2004 Griffith Park Sidecar Rally
Dirtbike Harleys, Russian Jeepers and Sidecar Creepers:
How many of you out there in MOland have ever been hacked?
No, not hacked by the slimy computer geekers, we're talking motorcycle sidecars. If you ever had an itch to do it in a "car," the annual October Griffith Park Sidecar Rally is the place to be. Last year even PBS's popular Heull Howser showed up with his "California's Gold" TV film crew, to document the gathering of "flying chairs." This year, yet another film crew were getting free rides as they filmed the event. Sidecars definitely draw attention.
The GP Sidecar rally is quite a mixed bag... British bikes, Russian bikes, German bikes, Japanese bikes, American bikes, even Chinese bikes... plus a wild spectrum of vintage and modern sidecars hailing from around the world... Belgium, Holland, Russia, the U.S., England, Canada, the Philippines.
Nobody doesn't like sidecars, even the non-motorcyclist species. Democrats love sidecars. Republicans love sidecars. Ralph Nader... well, we haven't checked with him. In any case, kids love sidecars. Dogs love sidecars. Especially dogs. One lady brought three dogs with her all occupying the same sidecar she was tucked into. Fortunately, they were Pomeranians and very fury. They served effectively as sidecar warmers.
While some think sidecars occupy that twilight zone between motorcycles and cars, "sidehack" fans consider them the only way to go, for a number of reasons including family outings, cargo carrying capabilities, stability, nostalgia and of course "grin factor." Sidecars had their heyday during the first 20 years of the 20th Century, with a wild assortment of cars manufactured in both England and the U.S. It was the advent of inexpensive four-wheeled transportation -thanks to Henry Ford-, that pushed sidecars into the background. Then in the 1960s, they enjoyed a resurgence of interest. That interest soon waned as well. Now as we motor into the 21st Century, they seem to be winning ground again, thanks to a thriving sidecar industry in the U.S., England and Europe.
As for the Griffith Park rally, making it all happen was Mr. Sidecar himself, Doug Bingham. A racer/designer/innovator of sidecars for several eons, back in 1969, Doug founded a company called Side Strider and began designing and building street sidecars. Besides production rigs from Harley-Davidson, Doug's "Bingham MK-1" when introduced was the first sidehack made available to the public for literally decades. Doug is the guy, if you want to expand your motorcycling experience. From his shop in Van Nuys, he's constantly putting together sidecar combos that stretch from scooters to V-Max's. He often adds the sidecar friendly leading-link front ends to the bikes and builds rigs for both street and offroading.
You might have seen some of his camo painted sidecar rigs doing duty in Iraq as well.
Doug raced both on and off-road events including Ascot and Laguna Seca. He is the exclusive U.S. distributor for the British built Watsonian, the world's oldest and best known sidecar manufacturer. Doug is also the Director of the Sidecar Industry Council which addresses standardized engineering, promotes a focused strategy for marketing and a greater cooperation with government agencies as well as the dissemination of information. For all his contributions to the industry, in September 2004, Doug was inducted into the National Motorcycle Museum's Hall of Fame. In other words, if Doug puts on a sidecar rally, they will come. And they came in droves.
The Southern California sunshine rained down in abundance this year, the event staged in the Crystal Springs section of the park. Upon first entering the area, you came upon a small herd of non-sidecar motorcycles, obviously several clubs and organizations had marked the date on their ride schedules. Strolling along the curving pavement that encompassed a wide expanse of green grass, you were treated to a sidecar smorgasbord of all makes, models and vintages, with their owners ready to regale you with their history. Many of the sidecar rigs were the Milwaukee variety, cars fitted to Sportsters and Big Twins alike. This year, there was even a Buell.
The Sidecar Rally is truly a family affair, no better represented than by Tony from Riverside, CA and his three sons Demetri 9, Dominique 13, Damian 16 (His other sons Logan 5 and John 3:16 couldn't make it, due to pressing engagements elsewhere. -Sean) and all of whom travel aboard a 1979 H-D. Sidecars are popular with the ladies as well, case in point Valli Vasquez from San Pedro, CA, who rides a 2003 Dyna Lowrider Anniversary Edition with a Watsonian sidecar. Doug Bingham added the leading link frontend and sidecar. Asked why she chose a sidecar, she replies, "I didn't want to have to deal with the balancing of a big bike, and also I have a seven year old son who likes to ride with me.
