Canadian Sidecar Owners Club - Sidecar Buying Guide
This is a short guide to the process of buying your first sidecar rig. The first rule you should know is that everyone has an opinion on the matter, and they may not always be the same. Aside from cases of known issues, or design weaknesses, people will have preferences for difference types of setups, and different types of sidecars. You should gather information from a variety of sources and educate yourself on what you will be looking for in a sidecar. Our FAQ, and links sections should help you find places with a variety of information on sidecars and sidecar setups.
This guide is in the early stages, and will evolve with questions and feedback received, so take this as a quick overview instead of being the final word on the subject.
General Sidecar and Motorcycle Purchase Tips
- Don't buy a used sidecar without prior setup experience. You may end up paying more buying parts that will allow you to fit it to your motorcycle, and you may end up with something poorly setup that will steer and brake badly.
- When buying a sidecar rig used, ask who setup the rig. Find out if it was put together by an experienced installer, what shop (if any) put it together, if it was done using a "universal mounting system" or a bike-specific mounting kit. Many universal mounting kits are compromised in their design, due to the fact that they are trying to fit as many motorcycles as possible. Since the sidecar mounts are all that hold the rig together, the robustness of the mounts is very important. The mounts have to be able to handle both regular loads and the loads associated with unusual circumstances such as rough roads, potholes, and emergency maneuvers.
- Ask about the maintenance history of the motorcycle. This should be a standard step for both two and three wheeled purchases. Has the oil been changed recently? when were the brake pads last changed?
- Inspect the motorcycle. Do the tires look worn, cracked, or old? Do all the lights work? Does it start easily? Are there loose bolts anywhere? Look at the frame, do you see any signs of excessive rust or cracking?
Sidecar Inspection Tips
- Take a look at how the sidecar is mounted to the motorcycle. Are the mounts hooked to the crashbar, or another less than robust mounting point? The first rule of any mounting point is that it should be strong - you don't want a mount snapping on the highway and you don't want to take risks with your passenger. Many motorcycles don't have very robust frames (to save weight) and therefore many motorcycles may require a "subframe" - which is a reinforcing frame that mounts to the motorcycle at several mounts, and then the sidecar mounts to this. Basically - if a mount seems sketchy, either get it inspected by a proessional installer or just walk away.
- Check tire wear. If you see excessive wear on one side of the front or back tires, this may indicate setup issues. Ask how often they have to replace tires. Generally the rear tire on a sidecar rig will wear much more quickly than with a solo motorcycle (it is pushing a much larger load after all) with the front tire being the next to wear, and the sidecar tire generally experiencing very little wear. Things to check during a test ride (Ideally performed in a parking lot, or otherwise offroad): Does it pull to the right continuously? With or without a passenger? Does it track straight when braking, or does it veer to the left? (When testing Does the sidecar lift really easily in right hand turns? Try standing on the left hand peg of the motorcycle and move your weight to the left - does the sidecar rise into the air easily? If it does this may indicate it isn't the appropriate sidecar for the bike. (Generally a very rough rule of thumb is that the sidecar should be about 1/3 the weight of the motorcycle.)
We hope you have found some of these tips to be of use - used sidecars can be an inexpensive way to get into the sidecar world, but you do need to be careful in what you buy. Homebuilt rigs by inexperienced installers, improper setups or poor installations can cause issues that combined with inexperience can be a major safety hazard. A little knowledge and self-education can go a long way towards limiting this, but we do recommend if at all possible that you get any machine inspected by a trained installer. (Though we realize this may not be possible in all circumstances and areas, in which case doing as much research yourself as you can is very important.)
We hope to see you out on the road on your new-to-you sidecar rig!