Flexible Tilting Sidecars

Home built flexible tilting sidecar in the 1950s

Tilting 3 wheelers received a lot of attention last year, with the Piaggio MP3, the Brudeli 625, the Harley tilting trike patent, the tilting Vmax and several others I haven't mentioned. The one thing I had not seen was a sidecar with a tilting wheel and, as it turns out, the idea for tilting sidecars has been around for a long time.

Back in the early 1920s, dirt track racing in the U.S. had sidecar events with rigid mounted sidecars and a permanently tilted motorcycle. Then one year, Reading Standard came up with a flexible chassis mount built by the Flexible Company of Loudonville, Ohio. The motorcycle and sidecar were upright in the straights but in the turns, all 3 wheels tilted. It took a unique riding style to turn at speed since there wasn't quite enough tilt available so riders had to jam their foot against a footrest to maintain maximum tilt and then put the whole rig in a slide around the turn. A few years later, dirt track sidecar racing was banned due to too many injuries and fatalities but restarted in the 1930s with more restrictions. After another few years, it ended due to lack of interest and too few riders.

The Flxible Company (Flxible was the correct spelling after a name change) went on to make buses for many years, going out of business about 10 years ago. The sidecars are just a footnote in their history and I doubt very many riders ever heard of these flexi tilters. Doing a little digging I found a couple of patents for tilt wheel sidecars, nothing very recent, though, and I'm not familiar with any flexi type sidecars currently being made. If you know of any out there, let us know.

With all of this "new" tilting technology out there, it's interesting to see how long these very similar ideas have been around.

Flexi sidecar mounted to an Indian Scout for dirt track racing

Photos: Cycle World magazine

Comments

  1. GenWaylaid says

    You can even download the original 1916 patent from the USPTO: http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html
    The Flxible sidecar patent is #1204924.

    It’s quite a clever system. Basically the motorcycle and sidecar are connected with a parallelogram linkage, but the upper bar is shaped in a broad U and passes through the lower bar. Furthermore the sidecar wheel has a set kingpin angle so it turns slightly in the right direction when it tilts.

  2. says

    back in the days of the TV sitcom “chips” there was an episode based around a tilting sidecar motorcycle, anyway i remember at the time thinking that this technology was just around the corner since it was being used in a tv sitcom and even remember reading an article in one of the national rags about the prototype and how it would be soon comming to market.. guess the funds ran out.. anyway if your into vintage TV shows there is some great fottage of the bike in action

  3. todd says

    I remember seeing an old off-road sidecar where the monkey (passenger) had a steering wheel that tilted and steered his wheel when he saw fit. It was later banned from racing…

    -todd

  4. Blaine Newell says

    Hi there. I ride sidecars. I have had a number of them. One of the reasons people ride sidecars, is to give them all weather use; Riding in the rain, snow,ETC. With the tilting sidecar, you can still dump it on ice, or slide out and throw yourself down, in the rain. My current side car, is ridgid, but with electric lean. So, I can lean the bike in and out slowly with a button. This allows you to compensate for different road conditions. But, you don’t have to worry about dropping the bike. Blaine

  5. says

    The Flexit sidecar attaches to the bike by a single articulated arm, has an under-the-seat wheel and leans with the bike. Feet down at stops.

    The ST1100 rig that pops up first in a Google image search not only has a left-mounted car but a bunch of really good photos. I’m pretty sure the company’s defunct, the Flexit link I found in the accompanying text (from 2004) is selling real estate now.

  6. Dodgy says

    That ARMEC thing looks pretty neat, and the missile launcher part looks like it should keep on target in the twisties…

  7. Heinz says

    I have never been driving a sidecar, but some time ago I thought it would be funny to have one. But I decided to go without it, because to many guys here in Portugal, where I am living, are driving really crazy – especially on very small roads, where motorcycle riders have the only chance to survive if they escape to the very right side of the road and give way to this kamikaze street pilots. With a side car on the right hand side a crash seemed to me more than probably.