The best part is taking him with me plus all my family has Harleys and we all go riding together." Lucky boy, he has a cool Mom, and a cool sidecar.
A really eye-catching Harley rig was R. Krieger's XR750 Roadracer with matching black and orange Bingham MK II sidecar, the high performance combo was fresh off the workbench and still in the dialing-in phase. Word is the bike may be for sale, or as its owner/builder said, "We can always build more." (info at (805) 643-3839). Mr. Krieger also does Indian restorations for The Shop in Ventura, so he knows his vintage metal.
A major attraction at this year's hackathon was Scott Whitley and his V-Rod Paris-Dakar sidecar racer. It's powered by a stock V-Rod motor, housed in a custom frame designed by the Dutch EML sidecar company. "I kept the engine stock because I have complete confidence that the V-Rod will prove what it can do. For reliability and ruggedness, this motor is quite overbuilt, hefty and tough. What better place to demonstrate it than at the 10,000 km Paris-Dakar Rally?" Asked what his relationship was with the Harley-Davidson Company, Scott says, "They helped me with the motor and said good luck." Meanwhile, Bartel's -the famous H-D dealership in Marina del Rey, CA- is Scott's primary sponsor.
Scott has the credentials for the Paris-Dakar race, having raced off-road motocross sidecars for 30 years and has campaigned everywhere from Pike's Peak to the European circuit, winning just about everything he could. "For me, the Paris-Dakar is the biggest challenge I can imagine on a motorcycle, particularly on a sidecar. I want to go because it is so difficult."
By the way, when asked what he did in real life, Scott pauses a moment then says, "I'm an engineer. I design stuff for spy satellites." No, he's not carrying any surveillance equipment. In fact, you can carry a GPS in the race, but it's the official Dakar organization system and is severely limited, as they don't want you using advanced navigation tools through the 5-6,000 miles of African desert. Asked if he likes heat, Scott says, "Ah, I'm gonna learn to like it." Scott is aiming for the race beginning January 1, 2006. He adds, "We've spent about a million hours building the bike and testing it in the desert and sand dunes, really torturing it. It's a constant evolution."
|Harley-Davidson on Sidecars|
|The Milwaukee Motor Co. helped popularize sidecars back in the early part of the 1900s. It is estimated that H-D manufactures and sells an estimated 20-25% of all new sidecars sold in North America annually. They sell complete motorcycle/sidecar combinations as well as solo sidecars. Officially, Harley doesn't endorse the installation of any kind of sidecar on anything other than their Road King and Electra Glide touring models. Of course, that doesn't prevent people from happily attaching them (and non-Harley sidecars) to all kinds of Harleys, including Sportsters, Dynas and Softails.
He also mentions that sponsors are always welcome. "We have a lot of panel space still available and the TV camera loves to look at interesting things like this machine. With the Harley-Davidson V-Rod motor, we're bound to get way more than our share of TV coverage. (More info at http://www.hogwildracing.com/ and http://www.dakar.com/.)
In addition to the wide assortment of Harley "chairs," there were all brands represented including sidecar running BMWs, Goldwings, Moto Guzzis, Kawasakis, Yamahas, Triumphs, AJS, even a vintage Vespa scooter, as well as a sidecar shipped all the way from the Philippines. Making an appearance was Phoenix resident and ace sidecar designer Tom Ridyard, well known for his radical Flying Red Chair Kawasaki street legal "kneeler" sidecars. He came as the Crash Dummy complete with costume, his way of celebrating Halloween and raising public consciousness about motorcycle safety. Karen Briefer brought her "Barkersfield" Fire Department sidecar custom made by Doug Bingham. Yes, she's from Bakersfield, but she often carries three dogs in her fire truck red sidecar and thus the name written on its side. Speaking of dogs, sidecars are obviously their best friend, many arriving with their owners and often staying in the cars as security guards as our photos show. Case in point Dennis Stimson from Garden Grove, CA, and his faithful sidecar copilot "Harley," a German Shepherd that literally grew up in the 1995 Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
The Russians Are Coming... Original and Modified
Who were those two Russian guys that showed up in the WWII U.S. Army Jeep?
