Been Wantin' To...
Been wanting to, so I finally got everything together and did it…
I’ve been riding bikes for a few years, put about 100K on ‘em in the last 8 or 10 years. I’ve seen a few “hack” rigs around, but didn’t pay too much attention to them until my daughter and her kids moved down here about a year ago.
I have a sport-touring bike, an R1100RS BMW and I am not comfortable riding 3 to 9 year old kids on the pillion. They constantly ask me to take them for a ride and I say no and spend the next few hours with a bad conscience, cuz I feel guilty for not taking them. That started me considering a sidecar rig and the more I thought about it, the better the idea appealed to me.
I started going through all the zine “for sale” ads and looking for websites for hack riders. I found out very quickly that I knew nothing about sidecar rigs, do’s and don’t’s , good rigs and so-so rigs, desirable features, sizes, mountings, best bikes to rig up for hacks, worst………. yada, yada, yada.
I bought books, talked to guys with hacks, looked at pictures, websites, e-mailed companies, individual owners, posted notes on a couple of boards and from the replies, realized I didn’t know enough to ask the right questions. I did begin to get an idea of the costs of rigs and the ones I really wanted were in the “oh-my-God” range. I had the impulse to go ahead and settle for less than I really wanted, but, mercy, I didn’t know enough about ‘em to know what I really wanted. So the project went on hold for a few months. That is until I got a call from the Marshall.
The Marshall is a friend of mine from north Louisiana and is the Marshall of Ruston, La. He looks like one; tall, slender, straight-forward, great friend and dead solid a honest man as I have ever known, rides a BMW GS with a lot of miles on it and will put a lot more on it. He has it rigged up for long distance riding (the only kind of riding he knows) and doesn’t mind ridding 400 miles to a dealer he likes to have it worked on!
Anywho, he called me, or I called him, and during the conversation talking about bikes, he mentioned that a Guzzi dealer in El Dorado, Ark had a really nice ’75 R90/6 BMW he took in on trade from a rider that had transmission problems on a trip to a rally. The rider was from Kentucky and wanted to get home, so he traded it in instead of taking the time to repair it. Mike praised the bike……original paint in nice condition with original bags and windshield fairing, no scratches or dings, new tires and on and on. The only problem was that he hadn’t been able to get the title from the owner. The price was right for the bike, but I had the RS and didn’t really consider it worthwhile for a second bike.
A few weeks later, the idea of the hack popped up again and I thought about the bike up there and called a few friends and asked them about the /6 and it’s possible use for the conversion for a sidecar rig. All spoke highly of the bike and mentioned the weak transmission those bikes had in ’74 and ’75. I called a friend up in Colorado that has a shop and is highly regarded for his expertise. Matt Parkhouse does know his older airhead bikes and recommended the bike for a sidecar rig. He also happened to have a transmission to fit that bike and I had half the rig available. I called the Marshall and asked him to make an offer to the dealer (he knew him well) to buy the bike on an “as-is-where-is” basis and the dealer accepted the offer. OKAAY, halfway there! RIGHT , ha ha.
Back to the phone and called a few more gurus in the hack world and found out the car I wanted would have cost 3 times the cost of the bike, used, if I could find one. Time to back up and settle for something less expensive. Looked for a good used Russian Ural sidecar and placed ads in the websites in the “wanted” sections. Had a couple of hits the first week and worked it down to a Ural sidecar in Connecticut. The price we finally negotiated was right, so I started looking for a way to get it down here to Louisiana.
I called Perry, at the Fort Worth BMW dealership, who, I was told, had a lot of experience with this sort of thing and, again, was highly recommended for sidecar conversions. After talking with him far longer than he wanted to talk to me, I reinforced my observation that I didn’t know what questions to ask and didn’t know enough to get the job done. He recommended I send the whole mess to him and he would sort it out and call me back with an estimate and we would go from there.
The Marshall and I went up to El Dorado, looked over the bike and I gave him a check for it with the proviso that I was buying it without a title and I would have to get a title for it. Okaaaaa.