    When I looked for a sidecar, I found these german guys:

    http://www.sauer-sidecar.de/highlights.html.

    They offer “Schwenkergespanne”, what means in english: tilting motorbike, rigid sidecar.

  8. Jon says

    Hopefully somebody (PLEASE!) will realize there is a market for such. I think my Bonneville would make a great hack.

  9. says

    Comment and response to the KneeSlider Blog –

    http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2008/01/02/flexible-tilting-sidecars/

    On the subject leaning sidecars -

    I have become something of historian of the subject of sidecars that lean or permit the towing motorcycle to lean (in general, and of the Flexit in particular). Articulated sidecars really began with the Flexi Flyer in the 1920′s. And while there have many independent one-off units produced, only about 12 designs were ever massed produced for retail sale to the public. And most of those were not a sustainable business success.

    There are 2 common variants of leaning motorcycles with sidecars attached:
    1) Fully articulated sidecars like the EquaLean, and the Flexit. These typically feature a wheel under the centerline of the sidecar, and
    2) “Hybrid leaners” where a traditional sidecar with the wheel on the outside is mounted in a manner that allows the motorcycle to lean.

    Many who have compared the various articulated sidecar design efforts have praised Hannes Myburgh’s Flexit as one of the best, if not THE best, engineering solution to this engineering problem yet to be produced for retail sale. From South Africa, to the first serial production in California, to The Neatherlands, it is a fascinating story that (unfortunately for us) ends in 2005.

    Today only 2 makers of leaning sidecars survive:

    The Fleximum out of Quebec, Canada – http://www.side-car.net/PagesAng/index.htm ,

    and 2 models by Armec of Switzerland – http://www.armec.com/default.html
    [Armec also makes traditional rigid sidecars.]

    Fleximum has a reputation for being unresponsive to English speakers. So if you do not write and /or speak the French language you must be extremely determined even to make contact with them.

    The Armec’s sidecar design is a hybrid where the towing motorcycle leans but the sidecar does not. And this design is such that it is limited to only a few and very specific models of motorcycle. This is because Armec’s Point of Attachment (POC) is on the bottom center of the motorcycle. Among other things this design requires a fairly wide configuration to permit leaning “in” toward the sidecar.

    Renewed interest in sidecar towing, leaning motorcycles is being demonstrated by an increasing number of homebuilders around the world who building their own hybrid leaners by adapting traditional rigid sidecars with re-designed mounting brackets that permit the motorcycle to lean. These variants of a design approach similar to, but different than Armec, are proving that you don’t have give up your leaning motorcycle in order to haul a sidecar, and more importantly that you don’t have to “break the bank” to do it.

    I own a Flexit, and formerly owned 2 EquaLeans. And we love our Flexit! 
    Fully articulated sidecars are the only sidecars that make any sense to me. Just why traditional rigid sidecars came into being and dominate to this day will always remain a mystery to me.

    John Goff

  10. ghraydon wallick says

    My name is Ghraydon Wallick. My father Wally and I invented the
    EQUALEAN sidecar in 1975. We built about 270 units before going out of business in the recession of the 1980′s.

    I’ve kept my dad’s personal sidecar, as well as our original passenger prototype in storage ever since believing it would one day enjoy a renaissance.

    Mike Corbin in Hollister, Ca. and I have signed an agreement and he will bring EQUALEAN into the 21st century. Anyone familiar with Mike’s products knows they’re first class. EQUALEAN never had a better opportunity to succeed than with Mike Corbin on board.

    I have put together some pictures with text to provide useful (and accurate) information concerning the EQUALEAN sidecar. I have offered to e-mail them to Kneeslider for your pleasure.

    Sincerely,

    Ghraydon Wallick

  11. ghraydon wallick says

    To whoever is interested:

    P.S. I just uploaded the EQUALEAN pictures to MySpace.com. Type my name, “ghraydon” in the search window, then click on my “pictures” link at my profile page. Click the EQUALEAN album and “Voila”!

