Superside: Sidecar World Championship
One of the less known types of motorsports but every bit as spectacular as other braches of it, is sidecar motorcycle racing.
A sidecar is a device attached to the side of a regular motorcycle (early designs were especially made so as the sidecar could be detached) that has a single wheel with no traction. The traction of the vehicle made up by the sidecar and the motorbike comes for the rear wheel of the motorcycle.
Apparently the whole contraption was invented as a cheaper alternative for cars, since - besides the driver - one more person could ride in this vehicle. It saw wide use in the Second World War - especially on the German side.
As it usually happens with pretty much everything that moves by its own means on this planet, people using sidecar motorcycles figured: ‘why not race it?’ thus one of the most spectacular motorsport genres was born.
Its spectacular nature is derived from the fact that it can only be successfully driven if there’s near perfect coordination between the driver and the passenger of the ride. It takes an advanced level of physical fitness - both on the side of the driver and especially the passenger - to propel such a vehicle around the track with big enough speed to be competitive. Since the motorcycle part of the assembly cannot “lean into” a curve like regular motorcycles do to counter the effects of the centrifugal forces, the passenger has to engage into complicated, tiresome, sometimes funny, other times downright dangerous gymnastics routines. All this, at speeds in access of 100 mph.
From its humble beginnings (around the 1950s), when racers used to ride around city street circuits on cumbersome looking sidecar motorcycles that didn’t present anything resembling an aerodynamic profile, sidecar racing has evolved to futuristic looking rocket shaped vehicles that thrust around modern circuits with mind-boggling speeds.
This evolution came at the cost of many trial and error type experiments with the machines and many victims to the rudimentary tracks races were held on. (in the cities, trees lining the roads had only had their trunks wrapped in some type of soft material like hay bails, to guard against possible fatal accidents)
Probably the biggest name in all sidecar motorcycle racing history is Eric Oliver’s. Many regard him as the father of modern race-design for these vehicles.
It was in 1950, after he had already won a championship, that he first started tweaking his machine to maximize performance. He moved the sidecar wheel a full 11 inches ahead of the rear axel-line.
He was also the first one ever to race a purposely built machine in the World Sidecar Championship, a Watsonian Sidecars creation, which is regarded as the first step that championship level racing sidecar motorcycles have taken on the road to completely sewer all ties with their street-going cousins.
This machine featured a different semi-kneeling driver position, a single unit frame, smaller wheels and shortened forks, and a more or less aerodynamic body-concept.
As said before today’s racing machines have little in common with anything we can see on the roads anywhere. Watching them whiz by at incredible speeds with their passenger hanging out precariously on their left or right side makes for one hell of a show.
As much of longshot as it may seem, believe it or not, sidecar motorcycles are also raced offroad.
Surely it’s a completely different setup and design from the rockets one can see perform on the tarmac, however the entertainment value of such a race is nothing short of sensational.
One can only imagine what the poor guy in the sidecar has to go through during the race as the action itself is much too vivid, to ever think about the hardship he has to endure. The importance of a perfect teamwork under these conditions is never too much to iterate. The teams that work best are made up of driver and passenger that have known each-other and have worked with each other for some time.
This motorsport-genre is pretty big over in Europe, especially Western Europe with the Easterners catching up fast. Here in America it’s only taking its first babysteps but hopefully it’s got a bright future ahead of it on this side of the Atlantic as well.