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.



Ape Hangers said...

This is so cool. I am such a huge fan of their work. I really am impressed with how much you have worked to make this website so enjoyable.

ed said...

Well said Murph And best of luck to ya !

redlegsrides said...

Good first post on the sidecar build Murph....looking forward to seeing the rig come together. That Mobec drive sounds like the cat's meow to allow a driven sidecar wheel when using the GS FD.....looks expensive too.

As to snow, I dabble in that activity as you know, and I've found the key to actually boil down to two things. I assume btw that you're going with some kind of car tire conversion for the pusher wheel?

1. Good dedicated snow tires for the pusher and the sidecar since you're sidecar wheel will be "driven". Have you researched the "easiness" of finding real snow tires for your wheels? A related difficult is it for the sidecarists in Europe to find a place willing to put a car tire on a motorcycle wheel? Here's it's next to impossible due to "liability" issues.

On the Strom rig I have, the snow tire was great but you still had to put weight above the pusher to get good traction in the deep snow. I don't know re the geometries of the swingarm on the GS but something to keep in mind.

2. Will your pusher tire had enough clearance to allow the use of tire chains of some sort? Even snow tires need help now and then on the icy stuff.


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Unknown said...

Ape Hangers, thanks so much for that comment.
I have been kinda sorta trying to make it enjoyable, but not really going out of my way, as I really want it to be as honest as possible, and not sugar coat anything just to get more readers, so my online photo journal here is reflective of my actual life and travels, and not puffed up or glamorized.



Unknown said...

Thanks Ed, appreciate you taking the time to read.


Unknown said...

Dom, Thanks.
Yep, the Mobec is a little on the pricy side, but less than 1 years worth of alcohol, actually 6 months worth, so thats why I decided to spring for it, I have NOTHING to show for all the boozing, if I buy the Duo-Drive, I'll have it for a long time.

Anyway, your points in order:

1. Yes, snow tires all around are the order of the day. ALL the sidecars in EU have car tires,and ALL the shops put them on.
Interesting, since the EU has some of the toughest road laws. I had always intended to do a 3 Wheel car tire conversion on this build.
I bought a set of 4 car wheels in Japan, 16" X 5.5" cast. I was going to go with steelies, but couldn't find anything that looked good enough to compliment the final build of the outfit.

2. Yes. But barely. There is a new chain that is out, a flat gripper band that goes around the center of the tire and doesn't flop around like a chain. Been on cars here for a while, but as yet, I have not herd feedback from the sidecar brigade. I will have to get them myself and conduct my own trials.

SO there ya have it.
Your pic you took of me came in very handy thanks, glad I had it.


Steve said...

Love the site and your commentary! Stay sober my friend, and enjoy the view, the people and the ride.

Anonymous said...

Simple and straightforward: sidecar driving is awesome! Vividly remember the 3 times my brother and i went to Italy (Amstelario, those were the days!) on his Cali-II with EML combination. 2400km pure fun.

Unknown said...

Thanks Steve, and appreciate the well wishes.


Unknown said...

Thanks for stopping by Anon,


crazy chick said...

Great site! I'm shopping for a sidecar...again. My wife and I just moved from Poland back home to Texas, but while in Europe I visited both the MOBEC shop and with Manni at V-Trieb in Reitberg. While at MOBEC they had one of the Super-Drive setups on an R1200GSA. Wow. But far too expensive for me ($50K+). I almost went with the Duo-Drive, but the necessary reduction in rear tire/wheel diameter was a sticking point. Aesthetics. I hope they've found a solution as it seemed to be a sticking point with MOBEC also. I ordered a V-trieb rig and a new Harley, but had to leave Europe abruptly and couldn't wait the 1-year Manni needed to get mine built, so I cancelled all. Picked up a Confederate Hellcat upon my return (also addicted to v-twins and cafe racers...). Now back in the US, I have the urge to take the GS north, way north. But would like to take my 'first wife' with me. Looking at DMC's DX. Any thoughts or experience? Again, great site. John

Unknown said...

John, thanks for the comments.

Not quite sure what you mean by reduction in wheel diameter, unless you mean going from a 17" rear wheel to a smaller size. I'm using a 16" wheel all around on the outfit with 195 65/16 tires.
I have no experience with DMC's DX, so I can't give you any advice there, sorry.

Whatever you decide, have fun and thanks for stopping by,

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Hi Murph,

I have seen and meet you on the EGT in Weisswampach.
Great Bike, great ideas, great man murph.
Whish you all the best for your trip to the Nordkap.
I for my self have been there 6 weeks ago with my sidecar-bike (also a R1150GS ADV with a Stern EZS sidcar). Unfortunality I had only 3 weeks time for the 7800 km road.
If your trip arround the globe will bring you back to Germany some times, there will allways be a bed for you for a few nights in my house (very closed to the location from Wunderlich, your new sponsor ;-) )if you need.

One question please murph. I have forgoten to ask you this on the EGT. Where was building (or the seller) the holders for your both Warn-lights in front on the bike (the are fixed on the original flashers of the bike I think).

Best regards from Germany


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