Have you seen a sidecar lately?
When was the last time that you saw a motorcycle rider cruising around with a sidecar next to their motorbike? Seeing sidecars attached to motorcycles is very rare these days but they are still a novelty for some motorcycle enthusiasts. The sidecar has a history that is more in-depth than just being referred to as an extra chair accessory for the motorcycle which we will explore here.
It started with a bicycle
The sidecar’s history and creation has been attributed to Mr. Jean Bertoux. He was a French army officer who created the sidecar in 1893 due to a French newspaper competition on finding the best way have an additional passenger on a bicycle. His design of which, tubes connecting to the bicycle support the crossmember with a seat mounted above it and a footboard below it.
When motorbikes rose to popularity, sidecars were also developed as an additional accessory alongside them. A sidecar appeared as a cartoon in an issue of the British newspaper called Motor Cycling in 1903. A patent was also given to W.J. Graham who was working in Enfield. Partnered with Jonathan A. Kahn, they both began production on the sidecar immediately.
Years before World War 1 began, other companies made their own renditions of the sidecar. Among those companies were Frera, Harley-Davidson, Peugeot, Thor, Triumph, and Watsonian.
Watsonian, founded by Fred Watson at 1912, was one of the first sidecar manufacturers at the time. To this day, Watsonian still manufactures a wide variety of sidecar models.
An American inventor named Hugo Young redesigned and improved the design of the sidecar in 1913. The new design sought to improve the flexibility of the sidecar which was done by fixing the attachment of the sidecar to the motorbike by not rigidly fixing it to each other. This made the rider and passenger have a safer riding experience. His success led him to establish the Flxible Sidecar Company based in Ohio and went on to become the largest sidecar manufacturer in the whole world.
The World Wars and the Depression
The Great War saw the utilization of the motorbike sidecar as a means for the British Army to mobilize their Vickers machine guns which required six to eight men to carry across the battlefield. The sidecar mitigated that problem by having the machineguns mounted on them. This then allowed the British Army more speed with mobilizing the machine guns in the field while chasing the retreating enemy troops across the battlefield. They even had a special unit called the Motor Machine Gun Service to operate the motorcycles with the mounted machine guns on the sidecar.
The usage of sidecars after the war went down but due to the Depression, they were used a cheap means of transport. The Swallow Sidecar Company was founded during this time to fill the demand for the sidecar. The sidecar manufacturing company would later on become Jaguar Cars.
Sidecars wound then be used again during WW2 by the German military who drove BMW and Zundapp motorcycles.
The decline of sidecars and transition into TV
During the 1950’s, the general public already had access to cheap cars. As a result of that, the sidecar wasn’t able to compete against the cheaper cars and the sidecar industry declined. A resurgence for the sidecar happened on TV through various shows and films.
Some notable shows were On The Buses, and Last of the Summer Wine.
On The Buses was a sitcom about a bust driver named Stan Butler and a friend called Jack Harper starring Reg Varney and Bob Grant respectively. The sidecar was used to add comedy to the show since it was made to be wobbly and fell apart easily
The other show, Last of the Summer Wine was about the misadventures of three old men. The sidecar was featured in three episodes which chronicles them buying the motorcycle and sidecar and their succeeding adventures with it either falling off from the bike or rolling down a country road.
Sidecars may not be as popular as they were in the past but they do have its importance along the history of the motorcycle. For any enthusiast out there who wants to have a sidecar, Watsonian, Liberty and Steib design and manufacture sidecars this present day.