Let's call them "Ivan" and "Vanya," both originally from a city called Odessa in the Ukraine, aka part of the ex-CCCP. The jeep was purchased about six years ago and the owners went through a restoration process to get it running. They point out that the Jeep is very original, down to the rare split rim wheels. Since this rider/writer studied a bit of Russian, prior to a little trip some decades ago to the then Soviet Union, I managed to irritate the two ex-comrades with serious mispronunciations, for which I was promptly corrected. For example, when reminiscing about the KGB's standard sidearm, which at one point I saw at too close a range, I said the MakaROV, "Ivan" said it was MaKArov. Then added, "Why do American always pronounce Russian words wrong?" Then he turned his attention to a couple riding a Ural sidecar rig, both wearing World War I German spiked helmets. He and his friend exchanged less than happy glances. "What does that have to do with a Russian motorcycle and it's even the wrong war?" he added. You might have caught his drift, when you translated the Russian words painted in red on his WWII jeep. Since I could read a bit of the Cyrillic alphabet, I knew it said, "To Berlin!" It was a popular rallying cry for the Red Army at one point in history. For some reason, the jeep and the Russians were parked directly across from the Ural sidecar display, some sort of standoff I guess.
Meanwhile, Albert who was repping for Ural, paid no heed to the Russkies. He was from Switzerland anyway. His Urals were Russian copies of German BMW's, though highly updated. The prices are, well, basically a bargain. You get a blend of the vintage with the new that's hard to beat. They come in both street and offroad flavors. Ural Motorcycles is HQ'ed in Redmond, WA (888) 990-8484; http://www.imz-ural.com/
If you want to talk sidecars, you must talk to the Russians, well at least their Ural sidecars. Joseph Stalin himself established IMZ-Ural in 1941, specifically as combat vehicles for the Red Army. They were based on the rigs used by their German enemies, ultimately 10,000 of the Ural M-72s went to war. They were built in Siberia, in a factory east of the Urals thus their name and still home to modern Urals. In the mid-50s, civilian Urals went into production and in 1993, they were introduced to the USA. At last estimate, there are something like 3,000,000 of them on the road, mostly in Eastern Europe and Russia. They are tough as the T-34 tank and can go the distance. The "new" Ural Russian Motorcycles have taken the `40s BMW/Russian clone and updated it both mechanically and cosmetically.
Rocket Powered Mini-Hack
Sidecars come in small packages, too. Bob Foster of Green Valley, CA, fabricates custom cars and antique aircraft parts for a living. While he rides an '81 Honda GL sidecar, he also toddles around on his '70 Honda Mini Trail and homebuilt "rocket" sidecar that's actually an ice chest. Push a button and a cloud of while smoke pours from the rear of the "rocket."
It rarely rains in L.A., but Paul Greenstein is ready just in case, thanks to his 1932 AJS 350cc T6 and 1962 sidecar combo. Meanwhile, a small flotilla is formed when husband and wife "boaters" Marianne and Reggie Smith from Northridge, CA set sail in their Honda Shadow Aero 1100s. "I love the freedom and I love the smile they bring on peoples' faces," says Marianne. Reg adds, "They're stylish and they never fall over."
No, Susie Ellsworth Phelps' 1950 Triumph Thunderbird is not falling apart. It's just the pre-1920 Flexi-sidecar's slanted view of life. "My Dad, who raced the rig, built it using parts from Plymouth and Buick autos. I've been riding this sidecar rig for half a century and it's still going strong."
Don't Tip the Taxi Driver
After visiting the Philippines, Kevin and Bunny Kelly became very fond of the local "taxi cars" and had one shipped home to the U.S. then attached it to their Honda 200cc Twinstar. The "car" is beautifully fashioned from stainless steel. "We can't go anywhere without being stopped, and everyone always wants to go for a ride," says Bunny. "It's the greatest."
