There are numerous money issues with a trike or passenger sidecar. I've already spent way more than I can ever recoup from setting up my VTX1800 for touring. Adding another $10,000 for a trike kit just puts me deeper in the hole. Japanese V-twins have lousy resale value. So if I trike it, or go with the typical $6,000 - $7,000 passenger sidecar, I'll have to keep it forever. There's no selling it, which might be OK. Another decision I have to make. The SidePack cargo sidecar is just $2,000.

If I can find sidecar training in Texas, I'll definitely take advantage of it. Flying to Washington is a bit impractical. Thanks for the suggestion !

So I've got a lot more to think about before I make my decision. Feedback from somebody who actually has a SidePack sidecar would be awesome ! But general information like what you took the time and effort to write is very helpful also Jay, and I appreciate it enormously ! Thanks again, and if your offer is still open, I'll give you a call as I get a little further along.

Thanks again,
Steve

As to the tow pack sidecar, no idea of how they are mounting it, in their photo's I can not see any kind of front mounts which leads me to believe that they may be a bit weak in the engineering department. The 1800 and the 1300 VTX bikes take totally different mounts, it also matters if the bike has floor boards or foot pegs. If the mounting system is not totally ridged you will have a front end shake that would need to be hidden with a steering damper. Also the mounts need to be strong enough for not only going down the road but also should you be in the middle of trying to avoid crashing putting a lot more stress then normal riding they need to stay together which is one reason why most sidecars mount with a 4 point mounting system some thing that it looks like this sidecar does not use. There is a good reason why they can sell it for only $2000. You get what you pay for.
We are a Champion and Lehman dealer. They are the same trike under the body work. Since Champion purchased Lehman they have been converting over to all Champion running gear.
The Tow pack sidecar would not be safe at all for two up riding with out a lot of weight in the sidecar, a lot more then what you are talking about adding depending on your and your wife's weight. This is covered in the sidecar class. The link I gave you is for the Evergreen safety council which is in Seattle but administers the classes for the nation. They have the national training schedule on their site.
It sounds to me like your wife has never ridden in a sidecar. So I always have to ask, and how does she feel about green eggs and ham? In other words how does she know that she does not like sidecars if she has not tried them.
Any thing you do to your bike that has quality engineering and manufacturing in it is going to cost. If you are looking at this from a financial view point you need to find a cheaper sport. Nothing about motorcycling on the larger bikes we have in the USA makes any kind of financial sense. If you go with a trike do it right but understand that you will loose money when you sell it. If you go with a sidecar also keep in mind that you would loose money if you sell it however the nice thing about a sidecar is down the road should you wish to change bikes in general all you need is a different set of mounts. A sidecar can be with you the rest of your life so buy the best sidecar you can afford as this is a long term investment.

One item no one has covered and holds true for both sidecars and trikes is that when ever you add a sidecar or convert to a trike you end up with heavy steering. You are going to want to modify the front end. This is normally done with triple tree's on your bike that move the front wheel forward by about 2 inches reducing trail making for easier steering. Lots of companies offer these for your bike as do we. Towpac more then likely did not tell you this. Most companies selling lower priced products are a bit weak in this area, they may not even know.

If you want to do a sidecar on the "Cheap" the Sputnik sidecars we offer are strong enough to be safe on your bike and do come with proper bike specific mounts for only $3495 however the fit and finish on these are not up to the standards of your bike. They are a bit crude, these are also NOS sidecars from a company no longer in business. They can be made quite nice however if you take the time to paint them. http://www.dmcsidecars.com/sidecars/sputnik-sidecars/ however as I have pointed out, a sidecar can be with you for the rest of your life as such you should buy the best you can afford. As to resale, we sell about 1000 passenger sidecars for ever cargo sidecar as such I suspect come resale time you will find it a lot easier to sell a passenger sidecar then a cargo sidecar. Also check with towpac as to the ability to move this unit to a different bike latter. I was speaking with some one a few days ago that has one of their "training" wheel set ups and wanted to move it to a different bike, a bike that they do make mounts for. He was told that he would have to buy a new unit as it could not be moved from bike to bike.
I am always happy to speak with people on the phone and advise them. Our policy is make a customer first, a sale second. Even if you buy from some one else.
Jay G
DMC sidecars
866-638-1793
http://www.dmcsidecars.com