    Thanks, Ghraydon

  12. John Goff says

    I now have found a 3rd curently made “leaner” sidecar: The Swing sidecar made by Ralph Kalich (Germany). And rather strangely the “puppy hauler” made by Sauer sidecars (also of Germany).

    Hey Steve! (above posting) Did you actually find a patent number for the Flexit? I looked and come up empty.

    John Goff

  13. John Goff says

    Re: Articulated sidecars that still allow the motocycle to lean..

    Looks like I can amend the list of current makers if leaning sidecar makers to 5:

    Fleximum – Canada
    The Swing by Ralph Kalich – Germany
    Mobec – Germany
    The Sidewinder by Armec – Switzerland
    Trans Moto Series 600 – Canada

    John Goff

  14. rob hart says

    hello

    to let you know i have had the pleasure of owning two “leaning sidecars over the years’

    the first was the “equalean” which i attached to my 1975 goldwing. i was intrigued the moment i saw it on a television show called “chips”.
    it was one of the very first units sold in canada and quite primitive, the “slider post” was just a simple straight post slotted to accept the “roller”. i had to do many modifications and had some difficulty keeping the pslider lubricated. it sometimes seized at the most inopportune moments. if you had to get out of the hack and put your hand on the bar for stability, you’d be certain to receive a very greasy hand. i always carried a towel and hand cleaner in the hack. most of the time my then young son would be the one in the sidecar and be taken to daycare daily in it strapped securely into a baby seat attached firmly to the seat.

    it garnered lots of attention and it was a lot of fun to ride although one had to make sure to put your foot down when stopped and use the sidestand.

    the second one was years later. it was the “flexit” which was attached to a 1990 pacific coast. this one was far more sophisticated and easier to handle in my opinion. an article was written about it in cycle canada and it was used in a movie called “the big slice”.

    i thoroughly enjoyed both of these sidecars but prefer to have the rigid frame units now.

  15. Mg says

    I have recently purchased a mitchell automatic sidecar its quite old and is a leaner I’m currently try to put it on a kz1000 anyone hear of a mitchell I know very little about it

  16. Paul Mc. says

    I bought an Equalean manufactured by (Marc) Jameson Fabrication in California around 1985. It was great to ride with and I really enjoyed owning it. Unfortunately, the body was damaged in an accident and although I made payment in full in advance the replacement body was never sent to me.

  17. says

    Announcing a new Yahoo Groups Flexit sidecar information web site and chat list!

    Re: http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/FlexitSidecarOwnersGroup/

    The Flexit Sidecar Owners Group (FSOG) is dedicated to the promotion, preservation and perpetuation of all of the surviving Flexit sidecars ever produced, and perhaps only 200 were built. Primary objectives of this group include, but are not limited to: Flexit owners support, Historical research, Parts identification and sources of supply, Front & rear mounting bracket build procedures and installation, Service & Handling Trolleys (SHTs), history and any other consideration that helps to keep as many Flexits as possible in service, on the road, and visible to the public. Our primary asset will be freely shared Flexit information.

    This group is open to all enthusiasts who have an interest in any articulated sidecars (lean capable sidecar attachments) regardless of type, era, country of origin, whether commercially manufactured or home built.

    Positive attitude, mutual support, and good fellowship are essential to any special interest group. Anything you contribute by way of uploaded files or photos, can be edited or deleted as you choose. So be of good cheer, and let’s make the most of our leaning sidecars, and help make them last as long as possible.

    To borrow a quotable quote: “All information may not be gospel but we can learn from each other’s experiences and have fun doing it! Please keep in mind that the Flexit Sidecar Owners Group is family oriented … any or all content may be edited at the discretion of the moderators. We are not here to solve nor debate the world’s problems but to enjoy our time together in spite of them.”

    I invite you all to stop by and join in the fun!

    Warm regards,

    John Goff, The World’s only known Flexit sidecar historian!
    Portland, Oregon, USA

    http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/flexit.htm