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Bikernet Trikes Special Report: Doug “Mr. Sidecar” Bingham

The Last Round-Up

Story and Photos by Paul Garson
2/8/2016


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Side Strider racing rig takes to the air circa late ‘60s with Doug at the wheel.
Side Strider racing rig takes to the air circa late ‘60s with Doug at the wheel.


It would have been Doug Bingham’s 45th Griffith Park Sidecar Rally this coming October, 2016 but his “flying chair” will be empty this next go-around. After nearly half century’s full-time dedication to the promotion of the sidecar experience, on this past January 27, 2016, Doug passed away at age 76.

Saying Doug lived, breathed, ate, slept, dreamed sidecars would be no exaggeration. He expressed that passion by constantly promoting public consciousness about the sport, fought for its rights and safety improvements, and of course designing and building sidecars as he helped put untold numbers of people on three-wheels. In 1964 he established Side Strider, Inc., the shop located in Van Nuys where over the decades he melded all makes, models and years of street bikes into sidecar combinations, the “rigs” fitted for the street, off-roading and the tracks, literally different strokes for all kinds of folks.

And when you’re talking unique machines, that goes hand and glove with the unique individuals piloting them, men, women, veteran and young…from 70cc tiddlers to ferocious multi-cylinder superbike powerplants, Doug had them on his radar and those in the sidecar network knew that “Mr. Sidecar” was the go-to guy. One of his main endeavors as a national sidecar ambassador, including serving as the Director of the Sidecar Industry Council, was helping the new generation transition to the experience of “sidehacking.”

Doug also put his skills to the test, and himself literally on the line as a top level track competitor that earned him the 1968 and 1969 Sidecar Road Racing Championships. While he enjoyed bikes of all flavors, in this case he was piloting a Harley-Davidson powered sidecar “rig” of his own design with Ed Wade as racing passenger/co-pilot.

Listing only a few of his accolades, the 50-year AMA and Charter Life member was voted the winner of the 1998 AMA MVP Award for advancing the cause of motorcycling, followed in 2003 by induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Doug’s no longer with us, but his legacy will certainly live on, not only in the pages of motorcycling history, but in the hearts and minds of the many, like myself, who enjoyed his company, his talents and his efforts to share that which he loved. Naturally we can just see Doug blasting around whatever three-wheeling event he’s moved onto and no doubt leading the way as always.We’ll miss you, Doug.

In keeping with that legacy, this rider/writer, having known Doug for some 30 years, would like to add an interview he gave me some ten years ago when I asked him to give bike fans an overview of sidecar-ing…in Doug’s case…side-careing. Here it is:
 
 
So Doug, how does one get into riding a sidecar for the first time?

“If you want to get into sports cars not everybody goes out and buys a Ferrari. Maybe you buy an old MG and say, hey this is fun? The same with sidecars. You could start with an economical Cozy sidecar and match it to a nice used Japanese bike or even to one of the new 500cc single Royal Enfields.

That raises the question, what size bike do I need to haul a sidecar?

“Back in England when sidecars were popular after WWII, a big bike was a 500cc. Even the BMWs of the time, 500cc bikes, were purpose made for sidecars. So today you hitch a sidecar up to a 400 or 500cc bike and it will be fine. Even the new scooters will take a sidecar. The only rule about shopping around for a used bike for your sidecar is to make sure it has an exposed frame rather than a bike covered up with body parts. You need to be able to attach the sidecar to the frame. You’ll also need to stiffen up the rear suspension and we recommend a steering damper. And you need to know how to use a phone…so you can call if you need help.
 
Do you need to have special training and a license for riding a sidecar rig?

“Riding a sidecar requires understanding new techniques in addition to riding a solo motorcycle. If you go to www.sidecar-industry.com under the “Tech” menu there’s a description how to line up a sidecar and how to drive one. There are also some books available. Meeting up with experienced sidecarists is another way to go, for instance at one of the various sidecar events across the country. And remember a sidecar will never fall over and you don’t even have to put your feet down when you stop.”
 
Can a first-timer attach his own sidecar or should he go to an expert?