So Maybe Now You Want to Get Hacked?
Man, woman, child, dog, crash dummy, everybody loves sidecaring, so whether you ride solo, sidehack or rickshaw, mark the annual Griffith Park Sidecar Rally on your calendar. For more info on the October event and all things sidecar log onto http://www.sidestrider.com/ or call Doug Bingham at 818-780-5542.
Sidecar Sources - A Partial List of Manufacturers and Distributors
Armec, established 1985, is a globally operating engineering and manufacturing company whose product line includes the Armec Sidewinder billed as "the only true free leaning - motorcycle/sidecar combination in the world" and the Armec Tremola II, the world's first production sidecar for the BMW R1200C, as well as the world's first volume produced Scooter sidecar the Armec Tremolino. More info at http://www.armec.com/.
Champion Sidecars, located in Huntington Beach, CA, offers several models including the Daytona, Escort and legend applicable to wide range of motorcycles specializing in sleek designs, no-weld custom mounting hardware, special safety features and comfortable suspensions. More info at http://www.championsidecars.com/.
Dauntless Motors, located in Covington, WA are dealers for Champion Sidecars, Ural (Irbit), Sauer Sidecars, Hedingham-Unit Sidecars, Texas Sidecars and Hannigan 3 wheeler products, a true smorgasbord of sidecar goodies. More info at http://www.dauntlessmotors.com/.
EML has been building sidecars in the Netherlands for more than 30 years and offer ultra modern, hi-tech cars for a variety of European and Japanese motorcycles including models for the Hayabusa and CBR1100XX. Call them fast lane chic. More info at http://www.emlsidecar.com/.
Hannigan Motorsports, located in Murray Kentucky, have been making sidecars for 15 years, but are pioneers in windshield fairings going back many more years. In 1984 David and Rude Anne Hannigan dreamed up a two passenger aerodynamic Astro Sidecar was produced, the design a hit. They also offer single seat sidecars and the new innovative Tri-Car, half trike and half sidecar. We are currently shipping products to many countries in Europe and Japan. More info at http://www.hannigantrikes.com/.
Liberty Sidecars, located in Seattle, WA, offers their Liberty Classic Sidecar designed exclusively to fit late model Harley Davidson. The sidecar is a faithful reproduction of the 1937-1966 H-D sidecar, updated with a modern undercarriage, including a dual suspension, disc brake and four-point mounting. They also have a model for Sportsters and carry the EZS European sidecars for BMW, Honda Goldwings and other bikes. More info at http://www.libertysidecars.com/.
Motorvation Engineering, located in Sibley, Iowa, manufacture sidecars and cargo trailers for motorcycles including their SPYDER sidecar featuring a choice of many different fender and tail light combinations custom designed to match your motorcycle. Their Formula II and Roadster Royale sidecars provide room for two people. More info at http://www.motorvation.com/.
Side Strider, located in Van Nuys, CA is a center for all things sidecar including the Mark I and Mark II, Watsonian, Squire and Velorex line of "flying chairs." Doug builds cars for street, off-road and competition and even for the military. For more information about Side Striders sidecars and services log on to http://www.sidestrider.com/ or call Doug Bingham at 818-780-5542. For the Sidecar Industry Council go to http://www.sidecar-industry.com/.
Watsonian-Squire, located in Gloucestershire, England was established in 1912. The home of British sidecarring and solo motorcycle trailers, it's one of the largest producers in Europe with worldwide sales of the longest established and best-known side-car manufacturer Watsonian, and the most successful of modern producers, Squire. More info at firstname.lastname@example.org
Velorex, located in Ronkonkoma, NY, has been making sidecars for over 25 years and is one of the top importer of sidecars throughout the US, Canada, Mexico and South America. The Velorex Sidecar features a tubular steel frame, rugged fiberglass body and a wheel axle is supported by a hydraulic shock absorber and coil spring system mounted on a swing-arm for smooth and comfortable riding. More info at http://www.velorex.com/.