This article was originally printed in the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club monthly newsletter.

The Ex-Con with Sidecar, by Matt Franklin

The bike is a 1976 "ex-Con", that is to say, a Convert that has been converted to a 5-speed. To make one, you basically graft on the rear end of a donor 850T, T3 or G5 from the flywheel back to the rear wheel. The torque converter and ATF tank, radiator, pump etc., associated with it are removed or disabled. (I turned the ATF tank into a little tool box.) Around 1991, I bought it as a mud-brown, running Convert plus an 850T parts bike, for $1000. Oh, for the days of thousand dollar Guzzis!

My motorcycling purchases have always been guided by the wisdom of my father-in-law, Bud, who advised me long ago, "Don't finance your hobbies. If you can't afford to pay cash, you can't afford to play!"

Frank Hebbeln painted it white for me and helped me put it together. By-the-way, it was, and still is my first Moto Guzzi. It was a solo bike until about 1994 or so, when I purchased a really beat-up Velorex 562 sidecar from a fellow I worked with at the time.

Velorexes are made in Czechoslovakia. The body had been cut and gate hinges installed in the nose to allow easier passenger loading. These mods did nothing for the hack's structural integrity, however. I spent a winter fixing up the body, learning about fiberglass repair at the same time, and fabbing mounts for the Guzzi. Again, Frank Hebbeln helped with the paint, white to match the bike.

Guzzis make ideal sidecar machines, as their flames are extremely rigid and the Tonti-frame models offer several convenient and strong mounting points already on the frame. I am told that Guzzis and two BMW models are the only bikes accepted by the German Federal DOT for use with sidecars without frame modifications. Unlike the two BMW models, the Guzzi makes a useful amount of power! I read everything I could about sidecars while all this was going on, and finally got the thing put together.

The moment of truth! Would I be able to ride the silly thing without crashing it? At first with a large bag of dog food as ballast, and then with my brother Andy aboard, I made my first tentative trips around the block.

For the next few years I continued to ride and refine it, adding sidecar (lower) gearing in the rear end and Metzeler Block K sidecar tires, as well as an oil cooler I made from an old Ford power steering cooler. I took trips as far as Crater Lake, the Northern California rally in the Gold Country, and the last National in Mt. Vernon, Washington. (I don't remember what year that was). [Ed Note: That was 1996. -FW]

About three years ago, I was riding home from work and was struck side-on by a Cadillac, which totally destroyed the sidecar (it exploded like a big fiberglass airbag) and slightly damaged the bike: broke the rear wheel, one front brake disk, headlight, steering stop, dented the tank, etc.

Fortunately, I was only slightly injured, but after piecing the bike back together it was back to solo riding again for a while. I make a habit of browsing various motorcycle want ads on the Internet and last year I saw what I was looking for: A cheap, decent sidecar that would complement my bike, and it was close, near Seattle. A deal was struck and with my trusty pal Frank (are you detecting a theme here?), I drove up to retrieve it. After some TLC, elbow grease, bearings, paint etc., it was halfway presentable. My current sidecar is a Russian (actually Soviet) Jupiter. I believe it is a 1980 model. It is of steel construction, has a swingarm suspension and a brake on the sidecar wheel (which the Velorex did not have). The nose slides forward for easier passenger loading. It shares many parts with the Russian Sputniks, which are sold by Washington club member Jay Giese.

Riding (actually driving!) a sidecar is very different from riding a solo bike. When asked, I tell people it is like driving a funny 3-wheeled car. It does not lean, and the steering is direct, which means you use the handlebars like the tiller in a boat to steer. On curvy roads this can get fatiguing after a while. On higher speed comers you can drift it, which is the best fun, but eats up tires pretty fast. Sidecar outfits behave differently in right hand and left hand corners: on right hand corners, the chair wants to "fly", while left hand corners are usually less dramatic. A lot depends on the way the rig is set up, and they are all different! My bike does not have any front end modifications, so I am still running sob geometry. The "trail" of a bike's front end is the distance on the ground between the tire's contact patch and an imaginary point where the steering head axis intersects the ground. This distance ensures that the wheel will "caster" or return to center without being forced. On a sidecar you don't need that much trail, and in fact it makes it harder to steer. That's why a lot of sidecarists run leading links or Earles front ends, with reduced trail. It makes the steering easier. They are also a lot more rigid, which is also a good thing for sidecars. They are also expensive, which is why I don't have one!

Sidecars seem to draw a lot of attention. I was once pulled over by a Portland Police officer who just wanted a closer look! Kids especially seem to dig sidecars and my own kids love to ride. They are also great for camping trips and rallies: think "world's largest saddlebag"! I do not consider myself an expert by any means, but I would be happy to offer advice or help to any club members who are curious about sidecars or would like to build an outfit of their own.

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