While Rowena and I were discussing something completely different one day, she asked me if I'd review a book about sidecars. Sure, I replied. Oh yes, she added, and trikes. After a number of silly exchanges about cow-horn helmets, we left the matter; sometime later, when I was recovering from a broken arm and had time to spare, the book arrived.
'A Third Wheel' promises to be a guide for those willing to take a plunge into the unknown by fitting a sidecar or converting a bike to a trike.
It takes the reader through the types of bike which are suitable from old British singles to modern Japanese and US superbikes, the kinds of sidecar and trikes available and their advantages and disadvantages, how to fit them and set them up and how to ride and enjoy them for what they are. It also contains a guide to trike and sidecar suppliers, accessories and websites, plus the author's advice on what and how much to modify, and the final stage -- preparing and driving your conversion.
The first thing the author, Simon Potter, is at pains to point out is that the desire to customise is part of the psyche of anyone who buys a bike in the first place. The second is that anyone wishing to attach a sidecar must be something of an independent spirit. I didn't find this an exciting read; in fact finishing the book became a bit of a chore; but there is a good deal of information for a sidecar novice.
Mr Potter gives a good deal about the general history of sidecar fitting, although to my mind he's just a bit patronising about outfits of the past. Many of those were built for a purpose, let's not forget, when the owner's current motorcycle simply had a chair attached to carry the new wife/new wife and baby plus shopping. Nowadays motorcycling in general is more of a sport than transport for many, and a sidecar outfit is not generally the family's only vehicle.
Therefore, when it is recommended that one uses something powered with a 1200cc engine (or more) to pull a sidecar it is for an entirely different reason; it is for the same reason that superbikes are popular: performance. It's true that a smaller capacity machine won't overtake everything else on the motorway, as a rule, but if properly set up it should certainly get you there at a reasonable speed.
There are a number of basic hints about setting up, and quite a lot of information about currently available sidecars too - though I think the book might put a grain of doubt in a beginner's mind. Has he made the right decision? Is this all actually a bit complicated? Should he have got rid of the old 850cc bike, and looked out for a professionally built and faired 1800cc three-wheeler instead of buying a single seat sidecar for it? Is a trike easier to ride anyway? Though the benefits of trikes are discussed, this book is definitely not a treatise on how cool it is to have one.
The best advice in the whole book is this: ask a sidecar expert what to do. Then, as an independent spirit, make your own mind up.
Reviewed by Celia Walton
'A Third Wheel: The Eccentric Alternative' by Simon Potter was published in 2009 in softback, by Panther Publishing , with 146 pages and 200 illustrations, ISBN 978 0955659577.
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