Francis Meyrick

The Great Sidecar Experiment (Part One)

Posted on August 1, 2011

The Great Side Car Experiment

Part One: A Good idea

based on true events…

It seemed like a good idea.
The word spread like wildfire around the Dublin area motorcycle fraternity. You can build your own motorcycle side car. Deklan and Tim had it all worked out. They were doing it! Of course, in the those 1970’s days, before the age of Nintendo and X-box, a serious portion of our entertainment consisted of flocking to anything motorcycle. And soon I too, was one of the humble pilgrims that came to pay respects to this Galactic project on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I remember walking into their workshop, which was actually the back kitchen, and hearing Deklan’s Mum scolding him for some well used shop rags he had carelessly dumped in with the once-white washing. There was already a respectable gang of followers there. We all clustered around the awesome project.

Their chosen mount was an ancient vintage 1940’s era BSA M21 single-cylinder thumper. Hand painted in a supposedly military camouflage green. The mitt that had held the brush had not been too steady, undoubtedly as a result of over consumption of the juice of the barley, and thick traces of pea green remained attached to strange places, such as cylinder fins and tires. The M21 was a formidable beast, consisting in essence of just ONE humongous 600 cc side valve cylinder. The Japanese had long since given us two, three and four cylinder bikes, including the high revving two strokes. The M21 existed at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. It was in every aspect a bear of a machine. Or a wooly Mammoth. I knew it well, as I was one of many loyal devotees who had taken my turn at push starting it at various meets and bars. Indeed, coaxing that one gigantic cylinder into life, was something of an epic battle every time. There was no battery, no electric start. Instead, you had a kick starter, and a valve lifter. The theory being that you used the valve lifter to reduce the compression for starting. Then you swung up and down on the kick starter, like you knew what you were doing. The dangers were many. Typically, nothing would happen. You would swing with all your weight, with a grim expression. There would be a soft double


Followed by the screaming sound of silence from the engine. You would try again and again, with the exact same non-result. Only the sound of your increasingly labored breathing.

(pant, pant, gasp)
(pant, pant, gasp)

Then came real danger. You would get frustrated. Especially when all your buddies were ready to go, sitting on their bikes, revving and waiting. Looking at you. With that expression. You know.

Dude! Come-fuk’n ON!

I learned from personal experience with a BSA Victor 441 cc single, that at that stage, it was safest to get off, pack up and go home. Just leave it there. Hope somebody steals it. The reason being that you are now sitting on a time bomb. There is so much unburned fuel and vapor sitting around, it’s just waiting for a detonation. You would swing at it, frustrated, with perspiration trickling through your eyebrows, and nothing would happen on the fifty-third kick. So, impatiently, flustered, you would swing again. However, on the fifty-fourth kick, for no apparent reason, no logic, just random molecules deciding it was time to spontaneously combust, you would get the dreaded kick back. The kickstarter would violently slam back against your foot, with such force, that all manner of horrible things could -and did- happen. On one occasion, the force traveled up my leg to my unprepared knee, and I spent several excruciatingly painful minutes rolling around on the ground, clutching my knee cap, convinced I would never walk or make love again. On another occasion I watched Alan trying to kick start a BSA 650 A10 Road Rocket. And that was a twin. It kicked back also, and with such force that it helped Alan clean over the handle bars. He ended up lying flat on his back, winded, gasping, in front of his motorcycle. The BSA didn’t even fall over. He sold it in disgust to another sucker. Me. Yep, that’s another story.

Deklan and Tim had one luxury: they lived at the top of a hill. Their usual modus operandi therefore was to roll The Beast down the hill. Then, when some speed had built up, they would drop it into gear, and she would grumble a bit, backfire loudly once or twice, and then burst into song. After that it was plain sailing, provided they didn’t stop anywhere until they got home. I had driven The Beast a few times myself, and it was just kind of a surreal experience. As you pulled away from the stop lights, and the curious stares, there would be a shuddering bang. This propelled you forward at surprising velocity. There would be another bang when you passed the next lamp post, and, fifty yards down the road, a further bang would mark the next lamp post. For an engine that seemed to be doing hardly any work at all, the torque available was astounding. After a while, you kind of became addicted. It had a unique sound. A Presence. A sort of laid back, loud, mellow, comforting sound.


