Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aligning a Sidecar

The fine tuning adjustment on Petunia and the sidecar was started on Thursday afternoon at about 4:00 PM after a quick stop at Home Depot to get some supplies. I had read everything I could find on the process and felt comfortable in getting started.

My first step was assembling the necessary tools and modern technology necessary to do a proper alignment. I will point out the use of 2x4s and bricks came from the California Sidecar web site. Who am I to argue with the professionals?

I loosened all of the bolts that were holding the rig to Petunia and used the floor jack to begin to level her out. It occurred to me that I didn't have a zero point on the T.I.L.T. and inspection of the unit didn't help any. I made the executive decision to lower the unit to its bottom position and time how long it took to reach its upper most setting. I timed it up and then back down and back up again to find I got the same 17 seconds each time. Because that was an odd number of seconds, I just lowered it for 8 seconds and called that the zero point. I leveled the frame of the car from that point and snugging the pinch bolts caused it to move a bit. So, I would snug, check, move, check, snug until I was tight and level.

Next I measured the distance between the outside edge of Petunia's tires and the sidecar tire at the rear. Checking the measurement at the front showed it towed out 2 1/4 inches. That is at least 2 3/4 inches the wrong direction and explains why it didn't want to turn. Moving it to achieve the correct 3/4 inch tow in measurement was easy and the snug, check, snug process started over. I double, tripled, and checked twice more for level and correct toe in.

It was now time to set Petunia with 2 - 4 degree of lean out. I found this to be a guessing game because I couldn't find a good solid measuring point. So I gave it my best shot and called it good. I went back over all the things I had been checking again, tightened up every bolt again, and it was time for the maiden voyage. It went straight with no effort on the bars, it turned left easily, it went right with the sidecar wheel wanting to come over the top. All in all it felt pretty good. So, at 5:50 it was time to gear up and go get my daughter, so she could have the first ride. This is a family tradition that she is first.

All was well until I left her house. A half a mile away Petunia died and wouldn't start. I called and they brought me a flashlight, but it was no use as there was a fuel problem. I had a full tank of gas, but the gauge registered empty and it just wasn't getting it in the cylinders. Jim and I pushed the rig the half mile to put it in their garage until I could get a tow truck to take it to the mechanic. Long story short an electrical junction had pulled apart and two minutes after unloading from the tow truck she was running again. Total charge....$0. Embarrassed feeling...very high.

To remove/install the car is pretty simple. A quick disconnect for the brake line, an eight prong electrical connection, and the four mounting bolts to the frame.

Because of the fuel problem I didn't make the Yuma ride, but there is a ride tomorrow I think I will go on. I readjusted the lean angle of Petunia this morning and taking a ride showed a lot of improvement in the handling. I am going to ride her around town a bit this afternoon and if all goes well I think some distance tomorrow is in order.

This whole process of installing and alligning the sidecar wasn't as daunting as I had first thought. The driveability was something I really worried about, but it appears I got really lucky and while I might find the need for a few more adjustments, I feel it it is really close.


  1. I'm glad the repair was nothing serious and the side car looks great!

  2. I've read that riding with a sidecar can be wildly different, the sidecar wants to bury its nose on left turns and lift up on right turns.

    I am thinking of taking the AMA sidecar course come March.

    Be careful

  3. Great posts on the sidecar. What is "lean angle" and why would you want to adjust it on the fly?

  4. Jim: Thanks for the comments and the help.

    Charlie6: Thanks. I don't don't seem to have a problem with burying the nose and the tire only wants to lift about half of the time.

    A little time and a few more adjustments should help with that. It is different riding with the chair, but not awful.

    Richard: Lean angle is the position of the motorcycle in relation to the sidecar. The sidecar is supposed to be level when setting everything up. The motorcycle is supposed to lean out 1-2 degrees. This, my understanding, helps when turning and allows the rig to track straight without fighting the bars to go straight.

    Adjusting on the fly is beneficial because of the crown of the road changing. When the road crown changes the rig wants to pull either left or right and it is a fight to keep it running straight.

    Fighting an ill handling rig will wear you out and steal the enjoyment from the ride. The electric lean adjustment changes the lean angle at the touch of a switch and takes some of the work out of it, thus putting the fun back into it.

  5. Petunia looks good with the “pig pen” on the side. And yes feel free to use the name if you like. A friend of mine had an old Shovelhead with a hack on it years ago. Took it for a lap around the block with my buddies girl friend and had a blast. Ol’ Peas & Carrots sure was fun to ride. By the time we got back I had Jessie and the sidecar up in the air on right handers just having a ball. Well at least I was. I couldn’t tell if the shrieks that Jessie was letting out was from joy or fear :)


  6. Fasthair: Pig pen hadn't crossed my mind, but naming the sidecar hadn't either. That just might stick because it fits so well. Thanks!

    Driving a hack is fun and when the adjustments are finished it can only get better. "Flying the chair" is fun and while I can't speak for Jessie, I've known a few people who loved the rush.