Jay G DMC sidecars www.dmcsidecars.com 15616 Carbonado South Prairie RD Buckley WA 98321 866-638-1793 Hours Monday - Thursday 6-4:30

Think about other sidecar not towpac. When your wife will find out how comfy sidecar seat is and if you have enclosed sidecar her hear will be in good condition plus extra storage room you will not be aloud to look at towpac.
And your rig will have better stability with more "weight" ( do not use this term in front of your wife) in sidecar.
You can keep vtx as single bike. Check Goldwings for reverse and more storage(GL1500 for me) intercom if you like to talk or stereo if you like to listen. Or BMW? You can do heat, vents and a/c in sidecar. Get creative... Dvd, crosswords, sleeping, talking on the phone, giving you directions ...

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to reply. Y'all brought up many good points. It's true that I'm wanting to limit the amount of money that I put into this project, only because I don't know if I'll hate driving a sidecar or a trike, and if 3 wheels will help my wife will calm her fear and want to tour with me again. I know nobody but us can answer those questions. Selling my VTX and just buying a completed trike is definitely one option. It's not the most attractive option, since it means starting all over again customizing and setting up a new rig with all the expensive accessories I've already bought for the VTX, like seat, handlebars, etc. If I go the megabucks route with a brand new Harley or Goldwing trike, I won't be so upside down in resale value, but will still have the pain of selling the VTX, and losing about $6,000 on it. Keeping both is not an option. I simply don't have the space.

So the kind folks who replied have definitely given me a lot to think about.

As far as talking my wife into wanting to ride in a sidecar is concerned, uh anybody who's married or who otherwise has a lady in his life should know that trying to talk a woman into doing something she's adamantly opposed to is about as painful and equally productive as banging one's head against a brick wall. She'll either not go, which negates the reason for this whole project, or worse yet, she'll come with me and make me deeply regret even uttering the word "sidecar". Women just don't think like we do. She's made up her mind, and she ain't setting foot in no damn sidecar. Until she changes her mind, which will be when we buy a trike.

The S/TEP class is an outstanding idea ! I think I've found one in Lufkin (East) Texas. Thanks again to all the kind folks who replied.

Steve

One point which I'm not entirely clear on is about the passenger riding in the sidecar as opposed to sitting behind the driver/rider. Is having the passenger in the sidecar seat simply a good idea, or is it really necessary ? Will a well set up sidecar rig handle poorly with both people sitting on the bike ? Are there other reasons for having the passenger in the sidecar ?

Thanks again to everyone who replied !

If you imagine a triangle between the three contact points with the ground (your tires) every thing in side of that triangle is adding to the stability of the rig, everything out side of it is hurting the stability. So with you sitting on the seat, half of your weight is in side of what we call the "tip over lines" When you go into a right hand turn (assuming a right hand mount sidecar) as centripetal forces are at work, the sidecar tries to lift. Over simplified the sidecars weight is the only thing keeping it down. As the sidecar lifts more and more of your upper body is moving further and further out side of the tip over lines. With no passenger is you had a light sidecar or are going fast into the corners you can shift your body over to help hold the sidecar down. Now, add a passenger behind you, you now have a lot more weight out side of the tip over lines and it is much harder to shift your weight over. With a passenger in the sidecar, in general (again over simplified) you can go into right hand corners faster with a much more stable rig. This is covered much better in the book "Driving a sidecar outfit" By David Hough and in the S/tep class.
Jay G
DMC sidecars
866-638-1793

John Holbrook has reacted to this post.
John Holbrook
Jay G DMC sidecars www.dmcsidecars.com 15616 Carbonado South Prairie RD Buckley WA 98321 866-638-1793 Hours Monday - Thursday 6-4:30

One thing I personally believe to be an advantage of a sidecar over a trike is that your motorcycle is still 100% motorcycle. Plus the fact you can take your canine buddy in the sidecar... Jay covered all the factual stuff...

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John Holbrook
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