I’ve never ridden a motorcycle with a sidecar. I've read about them. Follow the Redleg's Rides blog and Dom's adventures on Ural sidecar rig. And Ara’s adventures with his dog spirit on Oasis of the Soul have created a myth of riding across the country with my dog. A lot of information floating around my head with absolutely no first hand experience. Seems I am constantly reviewing things as a beginner with no room to puff and strut. With a bit of nervous energy and apprehension I approached the rig.
After I saw this picture I went to Wal-Mart for a haircut. The kind you get with a number 3 red clipper attachment that takes only three minutes.
Dom sent me a link to the online bible of sidecars and suggested I read it before venturing out and killing myself. Well, I don’t think he put it that bluntly but the meaning was plain. So the night before I knew I would be stepping up to take the rig for a spin I went through the bible. Most of it common sense. And the rest incidental to a slow rider like myself.
Arriving at Kissell Motorsports after work I parked my Vespa in the place it belonged and wandered out front where the Piaggio MP3 and sidecar rig was sitting not far from a visiting Zeppelin.
Standing straight, gut pulled in, acting cool I climbed aboard the MP3 and promptly smashed the visor of my new Shoei helmet into the windshield of the rig. It hit me so hard that all the pictures of it were out of focus and I am irrationally opposed to posting any soft focus images.
But try to picture this. The owner had mounted a very tall windshield and then using heat (or something) bent the top back so it would cover his head like a small roof. When I saw it I chuckled but had to admit that it might be nice in the rain. What I failed to consider was the guy must have been five feet tall. After whacking my head and spending a few minutes trying to position myself on the seat in a manner where my helmet wasn’t hitting the shield. Anyone watching probably assumed Mr. Bean was in town and looking at a new toy.
A tribute to ingenuity I figured out that I could lean out to the left beyond the windshield and ride just fine. This new kind of rig that I had never ridden before. A few hundred yards up the road convinced me I’m an idiot and I turned around to tell Craig Kissell I couldn't ride this thing because of the windshield.
Unfazed, I think I detected a slight smile, he asked one of the technicians to take off the windshield.
In the shop Justin made quick work of the windshield and installed the factory shield that the previous owner returned when he traded in the MP3 rig.I wandered around looking at the Triumphs and Ducatis wondering what I was doing with this contraption. I thought about my heroes. Pee Wee Herman. My friend Howard. The Highlander. What would they do? Justin tells me I’m good to go. I’m thinking about immortality.
Before I leave I had to photograph the rig with the big Victory bike. Not sure which was less appealing. I will say for the first time I rode away from Kissell's without worrying about wrecking the bike. I figured I would be doing Craig a favor.
I felt like I was sailing in a storm, constantly fighting to keep the thing on course, feeling each wheel had a mind of it’s own. At 35mph I fully expected the rig to fly off the road on into oncoming traffic and my wife could begin spending the life insurance. With much concern and careful navigation I made it home in the dark. Then I realize the little spot in the garage where I park the Vespa isn’t big enough for this monster. And I am not about to clean out the garage. So I pull it up against the garage door, pull the truck right up behind it and the VW to the side so unless someone picks it up and carries it this machine is going nowhere.
6am. With renewed energy and the power of a gloomy day I ask Junior if he wants to go for a ride. Don’t let the smile on his face fool you. It took a handful of dog biscuits and a few minutes to get him in the sidecar. Good training meant he would stay there for a picture but he was far too smart to go for a ride. And I would not take him either for a couple reasons. The sidecar was far too small for him.
After some experimentation I realized the rig was more stable than it felt. It tracked pretty well and after several miles I was comfortable at 45mph on the narrow back roads.One of the immediate problems was stopping along the road to take pictures.The rig is almost as wide as a car so it’s not easy to tuck it into places. With a lot of winter gravel still on the roads the extra stability was readily available. With that in mind I turned off onto the first gravel road I could find.
The rig handled pretty well on the packed surface but wandered around in the loose stuff. And because of the way the MP3 mounts to the sidecar, the MP3 angled slightly towards the sidecar, I felt like I was always sliding off. Moving into the mountains of Rothrock State Forest I found a lot of hard wet ice still on the roads. The rig stays upright but more than once I was losing traction. Not far from where I made this picture I turned around before finding myself stuck or worse.
By late morning my stomach took over and I stopped at the Pump Station in Boalsburg for something to eat. Parking wasn’t a problem because I could just swing the rig around. But pushing the MP3 with the sidecar around on level ground was a chose. Don’t even think about it on a hill. I guess you learn to anticipate such things.
The good news is that I figured out the rig was stable. I even began to enjoy riding it a bit. The bad news for this one was with the throttle wide open all I could manage was a bit under 55mph on flat open roads. Fine for exploring and touring around on back roads but I would definitely not want to ride on the freeway.
Sidecar as conversation starter? Hardly. This runner didn’t bat an eye as he went past. And no one said a word about it wherever I stopped which sort of surprised me since it looked so, well, unusual. I might have well been invisible.
On the bright side it meant my ego didn’t take any hits either.
One more short tour on a dirt road. If this thing had a shiny side to it I would have to say it was off the pavement. Not off-road, just on less than perfect surfaces. But in the end this setup took what is perhaps the most stable machine I have ever ridden (Piaggio MP3) and turned it into the most unstable thing I have ever ridden.
Back to Kissell Motorsports.
I’m glad I got to ride the rig and also glad I could give it back. In my book it was just work to ride and while I chalked up the bad handling and performance to the weirdness of the MP3 sidecar combination someone with more experience with sidecars assured me that what I was describing is how sidecars and motorcycles respond. One big, hot mess. Feel free to pipe in if your experiences say otherwise. I’ll just say I admire all you sidecar rig captains.
This is Craig Kissell and he’s smiling because someone bought the rig. Different strokes and all. Or sidecars could be an acquired taste. Maybe someone can tell me what I’m missing.
For now, I'm happy to be back on the Vespa. And the weather is getting warmer too!