Even Huell Howser, the host of PBS-affiliate KCET TV’s popular “California Gold,” showed up for the weekend event that brought sidecar rigs trundling into L.A.’s Griffith Park from all points of the compass. After all, this is the mother lode for rare, unusual and very high-tech sidehacks and their equally unique owners and fans, and the 32nd such gathering was no exception. Just ask its organizer Doug Bingham, aka “Mr. Sidecar.”
Back in 1969 Bingham founded a company called Side Strider and began designing and building street sidecars. Besides production rigs from Harley-Davidson, Doug’s “Bingham MK-1” was the first sidecar in several decades made available to the public—the event was even marked within the pages of the December 1969 issue of Popular Science magazine.
It was no surprise to see some racing “cars” at this year’s event, since Bingham himself was a racer, having campaigned a BMW R60 production sidecar in 1974. His hands-on experience with road-racing sidecars and off-road outfits contributed to the success of his business. In 1972 his reputation also garnered him exclusive U.S. distributor status from Watsonian, the world’s oldest and best known sidecar manufacturer. More recently Bingham was inducted into the National Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame for his achievements as a designer/inventor, as a racer and for his contributions to the advancement of motorcycling in general. Bingham is also the director of the Sidecar Industry Council, which addresses standardized engineering, promotes a focused strategy for marketing and a greater cooperationwith government agencies as well as the dissemination of information. In other words, if Bingham puts on a sidecar rally, they will come.
The Southern California sunshine rained down in abundance this year. Upon first entering the Crystal Springs section of the park, you came upon a small herd of non-sidecar motorcycles, as several clubs and organizations had marked the date on their ride schedule. This included the Early Riders, a 100-strong club whose members share an interest in both bikes and cars. When Early Riders spokesperson Joan DeVore was queried about club membership requirements, she kept a straight face and replied, “You have to be over 45 or not have your own teeth. A police record helps, too.”
Another Early Rider in attendance was the dynamic Ernie Aragon, a name that might sound familiar, as he is a sidecar racer on Montessa, Triumph and Wasp machines and a Hall of Fame inductee. He was also the sidecar racer dressed up as a pink rabbit in the classic On Any Sunday movie. Like we said, sidehackers are a unique species.
Strolling along the curving pavement that encompassed a wide expanse of green grass you were treated to a smorgasbord of sidecars of all makes, models and years, with their owners ready to regale you with their history. The Sidecar Rally is truly a family affair, no better represented than by Tony from Riverside, California, and his three sons, Dominique, 12; Damian, 15; and Demetri, 8; all of whom arrived aboard a 1979 Harley hack. Tony had previously ridden his rig to the 100th Harley Anniversary in Milwaukee. “I went there, took one photo, and rode home,” he says.
Sidehackers go the distance, another case in point being Chad, originally from Philly, and his 2001 H-D Police Road King with a Dutchmade Lak double-wide sidecar. Chad went all the way to the Netherlands to make the sidecar deal in person, and it’s the only one in the United States. Also in the “high conspicuity” class was the intensely yellow 2001 Honda GL1800 and matching Champion Escort sidecar ridden by Frank and Louise Ridlon, both sportily attired in matching yellow “Wild Horse” vests, the name of a winery they visited and subsequently the name given to their machine. Frank has half a century of riding experience and likes to think of his rig as a “great conversation piece.” At the other end of the time scale, father and son Norm and Ray Brown of Paso Robles, California, displayed their righteously red 1915 Indian V-twin and factory sidecar, the rig having previously won Best of Show, Best Indian and Best in Class at the Hanford bike shows. Back when new, the bike itself had a price tag of $385 while the sidecar would set you back another $75.
Other highlights included the appearance of The Crash Dummy, aka Tom Ridyard, who handed out candy and generally raised safety consciousness. Then there was the sidecar powered by a Yamaha V-Max, which put a new spin on the concept of a “flying chair.” A truly awesome collection of motorcycle memorabilia, collected over 27 years, was housed in a 1948 Spartan trailer called “The Toy Museum” by Steve Wilhite from San Diego, who spent six years preparing the display. Catch it at one of the major bike events. Think Guggenheim. Hector Moreno rolled in on an eyecatcher and crowd-pleaser in the form of a robin’s-egg-blue 1959 Vespa Allstate with a 1957 Sears sidecar.
Describing the 125cc machine, he laughed and said, “With its 8-inch wheels, anything over 30 mph is scary.” Built for the fun of it, it’s been hired out for a couple music videos. In fact several of the sidecars present had “jobs” in Hollywood, some as moving camera platforms and others as stars—the World War II-era, machine gun-equipped BMW, for example. Then there was the “quietest” sidecar in attendance, the rickshaw bicycle set-up that Jerry brought back from Singapore and Myanmar, his son Brandon, 9, now enjoying the ride.
Whether you ride solo, sidehack or rickshaw, mark the annual Griffith Park Sidecar Rally on your calendar. For more info on the October event and all things sidecar log onto www.sidestrider.com or call Doug Bingham at (818) 780-5542.
(This article The 32nd Annual Griffith Park Sidecar Rally was published in the May 2004 issue of Rider magazine.)