Sidecars, what were they thinking?

Sidecars, what were they thinking?

The first sidecar outfit I ever laid eyes on was when I think I was about three or four was my own Grandfather who owned a 1948 Speed Twin Triumph with a Dusting Sidecar fitted he would remove the body and replace it with a wooden tray to carry his ladders and paints as a painter and decorator a job now that has has ceased to exist to a large degree. Apparently he used to carry Grandma and my mum on it and it had replaced a Henderson 4 outfit that he owned for many years previously, anyway a car did a u turn in front of him in 1961 which finished his riding career, surprisingly he had never ever ridden a solo.

Some seven years later I was a apprentice at Cottrell"s Garage in Fairfield and my boss was slowly retiring from scrambling, and road-racing outfits to concentrate on Speedway outfits, every Monday morning whatever the weather I had to steam clean these filthy muddy machines, in that era a supercharged 650 Triumph then eventually Herda's (Vincent)  and cover the magnetos before I started the chore and if they weren't done properly a "kick up the arse" followed! It wasn't long after till one day Davie Cottrell had a bad accident in Port Pierie  and sold the whole lot to a guy in S.Aust and part of the deal was a 1948 Vincent-HRD road bike with a triple adult Canterbury sidecar, Davie decided to do a cheap resto and get it registered.

This is when I really got to know about outfits, he said to me one day " You can ride the Herda down to RTA in Carlton and register it as my leg is in a cast" up till then I had sat in the chair on his speedway bikes as ballast as he roared them around the petrol bowsers checking they were ready for a Saturday night meeting, riding a road version with a small caravan attached on the road was a whole different ball game.

I was shit scared as I had heard all the stories of them rolling over on left hand corners, or bike over-sidecar on fast right handers, and stories about no or minimal braking to help, also everybody told me it was a black art that took years to learn if you never died practicing it in the first place, needless to say Davie said you will be right, don't lean just steer and he would follow in the works FX Holden ute. 

This Vincent was a "beast" it wanted to kill somebody and I was a prime candidate unbeknown to me it wasn't set up well and it constantly tried to "mount the kerb" when the front brake was applied it decided to have a "head on" with oncoming traffic and it was impossible to steer as it would try to "Tank Slap" in a straight line I soon learned all about steering dampers on this short ride

Station street Fairfield is a small and very busy shopping area and Cottrell's Garage was at the end of it so I had to initially not kill any shoppers it amazes me when you have so much trouble with a motorcycle how oblivious pedestrians always are, stepping out in front of you as your clutch is dragging say, anyway white knuckles were de-rigour at this time and I eventually made it to the corner of Smith st and Queens Parade Clifton Hill it is off camber and in those days no traffic lights, a old EJ Holden was on my right side and I touched the front brake, a disastrous move as the Herda dragged itself to bounce off the passenger side rear door using my leg as a buffer. I stopped over this intersection white as a sheet and Davie told me to get back on as we were nearly there (actually about 3klm's off ) it took all my strength and courage to remount it an continue, surprisingly I made it and then after registering it had to ride it back to the Garage, Davie continued to encourage me by commenting it was easy now as I knew what to do and we couldn't leave it at the rego branch. Amazingly I made it back with no major problems except being mentally exhausted, and it would be some time before I ever rode a outfit again.


Time heals all wounds and after dabbling with Cafe Racers and riding like a maniac on solo"s with a couple of very,very close misses I decided to build a 1948 Speed Twin (the same as my grandfather's) as I had a rear spring hub and a engine only, a long way off a motorcycle but a start, and then I was working at Vic Wreckers & parts were available, 80% through the rebuild I was offered a really good Dusting sidecar chassis and from another source a body, now that's a way to slow a loutish youth up if nothing else. Work progressed quickly and I rode the Triumph solo for a short period and then fitted the chair, it was a revolution it wasn't fast or stopped well but it handled like a sports car mainly because the sidecar wheel had a 3" lead on the rear wheel and it was light to steer to boot! I loved it and soon thought about my dream bike a Vincent that would go better than the Triumph and stop better as well I hunted for a mythical Vincent with fervour.

Eventually I bought one from Geelong and restored it over 1.1/2 years and fitted the Dusting off the Triumph, it was fast drank fuel unbelievably and did not handle as good as the Triumph reason being the sidecar wheel was 11" ahead of the rear wheel and hard to alter as the rear sidecar mount is near the centre of the bike unlike the Triumph's bolted near the rear axle. Still this started me on building a classic road racing Vincent "Sitter" and in the late seventies with the sidecar chassis made from a school desk and the chair wheel a converted wheel barrow wheel was a very competitive machine, we set the sidecar up rear-exit so it wasn't to bad to ride fast through corners. My sidecar passenger Ross at the time glimpsed the wheel barrow tyre with "Do not exceed 8 MPH" embossed on it and insisted we change it to a Mini wheel, I said I was happy if he wanted to change it it was up to him, it was changed pronto the 3 years of racing before had never worried him, ignorance is bliss.


Working at the Triumph dealer F Musset and Co in the seventies they had a  1948 Model U Harley and a huge box on it for deliveries or to pick up break downs, no brakes not fast and held the road like it was bolted to it as it weighed a ton,this hand shift Harley taught me more on the road than road racing it was dangerous and gave me upper body strength of Arnie Swartznegger as well it was another outfit that was hell bent on killing me or anyone else including pedestrians


Into the eighties and since I have never been without a sidecar and at the moment have two a Vincent with a double adult Tilbrook and a 1944 military Indian Chief, to not have a outfit would not be natural I just love them, and if you hav'nt tried one do so it may open up a whole new slant on motorcycling for you


Phil Pilgrim 2016