Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Side car pros & cons - questions from the audience

I got this PM and below are my answers...

Okay you two...really enjoying your ride report and insight. We have been planning on an extended Alaska to South America adventure leaving next summer on our two hacked 2015 1200GSA, but on the way back to Alaska last month with our rigs there was an equipment failure in the Yukon resulting in my bike being totaled and rather significant injuries that will have me laid up for some time to come. The front wheel assembly (including forks) broke off my one bike when I encountering a pothole. The bike had had a trail modification done to the front end by the sidecar fabricator that I am all but certain was the cause; and as a result we are looking hard switching to a leading link front end for both bikes. Have you had any problems with your leading link front end when off-road? Another more basic question we have is this...what are the pros and cons of the sidecar in Central and South America? Your insight is welcome and appreciated.
Glad to hear you enjoy our RR and find it useful. I would say that you have a fantastic ride ahead. Enjoy and looking forward to your RR :)

About front fork assembly/leading link. There is an entire thread on this topic in ADVrider.com and believe me everybody has an opinion. Here is mine. Using the stock front fork and only changing the trail is ONLY useful if you ride your hack to the next ice cream bar. Any serious riding i.e. curves and/or gravel requires to replace the front fork with a swing fork. There are several manufacturers in Europe which sell it off the shelf and ready to install (as far as I know). You can check what my sidecar builder has to offer (www.mueller-gespanne.de). I perceive the comments from the sidecar builder in the US more like that they are pushing their own "brilliant" solution to you without listening.

My swing fork is extra heavy duty (according to the builder) and some American hack riders do not like my design (see leading link thread). Peter and Elsbeth have build sidecars for 30+years (meaning I trust them). I know experience is not knowledge, so I also have some critique. The design lasted thousands of km on gravel roads as well as the Alps, West-Africa and in the US: Cinnamon Pass, Marshall Pass, Shafer Road, Potash Road and more. Those are not easy roads/paths to ride and I do not know of many who did it (Doug did the Marshall and Cinnamon in a sidecar from east to west as a part of the TAT).

Everything has its limit and I obviously found the one of my front fork system in Death Valley (see post here http://www.sauerkraut-tofuwurst.com/2014/12/drama-in-death-valley-wolfi-trashed-his.html) on the racetrack valley. If you follow up the posts you will see that afterwards I strengthened the trailing arm. In hindsight the metal piece could have been even longer going much more towards the bike and supporting the trailing arm even more. I think that this is a cheap and good enough solution for that problem. Let it powder-coat and it will even look nice (I think one sidecar builder wanted 5000USD for their custom-made stainless-steel trailing arm replacement but that is a rip-off IMHO, also s.a.). Of course you need to replace the front shock with something solid. I am not sure if I have pics about my solution but I can check if you want more info.

The broken ball-joint (in Mexico) has IMO nothing to do with the broken trailing arm (because it was anyway another ball-joint and many thousands of km later). Either I installed the ball-joint wrong or most likely it went broken when I destroyed my rear shock on one of those famous "topes".

That brings me to your next question:
Sidecar pros and cons. I assume you have your reasons to ride a sidecar instead of a solo bike. I know sidecar riding is fun but so is solo bike. Well, here are a few thoughts.

It's fun.
You will be a totally exotic thing which means plenty of honking, waving, blinking lights, admiration.
People will come to you and start talking (better know some Spanish).
Food shopping is easy (try to get 5 gallon water barrel on a solo bike AND the groceries).
You can take your dogs/kids with and they travel safer compared to a solo bike.
You cannot fall on those bad gravel roads (ok, not so easily).
You will not be that tight on luggage space and weight.
Knock on wood - I doubt anybody will steal your sidecar. Its more the kids who like to fiddle.
You can invite people for a fun ride in the sidecar and make plenty of friends.
You have space to rescue and adopt a dog or cat or two (per sidecar).
More fun on snowy and icy streets with studs on the tires (however that fully depends on the time of your travel and might not be applicable at all in your case).


You will be a totally exotic thing which means plenty of honking, waving, blinking lights, admiration.
People will come to you and start talking (better know some Spanish). That might become annoying if you want to be alone.
You easily take too much stuff with and the weight will take all fun out of the riding.
Parking is more difficult. With a solo bike you could easier park in the inner secured yards of the hotels. But I always got a good spot too maybe one block away.
Speed bumps - total nightmare and because of the asymmetry it will be constant rocking and bouncing. Very often there is a small opening somewhere and with a solo bike you can ride through without slowing down much. Loaded sidecar => 1. or 2. gear.
Avoiding pot holes becomes an art and you will drive on the opposite lane facing some traffic far away to avoid those potholes and missing manhole lids.
On bad gravel roads (tested on Potash Road and White Rim Trail), you will be much slower compared to an experienced solo rider. As of now, I have not seen good gravel roads in Central America i.e. the ones where you can ride peacefully with 60mph.
Shipping is more expensive and when crossing Darien Gap you might need to disconnect the sidecar from the bike in order to lift it on/off the boat.
Driving in some cities with a sidecar is a challenge because the streets are very tight there.
Higher petrol consumption - more costs.
More complex maintenance (you better know something about your bike because the BMW guys will not know what to do). Remember that your sidecar needs maintenance too. (I do all maintenance by myself and have basic set of tools with to do that).

Latest experience. There are a few toll booths in Panama City and plenty in Colombia. Those are tricky with the sidecar because you might need to ride through the car lane and then they want money even though motos are for free. If you want to collect stories for your RR, sidecar is the way to go.

I have been riding Skippy's V-Strom a few times and I really liked it. To be honest, if it would not have been for the dogs, I would opt for a light solo bike. I mean that when you travel alone on one bike, there is no need to take so much stuff with that you would need in a sidecar, so why the sidecar?

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