A dummy’s guide to sidecar riding

In our hi-tech world, a motorcycle sidecar is something of an oddity, in many ways a throwback to simpler times.

In our hi-tech world, a motorcycle sidecar is something of an oddity, in many ways a throwback to simpler times.

The Russian-built Ural is a classic example. The brand’s origins extend back to World War II, when the first of its kind was sent to the front line in February 1942 and used in the epic Battle of Stalingrad.

Since 1941, Ural has produced more than three million units, many of which retain the iconic design of the original, rugged M72. As such, Ural three-wheelers have forged a reputation of being able to go just about anywhere.

Modern versions (depicted) all use the same 750cc OHV air-cooled four-stroke twin cylinder motor, four-speed (+ reverse) transmission, shaft drive and sidecar body. Power is 41kW and torque 57Nm. Available in a variety of models with plenty of factory options available, prices start from approximately $21,000 (+ on-road costs).

So, what’s motorcycle sidecar like to ride? A demonstration day hosted by the national distributor, Ural Australia, based at Uralla, in NSW’s New England district provided the opportunity to find out first-hand.

The man with the font of knowledge is Jon Taylor, who operates one-to-one specialist sidecar training firm, Ural of Oz, also out of Uralla. With me in sidecar and Jon at the handlebars, we set off around a special course laid out inside the local showgrounds centre ring.

First lesson, he emphasised, was to understand that a motorcycle sidecar handles much differently to a motorcycle.

“When driving a sidecar rig, you cannot lean into a corner, instead you must steer in the direction you wish to turn. You do not counter-steer like on a motorcycle,” he advised. “In left-hand corners, you power on progressively and smoothly in mid corner, while in right handers you back off the throttle when you reach the apex.”

John also explained that each wheel on a motorcycle sidecar has a different braking capability. Heavy braking can cause side forces on the steering.

“You need to think ahead,” he said about braking. Ditto when accelerating/decelerating.

“Powering on or off can cause the rig to pull left or right. This effect, and the rig’s reaction to changes in road camber are unsettling initially, and you need to become accustomed to this and learn to use it as a positive.”

Swapping places, it was time to put Jon’s sage advice into practice around a series of slalom courses marked out by traffic cones and bollards.

His words could not have been more accurate. The Ural tracked just as he said it would, as if having a mind of its own. Be smooth and progressive with steering inputs and throttle application, however, and sidecar and rider worked as one.

I learned a lot in a relatively short while. And enjoyed myself to the max. But, the last word should go to Jon Taylor.

“To reach full proficiency takes about 10 hours,” he warned, explaining that all too often a newcomer can come to grief within the first hour or two of open road riding. Put that down to overconfidence or lapsing back into motorcycle riding habits.

There endeth the lesson.