Cars & Bikes: Combinations unlocked

Looking for something on the side? Paul Thompson gives advice on how to add that extra wheel.

BMW's 200cc scooter gets its own sidecar

Recreational bikers come in two stripes. There are those whose idea of a perfect vacation is riding through some lone highway haze, kicking up off-road mud, or dicing fairing to fairing round a racing circuit. The other group—who perhaps have already ridden that solitary road—want something more comfortable for their passengers than a pillion ride, but are loath to forsake the biking experience for the latest box from Toyota. For them, the only way to travel is with a sidecar.

Despite "purist" detractors, sidecars have a small but enthusiastic following in both North America and Europe. Demographics, perhaps, are one reason: A survey carried out by a specialist German magazine revealed that 80 percent of owners purchase a sidecar to be able to take their children on their biking adventures.

Here in Japan, too, sidecars are infrequently sighted. But the recent Tokyo Motorcycle Show gave those toying with the idea of making the transition to three wheels an opportunity to see what their options are, as did the 34th annual meeting of the Japanese Sidecar Community, held in Nagano in early May.


In the balance
First, a few words of caution from the experts. Proper sidecar driving entails carefully using ballast when starting out, particularly on lighter machines. And, obviously, refrain from taking passengers until you have mastery of your machine. Riding an ordinary motorbike is also a no-no for the first 1,000km, in order to ease the adjustment from the ingrained reflexes of single-seat riding.

Machine gun not included: the Ural Ranger from Russia

Another consideration for the tyro sidecar handler, in the absence of courses here in Tokyo, is finding some space to practice. A big parking lot is ideal. As in the case of trikes, and particularly on some of Japan's narrow streets, it's essential to always be aware of the extra width—although this is somewhat easier to judge (and remember!) when it's beside rather than behind you. Ferrying children should only be contemplated after the first year of ownership. In its own way a sidecar is another addition to the family, demanding long-term commitment and added responsibility.

And while sidecar ownership has benefits, like paying relatively low bike tax rates and needing only a normal license, don't forget that some usual normal cycle conditions, such as the need to obtain a shaken every two years, apply. Contacting dealers and local owners will provide useful first-hand advice, while some idea of prices for used sidecars can be found on Bike House Abe's Japanese-only homepage,


Fast from the past
Looks shouldn't be the overriding concern when buying any bike, but for those who are into retro style and who share a sense of history, what better than to invest in a new Watsonian-Squire? This British company, the longest-established sidecar manufacturer in the world, has a history dating back to 1912.

But how to get your hands (and feet) on a true-green British machine? Help is at hand in the form of Japanese distributor Corofi, based in Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, which offers Watsonian-Squire's full 30-model range. This encompasses a broad spectrum, from the traditional '20s octagonal styling of the GP Jubilee Classic to modern wedge-shaped streamliners. Options range from single seaters to those with space for the entire family, and the sidecars are based on vintage or superbike, scooter or tourer power units. The GP700, a wide-bodied version of the open-top Grand Prix, can seat an adult and child on an upholstered bench seat, and is suitable for hitching up to most bikes over 500cc. Cost concerns remain crucial, as ever, with a base price from ¥895,000.

Corofi can also supply sidecars from the Dutch firm EZS, which has collaborated with Watsonian-Squire on some designs. EZS' own flagship, the Summit, features a trunk and such options as a hood with a windscreen, heated seats, and a 30-liter fuel tank.

Described somewhat negatively by premier British magazine Motorcycle News as "mad," the French Side-Bike Mega Zeus four-seater colossus is also available through Corofi. Powered by a 2-liter Peugeot-Citroen engine producing 137hp, it features two-wheel steering (front and rear), two-wheel drive (rear and side), and a reverse gear for ease of parking. Its innovative design also includes a sequential handlebar gear change with car-type foot controls. The basic Type J, which lacks ABS and other optional extras, weighs in at 650kg and costs a cool ¥3.37 million so, all things considered, it's not one for the beginner.

Also committed to family cycling is Okabe Engineering in Hachioji, which offers the pleasing lines and pleasant handling characteristics of a Honda GL1800 married to a French Hechard Saphir. The latter, sporting Ferrari Testarossa-style side trim, has a door, a tonneau top, seat belts, a trunk-mounted rear spoiler, and a 15-inch tire.

At the other end of the scale, not even BMW's 200cc roofed scooter has escaped the sidecar treatment. Sakuma Engineering, located in Ibaraki Prefecture, has for many years also been offering a 250cc Honda Fusion fused to a Kappa single-seat sidecar, which would set you back a mere ¥660,000. Designs matched to higher-powered Hondas and Harleys are a specialty here also.

Breaking new ground in sidecar design is another Dutch concern, EML. Their wedge-shaped GT Twin, displayed with a suitably modified Honda Goldwing on the Kobe-based Garage Boss stand at the Tokyo show, is said to set new standards in stability and passenger comfort by dint of its tandem wheel arrangement, the front of which also steers. The more conventional GT2001, which can even be coupled to a Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa, features a cabrio top, big overhead windows, electrical ventilation and heating, and adjustable shocks.

Billed as "the world's most popular sidecar ride" with 3.2 million sold to date, Russian manufacturer Ural had two models on show. On the Garage Boss stand was a camouflaged three-seat "European specification" 745cc Ranger, priced at ¥1.49 million, while a black 750cc Sportsman was exhibited by Sakuma Engineering with a price tag of ¥1.25 million—alongside PR material showing its rugged military pedigree.

When all the hurdles have been surmounted and the pitfalls avoided, there's no reason a sidecar combo can't offer a viable alternative means of transport. You'll be sure to earn one or two longing looks from motorists as you glide down the not-quite-solitary highway.

For more details, see the relevant homepages:

Garage Boss

Photos by Paul Thompson

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