In the car world the topic of the day has been The Monte Carlo Rally. in which teams of drivers battle against the elements for some 2,000 miles, starting from various parts of Europe. Many people feel that a similar event would be a good thing for motor-cyclists. In a car the Monte is reckoned to be a tough event, even when the car is a heated saloon, so what it would be like on a solo motor-cycle beggars description. Also, of course, it would mean doing the whole event single-handed and would definitely constitute the world’s toughest event—but then motor-cyclists reckon to be tough. Having watched those hardy annuals on their way to Exeter in the recent MCC event, both sidecar and solo, battling their way through a blizzard in Dorset, the idea of doing that for 2,000 miles across the Continent didn’t seem quite so possible, but as a sidecar event, with the advantage of changes of drivers, it seemed much more likely. Admittedly there is already in existence a tough long-distance event, namely the Liege-Milan-Liege Rally, run by the enterprising Belgians, but this is held in the summer and competitors have only the cold of early morning to contend with, whereas at this time of the year the whole trip would be of a paralysing nature. Whether anyone would enter for such an arduous event as a motor-cycle version of the Monte is open to question, but knowing the breed of human being called motor-cyclist, I feel support would be quite strong.
The 1952 Shows have begun with the Italian one at Milan and it is nice to see a country displaying evidence of original thinking and not a collection of united copying. Maybe many of the ideas shown will never reach the production stage, but it does show that the Italian industry has plenty of brain-power contained in it that is not a slave to tradition and fashion. Of particular interest are those lightweight models, such as the “B” Rumi and the Idroflex, which show that a machine embodying plunger front forks and swinging arm rear suspension needs only a rigid backbone to join the two pivot points and not a tangled collection of small tubes. The Ducati scooter which is fitted with a torque-converter, eliminating the normal clutch and gearbox, shows a great appreciation of the basic idea behind the popular scooter vehicle, namely its use by the man-in-the-Italian-street who is not interested in mechanical things but wants personal transport. The same. appreciation of the job in hand as the Ameriran car manufacturer has. So many good things are spoilt by complication that has to be controlled by the rider. Two examples which cross my mind are our own Corgi, in de luxe form, which is fitted with kickstarter and two-speed gearbox. This to me detracts the whole charm of the original Corgi, which was its utter simplicity. The other was a neat little by scooter even smaller than the Corgi, called the Ami, which I sampled in its country of origin, Switzerland. This was a delightful little 92-cc scooter only spoilt by a complicated two-speed unit, that was semi-automatic in some of its movements and selection of gears, but not completely, so that one had to concentrate on the controls.
Not unnaturally anything to do with racing sidecars has my wholcheartel interest, so that recent agitation by many sides of our movement for a sidecar race of International status in the IOM at the same time as the TT races was followed closely. It really is amazing how many people one meets who support the idea, in fact the only opposition I have encountered has come from Club representatives who attend General Council meetings at the ACU. These people are representing their centres, yet among the members of clubs in the various centres there is terrific enthusiasm for instituting a sidecar event in the British GP (TT if you prefer it) in place of the existing Clubman’s races. What has surprised me has been the enthusiasm for using a short course near Douglas, possibly the car course, in place of the 371/2, mile mountain circuit for the “chairs,” while suggestions that the 125 cc and 250 cc events would also be held over the short course and on the same day as the sidecar event have also been welcomed with little opposition. From the spectator angle the feeling seems to be an orgy of racing on the Wednesday, in true continental style, leaving the serious business of long-distance endurance riding for the 350s and 500s on the Monday and Friday of Grand Prix week.
As the possibility of a sidecar race is out for this year, there appears to be interest arising in a sidecar race over the Dundrod Circuit in Ireland. Already used for car racing, this circuit has shown itself to be a real road circuit beyond the imagination of those who have never witnessed racing outside this forlorn country of perimeter tracks. The dates proposed for this Irish event are May 24th and May 31st, the latter date being a week before the car races due to take place on the same circuit. It was to be hoped that this race might be held on the day, or the previous day, as the car races, to add to the attraction and also it would mean that people could call in at the IOM on the way home as the 350-cc race is due the following Monday, June 9th.
While on the subject of sidecar racing and Grand Prix events I view with some anxiety the rumour that Italy is becoming very interested in the design of three-wheelers for racing, for this will mean the mixing of sidecars and three-wheelers for the championship events. It will also mean, as the rules stand at present, that if three-wheelers do compete a clutch-start will be employed which will not only mean carrying a rather useless low bottom gear just for starting, but will also introduce the possibility of some nasty starting line tangles, for it racing “chair” can do a lot of climbing round the back wheel if one is too enthusiastic on the twist-grip.
If we must have three-wheelers in racing it will be interesting to see the lines of approach on this design problem that appear. If one applies known knowledge of steering and suspension as applied to cars to a sidecar outfit you invariably end up, on paper, with a compromise that would have to be classed as a three-wheeler, having more than two tracks. This ideal sidecar outfit, which a number of people I know have designed in theory, and which has always had to be classed as a three-wheeler and therefore of academic interest only, may possibly see the light of day if the Italian rumours have any foundation. One thing that seems almost certain is that the single wheel will be at the front, for ignoring overturning couples, which can always be dealt with, this layout allows a controlled degree of understeer to be incorporated in the design which is desirable for straight-line motoring if for nothing else. Having to race a well designed three-wheeler with modern suspension and steering characteristics, as distinct from the string and wire Morgan type of vehicle, will inevitably produce some nasty baulking on the corners by the sidecar boys. Let us hope that the three-wheeler will appear in sufficient numbers to warrant separate races.
The subject of the steering and roadholding of such vehicles brings us to the same question as applied to solos and the recent IME paper read by RA Wilson-Jones, of Royal Enfield’s. It is indeed encouraging to know that such men are tackling the problem of steering from a scientific angle rather than the more common rule of thumb and hit-and-miss method normally employed. His findings on why a solo machine corners and how the conditions are brought about provide most interesting reading and are well worth studying in detail. For those interested enough to acquire a copy, the paper was entitled “Steering and Stability of Singe-Track Vehicles” I for one, will be even more interested when Mr Wilson-Jones turns his thoughts, with similar experimental work, to the subject of sidecar steering and stability, especially sidecar cornering conditions.
One final item on sidecarring matters is the scheme for running sidecar machines on the National Speedways this summer. The reason appears to be to increase interest in Speedway racing, which surprises me, as I was under the impression that there were sufficient teenagers and bobby-soxers to fill all the stadiums. However, when “chairs” appear on the “dirt” I hope they will be run anticlockwise with an insistence that sidecars must be fitted on the left. I have tried sidecar riding round an oval circuit which allowed power-sliding, and having run clockwise and anticlock with the same outfit I can say that clockwise, with the passenger on the back panel all the time, is terribly dull. With the passenger leaning out of the sideear all the time, running anticlockwise, or normal Speedway fashion, the outfit is much more controllable as the front wheel will still steer, and the speed is far greater. After all, a spectacle is all that is sought, so let its hope the Speedway Control Board will be sensible over this business and if in doubt seek the advice of a sidecar expert such as Eric Oliver, or any of the other topline sidecar riders.