Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends:
Geoff Brazendale from Carlisle has written the bible of sidecars.
The motor-bike and sidecar combination has almost disappeared from our roads. Fifty years ago a family might go on holiday with the wife on the pillion and the two kids in the sidecar. AA men would speed to rescue some forlorn motorist on their bright yellow bikes and sidecars. The sidecar offered cheap mobility for two or three people or a small family or, occasionally, as in the case of Wallace and Gromit, for a man and his best friend.
The earliest sidecars were basket-work affairs attached to bicycles. Others might be pulled behind the bike as a tow-car, but the least enticing, from the passenger’s point-of-view, was the richly upholstered Century forecar. The passenger sat exposed to the weather and the oncoming traffic in an open carriage attached to the front of the bike.
One of the most attractive of early sidecars was constructed in elaborate canework by Edward Bowser. The Sociable Sidecar, essentially a large rectangular basket permitted the heavily-clad, bowler-hatted husband and his elegant wife to sit side by side as they sped on their journey. In 1906, the Montgomery sidecar offered to double your pleasure for a very reasonable £12.10s.
The sidecar proved its versatility in the war. Royal Enfields were fitted with Maxim machine guns. Stretchers were fastened to the sides of bikes to make for a responsive if uncomfortable ambulance and wickerwork boxes carried pigeons to the front for rapid communication.
The sidecar’s halcyon days came in the 1920s. The modern vehicle was light-weight, robust and stream-lined. “The fresh-air loving cyclist went camping, sometime covering a thousand miles on a trip.” Mr. William Brocklebank, an accountant from Barrow-in-Furness, covered 1353 miles on a trip to Land’s End on a Sunbeam combination Reg.No EO 2920 using 27 gallons of petrol and one gallon of oil and he called in at the factory in Wolverhampton for a replacement cable. The Canadians even had a dual-purpose sidecar which could be detached and used as a kayak.
In the Second World War hundreds of Big 4 Nortons were sent to defend the Maginot Line. A special canvas covered car was used in the desert war and the Wehrmach used motorcycle combinations for their rapid advance across Europe.
The combination served to carry the Royal Mails and ladders for telephone engineers. Farmers delivered calves and sheep to market perched in a sidecar and firemen rushed to fires with sidecars laden with ladders and extinguishers.
In 1997 the smallest theatre in the world was to be found in a sidecar at the Edinburgh Festival.
Sidecars have always been used for racing. In the 1920s the Swallow Sidecar was shaped like a bullet and competed successfully in the Isle of Man TT. In the 1990s Andrew Laidlaw and Darren Dodgson from Appleby would be reaching speeds of 180 mph in their Yamaha-powered kneeler combination on the same course.
The roll call of famous names is a history in itself. Lea-Francis, Matchless, Morris, New Imperial, Nimbus and Norton, Raleigh and Raven, Rover, Royal Enfield, Sunbeam and Triumph. They are names which have disappeared.
Geoffrey Brazendale’s book is a marvel of enthusiasm and obsession. Its wonderful array of pictures and wealth of detail charts the growth and decline of what feels like a very British phenomenon. It will be a delight for everyone who shares Geoffrey’s passion but it is also an interesting reflection of the life and times of the last century.