Moto Magazine

Swinging Sidecars

By Gardenamateur

Whoever whispered in my ear when I was much younger that: "It's better to regret the things you've done, than to end up regretting even more things that you never got around to doing" did me a favour. In the case of motorcycles with sidecars, I am glad that I have ridden a few of them, but I definitely regret at some stage never owning one. Getting one now is merely part of a lottery win fantasy, as I currently have nowhere to keep one and so I'd need a bigger house, and a garage, as well as the outfit. And so I content myself at this stage with just a couple of 'outfits' in my diecast cabinet. First up, fantasy outfit Number One.

Swinging sidecars

BMW R69S, with a Steib TR500 sidecar. Yes, that would definitely do me! The more familiar
Steib sidecar is more of a lozenge, or bullet, shape, but this is the one which BMW offered
for sale to the public. The R69S is considered by many BMW fans to be the most collectable
of them all. A smooth, torquey 700cc engine, shaft drive, Earles forks. It's everything
a touring outfit possibly needs to traverse a continent in style. This 1:24 model
by IXO is a bit flimsy (wobbly exhaust pipes), but quite pretty nevertheless.

Swinging sidecars

Not really a fantasy outfit, but it would be nice to tootle about town with one. This is an unusual
1:43 model, a white metal kit that cost 10 English Pounds, via eBay. I'm an absolute klutz
with my hands, and so the result of my glueing and hand-painting is not all that flash, but
when friends check out my diecast cabinet, this is the piece that invariably brings a smile.
The sidecar attached tothis Lambretta scooter is a 'Swallow Sprite' as far as I can tell, by
Googling. Swallow is the sidecar-making company of the early 1920s which then became
a car bodybuilder in the early 30s, then a car maker of SS cars in the late 30s. After the
Second World War the SS name wasn't all that appealing to anyone, anywhere. So they
changed their name to Jaguar. The sidecar division was sold separately around that time,
and in the 50s Swallow kept on making 'chairs' for all sorts of bikes, including the
increasingly popular scooters from Italy, such as this Lambretta.

It's interesting to read the history of companies such as Swallow and Steib. Both suffered an irreversible decline in the late 50s, as motorcycles, and motorcycles with sidecars in particular, fell from favour. Cars became cheaper, more plentiful, and sidecars just couldn't compete in that marketplace. Many people probably don't realise how popular motorcycles with sidecars were in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, often used as work and delivery vehicles as well as being family transport. I think my old Grandpa, the church minister, had a bike with sidecar to do the rounds of his country parish before he stepped up to his flash, comfy Buick in the late 1930s.
My own experiences with sidecars were limited. With an old mate of mine, we spent a memorable weekend in a borrowed Norton outfit roaring along dirt roads north of Sydney. And then, later on, while I was working as a motorcyle road-tester for a bike magazine, I was given a Russian Ural outfit to test. It was painted bright green, was a Police model fitted with a siren (you depressed a foot lever, which activated an arm which rubbed on the flywheel, and as you pulled in the clutch and revved the engine, the siren wailed away!). Alas, its electrics lasted about three days before frying, but I had three days of fun with that Russian cop outfit. The machine was picked up by the folorn dealer, taken away on the back of a truck, and my brief career with motorcycle sidecars was brought to an early end.
But let's not finish on that broken-down Russian bum note. Let's go for a brief ride on that fantasy bike of mine, the BMW R69S outfit. After the video guy goes to some trouble to prove that he's starting the bike from cold, he then does a couple of passes, including the almost obligatory You Tube flypast with the sidecar wheel in the air. Nice bike, that R69S.

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