Monday, June 18, 2012


The Stern Rox getting fitted for the WARN SDB-210  lights.

This will be the first in a series of articles I am writing on the conversion of my 2004 BMW 1150 GS Adventure to a 2WD Sidecar here at LBS Sidecars in the Netherlands. I'll be documenting all about the build, and also going into a little background on how I got to this point in the first place.

I've been on the road now for nearly 2 1/2 years on my 
2004 BMW 1150 GS Adventure, mostly in the Continental U.S., Western Canada and Baja California. Before that I was a raging alcoholic and drank my way out of a successful business but a miserable and unhappy life.

And in the last 2 years on the bike, I've traveled over 60,000 miles in all types of weather conditions, from 110º in Arizona and the Bonneville Salt Flats, to 100º in Baja California when I photographed the NORRA Mexican 1000, and all the way down to -40º in Steamboat Colorado. And it was in Steamboat that my forward motion was brought to a screeching, or in this case a sliding, traction-less halt.

Christmas in Colorado, fun to play in, but not to ride in,
unless you have a sidecar.

It was December 2010, a nice Winter snowfall was in progress, not a lot as snowfall in Steamboat goes, but after half an hour the nice fluffy white powder settling on the ground started to build up a little depth to it, and then began to get packed tight, and as the snow started to pack tighter, so my traction started to get looser and more dangerous.

As my journey progressed from 6 months into 1 year and then 1 1/2 years I found myself amassing more gear to try to make 'Long-Term' Life on the Road a little bit more comfortable, and I also upgraded my camera equipment, and all of these 'upgrades'  translated into more weight on the bike.
So as I was loosing grip and traction on the fluffy white stuff underneath me, I knew that I was going to have serious problems within the hour. Luckily I was near my destination, 20 minutes away from my hosts at the time, Pete and Heather Sloop, so problem solved, albeit temporarily for that evening. 
The next day, after a big 'ole snow dump on Steamboat, I was snowed in. Stopped by the weather and the fact that I had a motorcycle with 2 wheels. But I knew if I had a sidecar, 3 wheels, I wouldn't have a problem at all. So that moment for me was the tipping point, there began my quest in earnest, as soon as I could, to go from two wheels to three, motorcycle to sidecar.

Photo courtesy Dom Chang CO Motorcycle Travel Examiner    

I started with a 2004 BMW 1150 GS Adventure (which I bought used in November of 2009), not because it was the best choice for building a 2WD sidecar on, (in fact it's not the best choice due to it being so high), but simply because it's the only motorcycle I own. 
The BMW 1150 GS series of motorcycles gained a huge jump in popularity when Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman made the 'Long Way Round' movies, everyone wanted to be them, so lots of folks bought themselves a GS Adventure, the same as Ewan and Charlie had, some of them rode around the World on them, some of them just rode to work and back on them. 
Me, I just bought it because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and stumbled across it for sale on Craigslist in CA and hammered out a deal not to be passed on. I only found out after I bought it that it was the "Long Way Round" bike.
Would I pick another motorcycle to build a RTW sidecar outfit on if given a selection to choose from?. Probably, but that's not a reflection of the capabilities of the BMW 1150 GS Adventure, rather more of a model choice, but that discussion is a whole other post in and of itself. 
For now, I just wanted to clarify what motorcycle I have, why I have it, and why I chose this particular motorcycle to convert to sidecar.

Why did I end up choosing LBS?. Mainly because they were one of the only ones that I knew of to have built a 2WD Sidecar Outfit with the Mobec Duo-Drive system, a full-time 2WD, Viscous Fluid Drive coupling that attaches between the rear driven wheel on the motorcycle and the sidecar wheel. I had researched sidecar builders in the U.S., but no one there was familiar with or had built an outfit with the Mobec Duo-Drive system. Mobec will build you one in Germany, but you get it built the way they do it, you can't customize it to suit your needs.
My friend Richard in Holland has been riding with a Mobec Duo-Drive on his BMW outfit for a few years now, so I contacted him about it, and through him, was put in contact with Ad Donkers of LBS Sidecars. The Euro sidecar scene is completely different than the U.S. in many regards,. 'Family Outfits', 2 seater sidecars, have been in use for years here,taking the whole family on a weekend camping trip is pretty normal in these parts. The 2 kids go in the sidecar, wife or girlfriend on the back of the bike and off you go. Sidecars in general are not as popular in the U.S. as they seem to be here in Europe, especially France and Germany. Holland, bogged down by red tape bureaucracy, makes it very difficult and very expensive to get a motorcycle license to begin with, and that, coupled with very strict road laws and completely flat terrain, contribute to sidecars not being as popular.
My outfit, when finished, will be the 3rd Mobec Duo-Drive 2WD outfit that LBS will have built. There are not too many Mobec Duo-Drives in total in Europe, there's a good chance mine will be the first in the U.S. when I get back in 4 or 5 years from my Round the World.

