Back Street Heroes
FORD 1.8 DIESEL SIDECAR – SURVIVING THE APOCALYPSE ON THREE WHEELS
THE THING I REALLY LIKE ABOUT THE RAT BIKE WORLD IS THE FACT THAT NO-ONE IN IT TAKES THEMSELVES, OR THEIR BIKES, TERRIBLY SERIOUSLY. DON’T GET ME WRONG, THEY’RE AS DEDICATED TO THEM AS ANYONE ELSE IS TO THEIR BIKES, THEY JUST DON’T GET ALL PRECIOUS ABOUT THEM…
Take, for example, Alex Lee’s 1.8-litre diesel sidecar outfit. He’d always had rats, but decided he wanted something a little different to a bike painted (matt) black. He set himself a set of design criteria: whatever he built had to be (a) stinking of diesel, (b) horrible to look at, and (c) cheap. He’d also like summat that’d allow him to take his dog with him, and he had a thing in his head about using car tyres too ’cos they never wear out, and that meant, pretty much, it was going to be a sidecar outfit of some sort. Up until this point he’d never really been interested in sidecars (and he’d not ridden with one either), but when it was finished, and he discovered that if you give it enough beans at a roundabout you can go round it sideways, he admits he’s now completely converted, and’d encourage anyone to try it at least once.
He picked, as motive power, a 1.8-litre diesel engine (and gearbox) from an Escort van, and set about creating what you see here around it. He admits he’s not a bike builder (he’s a serving soldier with the Royal Electrical and
Mechanical Engineers), he just likes building bikes for himself and his kids, and the sidecar’s been a process of trial and error – lots of trials, and lots of errors, but he chooses to see them not as failures, but opportunities for improvements due to the fact that they’ll always be better after he’s repaired them.
Rather than explain how he built it (’cos if you’re thinking of doing something similar, part of the fun’s in the learning), I’ll let him tell you about some of said trials and tribulations.
“First time out, getting braver all the time, had it nearly flat out in second (it’ll do 50mph in first), and all was going well. Riding back to the workshop I throttled off, and the overrun blew the rear diff to pieces… it was very disappointing actually – no bang, no excitement, just a loud pop, and all the bits fell on the floor.
“Similarly, driveshafts – drifting is the best thing for smiles-per-hour but, apparently, it’s not for the driveshaft. I reckon I fixed the first one four times
– before you could just look at it and it’d fall off. It’s good for doughnuts too – I put a video of a burnout on
Facebook last year after the virtual Rat & Survival… and, yeah, it did break the next day.
“I’m on the second fuel tank; my mate kept pointing out that there was a rainbow around the bike when it was raining, and it turned out the tank’d split due to the vibration from the engine, so I had to upgrade it – 14 gauge steel should hopefully do the trick. It just stopped one day last year too; I looked behind me, and all I could see was smoke – it was on fire.
“I’m going to change the gearbox so that I can use bigger driveshafts for more smiles-per-hour, and turn the fuel pump back up to the max (it has, at the moment, just enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding). People point out that it’s starting to rust – I just tell them it’s the newness wearing off. Oh, and on cold mornings, it takes a blast of Easy Start to get it going. That’s followed by a big cloud of blue smoke and lots of knocking – wakes the neighbours up a treat!
“I wanted to build something different, and I reckon I nailed it – it’s a real head-turner… it’s been known for people who hear it coming to completely turn around, although, sadly, no-one’s walked into a lamppost… yet.”
I can vouch for that too – as we rode to the place where we did the photos, passersby, both on the pavement and in cars, almost did comedy double-takes, and the shoot took longer than usual because everyone passing wanted to know what the hell it was. It has, as all good rats do, that ability to make people who know nothing about bikes smile and perhaps think about them in a different light – rats aren’t about studied cool and aloofness, they’re about, as I said, not taking yourself, or the world, quite as seriously as perhaps some folk do, y’know?
Oh, and cheers, Alex, for letting me have a quick spin
– I was grinning about it most of the way home!