Expanding Adventures with a Sidecar

I’ve been toying with the notion of getting a sidecar rig for some time. Quite honestly, those thoughts first surfaced when I was facing the possibility of losing my leg or its ability to handle a two-wheeled machine. As that threat faded, so did the urgency to explore sidecar rig options. The seed was planted though and little musings about it still wafted through my thoughts here and there about the possibilities it might add to my adventuring life.

Those thoughts took greater form as I realized that, regardless of my physical issues, having a sidecar rig in the adventure fleet opens up a treasure trove of possibilities. Most of those involve being able to take non-riding friends out riding. It also means the 80-pound adventure dog can join us on motorcycle trips. Now we don’t have to choose between riding trips without him and non-riding trips with him.

In the end though, sidecars are just fun! They don’t ride like motorcycles or drive like cars—they are their own special category. Even people who dislike motorcycles seem to love sidecars.  For some reason, when you slap a tub on the side suddenly it’s the coolest thing ever. There’s simply something about them. You can’t help but smile and wave as they pass. And you can’t help but grin from ear to ear when you’re on one.

bmw r100rt sidecar rig - val in real life
Having a sidecar rig opens up new ways to have big adventures.
sidecar geocaching - val in real life
The adventure dog loves his new ride!

How did the rubber meet the road?

The sidecar seed rattling around in my head wasn’t terribly noisy. It had really settled into an occasional “that would be cool” idea. That all changed in the course of about a day. In that time, notions of the sidecar went from “maybe someday” to being the proud new owner of a rig. Sometimes life simply comes together and I’m not one to second guess or be shy about seizing a unique opportunity.

The opportunity in question fell in my lap while attending my first BMW MOA rally back in July. I had ridden Evie, my BMW F700GS, the 600-plus miles to Salt Lake City for the event. It was a tortuous ride with several days of over 100-degree summer heat. That was followed by several more days pounding the pavement at the Utah State Fair Park in the same oppressive weather. But even with the mental haze of feeling like my brain was being roasted, I couldn’t miss her, my soon-to-be-new-to-me sidecar outfit. Betty. That’s what I call her now. It’s short for Big Betty Blue.

There she sat, impervious to the summer temperatures that were getting the best of me, looking supremely regal with her dark blue paint and red windscreen sash. She showed the wear of a seasoned adventurer but the nuances of a much-loved companion. She oozed character, something I now know she inherited from her owner, Pat. And on her windscreen sat a for sale sign. The seed in my head took root and shot out of the ground to a full-grown redwood in a matter of seconds. My life-partner-in-crime and I looked at each other. No words were necessary to communicate that we were both thinking the same thing.

We called the number on the sign and left a message. Within the hour I was on a test ride with Pat. We inspected the machine, trying to maintain some level of objectivity. The more Pat told us about it, the more we knew we couldn’t pass up this opportunity. He had kept meticulous notes. The build was clearly top-notch. We had no doubt that Pat had taken impeccable care of the rig or of how much he loved it. His changing health was forcing his decision to sell her, though.

Pat is a delightful character. As we listened to his colorful stories about the outfit—where it has been, the reasons behind some of the quirkier details of it, and the process he went through in converting her—we knew we needed to keep the adventures alive. Pat wanted the buyer to be someone who would use it well but also take care of it; someone who wouldn’t run it into the ground but also not leave it languishing in the garage. It became evident quickly that this was not only about the sidecar rig itself. It was about carrying on a legacy. I convinced him I was the person he was looking for. I told him about the blog and how the rig’s adventures would not only continue, but have new life as I shared stories with my readers.

Negotiations were brief and by the next afternoon, we were showing our friends at the rally our new acquisition. Then the inevitable question arose: “How are you going to get it home?” It was certainly a legitimate question to pose to someone who was over 600 miles from home with only a motorcycle for transportation. Fortunately Pat is a fabulous person and agreed to meet us partway between his home in Oregon and my place in Nevada a couple of weeks later. With the help of our toy hauler travel trailer, we carted sweet Betty home, delirious with visions of future adventures. That is, the adventures we would have once we learned how to drive her.

bmw sidecar - val in real life
In the sea of wheels at the BMW MOA rally, she stole my heart.
bmw sidecar rig - val in real life
Bringing Betty home.

Getting to know Betty

My two-wheeled motorcycles, Nina (the MotoGuzzi V7 Stone II) and Evie (the BMW F700GS), are both modern machines. They both run like a dream with very little maintenance or fussing about.

Betty is a different story. She’s a 1991 BMW R100RT with a Ural sidecar and over 60,000 miles under her belt. That means I now have to pay attention to things like petcocks and a manual choke. She needs a fair amount of TLC. With the sidecar addition and other changes Pat made to the engine and fuel system, she’s unlike anything else I’m familiar with. So there’s a substantial mechanical learning curve.

Piloting a sidecar rig is also unlike anything else I’m familiar with. The drag of the tub creates asymetric steering dynamics. A left turn is different from a right turn. Some say it’s better if you don’t know how to ride a motorcycle before learning to drive a hack. While you do come in with some preconceived ideas about how it works, they are quickly out the window once you get started. I think knowing how to ride a two-wheeler is an asset, even if you do have to recalibrate a bit on a sidecar combination.

bmw moa crossroads rally - val in teal life
Checking out our new ride at Crossroads BMW Rally in Salt Lake City.

Looking ahead

We’re making good progress learning how to pilot her, care for her, and having the adventure dog learn to sit in the tub calmly. We still have some things to dial in, though. Motorcycle travel will be different with the dog—there are a lot more considerations to be factored in. It’s also an older, more finicky machine so we’ll have to be prepared to deal with that.

And sadly, the truth is that my leg still presents a future limitation. Knowing I’m building proficiency with driving a sidecar rig now gives me great comfort that it will keep my riding and adventuring life going even if I do eventually lose the ability to ride a motorcycle in the future.

Stay tuned! New adventures lie ahead! Have a look through the gallery below for more details about my beautiful Betty.