- Sidecar racing involves two people controlling a three-wheeled motorcycle that can go over 160 mph.
- One person uses the handlebars, throttle and brakes; the other uses nothing more than his body weight.
- It has stunt stunts and crashes, and makes racing car driving look like a walk in the park.
Storyteller: It’s unlike any motorsport you’ve ever seen. Sidecar racing involves two people riding a three-wheeled motorcycle that can go over 160 miles per hour. While one person sits behind the gas and brake, the other uses nothing more than her own body weight to help steer the vehicle. This requires a degree of stunts not often seen in motorsports. Teams compete on circuits around the world, including motorcycle racing’s Mount Everest, Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of nasty crashes. Since the year 2000, 10 sidecar racers have died during different stages of the competition.
Most people associate sidecars with the cheesy, even cartoonish pomp that attaches to motorcycles. But the machines that are used for sports are not to be laughed at. These vehicles are built to be individual high-powered units and are more like futuristic three-wheeled motorcycles. But they handle very differently due to their asymmetrical wheel setup, which completely changes the balance of the vehicle. That’s why, unlike motorcycles, they are equipped with wide racing slick tires that resemble the tires you’d find on a Formula 1 race car. With these tires and the huge car brakes on all three wheels, they can outrun almost any superbike and get a lot more grip in the corners.
But with such an awkward shape, it’s not enough for drivers to optimize their lap time without going off track. In this sport, the key to success is in the passenger. In sidecar racing, there is no room for fear when you are riding a shotgun. These competitors don’t have time to slide or even a seat to relax. Your sidecar is nothing more than a handle to grab and a platform to kneel on when you’re not hanging your body from one side of the bike or the other.
The passenger has a crucial role: to stabilize the vehicle. This is necessary because of the imbalance that the third wheel creates when turning. This means climbing behind the rider in a right turn to keep weight on the inside tires or hanging so far off the bike in a left turn that your back almost brushes the pavement. All of this is done while holding on to handles strategically placed throughout the vehicle. Things can get chaotic for the passenger quickly, depending on how difficult the track is. On a fast straight, they may be forced to squat as low as possible to minimize aerodynamic drag on the bike. Seconds later, the team could be coming into a tight corner, forcing the passenger to shift position to ensure the bike stays planted.
This dynamic of a driver relying on his teammate’s shifting body weight to safely navigate the racetracks requires enormous trust from both parties. The driver must trust that the passenger will be where he needs them to be at exactly the right time, and the passenger must trust that the driver will navigate the track as skillfully and safely as possible.
But even for expert runners, things don’t always go according to plan. This is especially true on the Isle of Man. The 38-mile-long circuit boasts more than 200 corners and little to no run-off space and has been home to some of the ugliest crashes in motorsport. At the 2022 Isle of Man TT three sidecar racers were killed in accidents, including a father and son team. Frequent tragedies like this are why many of the cyclists hug their loved ones before even taking a practice lap on the Isle of Man.
All types of motorsports, from stock cars to superbike racing, involve some degree of risk, but only sidecar racing features two people relying on each other’s every move to avoid drifting off the track. This symbiotic relationship is what sets the sport apart and what can ultimately be the difference between triumph and tragedy.