Motorcycle Sidecar Monkey Business

Motorcycle Sidecar Racer on MOTORESS

Reminiscing over last years riding season, I can’t believe the number of new motorcycling experiences I was able to add to my list. Quite remarkable when considering I’m embarking on my 30th year as a licensed (and non-stop) rider. And I’ve got to admit, one of the rides ranking near the top of my list happened on Canada’s famed Mosport race track and in a race sidecar monkey  – I was the “monkey”!

The term sidecar monkey refers to the rider in the side-car swinging from front to back to help the pilot steer. The opportunity happened with the Canadian VRRA (Vintage Road Racing Association) during their Mosport festival race venue. In-between the days races the VRRA host a “try the sidecar ride” to most anyone who signs up (some restrictions and need to have full gear). The sidecar owners make their machines available and host a few laps around the track. It’s a generous opportunity, asking but a few dollars donation to the club. How could I refuse?

My pilot was a side-car racing veteran – a husband and wife team – Paul and Marie Whittaker. In this case Paul was the bike’s pilot and Marie the monkey. Marie gave me the run down on the “monkey-business” – specifically the manoeuvres giving me some stationary practise in pit lane before getting out there. The “monkey’s” distribution of weight by laying down up front and low; then up to knees, shifting back and over the pilot’s passenger seat at the right time, are key to cornering the side-car and to its corner speed. Teamwork at its finest and no walk in the park for the monkey – a lot of hard work.

Motorcycle Sidecar Racer on MOTORESS

So off we went! I was totally up for the fun, but as Paul got up to speed, I continued to muff up almost all corners we took;  I just couldn’t get myself into position. By the time he  needed to turn the bike into  the corner I was still trying to get there. It was frustrating. Climbing forward and back again  – gosh I needed a few more yoga classes or a more flexible race suit! The challenge of getting into position to coincide with each corner was tricky. I was not providing Paul any assistance to manoeuvre the corners plus my lack of familiarity with the track was a further disadvantage.

With one lap behind me now I thought I’d certainly be better at the my role for the second lap. I started to watch Paul for indications such as when I should move – seeing if I could anticipate by his small motions.  At one point I raised up my hand so he could see it and waving to the right with my thumb pointed intending to say “right turn corner now?” Well, he took that as a signal to exit – that I’d had enough and wanted to go in. I suppose that was easily mistaken as we happened to be approaching pit lane and the exit of the track.  Darn, I was disappointed – I wanted more and especially more time to get the job right.

Motorcycle Sidecar Racer on MOTORESS

I climbed off thanking Paul (and Marie) while Paul readied to take the next rider. The tingling in my arms lingered for a while.  I felt as though they’d been stretched in length – you know, like a monkey’s! I was definitely not in shape for the task.

Conclusively, I was pleased to have added this to my list of motorcycling experiences. Though it wasn’t as thrilling to me as being the pilot or as racing on two wheels; the experience is incomparable to anything else motorcycling. Don’t pass up the chance if you too, have the opportunity.

Motorcycle Sidecar Racer on MOTORESS

As we ride into 2013, I hope your year will be filled with ever more new motorcycling experiences. They need not happen on the track;  some can be as simple as touring to a new region or taking out a scooter for the first time during a demo ride.

Take it from me, every aspect and form of motorcycling offers up its own unique sensations  – more fun than a “barrel of monkeys” – you might say!

Happy New Year riding!

Thanks again VRRA, especially to Paul and Marie Whittaker! These fabulous photos by Richard Coburn, Coburn Photography

Side-car Smarts (ala Wikipedia)

The side-cars are often classed by age or engine size, with historic side-car racing often being more popular than its modern counterpart. Older classes in road racing generally resemble solo motorcycles with a platform attached, where modern racing side-cars are low and long and borrow much technology from open wheel race cars. In all types of side-car racing there is a rider and a passenger who work in unison to make the machine perform, as they would be almost unrideable without the passenger in the correct position.

Road racing sidecars began to change away from normal motorcycle development in the 1950s with them becoming lower and using smaller diameter wheels and they kept the enclosed “dustbin fairing” banned in solo competition in 1957. By the 1970s they were using wide slick tyres with a square car like profile, the rider kneeled behind the engine instead of sitting on a seat and the motor of choice was generally a 500 cc two-stroke. In the late 1970’s sidecars began to appear with hub centre steering and later the engines moved to the rear of the rider, to lower the centre of gravity further still, making the sidecar very long. Side-cars raced in the world championship known as Superside are all hub centre long monocoque framed machines, the most common being LCR, ART or Windle, with 1,000 cc four-cylinder four-stroke engines, the most popular being the Suzuki GSX-R1000.

These at club and national level are known as Formula One side-cars, as opposed to Formula Two. Formula Two sidecars are short front engined bikes, which must have a frame made of steel tube and have leading link forks as monocoques and hub centre steering is banned. Engines are 350 cc two strokes or 600 cc four strokes. F2 side-cars are raced in their own championship but are often on track at the same time as the F1’s, but competing for their own points. Since 1990 at the Isle of Man TT, the Sidecar TT has been solely contested by Formula Two sidecars as Formula Ones were deemed too fast, then lapping at 108 mph (174 km/h) average. By 2006 however, F2s were faster than this lapping at 116 mph (187 km/h).

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