Sunday, March 21, 2010

Training: Basic Ride Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day 2+3

I finished ABATE's Two Day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider Training Course today.  It actually took us three days as weather had caused postponements of the training last weekend until 1:00 PM today.  Botttom line: It's a well-thought out and well instructed course for folks who've never even swung a leg onto a Trike or Sidecar Rig.

Day Two last weekend began with about 3 hours of classroom training that covered such important subjects as driving in traffic, swerving, traction control and tip over lines for three wheeled vehicles.  There was much discussion about the physics involved with sharp curves, the speed you enter them at and the consequences of not slowing down and shifting your weight into the turn.  Good riding practices such as aggressive scanning, following distances, and creating safety buffers around you were covered or reinforced.

The considerations one must take while carrying cargo or passengers was covered, similar to the load triangle idea that is covered in the Basic Rider's Course for two wheeled motorcycles.  Finally, a good coverage of the effects of alcohol and drugs while riding a motor vehicle was done, to include actions one can take to prevent dangerous situations from happening perhaps.  Alan continued the good job he'd done as an instructor during Day One, making sure subjects were covered well and ensuring there were no questions on any particular subject.

As we started the Day Two riding maneuvers and practice though, it started snowing on us.  Since the maneuvers we were going to cover involved faster speeds and harder braking action; Alan decided to postpone the course to ensure safety.  I must say that while I was a bit dissappointed,  I had to agree with Alan's call on this, no sense getting hurt, especially since the other two students were new to Trikes.

The week went by, ABATE rescheduled things to today and we picked up where we left off pretty smoothly.
The maneuvers were similar to Day One's but now we were called on to upshift to second gear, pick up more speed (around 20 mph), lean aggresively and brake more aggressively and control our stops while at the same time downshifting back to first gear.  Lots more going on with each maneuver!

We had nice sunny weather this afternoon, here's a shot of Natasha with the Suzuki GZ250 next to her.
The afternoon passed pretty quickly as Alan ran us through all the remaining training maneuvers.  We learned such useful things as the feel for and control of a stop involving heavy braking.  For one set of maneuvers, we intentionally picked up enough speed and braked hard enough to skid the tires.  Good stuff!

The swerving training was very interesting to me as it's highly different on a sidecar rig than on a two wheeled motorcycle.  One has to do some quick and smooth shifting of one's butt from one side of the seat to the other while steering your way around the obstacle.  It took me some practice runs but I got it down enough to be comfortable with the notion of swerving now with a sidecar rig!  The best thing remains to be alert and scan forward enough to not have to swerve but instead slow and stop around obstacles, but it's a good skill to learn and practice!

Another difference for three wheeled riders is that when forced to stop quickly on a curve, one does not "square" the handlebars before coming to a stop.  Nope, you maintain your lean into the turn and come to a stop.  Took me a couple of tries to "ignore" the muscle memory I'd developed while riding two wheeled motorcycles to get it right.

Finally, as I was the only sidecar rider, Alan covered two remaining maneuvers that involved sidecar rigs.  The first was taking the sidecar rig and going around a circle of cones, the objective being to "fly the chair" and try and make it around the circle with the chair in the air!  I had my reservations but it turned out not as hard as I thought it would be.  Though not as smoothly as Alan, I was able to "fly the chair" and almost made a complete circle with the chair in the air!

The last remaining sidecar only maneuver involved going into a right turn around the same circle of cones but this time as I came out of the circle, I was to go in a straight line across the parking lot while continuing to fly  the chair!  Alan made it look easy as he demo'ed it, I was not able to go more than a few feet in a somewhat straight line before the rig would start turning to the right again!  I tried several times and while I apparently can keep a rig going in circles with the chair in the air, going straight is going to take some practice!

Still, I was quite pleased that I could fly the chair when I wanted and keep it in a curve.  Since I've read that many sidecarists get in trouble when their sidecar lifts when in a tight right hand turn, they over-correct and go into a straight line onto oncoming traffic.  The fact I can keep her turning until I get the sidecar back down I regard as a good thing!  Again, speed while in the turn is the key factor.  One most shift one's weight into a turn and keep the speeds down enough to not fly the chair and yet not be an obstacle to the car behind you!

We now all went through the skills testing that would allow those of us who passed to skip the riding test at the DMV for the Three-Wheeled Endorsement.  All of us did well enough, I am happy to report, to pass the test!  Smiles all around when Alan made that announcement.  He issued us our training cards and after making sure there were no questions, ended the class.

Roger, one of my fellow student's husband, asked Alan how his Harley Davison sidecar rig did with "flying the chair".  Alan offered to show us!  Heck, he even asked me if I wanted to take his rig out for a spin.  I declined but felt gratified that he was confident enough in my skills to allow me to ride his rig.  I have to tell you, the man can "fly the chair" and make it look easy!

Here's Alan Mason, our instructor, getting his Harley Davidson rig ready for the demo

There he goes, straight down the parking lot, preparing to turn right to come back towards us

Here's Alan as he was coming back towards us, aimed straight at me really, making it look easy.
Note:  his sidecar was up the whole time from shortly after the start all the way to the finish!

As Alan finished the paperwork, he OK'ed my going out on the now empty parking lot with Natasha and try "flying the chair".  Here's what I learned:

1.  Yes, picking up the chair is not difficult at all, but it was a tad  harder on Natasha (most likely due to the ballast weight of the batteries) than on the empty training sidecar provided by ABATE.  

2.  I am now more at ease with the concept of the chair coming up on me on a tight right hand turn, I believe I have the basic skills (which I must practice) to handle that situation when and if it occurs.

3.  The powered sidecar wheel on Natasha keeps spinning and I think gaining speed while I am flying the chair.  Each time I touched down the sidecar wheel without pulling in the clutch first, I heard a small squeal as the tire touched pavement again!  So, not a good idea to keep my sidecar wheel up a long time, as I knew beforehand and as the manual says.   I've mentioned it before, but apparently when the sidecar wheel is in the air, the differential transfers all power to the sidecar wheel!  Theoretically, if I was able to keep flying the chair long enough, I'd come to a stop and the sidecar wheel would be spinning!   This is not something I intend to try and find out what happens!

So, I got some great training on advanced sidecar rig handling.  Learned some basic techniques that I'd not been using properly on my own sidecar rig but will from now on.  A great course of instruction and something I'd strongly recommend any sidecar rig rider or trike rider take!  ABATE of Colorado are the only ones in the whole state that offer this course.  I cannot recommend it strongly enough.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I comented on the Examiner page.

Fondest Regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

redlegsrides said...

thanks Jack, though I don't know if I can clear sleeping buffaloes, they're taller than 18 inches which is my highest achieved elevation so far for the sidecar wheel.

Unknown said...


Your experiences are so detailed it's as if we are there with you taking the course. The way you explain it seems easy to "fly the chair", and perhaps even a lot of fun once you understand how to control it. I imagine doing it on a 2 wheel drive puts more strain on the driveshaft when you hit the ground, or else you have to match revs with ground speed

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

redlegsrides said...

Bobskoot, thanks for the kind remarks...and yes, I am sure there's strain imposed on the final drive when the sidecar wheel touches down...after all, it's still spinning and probably accelerated its spin while in the air. This is why the manual says to not fly the chair for more than a few seconds. Just another reason not to fly the dang thing, I am not a showoff in that sense so it's all good.