Blog: February 19. Riding a sidecar is poo-your-pants scary

As forecast in last week’s blog I’ve been riding a sidecar, and it’s a very, very scary experience.

I was lucky because Greg Jansen of Rocky Creek Designs is a sidecar enthusiast and when he heard I was to ride the Ural Sahara he got involved and organised a day’s training for me with main man Jon Taylor.

Thank Dog Greg did. I honestly believe trying to handle the Ural without the coaching would’ve resulted in a serious injury. There’s no need for me to exaggerate or look for humour in the situation. Riding a sidecar is a totally foreign and unnatural pursuit for a motorcycle rider, and even after Jon’s expert and excellent tuition I still ended up doing some real damage to the Ural. In a situation Jon described to me very specifically, warned me about and created in the safe surroundings of his training establishment so I could experience and be ready for, I still managed to find myself piled into a dirt wall beside a road somewhere near Nowendoc. I was lucky enough to be unhurt, but I smashed off the crash bar from the lower mount and punched a hole in the rocker cover. The rocker cover was unseated, and that possibly saved its total destruction.

The good news was that Matt Hodge, the tech from Ural, was along on the ride. As I stood cursing quietly and hating myself for being such a complete dick, he looked at the damage, shrugged his shoulders and said, “A flat tyre would’ve been heaps more inconvenient”.

Matt explained there was no pressure inside the rocker cover on the Ural engines. Oil is gravity-fed along the push rods on top of the cylinder then drains back into the sump, again thanks to gravity. He put the rocker cover back in place, fit the broken chunk of alloy in place, wrapped the whole cover and head in duct tape and said, “Let’s go”. The bike went for another two days like that. No problem.

Which isn’t to say the rest of the ride was without incident.

We headed into The Cells near Gingers Creek and things became a little rough. First Matt’s bike clipped a rock sticking up from the ground and it knocked off the muffler.

Believe it or not, that happened three times.

On the third time we were on a track that turned out to be a tad nasty. It was steep and rocky, and as we were making our way down – me in real danger of crapping myself in fear – the nut for the spare wheel vibrated off my bike. I parked on a flat spot and walked to recover the nut and washer, and it was while I was doing that Matt’s muffler came away for the third time. That’s why Matt and I were stationary on the trail when Greg committed to a fairly serious, rocky, steep downhill.

When you make a commitment on a sidecar, it’s very difficult to change your mind.

Once Matt and I were were ready to move again, Greg appeared at the ledge where we’d stopped and suggested things were ‘a bit tricky’ up ahead.

Matt and I walked on to find a serious downhill section to another ledge which then plummeted to what could only be a fiery sidecar death for any newbie riders. Matt didn’t look any keener then me to go down there. Greg, of course, had already got himself into a spot that was going to be tough to do anything about.

We tried to get Greg’s Ural back up to where our bikes were sitting, but we couldn’t. The attempt was way, way too dangerous and we were lucky no-one was hurt. We abandoned the idea of climbing out.

With no choice, Greg continued on down while Matt and I went back and set about getting our own Urals up and out.

We managed that, but it wasn’t any fun, and once we were back at the dirt road we found Greg had just enough phone signal for a text message. He informed us the terrain was much worse as he descended and he was going to keep going.

That was last we heard from him.

He wasn’t carrying a SPOT or EPIRB so giving his location to Police Rescue was a little hit-and-miss and I ended up spending the night at Gingers Creek roadhouse waiting for the Wauchope coppers – who were absolutely top blokes and incredibly helpful – to find him and bring him out. They couldn’t get his bike out, and that had to be recovered the next day.

But all’s well that ends well. No-one was injured, Greg made it out a little dehydrated but otherwise unhurt, his bike was recovered the next day, and in all the kerfuffle everyone seemed to forget about the damage I’d done to the bike (we’d cracked the diff housing on the rocky track as well).

So there we go. It kind of makes up for those weeks where I write, ‘Nothing happened again this week’.

I won’t mind if that kind of thing doesn’t happen too often.

Riding the sidecar is strange and different, but I enjoyed the experience, and for tooling along the New England roads sightseeing it’d be pretty had to beat. If you have a go, just be careful of the left-handers.

Work is going to be very demanding for the next couple of weeks, so I’m not likely to get far from desk. There’s the possibility of a ride on an SWM and another on the 2018 Triumphs, but they’re both TBC at the moment.

I’ll let you know.


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