On Three Wheels: Learning to Ride a Sidecar Rig

Reader Contribution by Margie Siegal
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Participants practice their sidecar skills at an S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) sidecar course. Photos by Margie Siegal.

“It was easier than I expected. It was harder than I expected” — students at Evergreen S/TEP training, Seattle, Washington.

A sidecar rig can be a fun addition to a classic bike collection. You can take friends, relatives, or your dog along for a ride. You can pack your camping gear and go offroad to your favorite fishing hole.

Thing is, riding a sidecar rig is different from riding a solo motorcycle. If you want to learn how to pilot a sidecar but you don’t have a friend who knows how to drive a sidecar (or if you think the friendship might not survive the learning experience), what do you do? You take a sidecar course, of course.

While not as common as two-wheel courses, they do exist. The state of Washington mandates three-wheeler training before licensing a rider to operate vehicles such as a Can-Am Spyder, a sidecar outfit, or a trike, and Washington residents generally take the S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) courses offered by the Evergreen Safety Council. Out of staters can sign up too — but since the course is subsidized by the state of Washington for residents, non-Washingtonians pay more, currently $350 versus $125 for residents. But given that trashing your new ride will be a whole lot more expensive than even the out of state price — not to mention embarrassing and painful — it’s definitely worth it.

The 12 students who showed up for the two-day course on an overcast October weekend were typical of the people you see at any motorcycle gathering. Two were from out of state, and four were women. Most had prior experience with motorcycles, and most had made up their mind as to what type of three-wheeler they wanted. Regardless, the instructors insisted that all participants try all three types of three-wheelers, which were made available at the training venue for participants.

Head instructor Jeff Jung keeps a keen eye on trainees, helping them gain confidence on a three-wheeler.

Theory and practice

The first half of the first day covered theory and mental knowledge. After lunch, it was out on the track to practice the physical skills of rig operation. The instructors cover a lot of ground in a short time and expect participants to practice hard. “They want you to fly the chair — put the chair up in the air. It was hard at first, but after you get the hang of it, you feel like a kid in an amusement park,” said attendee Robert Briscoe.

One attendee dropped out after struggling with clutch and shifter coordination. The remaining students rode around and around the cone course in the South Seattle Community College parking lot, mastering panic stops, maneuvering and braking. “The hardest thing to teach is confidence,” says Jeff Jung, the head instructor. Jeff, a patient person, was able to communicate the needed confidence and enthusiasm, and the remaining 11 students all passed the course with a new appreciation of three-wheel operation. “I learned a lot” was the most common take-away from the course, and one dyed in the wool Harley enthusiast had broadened horizons. “I got to ride a lot of different bikes and the sidecars are interesting,” he said. A woman student went from scared to self-confident. “I learned that it wasn’t the scariest thing in the world if the right tire comes off the ground,” she said. It’s all about confidence, and the only way that happens is by getting out there — with training. To find out more about classes and schedules, go to the Evergreen Safety Council web site.

Evergreen Safety Council
12545 135th St. NE
Kirkland, WA 98034
(425) 814-3930

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