Take a chair and let’s make life a ride

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From the time BMW Motorrad entered the motorcycle market over nine decades ago, quick-thinking folk attached sidecars to enable cheap family transportation. From the early 1920s until the late ‘50s, BMW motorcycles and sidecars became a much-loved pairing on our roads, before cheaper motoring costs saw the car replace the ‘chair’ for most families. However, thanks to enthusiasts, modern sidecars are now available and growing in popularity with BMW owners.

Has anything in motorcycling ever borne the brunt of wonder, humour and blatant ridicule as much as the humble sidecar? Possibly not. The same list includes seat belts, cigarette ashtrays and purpose-made carriers for dogs and cats. Despite the jokes and stares, sidecars have been around for a very long time, nearly as long as motorcycling itself. In biking’s heyday, nearly every pre-war bike manufacturer listed a sidecar or two as a genuine accessory, BMW even more so. But then the advent of cheap automobiles caused the collapse of sidecar sales and it wasn’t long before the majority of ‘rig’ manufacturers rode off on three wheels towards history.

However, in far-eastern countries the humble motorcycle sidecar has maintained a respected status as cheap transport for people and cargo. In Europe there have always been sidecar enthusiasts that refuse to conform to… well, anything motorised unless it has three wheels. The sights of ‘chair’ convoys riding to a sidecar meet are as frequent as the amazed looks of car drivers, pedestrians – and motorcyclists.

But now sidecars are once again gaining respect as alternative transport and from all aspects of life. That great British sidecar marque Watsonian Squire has seen the rise and fall of sidecar popularity since 1912. Today, sales of ‘rigs’ and the fitment of them across all genres of biking are on the up. To add fuel to this small fire of acceptance, BMW Motorrad France’s recent Custom Contest, involving customised BMW R nineTs, was won by Old School Engineering (OSE) and its sidecar-shod R nineT “L’Echappée Belle” – “The Great Escape”.

SBW Motorrad of Welwyn Garden City, England is another company to ramp up and fulfil today’s sidecar demand. Its chairs are built specific to BMW Motorrad air- and liquid-cooled R 1200 GS bikes, including the Adventure models. Yes, you read that right; a chair purposefully designed for those well-known Boxer-twin-powered adventure-touring machines with a fearsome reputation for going anywhere, anytime. As Stephen Crowder, Head of Business, SBW Motorrad says: “If you’re going to travel you might as well take the family and home comforts with you no matter where you go!”

SBW’s chairs are not simple bolt-ons from a catalogue. They are, without doubt, totally modern sidecars that maintain the clean, factory-finish, efficient lines and build quality of the camel-like GS. Each sidecar unit is custom-made to suit the customer’s requirements. To view in the flesh – for flesh read GRP (glass reinforced plastic) bodywork, steel and classy paint – the chairs are technically wondrous pieces of kit and you can see that it is obvious Stephen Chowder is from an engineering background.

The very first chair from SBW came about when a customer wanted a bike to take him and his wife on a global trip for months on end but carry a lot more gear than two panniers could hold. “The gentleman said his wife and he had a sidecar outfit many years ago and could our dealership supply one to go with his new GS? Not knowing about sidecars I, perhaps stupidly, said yes I’d do it. The end result was a swift, sharp learning curve. Since then our sidecars have evolved to what they are today.”

Part of the original creative process involved a discussion with BMW Motorrad senior staff. After showing one-fifth scale drawings of SBW’s proposed next chair design incorporating the GS series looks, the senior team must have thought he was ‘on a flight of fancy’ and called Stephen’s bluff by stating they would very much like to see the finished products. In 2012, SBW Motorrad rode to Germany on two completed outfits – left and right-handed versions – to proudly show the finished result. It was then BMW Motorrad gave the official thumbs up to supply and fit chairs to its products.

The chairs are created from SBW Motorrad’s own design and built using only the best components available. “All the parts,” says Crowder, “such as bearings, brake disc and caliper – the chair is braked via the bike’s ABS system – are official BMW parts. There are other parts, too, like the screen. It was difficult to source the quality of products that aren’t BMW-sourced but we finally achieved this. A friend makes quality fishing boats and he manufactures the GRP bodywork simply because his work is that good. Watsonian is the company supplying our chassis because of its experience with the bends and welds involved in the construction. Harris Performance produces the necessary machined components used in the building process.”

The end result of SBW’s labour is sidecar units that are unique by being tailored exactly to a customer’s needs while matching the supplied bike. “Even the luggage system mimics the original bike’s luggage units. We did start of using a GS rear shock for the chair’s suspension but unfortunately it didn’t offer the range of suspension to accommodate the load weight, type of riding style and terrain the chairs were liable to encounter. For this reason we now use Wilbers suspension and this has achieved compliance.”

Orders for SBW Motorrad’s sidecars quite often come about by owners’ outfits being seen by other GS owners or everyday motorcyclists. The BMW Motorrad Days event in Garmisch has also proven to be worth the expense of displaying its products; this year’s event led to three confirmed orders with ongoing discussions with other possible customers. Priced between £13-17k (€17,500-23,000), not including the donor bike, ensures top notch quality is assured.

Being of such a modern design, an SBW outfit handles incredibly well according to Stephen Crowder. “From the start I was led to believe that sidecar outfits were unsteady machines above a certain speed and uncomfortable. This isn’t the case with our chairs because of the amount of development that has been put into them. Comfort is easily catered for with modern seating materials and quality suspension. As for handling… during tests we are able to exceed the UK speed limit with ease on controlled test areas and not worry about side effects. This obviously depends on load and conditions but it means that you do not have to be range and speed restricted with the use of our chairs.”

It now looks as if sidecars are heading towards becoming a norm in today’s modern world where motorcycling is now seen as an all-important leisure activity and viable transport. This adds weight to the old adage that there is nothing new in motorcycling only safer good times ahead.

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情報提供元 [ BMW Motorrad ]

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