Pete and Laz

Pete and Laz
Yeah, Pete it's rough...but it's a runner.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thompson Cyclecar

A gentleman who looks like he could be related to Frank Zappa, and his firehouse dog-in a Thompson Cyclecar.

My Thompson Cyclecar was given to me by a good friend. He acquired it with a BMW motorcycle. His first bike was a Trail 90 with a sidecar attached. Between us there are about 8 sidecars, I think-maybe there are more... The one I have was in pretty rough shape when I acquired it. Bay area corrosion had done it's thing. I ended up sleeving over totally rusted out sections of the frame, and added gussets and reinforcements here and there. I welded up a bolt-on sub-frame that tied the neck of a CB-350 frame to the lower motor mounts. This was something recommended in all the literature we could find at the time, and made good sense. With the sub-frame I was able to tie-in two of the four mounts in a more rigid fashion then was originally done. It didn't come with the optional fibreglas front cover, so I fashioned one from .040 aluminum.  I ended up giving the CB-350 to my friend, we attached a different sidecar to it. The Thompson was then attached briefly to a CB-450 (another subframe was fabricated), and then to a 71 SL-350 (requiring yet another sub-frame). With the lower "dirt-bike" gearing of the SL, this was the configuration that worked best around town and short blasts on the freeway to work.

I drove the rig to work through all weathers and it performed admirably. One fateful day I was driving home on sideroads through town, because my charging system was starting to go on the fritz and it was pouring down rain. At an intersection about a mile from home a man in a "three-quarter ton" van ran a stop, after I had made mine and made forceful contact with the front of my rig. Now, because a side-car rig has some similarities to a small car , instead of knocking me down and dragging me under the front bumper, the rig spun and threw me into the front quarter and side of the van. I never got to see the damage I did to the side of the van because the owner decided to run. As I slowly picked myself up, I looked down the street to see him leaning out his window and deciding I was alright and driving off. As fate would have it a nurse happened upon the scene first and was trying to right my rig which was on it's side with the side car up. I stopped her from hurting herself trying to lift it from the bars. A gentle push on the side car wheel righted the rig. At this point I was little worried about it and more concerned about my injuries.  I was more concerned about my arms that were extremely painful.
As it turned out she checked me over and said most likely nothing was broken, just sprained, twisted and pulled...and maybe some general blunt force truama....

I eventually straightened the frame of the bike and rode the rig untill the sidecar wheel bearing finally gave it up. The SL became a "Caferacer". Since then I have picked up 4 more sidecars. One is another Thompson, a later model with  a square tube frame and the optional front cover. One is a California Sidecar frame minus the body which was stolen. One is a  Tag-a-long, also by California Sidecars. It is an ultra-light unit made for smaller motorcycles. The other is a British made unit of unkown make, but we're guessing it might be a Watsonian. The body of that one was stolen as well after I purchased it. For some reason, some one was stealing sidecar bodies about 15 years ago. About a dozen years ago my friend purchased a 750 Honda with a California sidecar attached. What a revelation it was riding it home for him that first night. With the power of the 750 it was hardly slowed down, and made me want a bigger bike with a sidecar. Thinking about hooking up one of these to a Kawa 1000, could be fun. Now to go look for those old pics I have stashed somewhere.....


  1. Great Story Larry, I might put that one in our newsletter.

  2. Larry, I had one trip with a sidecar on my CB550 in the early 80s. First problem was at a slip road, I wanted to go to the right, but it had other ideas, we'll just go straight on, luckly there was enough run off area.... Second, I forgot sidecar was on and moved over for a on coming car, ended up in a field with no real damage... Third and last was coming into the town, I was passing some parked cars, hit a pothole, the outfit seemed to spin round, I ended up hitting someones garden fence and landing on the grass, bike was sort of bent. That was me off sidecars for years... last time on one was at the VMCC training day last year... which I really enjoyed :-)

  3. Mat, glad you enjoyed the story. I really enjoyed your write up on your Kawa at your blog. Kawa, my first ride on my CB-350 rig was scary! I didn't have the lean-out of the bike correct, the "toe-in" of the sidecar was wrong. I also had the sidecar wheel too far to the rear. I went a short ways down the street, and ended-up pushing it back home! Even after getting the geometry correct it was quite a learning curve after many years on solo bikes. By the time I had the SL-350 rig set up I was doing sidecar "wheelies" and throwing it into "broadies" (broadslides) on rainy days. We learned that ballast in the sidecar was helpful on the lighter ones, especially on tight freeway on-ramps. It might be hard to see in the pic of Pete and I above in the header of the blog, but he is wearing a full "climbing" harness that my mate "Vinnie" (we'll call him that) sewed-up for Pete when we took him climbing. his butt is securely caribeenered in. I had a scary moment with him when he tried to jump in my lap when he was only tied in with a leash. We momentarily were in a wrong lane heading for on-coming traffic. Yes, side cars are fun!