Called the Ural owner, worked out the price and cost of shipping the car to Fort Worth, sent the check, had a friend visiting from Texas that was going to bring his bike to Fort Worth and he kindly offered to haul my bike to Perry for the “marriage”, called Perry and warned him that “things” were coming at him from several directions. I sat back and waited for all the arrows in my mental map to converge in Cow Town and I waited for a week….. then two……then three. Couldn’t stand it any longer and called Perry.
Everything had arrived, he looked it over and told me he would get the bike back into running shape and then we could discuss what I wanted to do. Told him about the transmission and I would have the four speed sent to him from Matt Parkhouse to use if the /6 tranny couldn’t be fixed. And then called Matt, sent him a check and the address and waited for another couple weeks.
I called Perry and he gave the list of what he thought I should do and an estimate of the cost. I gave him the go-ahead and told him to do what he thought should be done and I would check with him every few days to inquire about the progress. And waited...
He sent the car out to be refurbished, repainted and installed brakes on the hack…it didn’t have any when it came in. New windshield, toneau cover, tires, bearings, lights completed. Chassis removal, cleaning and repainting to match the bike completed the “buggy”, as my grandkids called it.
Bike with rebuilt 4 speed, new clutch, pressure plate, throw out bearings, triple clamps, brakes, higher ratio rear end that I swapped out with the guy that brought the bike to Perry, running light installed, new front and rear discs and brake shoes, etc, etc was completed and the marriage was made in Fort Worth. He recommended adding brake lights, steering dampener, heavy- duty shocks and springs, carbs rebuilt, new cables all around and new tire on the sidecar. I agreed with all of that and it had been done.
Called Perry and he said the bike was completed and ready. Mercy! I had spent so much time daydreaming about using the rig, that I called my bestest buddy, and we made plans for him to drive me to Fort Worth to pick it up the next weekend and I planned to ride (drive, steer, pilot, operate…whatever) it back to Louisiana.
We got to Fort Worth BMW before they opened and waited for someone to show up at 0800 and there they were, on time. I walked around the show room acting as disinterested as I could, waiting for Miss Mary, peering into the shop and around the place for a white hack. When she showed up, I introduced myself and asked about Perry. He had gone down to south Texas for the weekend and wouldn’t be in to give me a quick checkout on riding a hack.
Miss Mary showed me the other building where my hack was located and I walked out there and among 10 or so other rigs was mine…all white and beautiful. Have you ever seen something that was so pleasing just to look at? This rig was one of those objects that were so esthetically pleasing. All I could do was just stand there and look at it. I hadn’t known what I would end up with and that first look justified all of that effort and money. If I had never been able to ride it, it would have been worth it all just to look at; like a piece of sculpture. I was actually reluctant to sit on it or even touch it! Carney was standing next to me and asked, “Is this it? Man, it’s beautiful!”.
The guy in the shop said, “Let’s roll it out and take it around the lot”. I hesitated because I couldn’t convince myself that it was mine and I wouldn’t touch something that nice that belonged to someone else, but Carney and the guy pushed it out of the shop to a carport outside. I looked it over and inspected it and when he handed me the keys and showed me where the ignition switch was to be found, I still didn’t want to start it. He turned on the fuel on the left side, choked it, turned the key on and cranked it off. I was standing along side and just stood there and listened to it idle. I really didn’t want to get on it and ride it: again, I felt, as I would look at a fine painting or piece of sculpture: I didn’t need to touch it or hold it. Just admire it…
Ol’ Carney, always the adventurer, volunteered to take it around the back yard, got on it and put it in gear. The mechanic with us pointed to his truck about 50’ away and said, “ Don’t hit my truck”. Carney let out the clutch with throttle and it turned to the left and headed straight for the truck. He did shut it down about 15’ from the truck and looked at me and said, “Hell, this ain’t like riding a bike!” Okaaaay.
I went back into the office and paid the bill, arranged for insurance coverage, got all the papers I would need to get it registered in Louisiana. Miss Mary asked me if I had the trailer to load it on and I told her I wanted to ride it back home. She asked me how much time I had on hacks and I told her, “Zero, zilch, zed, nada…. none.” She looked at me and said that she didn’t recommend my trying to do that. I told her I had no trailer so I had no choice. She thought about it for a few moments and told me to meet her at the shop and she would run me through a quick course in the empty lot. I finally got on the bike, cranked it up and waited for Miss Mary.
