An American Opinion:

Not really. I'm a Newbie at it (about 6 months with NO previous motorcycle experience whatever), and an ANCIENT dude besides (58), and I've yet to have any problems. If you've got the desire, you're reasonably physically able, and you're mentally alert, you too can join the Ural riders of the world! HOWEVER... there are a few things I'd caution you about.
FIRST... Just because you're an experienced 2 wheel Biker, DON'T ASSUME YOU CAN HANDLE A 3 WHEELER WITHOUT TRAINING! That's an excellent way to break your neck. FIND AN ACCREDITED THREE WHEEL COURSE AND TAKE IT (STRONGLY recommend Motorcycle Safety Foundation or Evergreen sanctioned). Even if you've been riding 20 years, you'll learn a LOT that you never knew about safe bike handling.
According to my instructor the most difficult students he's dealt with are experienced 2 wheel bikers, because they have to UNLEARN what they've been doing for years to handle a 3 wheeler safely. That's because THE HANDLING CHARACTERISTICS OF 2 WHEELERS, TRIKES, AND HACK RIGS (i.e., sidecar motorcycles) ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, AND HAVE LITTLE IN COMMON.
NEXT... Until you've got a LOT of operating experience under your belt don't even THINK about riding a sidecar bike with an EMPTY SIDECAR. It's MUCH easier to roll the bike over than you think. For ballast in the sidecar, I'd suggest 75 - 100 pounds of cement blocks, sandbags, etc. as ballast. Without it, you'll wind up unexpectedly "Flying the Chair" (the sidecar wheel leaves the ground when you make a turn into the sidecar, caused by centrifugal force). When that happens, the bike suddenly changes characteristics and acts like a 2 wheeler. In extreme cases, an upset / rollover is imminent. [Edit: See Asian/Belgian opinion below for more on that matter]
NEXT... WEAR GOOD SAFETY GEAR AT ALL TIMES! Bikers DON'T wear leather jackets, boots, and gloves to make a fashion statement; they're worn to PROTECT the Biker in case something goes bad. Even tho a Ural or Dnieper hack rig isn't a crotch rocket or a big highway cruising Hog, it's MORE than adequate to bust you up BADLY. ALWAYS RESPECT THE BIKE; IT'S NOT A TOY!
As a member of ABATE, I consider mandatory helmet laws to be undue intrusion on personal liberties by "nanny state" mentality government, and I oppose such laws... but personally I STILL choose to wear a helmet every time I get on a bike. Don't forget to carry an EXTRA one for any passenger in the hack seat!
FINALLY... Hack rigs tend to be a bit easier for other drivers to see than a 2 wheeler, but you're STILL going to be INVISIBLE to them sometimes! For that reason DEFENSIVE DRIVING IS A MUST ON ANY BIKE, and is an integral part of every accredited motorcycle course. Maintain 2 to 3 seconds of interval between you and the guy in front, and CONSTANTLY have a "Plan B" ready if the unexpected happens ahead of you; keep a bailout option in mind for EVERY situation, and keep constantly revising it as the situation changes.

The Key to Survival on ANY bike; keep your mind and vision 5 SECONDS AHEAD OF YOUR PRESENT POSITION most of the time! (info by GAVNO)

An ...Asian/Belgian one!

Less block letters. 'Bit less of a lecture, too & lots more practical details.

I'm currently driving my '82 URAL on a most-everyday basis in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Before that, I was using my '93 DNEPR to commute to work in Brussels, Belgium. All-in-all, I enjoyed driving these fine antiques for 3/4 years now, alongside 400cc CB Supersport, Saab Turbo, 100cc Dream moped, BJ2020 Chinese army jeep, 350 Bullet Enfield... (Not all at the same time, thank you.)

What kind of motorist are you ?

Gavno is right, but excessive, on the un-learning part. Being familiar with motorcycle controls is an asset, learning both the very strange handling of these rigs and the way clutch/gear, brakes/gas work is not that easy, and certainly overwhelmed these two car-only-driving people I bought the bikes from: They headed straight to the next wall. Now the fun of mastering something that's fundamentally not meant to go any fast is exhilarating, and not that dangerous: these are heavy bikes, and fun @ 25mph is as enjoyable while a lot less dangerous than, say, your average yamakuzaky spz600xxr @ 120mph. A little less adrenalin-pumping, maybe... I do wear a helmet @ all times. Fun @ 25mph is City Fun, you'll sure go way "faster" on open roads, 50mph is perfect touring speed.

My first quote after trying my rig for the first time:
"A Sidecar is basically one thing that doesn't go straight when you want it to,
and doesn't turn either when you choose so."

Where's the fun ?

In the strange inertia-based handling, that is: you don't lean to turn, you accelerate to turn to the sidecar's side ("passing" the sidecar which is a dead weight) or close the throttle/brake to turn opposite to the sidecar (allowing the free wheeling sidecar to "pass" you). The better you are, the most you make use of the rig very special dynamics, and the less you need to pump iron at the gym to be able to control your bike by the means of the handlebars only. One thing I noticed on a potholed track I used to train a friend is that your arms can't actually do all the direction job; my friend was trying as hard as possible to keep it straight despite the irregular track, and it took me a while to realize that that's what was wrong and sent the rig everywhere but where he wanted to: soften your arms, relax your upper body, and let the bike 'show' you the way, don't fight the handlebars, you'll loose. Later on, learn to put the rig heading slightly in the "wrong" direction before any braking, take roundabouts by actually accelerate into them then close the throttle to have the thing turning around you nicely. It's all a matter of building/decreasing speed as needed regarding where you're going. The way you apply gas or brakes, the "harshness" or "softness" you do so determine your actual steering; it's lots of fun to master, especially on twisting roads, narrow downtown lanes & such. NOTHING compares, trust me.

