Thursday, March 18, 2010

Training: Basic Rider Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day One

Last weekend, I attended the two day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider training course put out by ABATE of Colorado..  Its part of my commitment to get training where I can to make me a better and safer rider.  I had arranged for participation in this course last year but then I had "issues" with Natasha which delayed participation.  Natasha being a rare beast in terms of having fulltime 2WD, I wanted to use her in the more advanced portions of the course.

This course was the first iteration for 2010 and I was one of three riders scheduled.  The class was at the Mile High Marketplace flea market near the junction of I-76 and 88th Street (they're other regular location is in Colorado Springs).  They've their own section of the vast parking lot that surrounds the flea market and ABATE provides you with either a sidecar rig or a trike, whatever your interest might be.

If you've ever taken the Basic Rider Course put on by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), then you'll be familiar with the curriculum in ABATE's Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider course.  Alan Mason was our instructor and he got us settled into about three hours of classroom instruction with practiced ease and confidence.  My fellow students included Mike and Becky.  Both of them were seeking instruction in riding a Trike, I was the only one there focused primarily on learning good sidecar rig riding techniques.

The course is built on the building block concept, and the instruction was clear and unhurried. It is geared for a student who's never been either on a sidecar rig or a trike.   Allan made sure to get class participation by involving us students in the discussions.  Then it was time for us to get on the motorcycles!  ABATE had small Suzuki GZ 250 motorcycles with Velorex sidecars attached.  There were also two Honda Trikes, one with a 750cc motor and the other with a 1300cc motor.  Becky and Mike settled onto these trikes respectively.

Here's the Suzuki GZ 250 with Velorex Sidecar Rig I rode most of today

Here's one of the two Honda Trikes

This gives you an idea of how much bigger the Ural is compared to the smaller Suzuki Rig

Using again the building block concept, we started with basic training such as motorcycle controls, hand signals, basic stop and go of the motorcycles, slow turns and maneuvers.  At first, it was a bit slow for me since I'd been riding Natasha, my Ural sidecar rig, for over 6000 miles now but things got interesting fast enough!

Riding a sidecar rig that does not have a driven sidecar wheel like my Natasha was "eye-opening".  I was now experiencing the yaw forces that riders of rigs that are 1WD experience. For example, when you accelerate from a stop, the sidecar resists due to inertia for the tiniest but noticeable bit.  Left hand turns mean that while the tug is slowing to make the left turn, the sidecar still has the momentum to go straight for a bit.  Right hand turns were pretty much the same as on Natasha, you got to slow down or risk "flying the chair".  Quick stops are marked by the sidecar still having forward momentum which forces you to compensate with the handlebar.  All very new experiences for me since Natasha, with the exception of right turn behaviors, does not do these things!.  Day One, all sidecar riders are given 50lbs of ballast in the form of a sandbag, Day Two, the ballast is removed!

All the maneuvers you do will be familiar if you've ever taken basic rider training.  It involves riding specific tracks outlined by orange plastic cones and explained by thorough instructions and demonstrations by Allan, our instructor.  Allan always made sure to provide immediate feedback, but what I liked best is he did it for the other students in a manner which built up their confidence and with a sense of humor.

Here's a couple of pictures of a home built VW Trike.  I'd never heard of these until today, but Mike, my fellow student had mentioned he had one as well.  It's apparently a VW beetle which has been chopped in half and the front end of a motorcycle grafted on to make it a trike!  The rider was there during lunch to be given the driver's test for Trike endorsement by Allan.  Third party driver license testing is apparently one more of the offerings of ABATE.

Definitely an eye-catching beast

The rider/owner said he built it himself, and took about a year to do it.

After lunch we practiced more involved maneuvers and courses.  I was having a good time with the small Suzuki GZ250 sidecar rig and apparently was getting pretty comfortable with it.  I say this because after I returned to the staging area after one exercise which involved figure eight tracks and tight right and left hand turns, Allan walked up to me and held up two of his finger as if he was squeezing a two inch object together.

He had a big smile on his face and I asked what he meant by the gesture.  Turns out he was indicating that I had taken a right turn fast enough that I'd managed to "fly the chair"; the gap between his fingers indicated the amount of space between my tire and the pavement for a brief moment!  I never even felt the sidecar come up!

I'd told Allan one of my objectives was to "safely and intentionally fly the chair" and to learn to deal with it in a safe manner.  The fact that I'd done it without even knowing was initially surprising, hence Allan's smile at my shocked expression; and subsequently both a bit amusing and thought-provoking.

4:00 PM came around and we were done for Day One.  Allan asked if we had any more questions or wanted to try anything else.  I asked if I could run the same course but this time on Natasha.  "Of course!" said Allan.  All day he'd repeatedly asked us if we wanted to swap bikes and such.  I walked over to Natasha and did a couple of runs of the figure eight course.  You have to upshift into second gear and get up to at least 20 mph in the straightaways so I had some good speed going into the tight right handed turns.

First run, I felt I had kept all three wheels on the pavement.  Second run, I think I must have picked up a bit more speed because at the apex of the right hand turn, I felt the side car lift up!  I immediately rolled off the throttle and pulled in the clutch and the sidecar tire settled back onto the pavement with a gentle bump.  Wow.

I rode over to where Allan was standing and he gave me some pointers about what had just happened and what I would learn the next day.  I apparently had the sidecar wheel up a good 6-8 inches off the ground that time.  Kind of scary but exciting too.  I learned a lot about sidecar riding today, and Day Two promises even more advanced stuff.


Unknown said...


I liked that little Suzuki. The relaxed way you describle the actions and reactions makes me feel like wanting to try a sidecar rig. With only 1WD I can see how the inertia of the side car weight will affect acceleration and stopping. With the drag on acceleration you would turn the handlebars LEFT, and stopping you turn RIGHT.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Chris said...

Looks fun. I have to wait until June for my sidecar course. The GZ250 we have used to belong to a sidecar training course. It's so slow, I can't imagine it with more weight. It makes a great training bike though.

I think some of the differences you noted about 2WD and 1WD are true as I have switched back and forth many times this winter.

Did your GZ hack have a linked brake? The linked rear brakes on the Ural help keep it straight under braking. You get used to the yawing with acceleration/deceleration pretty quick too.

redlegsrides said...

bobskoot, you're absolutely correct in terms of the yaw forces.

chris, no linked brake on the velorex sidecar, too light I was told. and yes, linked brakes make a difference. Did a hard stop on the suzuki and even the instructor was "concerned" for a second or so.