She brought me out to the field, laid out a couple of traffic cones and made me ride patterns around the cones for a half hour or so, start, stop, accelerate, brake, etc. Soon she brought me out to the street in front of the dealership and had me go around the corners, accelerate, brake hard, shift, u-turn, and generally tried to discourage my driving the 450 miles back to Louisiana. I noticed weather coming in from the west and couldn’t delay leaving much longer: either on the rig or leaving to return another day to trailer it home. I made the dumb decision to drive it home. Remember, I didn’t know enough about it to realize how dumb and dangerous it would be to hit the roads for home.
We found an empty 5-gallon soap jug, filled it with water to add weight to the chair and left ahead of a monster of a storm. (It hit 20 minutes later with severe storm warnings and flash floods all over the DFW area)
It didn’t take long to realize I had made a mistake! I was all over the road: into the right lane with throttle and toward the left shoulder when I chopped the throttle. All of this was in the “go home” traffic at 5 o’clock!! I was afraid to the point of shaking, but I was committed and wanted to get on country roads away from traffic as soon as I could.
One hundred and twenty five miles later in the heart of the east Texas backwoods, I decided I had enough. My arms and shoulders were cramping from the strain and my hands were cramping into claws from the death grip I had on the grips. I stopped at a service station, filled up and looked across the street and saw a cheap motel and told Carney, I was finished for the day. He sighed a breath of relief and said, “ I’m glad. I’ve been expecting to see my best buddy get killed since we left the shop in Fort Worth. I am tired from the strain.”
I was dreading the next day and the ride I would take. The rig had me spooked! It was nothing like anything I had ever ridden. Regular bikes let me know what is happening and they are self-stabilizing. This thing was doing things and I didn’t know what it was telling me! I didn’t know what it was going to do next and I was reacting without knowing what I was doing. Right hand curves scared the hell out of me and when the chair came up a little on the suspension on parts of the road that leaned to the left, my heart would beat so hard with fear of the car coming over on top of me that legs would get weak. Fear, fear on the borderline of panic. People, it weren’t a happy ride. Not a’ tall, a’ tall. I had to pull on to the shoulder about every ten miles or so to light a cigarette and work the cramps out of my hands, arms and shoulders. It was at this point that I decided that those daydreams of loading up my gear and having a couple weeks’ trip through the west was not going to happen. All I wanted to do was to get this weird thing and myself under the carport at home in one safe piece.
Eventually, Carney had to turn off and make his way home and I had to continue alone. He volunteered to follow me home, but I declined. There wasn’t anything he could do to help me so I sent him on his way and I continued alone. By this time, I was getting a little more at ease. Not much more, but I was at least not in complete fear mode. Maybe, I had lapsed into despair, waiting for the inevitable catastrophe when this weird thing decided to do something I couldn’t correct.
I got it home, safely, about noon. Went into the house, made a cup of Cajun chicory coffee, sat down and tried to relax and work out the cramps. I didn’t even go out and look at it. You know, what people do when they get out of a new car or motorcycle or airplane. They can’t walk away without looking back at this wonderful new thing they have. I didn’t even go out until the next day to unload the jackets, helmets and clothes I had in the chair’s trunk.
The next day, I checked the oil and cranked her up and let her idle. Stood there and listened to that boxer smooth up and idle, ticking over like only a BMW 247 engine can do. Shut her down before the engine heated up. I pushed it on the covered wash rack next to the fence that separates me from the bayou. Washed her down, dried her off and put on a light coat of wax. Pushed her back to the covered garage and then I just looked at her feeling the same way when I first saw it: so pleasant just looking at it.
Over the next couple weeks, I rode it on lonely back roads trying to get a feel of what it was doing and learning to react. Soon I was able to relax and speed up a little to about 60 and began to trust that the car wouldn’t come over on me on a right turn. It took about two weeks to gain enough confidence to take the grand kids for a ride around the subdivision. I picked them up at school and brought them the block and a half to their home.
