The Story of the Sidehack Rig The Ugly Cousin of Motorcycle History

Only the real mad dogs rode sidehack.

Though sidecars have been around the motorcycle world for over a hundred years, they still draw sneers from serious riders. My wife is  actually offended by the very idea of a sidecar, and my friends are fond of mentioning that my advancing years mean it’s time to ride a bike with a sidecar attached.

So why the sidecar hating?

The iconic motorcycles throughout the ages like the  BMW R68 – and damn near every military motorcycle – were designed with attaching a sidecar in mind. The start of  WWII was, essentially, the high water mark of the sidecar, but are they making a comeback? Well, not really. It’s still rarer than hen’s teeth to see a motorcycle with a sidecar on the road  today.

Most accounts say the sidecar was first created in 1903 when George Moore drew a sidecar for Motor Cycling, a British newspaper, and one  W. J. Graham found inspiration in that cartoon and took out a patent for the concept. After the cartoon appeared in the January 7, 1903, issue of the British newspaper Motor Cycling Graham of Graham Brothers, Enfield, Middlesex, UK, went into partnership with Jonathan A. Kahn to begin production of the first of what came to be know as  a ‘sidecar,’ AKA a ‘combination,’ a ‘rig’ or a ‘sidehack.’

The motorcycle sidecar was an instant hit in various parts of the world as a cheaper alternative to passenger cars, and though they’re no longer in fashion, they’re still an option for those who’d like to wed the experience of motorcycling with the convenience and practicality of a car. There’s still a viable commercial market for sidecar purpose-built motorcycles, and you need look no further than the Ural to see the appeal.

It was in military applications that the sidecar really took flight. The Russians took one  look at the BMW R71 sidecar rigs and the Ural came into being. Nearly 10,000 units of this “Russian BMW” were produced for battle in WWII, and you can still buy what is essentially the same motorcycle and sidecar rig today for somewhere around $12,000.

Britain’s largest surviving sidecar manufacturer, Watsonian-Squire, still makes beautiful examples of the breed and recently unveiled a version for the Royal Enfield Bullet Electra-X.  This classic-looking addition, dubbed the GP Jubilee, is made of fiberglass but kept the aluminum struts from the days when sheet metal was the preferred material for sidecar manufacturing. If you’re worried about reliability, Watsonian-Squire has been at the craft since 1912…

Don’t like the W-S version? Have no fear, you can still find excellent examples of the classic Steib sidecar out there – and brand new ones as well, for somewhere around $7,000.

 

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