Take a BSA A10 frame and a Harley Sportster engine. Add a custom-built sidecar chassis, a lot of engineering expertise and outright ingenuity and you have all the crucial components to build a bit of a beast. Odgie meets the (vintage) racers of the third
Take a BSA A10 frame and a Harley Sportster engine. Add a custom-built sidecar chassis, a lot of engineering expertise and outright ingenuity and you have all the crucial components to build a bit of a beast. Odgie meets the (vintage) racers of the third wheel…
We don’t get many sidecar outfits in RealClassic. On the one hand that’s not surprising, as within the classic niche they form a small niche all of their own. On the other hand, you’d think there’d be loads, since almost without exception sidecar outfits tend to be Rather Interesting...
Rather Interesting is certainly a suitable epithet for Dave Sykes’ Harley-engined, BSAframed (Harbsa? Beesley?) example of threewheeled ingenuity. As you might expect, the story is a joy (and I’m indebted to one of the co-builders, Tony Banister, for the notes he supplied before I went to photograph the bike, which turned out to be a well-written story in themselves so in many respects I’ve just added in the details). But first, a word from our sponsor...
OK, I know, no sponsors here, but everyone involved with the bike was at pains to say they wanted to help promote classic sidecar racing, and we’re nothing if not helpful at RC. The BHR (British Historic Racing) is a section of the all-pervading VMCC, and the sidecar bunch are, well, the Sidecar Bunch. Classes range from Pre-59, through Pre-72 (two cylinder / two valves to rule out the Jap fours and Weslakes), and Cyclecar, which includes Morgans, along with Weslakes, Imps, Honda Fours, etc. There’s also a BEARS sidecar class, from Pre-59 all the way through to 1986 to include Evo Harleys, etc, although currently the class is dominated by BMW K100s, with a solitary Guzzi Le Mans and an unexpected MT500 single – they’re nothing if not slightly eccentric, the classic sidecar bunch. Dave’s Harbsa complies with both Pre-59 and BEARS regulations, so two bites at the cherry.
Dave had already raced a Triumph outfit which, with its light crank and larger than life cams, had proved to be something of a handful. That, along with its tendency to not last an entire meeting, led him to think that it was perhaps time to look elsewhere. That elsewhere was to America, and a HarleyDavidson iron head Sportster. He reckoned that the V-twin 1000cc engine should be strong enough to stay together so that his engine building skills would not be called upon, and it would also have more than enough grunt to get him out of trouble should he need it. That potential, coupled with the reasonably priced and plentiful supply of spares and tuning parts from the States, convinced him it was the right way to go.
Dave promptly set to and built himself an iron head Sportster sidecar outfit to race with BHR and elsewhere. He started with a more or less complete bike, and used the standard frame. The result was good but not great. As Tony Banister puts it; ‘ The weight of the motor coupled with the heavy and – let’s face it – less than satisfactory frame made the thing a genuinely lardy lump that could outwit any brake you dared to show it.’
Mmm. So, what to do? Well despite its weight the engine itself was good. The gearbox was not quite so, the ratios being a little too wide apart for racing, even with all that torque. Clearly what was needed was a lighter but strong frame to start with, and it had to be pre-1959 and not Japanese. A Norton featherbed would have been nice but was out of the question due to price. Dave didn’t have unlimited funds and the whole build had to be done as cost effectively as possible.
At this point Dave had a bit of luck. His good mate John Lorriman, himself a sidecar racer with a long history and plenty of spares from a lifetime of collecting whatever came his way, had the remains of a BSA A10 frame. Someone in the past had chopped it about. The subframe was missing, the front downtubes had been shortened and the swinging arm was long gone, but on the plus side it was free.
Dave dropped the engine, complete with gearbox (the Sportster is unit construction), into the frame then took it to PB Mechanical Services in Lancashire (or God’s own county, as Tony puts it) to have a subframe and swinging arm made. The swinging arm was in fact from an Ariel Huntmaster. PB did the work for him, but then the project faltered as these things often do.
Tony takes up the tale again. ‘You know what it’s like when you drink beer and loads of stupid ideas get tossed about? Well that’s what happened next.’ Dave was in the pub with Adam and Lue, owners of PB Mechanical Services, along with Tony who works for them. Somehow it was suggested that they finish the project for Dave and get it out on the track, providing ‘we do it how we see fit.’
The deal was done, and PB got to work. I should mention that PB are one of those quirky little companies that we all love to find. Ostensibly they service and maintain canal narrowboats, including day hire, but in practice, they take on anything ‘old and
interesting’. While I was there, the workshop (itself an absolute Aladdin’s Cave, stuffed to the gills with random engines, parts, crankcases and general memorabilia and paraphernalia) was housing a Fordson Tractor for renovation and a Triumph Stag ditto, along with several BMC1500 diesel engines (a popular choice for narrowboats), from the fully rebuilt to the ‘let’s just see if we can get it going’ projects. Fabby.
