A question which often comes up when talking about driving sidecars is: “What do I do if I get into a corner too hot?” If you have been on any of the chat forums discussing sidecars sooner or later you will come across a long thread discussing this question.
I’d like to give you my answer and then I’d like to explore why it is the wrong answer to the wrong question.
If you get into a corner too hot a number of things begin to happen. If you are turning away from the sidecar, for most of us here that would be turning left, the back end will start to slide out. This happens because the weight transfers off of the rear tire, towards the sidecar, reducing the traction at the rear and allowing it to slide. At first this feels controllable and there is a tendency to do this on purpose, provoking lurid, smoking slides. The problem is the weight transferring to the sidecar increases the traction at the sidecar wheel causing it to stick. The bike then pivots up over the tipover line between the sidecar tire contact patch and the front tire contact patch. As the rear tire comes off the pavement things happen very quickly and you can lose control of the vehicle. At that point you either flip or, if you are lucky, bounce the nose of the sidecar into the pavement and settle back down on all three wheels again. There is very little you can do in this situation; maybe straighten the front wheel to reduce lift, certainly shift your weight aft and away from the sidecar(left).
If you are turning towards the sidecar(in my case, right) the dynamics are a little different. The sidecar wheel comes off the ground but the tip over line involved is between the front and rear tires of the bike. Since this is a straight line in the direction of travel you still have control. A wheel will tend to go in the direction it is leaned. Lift is reduced if you turn the front wheel out from the turn. Everything conspires to make you go wide when the sidecar wheel comes up physics and your panic reaction are screaming at you to straighten out. Don’t do it. Look where you want to go, drag a little front brake, ease off the throttle, shift your weight further to the inside. Keep your head.
You may have heard people advise against shifting your weight once you are in the turn because you will actually push the bike down and lever the sidecar up. Bullshit. If that happens you are doing it wrong. Use the inside peg and inside handlebar to support yourself so you are not pushing on the outside. Don’t lift up and over, slide over and down. Remember, smooth is your friend, abrupt is not your friend. Avoid abrupt input of any kind, weight shift, steering input, braking, chopping the throttle, all of that. Don’t do it. Abrupt input has abrupt consequences, often unintended and undesirable. Slide your weight over, ease off the throttle, ease on the brakes. Change your line by straightening the wheel just a little and only if you can do so with out leaving your lane and only as a conscience choice not as a panic reaction.
That is what I do. There are no guarantees. You might not save it. But you probably will if you keep your head.
Why is this the wrong answer? Because this is the wrong question. It implies a great deal about your approach to riding. Let’s think about this question from a slightly different perspective. Imagine your 16 year old son or daughter getting ready to take the family car out with his friends. He asks you: “Dad? What do you do if you get into a corner too hot?” What is your reaction going to be? Are you going to tell him all the techniques to save a car when it starts to slide, go into the finer points of drifting, under steer or oversteer? We aren’t racing here. If you get into a corner too hot you are doing it wrong. So the question should be “How do I keep from getting into a corner too hot in the first place.” The answer involves training and practice. And before and after that, it demands an attitude shift. Think your ride out, consider the corners ahead of time, get set up, get your weight over and your speed off and choose your line before you get in to the turn and look way down the road to the next turn to get set up. Ural puts a sticker on the gas tank of the bikes they sell “Driving a motorcycle with a sidecar accessory can be dangerous in right and left turns. Avoid excessive speed. Read the owner’s manual”.
Adventure riding demands a similar attitude. Preparation: bring food, water, maps, tools, first aid kit, survival kit. Make sure you have it, you know what you have, and you know how to use it.
File a flight plan and ETA with someone who cares. Stick to your route. If you change your plans, communicate those changes.
When you approach a sketchy section, park the bike. Walk the section. Pick your line. Look back. Can you turn around? Can you make it back through if the trail becomes impassible? Consider another route if the answer is no.
If you get stuck or break down in the bush, stay with your vehicle. If you decide to walk out, leave a note on your vehicle detailing where you intend to go and when you left. Then stick to the plan. Usually the best choice is to retrace your route; you already know the way and what is there. Do not strike out cross country in unfamiliar territory. Remember your flight plan? That is where people will come looking for you. If you wander off in the bush you make it much harder to be found.
Stay hydrated, maintain your body temperature. Take steps to avoid overheating or hypothermia before you get too hot or too cold. Use layers; heated clothing, cooling vests, whatever is appropriate to the conditions. The time to adjust your clothing is when you first think about being chilled, when you start to sweat. Don’t push through. Overheating or getting cold affects your judgment and your reactions. Pushing it lets things get out of control. Anticipate and be proactive.
Fatigue affects you in the same way and is just as dangerous. If you are tired, take a break or stop for the day. Try to plan your ride so you are not on a tight schedule. I recommend you look at your target mileage and cut it in half. Particularly on sidecar – sidecars can be incredibly hard work. If you have a tight schedule and the weather goes bad, you get tired, or you have a breakdown, you become pressed for time. This takes the fun out of the ride and can lead to rash decisions.
Slow down, enjoy the ride.