It took a couple months before I would take anyone on busy streets or highways, still unsure of my ability to guide, drive, control, whatever. And then Cissy of Brownwood, TX called me and asked me to go to Sipapu, NM to the rally in September. I thought about it and decided that I could probably handle it if I stayed on the back roads and off the slabs. Loaded the rig with everything I thought that I would need to ride for a week. Mercy, that rig could handle a lot of stuff. In addition to the camping gear and clothes I added a complete tool kit with sockets, end wrenches, Haynes manual, torque wrench, spare tubes, points, bulbs, grease and a scissor jack rated at 1500 lb load.
I left out before dawn and headed west for Texas. This time I didn’t have to stop for cramps in my hands and shoulders every twenty miles. I could now do about sixty to seventy before I needed to take a break. Riding these things is more work than riding a two-wheeler. So about eight hours out I was within a couple hours of Brownwood. I checked over the bike and was startled at the rear tire on the bike: it was BALD. I mean no tread, none, nada, zip. I wasn’t sure I would make it to Brownwood! 2200 miles on a brand new tire and it was bald! The chair tire was gone also!!
I slowed down to about 50 mph and limped into Brownwood and after a good cup of Cajun chicory (I’ve converted most of my friends to real coffee) I got on the phone looking for a tire and asking why this tire was gone after 2200 miles and the hack tire didn’t look like it would be able to last another thousand! The front tire was still looking like it was new. Couldn’t find anyone in and after several calls, found a dealer in Abilene that had tires and would check the chair/bike alignment that could be causing the problem. He had some experience aligning hacks.
So, the next morning early, Cissy and I loaded the bikes for the trip and headed out for Abilene, arriving just after lunch. We put the rig in the shop and found long straight angle iron, string and blocks of wood. The first measurement made in the rough showed I had about 5.5 inches of toe-in. Too much by over 4 inches. We were able to get it to within 1.5 inches. Better but it really needed to completely rigged, but we were running out of time and decided to try that. He put on a couple of Chinese tires, the only ones he had to size and we thanked Ronnie Roberts and the crew at RPM and left to make a few miles north to Childress for the night.
It seemed to ride better and I could see no abnormal wear on the tires. However, our problems were not over for the day. 35 miles south of Childress, as it was getting dark, we got into a construction zone and came upon a large truck going about 45 miles per hour. We followed him through the zone hearing a loud banging noise he was putting out. I followed him allowing about 200 feet separation when an extra loud bang came from the truck and I saw something in the road in my lane just before I ran over it. Cissy said she saw sparks under my bike. I went on for about another mile and decided to check the bike out. Pulled over to the side of the road, got out the flashlight and looked under the bike. I had oil coming out of a hole in the pan!! We were about 10 miles from a little town and I added a pint of oil to the engine and headed out for the town. I wasn’t going to find help in the middle of nowhere so I decided to get to the town with people and lights.
Got to a quick mart and while I was parking, it looked like I had lost maybe a half pint on oil. Thinking about it and checking the dipstick, I estimated I would loose about a quart of oil in about 15 to 20 minutes. I was about ½ quart down, so I went into the store and bought a couple quarts, added to a little above the full mark and went headed for Childress. We stopped once and I added the other half-quart and got into Childress. Everything was closed so we got a room and I found a dirt spot at the end of the motel, dug a hole in the sand under the pan and shut it down for the night.
Next morning, I checked the oil stick and it was empty. I pulled the oil drain plug and emptied the rest of the oil and pushed the bike in front of the room. Borrowed a mirror and tried to see the size of the hole and saw a small split. Called a couple of dealers in used parts and no-one could get me an oil pan in less than two days. I made a cup of coffee and thought it over. I sent Cissy to find a pint of acetone or MEK, roll of towels, and some JB Weld, both the long cure and the fast cure. When she got back, I used the phone number on the carton and called one of the chemists at JB and asked them which one I could use, figuring it may have to stand 300 to 325 degrees F. He told me that the fast would be no problem at that temp. So it was out to the bike, clean up some of the damage to the cooling fins on the pan, clean up the area with MEK and mix up the JB. I used my finger to squeegee some of the JB into the two-inch crack and built up the area with a little more. I would have liked to have removed the pan and do it right, but no-one could get me a gasket sooner than second day and I did not want to have to wait if the gasket wouldn’t come off without breaking up.