“Of course if there’s someone in your area that’s available, sure it’s better to go that route. What I tell people if you’re mechanically inclined and have regular shop tools, you can handle. Most sidecars are attached via clamps, while occasionally some of the models require simple welding.
 
 
 
Do I need to change the tires on my solo back when I attach a sidecar?

“Your regular motorcycle tires will tend to wear flat since with a sidecar you’re not leaning as on a solo bike. A lot of guys switch to a heavy treaded tire, for instance dual sport or trials tire, which gives you more rubber to wear off and of course they work better on dirt roads and snow.”

What kind of price tags are we looking at for an entry level sidecar?

“The more economical entry level sidecars run between $3-4,000 include the Velorex, the Cozy, and the Texas. Another way to go is the complete package like the Ural. Enfield also has a package of bike and sidecar. Another sidecar and bike package is offered by Harley-Davidson, but that’s a pricier package.”
 
What’s the legal rules and regulations regarding sidecars? Are they bikes or cars?

In California, you’re not required to have a motorcycle license to operate a sidecar. You might remember when Gov. Schwarzenegger had the accident with his sidecar where the driver backed out in front of him, and they made a big stink that he didn’t have a motorcycle license. Well, the truth was, he did have a license, a car license and that’s all he needed as a CA DMW says with a trike or sidecar you can operate with a standard driver’s license. As far as I know that only state that requires a specific sidecar license is Washington State.
 
Now how do I convince my better half that it’s a good idea for us to get a sidecar?

Basically you talk about sidecar safety. In England a while back they used to cut your insurance in half if you rode a sidecar because of the increased safety. You just can’t fall down. And when you go through an intersection in a sidecar, you’re such of a spectacle that they can’t help but see you which means they’re not going to run into you. And you can carry more, people and stuff, and it’s just a great family adventure.


Thanks, Doug.
 
In 1969, Doug’s shop began producing his own Bingham Mark I sidecar which brought renewed interest in the sport, even spotlighted by a feature in Popular Science magazine.
In 1969, Doug’s shop began producing his own Bingham Mark I sidecar which brought renewed interest in the sport, even spotlighted by a feature in Popular Science magazine.
 

A few of Doug’s racing and motorcycle industry awards shared space with his extensive collection of vintage motorcycle related toys.
A few of Doug’s racing and motorcycle industry awards shared space with his extensive collection of vintage motorcycle related toys.
  
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Another major element of Doug’s legacy can be found in both the machines he helped put on the road and the enthusiasm he fanned in the hearts of those who entered his world of three-wheelin’ and certainly all the better for it. Here are a few examples of the wide and wild spectrum of “flying chairs” that rallied to Doug’s rallies and that continue to draw interest wherever they go. Call them Doug’s extended family.

Three-wheeled Harley SUV with seating for family of four.
Three-wheeled Harley SUV with seating for family of four.


Harley-Davidson Grey Fellow with factory sidecar and friends.
Harley-Davidson Grey Fellow with factory sidecar and friends.


Turboed Sportster makes for a real “flying chair”.
Turboed Sportster makes for a real “flying chair”.


1960s /2 Earles Fork BMW and stellar Steib sidecar.
1960s /2 Earles Fork BMW and stellar Steib sidecar.


1948 Indian Chief in high contrast to paint free H-D sidecar.
1948 Indian Chief in high contrast to paint free H-D sidecar.


‘50s BSA matched to real boat converted to sidecar and yes, it detaches for use back in the water via rear motor.
‘50s BSA matched to real boat converted to sidecar and yes, it detaches for use back in the water via rear motor.


Minty AMF Sporty makes for classic combo.
Minty AMF Sporty makes for classic combo.


Dragon’s flamin’ H-D brings off vintage and future co-existence.
Dragon’s flamin’ H-D brings off vintage and future co-existence.


Sidecars are a dog’s best friend…safe, secure, sniffable…
Sidecars are a dog’s best friend…safe, secure, sniffable…

Modern sidecars get super swoopy. Note integral, covered headlight. Gotta love that Plumb Crazy Purple paint.
Modern sidecars get super swoopy. Note integral, covered headlight. Gotta love that Plumb Crazy Purple paint.

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