The Side Car for the Motorcycle: a Contraption from a bygone Age

Captain Charles Graham
Captain Charles Graham

Side cars are one wheeled contraptions, with a seat which is attached to a motor cycle by a rigid steel rod. Generally side cars 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 side cars are rare, but all the same many people used them in a bygone era. A further innovation is that side cars were also available for scooters

Side cars can seat a single rider and increases the utility of the motorbike as an additional passenger can travel.

Aerodynamics

Once a side car is attached to a bike it will no longer function as a two wheel vehicle. In fact 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change and the forces that manage the running of a normal bike like the Centripetal and Centrifugal force are no longer valid.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. Motorbikes with side cars are however more stable, though their speed is severely curtailed. Riding a bike with a side car needs different handling as the rider has to make an allowance for the increase in wheel base and turning corners and traffic requires a bit of expertise.

Origin of the Side car

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

The Side car in the War Years

The Second World War saw the flowering of the side car 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 side car 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.

Side car use by Allies

The Americans and British also used the side car 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 side cars were also not much used.

Technical Improvement

The Germans felt that a motorbike with an attached side car 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 side car.

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

Side cars 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 side car began to go out of fashion. Its military role also diminished with the advent of the APC and lighter tanks. More and more enthusiast began to drive bigger machines and racing. The side car became an anachronism and was soon discarded.

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

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 side car is the loss of maneuverability and speed for the bike. It also required greater space and with cars available the side cars utility was zero. But we can look back and savor the age of the side car. It reigned for close to 5 decades and like all inventions after that period it became obsolete.

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Comments 5 comments

conradofontanilla 2 years ago

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 2 years ago

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


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

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


CelebrateUSA profile image

CelebrateUSA 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

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 profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Celebrate USA for a nice comment

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