I am afraid to lift the side wheel!

Putting the sidecar wheel up is hard enough actually, the thing is heavy enough to provide you with a safe margin if, again, you move at reasonable speed & don't apply forces to harshly. Then, if you really want this third wheel to lift it will come up very naturally. Not recommended for the faint-hearted, but I've seen so many people doing it in front of me for either looong straights or funky hairpins... Just find the right place (wide) & friend (experienced) to master it yourself if you feel like; your excuse will be that no one can ever master enough a vehicle for the sake of safety.

All Weather Fun ?

If it ever snow where you are, just expect more fun even, slippery ground combined with weight & stability makes you experience sliding the easy way, and both sides. Wet pavement allows such as well, you'll learn that it's possible to glide both left & right as soon as you notice when your modest power can out-grip the tires. Brussels is great for that. Plus, the only ever time in my motorcycle life I see every motorist stop to give way to my rig is when it snows: all cars stop in amazement, watch you pass... Dunno if that register as a safety feature, but safe it is!

[All of the above require a proper setting of your combination, right tire pressure: only have the settings of the sidecar frame to be tampered with by a sidecar-experienced mechanic. Really. By the means of side wheel "pinch" you can have the bike set to go straight at a specific given speed, and you have to have this setting fitted to your use of the bike. Side wheel applied brake force is to be worked on as well, again depending of your average use of the bike so to allow the dynamics to remain predictable & safe - there isn't "one" definitive setting here, more like your personal one defined upon experience & usage]

That's frightening! I want more stability!

My experience, and my pleasure, is with un-weighted one wheel drive combination, 20% alone, 80% with up to 3 members of my family. Old models two wheel drive outfits ought to be "straighter" in their behavior, they are heavier and (even) slower, but this only applies to the now-discontinued old model "Sportsman": if you are not facing mud or deep snow on a regular basis, I do not recommend the newer 2 wheel drive aka "Patrol", as it is differential-less and only intended for such conditions (side wheel is disconnect-able with a lever on the rear wheel hub for dry road operation though). Tightening a bit the side brake will keep the bike in line when braking, this as well must be fitted to your actual usage of the bike and will not work the same at all speeds. "Weighting" the pannier may be psychologically reassuring on the side-wheel-lift issue but you ought to be aware that it will increase the tendency of the motorcycle to react to the sidecar's presence, where actually simple caution of your speed when entering a turn is enough to keep the 3 wheels on the ground. Basically, be careful & you won't lift it, overweight the thing & you'll exaggerate the built-in unnaturalness of your vehicle, making it even harder to safely operate. These rigs are very stable, comparing only to the Harley Factory Combinations as long as you use them within their limits. Trust me on this: I've been test-driving an MZ 2-stroker with fiberglass pannier, and that was DeathRowRocket as its best.

About me

I am a 40-ish driving bikes for over 15 years. I actually bought both bikes secondhand from non-motorcycling blokes that didn't ride them. When I bought my first one, I had it trailed to my place, and then I started slowly. Courses where unavailable, so I took advice from friends & started really slow, going for bread on Sundays & such. Now, the point in sidecaring is family isn't it ? So soon after we where out to nearby restaurants, and after 2 months I felt confident enough to drive the kiddo at school on my way to work, to her great delight whatever the weather in Brussels. I used first 2 x 17Kg of lead bricks (used to work in a theatre... They are counterweight for machinery), then lowered to 1 only after 6 months for 6 more, and drive with nothing since then: less weight makes the thing more agile, if not almost faster...

I always wanted to own/drive a sidecar, always, since I was 8 years old & discovered them in a comic book.
[for the knowledgeable French speaking aficionado: Cubitus by Dupa, Lombard editions]

So, are these strange vehicles hard to drive or not ?

It isn't that easy, true; you'll just need to want it real bad and, for the fun of it, for the delight of the kids, for the utmost originality in personal transportation, you will overcome it. If you want to, and didn't bought it just for show, it may be hard but will be fun, I promise.

Learn slow. Experience slow. Drive slow - it will just fit the bike & so will you.

- jean-philippe jean-philippe on 04 July 2007, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


I know I am not wearing my helmet, we just had too many guest for lunch that day...
- jean-philippe jean-philippe Oct 24, 2010~

Hello Jean Philippe!

Yes, I admit it, I tend to lecture sometimes. Keep two things in mind tho.

First... what that class taught me has already saved my butt several times! <<GRIN>>

Second... in the last 6 months, I've lost two friends to bike accidents. One apparently made the wrong decision to escape the situation when a car pulled out in front of him, and the second died because he didn't use safety equipment (i.e., he didn't wear a helmet "just this once").

By the way... thanks for the picture! That's a NICE rig you ride!

I'll return the favor:


GAVNO & "The Gremlin From The Kremlin"

Again, shame on me for displaying a picture where I show up without a helmet, "just this once" isn't acceptable, we all know that.

I am sorry for your friends but then: I am pretty sure they where not driving outfits, did they ? The Sidecarist Group I was active with in Belgium was actually advocating for Special-Lower-Premiums rates by the insurance companies, since very few are involved in road accidents - I should have added this around the "safety" talk, yes: sidecarists tends to end up less often in hospitals than pure motorcyclists, for the average speed is slow, the general usage leisure & tourism... Sidecars are safe in that way, and may this be an argument to convince frightened ones, use it: we don't die at the rate two-wheelers do !

Cheers G.

- jean-philippe jean-philippe Oct 15, 2007