I had a lot of criterions that the sidecar I chose would have to meet, it had to be Round the World capable, it had to be able to take a passenger comfortably over distances when necessary, it also had to have a lot of space, and it had to combine all of those in a sidecar package that was also visually appealing, at least to me, as this was going to be an outfit that would be my "Home on the Road" for the next 5-7 years, and because as an old hot rodder and gear head , aesthetics and design are important factors for me in most things I build.

I did a quite a bit of research on which sidecar models people used for RTW outfits, and by and large they all seemed to use the same type of chair, either a Ural Sidecar chair, or something very similar from another manufacturer, like the EML E2000. I was the passenger in a Ural sidecar and found it to be very cramped and uncomfortable as well as visually unappealing, and the same can be said of the EML E2000, so for me neither of those 2 styles were an option.

So what does a Round the World capable sidecar really mean?.
Well, it usually means an outfit that is as tough and basic as they come with plenty of ground clearance for inhospitable or rough terrain, and designed with very little frills, like the British Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruisers of the sixties, meant to go absolutely anywhere, but not in style or comfort.
The problem I saw with most of the RTW chairs was that they weren't really visually appealing, at least to me anyway.
Since this was going to be a sidecar outfit that I was going to be using full-time, all year round and in all weather conditions for the next 5+ years straight, and also needed it to be able to carry a passenger at times, I wanted to build in or include some features into it that would last and stand the test of time, so I had to find that balance between a rough terrain RTW capable outfit with some comfort and style built in as well.

One sidecar manufacturer, STERN, seemed to appeal to me the most, visually anyway, and one model in particular, the Stern Roxster.
It seemed to have a lot of the qualities I was looking for in a sidecar, it's what they call a 1 1/2 person chair, it seats 1 adult and 1 child,so plenty of room.
It also has a huge trunk, more than enough space to be able to carry plenty of gear and equipment for long term ( 2 years or more) expeditions like this one , and it also was a really good looking chair, it has great lines, BUT, it was more of a performance road going chair than a RTW chair, mainly due to it's profile and stance. It normally sits low to the ground, and the design has the front or nose of the Roxster swooping down to the ground rather than an uplifted front. The Rox nose, which looks better, is not the optimal shape for clearing obstacles like rocks, snowdrifts or rocky and uneven terrain that I will encounter over the next 5 years on the road, so compromises will need to be made to try and adapt the Rox to my Overlanding specs and needs.

The new output shaft on my BMW Final Drive, which will connect to the viscous clutch on the MOBEC DUO-DRIVE.

Why the Mobec Duo-Drive 2 Wheel Drive system?. 
While 2WD is not a necessity on a sidecar (until you get snowed in and need it that is), my decision for deciding to install the Mobec Duo-Drive 2WD system on my outfit was in part based on my trip being a long, 5-7 year Solo Expedition, there will be no RoadSide Service for me to call in most of the places I am going to, and Winter Travel will more than likely be playing a large part of the journey, as Nordkapp in Norway tends to be inhospitable even at the best of times, and then there's Russia and Siberia and the M65 otherwise known as the Road of Bones. I still haven't been to much of Alaska yet, and have a desire to ride my outfit on the Ice Roads in Alaska, as well as the Ice Roads in Scandinavia and Russia.

Zermatt, Switzerland Dec 1977, age 15.

The decision to want to go places that most people would not go to is for me pretty simple really. Why not?. The mountaineer Doug Scott, one of my hero's and the first Briton to stand on the summit of Everest said that he "Just had this natural curiosity that took him from one place to another without really planning it". Perfect.
And let's face it, I just turned 50 in January. And even though 50 is the new 40, I still know people who had a stroke at 30, a heart attack at 40 and countless friends who died before ever reaching the age of 20 from Motorcycle accidents, both on and off the race track, so I consider myself extremely fortunate to be 50, on no medications for any health related problems, and very healthy considering the amount of damage that I could have done while I was drinking.
I also feel that I squandered away many opportunities, both financial and otherwise, but most importantly the opportunities afforded a human being on this planet, the opportunity of life. Not everyone has it, and not all in equal amounts. 
There are millions of oppressed, poor, hungry, handicapped, abused, sick, dying, suffering human beings the world over, I consider myself about as fortunate as I can not to be included in any of those categories. I obviously didn't consider myself that fortunate a few years back when I feel like I abused that privilege, the gift of freedom. Not all are free and unencumbered like I am, and this time, I don't intend to waste it.

 So, when questions arise on the how's and why's of my trip, "How can you do this", "Where do you get the time"  or "How can you afford it", I always come back to Hillel the Elders quote from 60BC, "If not now, when", 
and I add "If Not Me, Who", and all makes sense. 

I stopped making excuses 3 1/2 years ago when I quit drinking. 

I don't have time for excuses anymore.


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