Sidecars, those attachments to motorcycles that allow a passenger to ride along, made their debut not long after motorcycles started rolling across the nation’s roads. Sidecars feature a single wheel on 1 side of their base with the other side being attached to a motorcycle. They have no engine themselves but are towed by the motorcycle.
A sidecar was first mentioned in January 1903 in a cartoon drawn by George Moore for “Motor Cycling” in a British newspaper. By the end of the month, W.J. Graham owned a patent for the design. The earliest sidecars were made of wicker, which allowed them to add as little weight as possible to the motorcycle. They looked like chairs with wheels.
This early version began evolving. Materials changed and sidecars appeared made of wood or steel. Their shape began to change as well and began resembling the lower, longer version much like modern sidecars. Manufacturers then began to enclose their sidecars, which made them more attractive for women and children to ride in.
Though not normally part of a sidecar, an early version allowed for the sidecar wheel to be powered by the motorcycle’s engine. This design seems to have developed independently at the same time by both the Soviet Union and Britain in 1929. It was a popular design for racing that required the passenger in the sidecar to steer it in conjunction with the driver of the motorcycle.
Sidecars in WWII
Sidecars were popular in WWII, particularly among the Germans, Russian and British troops. Motorcycles, even with sidecars, were smaller targets and more nimble than trucks or cars. The popular sidecar among the Germans was manufactured by the Steib Company, which was founded in 1914. The WWII sidecars had a different design from their earlier predecessors that were made from pressed steel frames. The newer design had an underlying frame made of steel tubes that made the frame stronger and better able to handle the stress of war duty.
By the 1950s, the Steib Company sold more than 90 percent of the sidecars in the world. This equated to the manufacture of about 50 sidecars each day. Other companies soon began to chip away at the market, but demand for sidecars remained. China’s government saw the value of sidecars as a military vehicle and reverse engineered 1 to create its own design.
Though not as common as they once were, sidecars can still be seen, particularly at motorcycle racing events that feature them. The coordination between the motorcycle driver and sidecar passenger makes them interesting races to watch.