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WHAT does a motorcycle and sidecar
represent to you?
For the older generation it’s perhaps
memories of zipping around town with
their parents or partner.
While for the younger generation it’s
more likely to be somewhat of a novelty.
More of aWallace and Gromit style affair
— although I’m not sure how many sidecars come with a control panel to turn
them into an aeroplane.
There’s no denying that sidecar numbers have dwindled, but the original
and many argue, the best sidecar manufacturer is still in operation.
To see how they’re made, what’s on
offer and what it’s like to be a passenger
in a sidecar, I headed to a former airfield
industrial estate in Blockley, Gloucestershire.
The company in question? Watsonian
Squire Ltd.
The firm was founded in 1912 by
Thomas Fredrick (Fred) Watson a
builder by trade.
Imagine that own a motorcycle and you
live in a terraced house and you want to
be able to carry an extra passenger or
some bulky materials on your bike but
you don’t want the hassle of trying to
store this extra wheeled contraption on
the street. You want to be able to park the
bike and sidecar on your backyard.
That’s the dilemma which faced Fred
so he put his building credentials to the
test and invented a collapsible sidecar.
The idea quickly catches on and Fred
sets up a factory at Balsall Heath in
Birmingham under the name of theWatsonian Folding Sidecar Co.
However, the public’s enthusiasm for
collapsible sidecars starts to wean as
curiously, the public didn’t particularly
like the idea of riding in something
which is designed to fall to pieces.
This formed the early progression to
what we now recognise as a sidecar.
During the First World War the factory
was busy making motorcycle ambulances whereby the sidecar acted as a
stretcher carrier.
Following the war, the company relocated to Hockley, in Birmingham, in
1922 and was renamed the Watsonian
Sidecar Company in 1931.
A fire in the same year destroyed the
workshops and forced the factory to
relocate once again to Greet, in Birmingham.
Another World War soon loomed but
again the company survived and in
1956, Watsonian took over the Swallow
Sidecar company.
They started to experiment with glass
fibre body panels rather than the heavy
ash, plywood or steel frames.
At this point there were around
160,000 sidecars on Britain’s roads and
Watsonian had built half of them.
Motorcycling in general and especially
motorcycling with sidecars took a massive nosedive when the first affordable
family cars rolled off the production
But Fred Watson was content as it was
his company supplying many of the
glass fibre body panels for the cars while
his sidecar arm of the business
accounted for just 20 per cent of their
In 1984, the factory relocated to its
current home in the beautiful Cotswolds
and merged with Squire Sidecars in 1988
to form what we now know asWatsonian
Squire Ltd.
Today the business is still busy with a
peak in orders experienced during the
late 90s and a boom in exports to countries such as Japan.
The company now produces around
200 units per year — each and every one
by hand.
It was intriguing to see this small factory in operation from the racks of steel
tubing ready for the framework through
to a workshop brimming with motorcycles having their sidecars fitted.
On the day of my visit alone, there was
a scooter having a sidecar fitted alongside a BMW adventure bike which is
having a custom-designed off-road style
sidecar fitted for a couple’s trekking holiday.
A quick glance at the showroom of finished products reinforced that this is
not a one-shape-fits-all operation.
There are sidecars to suit all tastes
from the small sports sidecars designed
to handle speed through to much larger
sidecars capable of carrying either two
children, or an adult and a child complete with hinged windscreen and room
for luggage.
But what struck my attention most
and is certainly something I would consider buying if I felt the need was the
company’s line of motorcycle trailers.
These glass fibre trailers with fully
working lights and watertight lids are far
superior to the basic steel-bodied trailers you buy for your car.
If you’re wondering what? How? Or
why? The concept is quite simple.
These are trailers connect to a motorcycle using exactly the same towing ball
mechanism and electrics as your car,
they’re large (between 283 and 595
litres), sophisticated (cast alloy wheels
and coiled spring suspension) and
But don’t they make handling a bike
heavy and impossible?
Try and argue that point to the rider
who managed to clock up an average
speed of 139.5mph over a two-mile circuit towing a 595 litre capacity trailer
weighted down with 35kg of ballast — a
GuinnessWorld Record.
But I wasn’t here to buy myself a trailer,
I was here to look at some Royal Enfield
motorcycles (Watsonian Squire were
appointed UK distributor for the brand
in 1999) and to see what it’s like to ride
in a sidecar.
I was given a spin in a Watsonian
Squire GP Manx sidecar powered by a
Royal Enfield Bullet bike.
The GP Manx is one of the most popular sidecar models on the market with
stylish spoked wheels and a glass fibre
body encased by a steel perimeter frame
and decorated with aluminium beading
to create an octagonal nose design.
Wearing a crash helmet was optional
but as I had just stepped off a Royal
Enfield bike myself I decided on this
first experience I would play extra safe
and keep the head protection in place.
My rider certainly didn’t hold back as
we flew down the Cotswold country
lanes. The speed probably wasn’t excessive but when you’re sat beneath the
rider in a fibre glass shell without any
controls, you feel the speed.
For those of you wasting your money
on theme parks and fairground rides,
you’d be better off commandeering a
sidecar and taking a spin down a twisting country lane.
Excitement and adrenaline — just brilliant.

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