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The Texas Sidecar Co.

7. Do I need to alter my steering geometry? Along with: Do I need leading link forks? or Do I need an altered triple tree? This is another one that is a bit difficult to answer. I have had a number of sidecar rigs with standard forks. They handled fine — a little work, but ok. None were terribly large or pure cruisers with more than a little trail. I’ve had rigs with leading link forks and the only way to describe the difference is that it is similar to a car with power steering and one without. I have a mini-pickup without power steering and a car with it. Which do I prefer? The car with power steering.

If you decide you like sidecaring and are committed to it, make the investment for either leading links or an altered triple tree. It will make the rig handle so much better and easier you won’t know what you did before you changed over. (Read some of the articles on steering geometry if this question doesn’t make sense to you now. There are some good articles and links at www.sidecar.com.)

We recently had the triple trees on our 1990 Goldwing altered by Pete Smith at SideEffects in Canada. I called him the day after I installed them and told him “I knew they would be good – but I didn’t know they would be GREAT!” They are. Our Wing with a two-seater sidecar on it has gone from being a big, acceptable-to-drive rig to a very nimble, enjoyable mode of transportation. I find myself taking it out to run errands around town all-day long!

8. Do I need a steering dampener? Along with: I have some front end shake around 15 to 30 mph. How do I eliminate that? My experience has been that many bikes have a small amount of head shake and is nearly impossible to get rid of it. Every vibration in the bike and sidecar manifests itself in the only part of the rig that has any flexibility and the ability to “vibrate” in sympathy.

That being said, to eliminate most, if not all, of the front end shake in a rig, there are three things to check and do:

1. Make sure everything is tight. This means ALL connections and ALL the components of the motorcycle and sidecar. Check the swing arm bushings/bearings on the bike and sidecar. Check the wheel bearings and axle spacers and nuts for play. Check the engine, transmission, frame mounts, joints and connections. Make sure nothing is loose.

2. Make sure all three wheels are balanced. This may be a difficult task, but have all three wheels checked by a professional shop. You may need to have the sidecar wheel checked by a motorcycle shop or you may need to have it checked by an automotive wheel specialist – but have them checked. You may find that having only the sidecar wheel re/balanced takes care of the problem. I have seen a number of instances where this was the major culprit – even when the wheel was supposedly balanced. If it is an automotive type wheel, make sure the red or yellow dot on the tire is lined up with the valve stem hole on the rim. Just because it is new or has been balanced doesn’t mean it is right.

3. The last thing to check and/or do is probably the most difficult and the one that fixes most head shake. Check the “preload” on the triple tree bearings. By this, I mean that you need to lift the front end of the bike off the ground and determine if the forks are loose in the steering head bearings. You can put a small jack under the front of the motorcycle frame or engine and let the rig rest on the sidecar wheel and the motorcycle rear wheel during the check. If you can grab the front wheel and push and pull it back and forth in a front-to-rear line down the middle of the bike, and feel play or looseness there, you have a real problem.

If the front forks simply “flop” from side to side, you still have a problem though not as serious. The front forks need to have the “crown nut” or whatever device is holding the triple tree bearings in tightened down. This is not necessarily the top nut on your triple trees – it may be below the top triple tree and difficult to see or access. This crown nut needs to be tightened to a point where there is a slight drag when you move the handlebars back and forth. You may find that it takes a special spanner or socket to tighten down the crown nut. (In the case of my GW 1500, I had to take a large socket – over 2 inches I believe – and cut square teeth in it to tighten the special nut.)

One word of CAUTION - check your manual on this process. You probably need to loosen the fork tube clamps on the trees so that they are not pulling on the tubes as you tighten up the bearings. There’s other considerations, so please check your manual or have your shop perform this operation.

Some experts will recommend about 5 foot pounds greater torque on the crown nut than the factory calls for. This preload is typically not enough to harm anything or wear out the bearings, but will almost always keep the front end from flopping back and forth or shaking as you go down the road.

9. Do I need a sidecar brake? They’re nice to have. Think about it. You have a hundred pounds or so hanging on the side of your bike with a hundred pound or so passenger. When you hit the brakes on your bike, the sidecar wants to keep going. Slowing it down along with the bike would be a good thing. Modern bikes with good braking systems will take care of the extra weight. A little practice on the driver’s part and the pull is very controllable. Many, if not most, of the sidecar rigs I have seen do not have brakes or do not have them operational.

10. Buying a used sidecar: when a bargain is not a bargain. We receive a number of calls from people who have bought a used sidecar – one brand or another – and are looking for mounting parts or installation. If you are looking for a used sidecar, here are some things to keep in mind and to help make your purchase a good deal:

New struts, mounting arms, and mounting pieces can run as much as $1000.00 or more, and having the sidecar installed can run another $500 – $750. The used sidecar can still be a bargain, depending upon what you find and what you pay for it, but if an additional $1500 is going to make the whole deal a bad one, you should know that going in.