We waited for 4 hours, added oil and cranked it up to see if it would leak. I rode it around the block and came back and looked for leaks. No leaks. Great! On our way about noon toward Amarillo, stopping every fifty miles or so to check for leaks, we made out way toward Sipapu. We stopped that night in New Mexico at the town we would turn north to go through the mountains to the rally. Since it was getting dark, we decided to shut it down and finish up in the daylight.
Next morning, I checked the ground under the pan and had several drops of oil. I didn’t need to add any so we went up to the rally and had a great time. By the time we got there, I was very comfortable with that weird riding thing. I didn’t have a name for it yet: I was waiting for it to tell its name.
Had a great time at the rally and saw a couple of hacks there and talked to a lot of people and met new friends. The rig drew a lot of attention and I answered questions and said, “I don’t know…..I just got into sidecars and don’t know a lot about them.” Talked to Matt Parkhouse and his wife Joanna: it’s always a pleasure to see those two. I hope to take a ride in the rig and visit them again in Colorado Springs.
Pulled down the tents, loaded up the bikes and carried a lot of Cissy’s gear in the sidecar. Those things can hold a lot of “stuff”. We left and headed back for Brownsville, TX and then to Opelousas, La. When I got back to the “camp” on the bayou, I unloaded all the gear and put it away. Made a cup of coffee and decided I felt a great deal more relaxed riding that thing and would take more trips when I got the chance.
I checked the tires and saw that the back tire on the bike was very worn unevenly: the right side of the tire was almost smooth and the left side looked brand new! Well now, I could afford to have the rig built, but I wasn’t sure I could afford tires. This would be the fourth tire I would buy in the first 3600 or so miles!!! Made a few phone calls, ordered the Ural book from Dauntless on rigging and riding a hack and decided that I had too much lean out. I knew I had a lot because of the riding position and comments from riders following me. So I took half of the lean out adjustment and tried that. Better, but no cigar. Went to my BMW dealer, Hebert’s, in Baton Rouge and bought another rear tire for the bike.
Not long after that, I caught the old “gotta go” fever and decided to head out to see friends around the south. I called Vetch in Mississippi and he said he was heading for the BMWMOA national rally in Charleston, WV. Called a buddy in Barlow, KY, but he was heading out to the rally. Called a couple of others and, yep, heading for Charleston, WV. I decided that I should head up there too. It was close to a thousand miles, maybe a little more, but figured I could make it in two days there and two days back and enjoy three days at the rally. I looked up the rally info in the BMWMOA mag, called the school and reserved a room at a dorm in the camping area, loaded up the bike with clothes, gear, camping stuff in case of unusual circumstances. (Great to have the room on the rig to carry all that extra stuff)
Started early and made it up there in two hard day’s riding. It isn’t a problem on my two wheeler to run a couple of 6 to 700 mile days; it is a chore on a sidecar rig. After 400 miles or so I’ve about had enough. How far I go depends on how much pain I can stand! Especially with a rig that is not in perfect alignment.
Got to the rally, checked in, moved in and moved the rig to the parking lot. Again, a lot of attention and questions. Most of the comments was how pleasing the rig was to look at and did I ride all the way from Louisiana? “Sure, no big deal, it just took a couple of days.”
The first day, I saw Vetch, Jean, Cissy, the Smiths, and the others that I had wanted to visit. Enjoyed the attention, the vendors, bought a few doodads and just sat around and told tales and listened. Watched all the people coming and going, admired the bikes, met new friends from all over the country and generally had a good time. On the last day, I packed up and started home by taking all the little back roads and some were very interesting and rode through many mountain back roads and towns. I feel the same thing every time I get back from a trip: I should have taken more time to enjoy the trip and see all the interesting things and people along the way. Oh well, maybe the next trip.
It's good to be home...