PB, in the shape of Adam and Tony, decided the first thing to do was take a long look at the Harley-BSA outfit and come up with an idea of how to go about it. Bear in mind all they had at this stage was the engine, the remnants of a bare A10 frame and a front wheel. It was decided to try and make it look as much like a BSA A10 as possible, albeit with a V-twin engine, and also to address the gear ratio problem at the same time. To this end, the clunky old HD gearbox was removed using an angle grinder. Sounds easy if you say it quickly, but as Tony said, ‘It makes you a bit nervy when it’s up there on the bench and you have to make the first cut...’
Yep, I reckon so, mate. It was originally going to be replaced with a BSA gearbox, but fate again lent a hand, and Dave was offered a Petty five-speed box from a Seeley G50, for a not-to-be-sniffed-at price. This was fitted to the frame and lined up with the engine, using heavy steel engine plates manufactured by PB to help counter any vibration. A rear wheel from an Ariel was found, lined up with the gearbox and fitted, along with BSA front forks and front wheel which got the bike rolling, albeit without any tinware or primary drive.
The primary drive was again made inhouse. It’s a belt driven Norton diaphragm clutch with the front pulley made from the spline of the HD engine sprocket machined down and then attached to a belt pulley with the centre machined out. PB are nothing if not resourceful. Indeed, most of the tinware came from scrabbling around at autojumbles (the rear brake pedal is from a Jawa 350, simply turned upside down), apart from the petrol tank which again came from John Lorriman’s collection of bits.
An exhaust system needed to be made and the guys decided that a two-into-one set up would suit it best. Everyone kept telling them they needed big-bore pipes, but the guys reckoned that the big bore pipes usually fitted to Harley engines were for noise only at the expense of performance, and that in fact anything bigger than a 1½” bore was a waste as the exhaust ports are only of that size to start with. Good thinking, people who
actually know about engines also know gas speed is important. And anyhow twin pipes into a single silencer would look good...
With most of the bike together, the engine was rebuilt with higher lift cams and a raised compression ratio, and the valve gear was also lightened a little.
Now it was time to build the sidecar. That’s not a simple task in itself, and all the more so if you would actually like it to handle – always a bonus in racing – in which case you need the expertise that comes with time and experience. PB Mechanical have built several sidecars for racing, and both Adam and Tony race sidecars of their own. Indeed, they built a lovely looking Moto Guzzi Le Mans outfit which won the BEARs sidecar championship in the hands of Adam and his extremely capable passenger John in its very first season.
Dave had insisted on the large diameter, thin-wall tubing for his outfit, which looks about right for the large engine of the Harley even though it appears a little heavy compared to the norm. Much measuring, designing, tube bending and painstaking construction later, the platform was fitted. With the paintwork complete, the bike was ready for a test. With the collection of various bits that make up the drive train, the gearing was a complete unknown – well, a slightly educated guess – so once the clutch was released there was no knowing what would happen. As it was the outfit spun the rear wheel the entire length of the yard. As Tony says: ‘Result!’ At the time of writing, the bike is still in shakedown mode. It had an outing at Mallory, tainted by a new battery that showed charge but didn’t actually supply any, followed by a session on track where the engine displayed all its monster torque by breaking the gearbox. Once the box is removed and stripped, decisions will be made whether to repair it, or revert back to the original plan of the relatively indestructible BSA gearbox. I say ‘relatively’; Tony has managed
to break several, but then that’s by throwing his own outfit so hard into the bends that the bike back wheel comes off the ground then reconnects at full chat. You can make a gearbox idiot-proof, but you can’t make it animal-proof...
The outfit has also been to the odd show to help promote the BHR… which proved to be an experience in itself. Plenty of people were fooled into trying to work out which model of BSA it was! To be fair, the guys at PB have succeeded very well in their aim of making the bike look factory rather than special…
but the most entertaining guy was the self-appointed Noted Expert, who went on at great length telling Tony all about BSA V-twin engines and who he should get his spares off and telling him in great detail what he really needed to know to be able to rebuild them properly.
Tony listened quite patiently until the Noted Expert finally finished and then said quietly, ‘You do know what it is, don’t you? You do realise it’s a Harley engine...?’ Which again didn’t prompt any sort of humble retreat, or indeed recognition of the frame itself, but instead engendered a haughty, ‘Huh, well why did you put BSA on the tank then?’
‘Oh, that’s for people like you,’ Tony said with a smile. We have a way with words in Lancashire...
One truly purposeful machine, and the H-D engine looks oddly at home in the (mostly) BSA frame
Right: Primary drive is by belt, final drive by chain. Observe the Commando-type diaphragm spring clutch
Above: What it says on the tin, right? Well … not entirely!
Odgie reckons we don’t see enough outfits in the magazine. Here’s one now!
Left: When racing a seriously grunty outfit, staying on the level demands lots of strength in the chair / bike joints, as well as lots of secure handholds for the heroic passenger
Above: Another view of the considerably robust sidecar mountings
Harley’s Sportster engine is unit construction, but the builders boldly chopped off the gearbox and replaced it with a Petty racing device
All the comforts of home. A chap could doze off with comfort like this…
At a guess, this BSA sls drum will have its work cut out handling the weight!
Every little bit of bracing helps: lateral forces on a racing outfit can do terrible things to forks
All that fancy mudguarding is actually to protect athletic passengers, who need to fling themselves around heroically to provide crowd-pleasing entertainment
Left: Wide bars help control the business end