Saturday, May 21, 2011

Flying the Chair

Training day today, learning to "fly the chair" or cause the sidecar portion of my Suzuki V-Strom Sidecar Rig to lift off the ground during a tight right hand turn.

A little background is perhaps in order.  I've mentioned before and other sidecarists will tell you, riding a sidecar rig is very different from riding a regular two-wheeled motorcycle.  There's no counter-steering, no leaning into curves, no putting your foot down at stops and making turns require special care.

Right hand turns are especially "interesting" if you don't take care to slow into the turn and control your speed as you power out of the turn.  They get "interesting" because centrifugal forces involved, coupled with the fact you can't lean a sidecar rig, can cause the sidecar to lift or "fly up".

This behavior, if unexpected or surprising, has caused newbie sidecar riders to get into trouble, sometimes really bad trouble.  Their sidecar is now up in the air, and reactions to try and correct things usually cause the rig to cross over the road's centerline and sometimes into oncoming traffic.

The United Sidecar Association has links to operator manuals and books on safe and proper sidecar operation and I highly encourage reading their stuff and attending a Basic Sidecar Riding Course if at all possible.  Training pays off folks, the street is not the place to learn safe operation of a sidecar rig.

So, as a graduate of the local Basic Sidecar Rider Course, it was time today to try and get a feel for what Vikki does when the sidecar wheel comes up during a right hand turn.  The setting was the local high school parking lot where there were little in the way of obstacles.

I first tried it with the deep cycle battery that I'd been carrying in the sidecar's trunk, acting as ballast as I got a feel for how Vikki rode.  This ballast, I found, made it very difficult to purposely fly the chair and I really tried!  I only got the wheel to come up for less than a second at most.

I went home, had lunch, and removed the deep cycle battery.  Now all I had in the sidecar were the tools I normally carry on any of my motorcycles.

The afternoon practice, sans ballast, went much better.  There was someone training their daughter I think in basic operation of a small sportsbike.  She and I kept out of each other's way as we each practiced our new skills.

Soon I had the "hang" of it pretty much.  I was able to steer the rig in a straight line and make right turns both wide and somewhat tight.  The turns were mostly at low speeds, granted, but I was quite happy with what I accomplished in terms of control  I'll let you be the judge.

Here's video I shot from the afternoon practice session.  It gives you an idea of what a passenger in the sidecar would see as the chair is flown by me.

Some final notes, with a passenger or appropriate ballast, a newbie sidecar rider is pretty safe.  I just don't want anyone to get the impression that training and practice is not required for a sidecar.  Flying the sidecar, in a safe environment,  is fun and cool to look at, just be sure you know what you're doing.


RichardM said...

Pretty cool videos especially the second one from the sidecarists perspective. That looks like a really difficult skill especially turning right while the sidecar is in the air. Is it mostly shifting your body around to compensate for the centrifugal force?

redlegsrides said...


I wouldn't call it difficult skill, just takes practice and training. It's actually amazingly easy to fly the chair when there's no ballast. Once she's up in the air, you use your body weight, modulate the throttle and actually counter-steer to some extent. While up in the air, you're back to being a two-wheeled motorcycle ( a very badly balanced one ).

I found I had to exert lots of pressure at the grips to get her to go where I wanted, but was pleasantly surprised at how slow you can go and still keep the sidecar up in the air.

At times, I was making it almost all the way across the length of the parking lot.

fun stuff, thanks for visiting.

redlegsrides said...

Richard, forgot to properly answer your question. On right turns, at speed, you MUST "hang a cheek" and pretty much try and sit in the chair as you ride the rig through the turn.

My maneuvers were slow and in a parking lot. On curvy roads, you'll see me "hanging off" the right side of the tug to make sure the sidecar does not fly up.

No "flying the chair" on city streets and roads....not safe, and I think the cops would take a dim view.

SonjaM said...

Whoot! I want to play the 'monkey' in your hack. To me it definitely looks like you got the hang of it.

Keith - Circle Blue said...

How much did the battery weigh? How much ballast does it take to make the chair "difficult to lift"?

Thanks for the share.

RichardM said...

Thanks for the information. When flying the chair (it seems to be a real balancing act) you end up countersteering towards the direction you're "falling"?

I got stuck in DIA area due to a mechanical failure but only for about 10 hours on my way to Rapid City.

redlegsrides said...

SonjaM: You'd be most welcome to be the "monkey".

Circle Blue, a bit of a loaded question there.....the battery is 57 lbs and at the really low speeds I was going at in the parking lot, enough to make things hard to lift the sidecar.... The instructor at the basic sidecar course I took said, given enough speed and tightness of turn, you can fly the chair with a full grown man in it....

Richard, you should have called me! Ten hours is too long to hang out in a strange airport! As to your question, once the hack is in the air, you're back to counter-steering to get the bike to go where you want it my case, I wanted to go straight so I pushed on the left grip as if I wanted to go left to counteract the tendency of the sidecar to pull you to the right.

I tried several times to turn leftward circles, the hack didn't want to do it... : )

RichardM said...

Since Alaska Airlines had a mechanical problem in Seattle which caused me to miss my connection in Denver, they put me up in a hotel so I wasn't sitting around the airport. I just needed to be back by 6:30am to make my connection which is an unreasonable time in anybody's book.

RichardM said...

I was thinking about giving you a call this evening. I could delay my return flight from Denver to Fairbanks a day and visit but since it was a weekday, I wasn't sure how that would work out for you.

Unknown said...

I can hardly believe your daily driver is a sidecar rig. I'm impressed, I don't know if I could live life without all the leaning.

I was impressed you can turn the motorcycle to the right while you're leaning to the left. The whole affair kind of scares the crap out of me - and I used to ride a '70 Honda Passport.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Chris said...

+1 on the practice and training. The 3Wheel ERC was very worth it.

A sidecar (or any 3-wheeler) is a very different animal to a motorcycle. They are quite fun though :)

Unknown said...

You pretty good at flying the "chair", I guess with a heavy passenger it's a little more difficult to fly it. It must be scary as hell for the passenger though ;-)

redlegsrides said...

GeorgeF, sorry for the late reply....I've not flown the chair with passenger yet. It is much more difficult to get the chair to come up....

Chris said...

GoergF: I've flown the chair with several passengers now. (ask Circle Blue). It takes some practice, but can easily be done.

The first person I flew the chair with loved it.

Unknown said...

You have to put a camera pointing at their face the first time you try to fly it :-)

You have so many cameras, did you film it? I'm sure it's funny.

Chris said...

@George surprisingly no video of me flying the chair with a passenger. only solo. might have to make some >:)