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Motorcycles and Sidecars

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MG is an air warrior with a distinguished career and now a corporate advisor, writer, and intrepid traveler and novelist



Sidecars are one-wheeled contraptions, with a seat that is attached to a motorcycle by a rigid steel rod. Generally, sidecars attached to motorbikes are a rare sight in modern times. In fact on the roads in Europe, USA and India the number of motorbikes with sidecars are rare, but all the same many people used them years back. A further innovation is that sidecars were also available for scooters

Sidecars usually have a seat and this increases the utility of the motorbike as an additional passenger can travel.


Once a sidecar is attached to a bike it will no longer function as a two-wheel vehicle. Its aerodynamics change and the forces that manage the running of a normal bike like the Centripetal and Centrifugal force are no longer valid.

The Motorbike now behaves more like a car. Its maneuverability is severely curtailed as instead of two wheels a third wheel is added and correspondingly the drag coefficient is higher. The drag coefficient is a measured quantity that is used to quantify the drag or resistance an object faces while moving in a fluid environment, such as air or water.

Motorbikes with sidecars are however more stable, though their speed is severely curtailed. Riding a bike with a sidecar needs different handling as the rider has to make an allowance for the increase in wheelbase and turning corners and traffic requires a bit of expertise.

The war bike

The war bike

The sidecar

A look at the pages of history is revealing. The first man to patent a sidecar was an English man WJ Graham in 1903. At that time cars were not common and thus the sidecar grew in popularity. Old pictures show that almost every second bike had a sidecar at that time. The period till the end of the Second World War can be considered the heyday of the sidecar.

The Second World War saw the flowering of the sidecar for the bike. The German army made great use of this contraption and increased its utility as a weapon of war by mounting a machine gun on it.

A soldier sat in the sidecar with the mounted machine gun which could rotate on a swivel. He thus could spray the countryside with bullets and the rider concentrated on driving the bike. On the flat plains of Europe and good roads, the Germans made excellent use of these machines and used them with telling effect against the occupied people of Europe. The BMW, Uncap were the most used for this purpose. At a conservative estimate, the Germans used close to 50,000 such machine gun bikes.

Sidecar use by Allies

The Americans and British also used the sidecar with the bikes. But their numbers were fewer and were mostly used by Military police for patrol duty. In the eastern theater, there was not much use of the bike itself and thus sidecars were also not much used.

BMW R 90

BMW R 90

Technical Improvement

The Germans felt that a motorbike with an attached sidecar and machine gun had some difficulty in negotiating steep curves and climbs. It also got bogged down in the countryside, where there were no roads. German engineers then perfected a differential gear for the sidecar.

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A Differential gear permitted power from the engine to be transmitted to the wheel of the attached sidecar. This made climbing easier for the bike as well as running in the countryside.

Harley Davidson with sidecar

Harley Davidson with sidecar

Sidecars after the War

After the war, motorbikes came into fashion for fun driving as with greater production of cars the need for an extra passenger to travel on the bike decreased. Slowly the sidecar began to go out of fashion. Its military role also diminished with the advent of the APC and lighter tanks. More and more enthusiasts began to drive bigger machines and racing. The sidecar became an anachronism and was soon discarded.

In the late fifties of the last century, the sidecar was totally discarded and now buying one is a difficult proposition. Just after the war Vespa the Italian scooter manufacturer had started producing sidecars for scooters but these were soon discarded as hardly any buyers were available.

Ural bike

Ural bike

Last Word

Modern motorbikes and scooters no longer have attached side cars. These now belong to a different age. One of the reasons for discarding the sidecar is the loss of maneuverability and speed for the bike. It also required greater space and with cars available the sidecar's utility was zero. But we can look back and remember the age of the side car. It reigned for close to 5 decades and like all inventions over a period of time became obsolete.


MG Singh (author) from UAE on May 30, 2021:

Thank you Tom, nice to read your comment

MG Singh (author) from UAE on May 30, 2021:

Wonderful Colonel. Well done, I have a Royal Enfield but no side car.

Lt Col Avtar singh on May 30, 2021:

This is a wonderful article it's a pity that the sidecar is no longer in use but I have a royal Enfield and I still use a sidecar.

Voncile on January 07, 2015:

Hey, kiellr job on that one you guys!

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 13, 2014:

Thank you Celebrate USA for a nice comment

Ken Kline from Chicago, Illinois on January 12, 2014:

I would really like to see a comeback of this. It is economical and fun but yet the market place here in the United States sadly is not raving about them - they are supporting them and I see them from time to time and think they are very cool! I hope they return to reign again. Leave it to the Germans for the engineering. Wonder if VW could conceive of offering the motorcycle with the side car - their VW bug was so popular.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 25, 2013:

I am glad you added to the information. My hub is referring only to the world at large, but there are exceptions.

conradofontanilla on December 25, 2013:

You should see the sidecars in the Philippines. It is not obsolete, it adds to public transport that can negotiate small and big roads.

conradofontanilla on December 25, 2013:

You should see the sidecars in the Philippines. It is not obsolete, it adds to public transport that can negotiate small and big roads.

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