I therefore understood Deklan and Tim’s enthusiasm, although I didn’t quite share their conviction that the sidecar was going to be a good idea.
To start with, it looked far too much like a coffin. I wasn’t the only one who had observed this, and some wag had already suggested painting crosses and lighted candles on the side. Much to Deklan’s displeasure.
For seconds, the sidecar wheel had been borrowed off a rusty old bicycle. It was too big, and stuck absurdly up above the side car top edge. To the point that a sidecar occupant who was careless with his finger placement could conceivably find himself digitally challenged. Painfully so.
And for thirds, the sidecar assembly method left something to be desired. They had gone for a mostly wood construction, plywood over battens, and had then relied on nails for structural strength. That the architects were proud of their accomplishment was evident, and it was perhaps for this reason that criticism was muted. There was a suggestion somewhere of screws being better, especially given the high vibration level present, but this lack of faith had fallen on deaf ears.
And lastly, there was the small matter of alignment. There were some who claimed, with some authority, that alignment was important. The sidecar had to track the same way as the Beast. Not so, said others. There was no way the sidecar, light as it was, could possibly detract from the trajectory of The Beast. The debate got heated, and then we all retired to the pub for further engineering analysis.
In this manner, it was the following Saturday before we all returned to the top of the hill, for the grand initial launch. I wasn’t too surprised to find a whole gaggle of bikes there. The word had spread, and, some twenty five or thirty curious visitors thronged around The Beast, and its magnificent sidecar. The coffin had received a fine coat of paint, camouflage pea green of course, and some distinctly green finger prints on the towel in the kitchen spoke volumes on the subject of the effort and industry that had been applied. It seemed likely that more volumes would be spoken when the owner of the kitchen discovered the evidence, but nothing could dampen the infectious enthusiasm. As the proceedings unfolded, Deklan gave us a little speech, and proudly informed us that they had been reading a book. The sidecar had apparently been professionally aligned by means of two long pieces of wood. These had been placed along the wheels, and by virtue of careful measurement and adjustment, and taking the square root of the Pythagoras algorhythm, the engineers had assured themselves that both the two motorcycle wheels and the sidecar bicycle wheel were, in fact, in perfect parallel alignment. The impact of Deklan’s powerful words, aswith his supremely confident air, was immediately felt. Amongst the murmurs of approval, some voices were heard clamoring for a place in the sidecar. To this request, the engineers, Deklan and Tim, gave kind consideration. It was soon decided that the extra weight would help propel the Beast and Sidecar down the hill, and also give greater stability to the combo. A few minutes later, the rest of us cheered loudly, as The Beast was confidently rolled out. Deklan climbed into the driver’s seat, Tim hopped on behind, and no less than four intrepid adventurers seated themselves – not without some difficulty – sequentially in the sidecar-coffin. There was some strange creaking, and the rusty bicycle wheel seemed to strain inwards a little, but the fine engineering work proved its worth, and it all looked well within the designed structural limits.
The rest of us volunteered to do the initial pushing. There were enough of us left to give the Beast and the sidecar a hefty initial launch, and soon the entire cortege was thundering down the hill at ever increasing speed. It was now up to Deklan to carefully let the clutch out, and engage the engine. The massive single cylinder would then commence turning, and fuel and air would be sucked in. There would then be the usual explosion, combustion, and lift off. Bets had been placed as to how fast the venerable M21 would go down the hill, with the benefit of added weight from six occupants. A speed of eighty five to ninety five miles per hour was anticipated, which, in those days, was remarkably quick.
Faster and faster they went, down the hill, and then Deklan let the clutch out. Exactly what happened at that point, was to be a source of some confusion, and heated argument, for weeks to come. Some said Deklan let the clutch out too quickly, and locked up the rear wheel. Others maintained it had nothing to do with the clutch. All I can say, from my vantage point at the top of the hill, was that all seemed very well, up to a certain point. The certain point was marked by a large explosion, and a large six foot flame followed by black smoke erupting from the exhaust pipe. Some kind of violent jerking rippled through the motorcycle frame, and all of a sudden, The Beast, with its head down, was heading off at a wonk. Now the road down Deklan and Tim’s hill was unremarkable, I suppose, but for the fact that it was rather steep. There was also a stone wall on the right side of the road, set back a few feet from the edge. It was for this wall that The Beast was now heading, like a bull, lacking only fire snorting from flared nostrils, to complete a tableau of a Spanish bull fight. The matadors, all six of them, lacking any appreciation for dramatic opportunity, were unfortunately not quite living up to the expectation of brave manhood, unflinchingly facing overwhelming odds.

They were far too busy screaming.

We witnesses at the top of the hill, could only watch in dumbfounded horror, as the Beast cum sidecar creation, traveling at over fifty miles per hour, careened madly out of control. The front wheel hit the grassy embankment, and this had the unfortunate effect of jerking the handle bars further to the right. From then on in, no purple cape was going to save these bull fighters.

Armageddon was unavoidable…

(to be ctd) PART 2, CLICK HERE

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on June 6, 2015, 4:04 am

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