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Of Frogs and Loons

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

(From the Travels with Guido series. Motorcycle Trader mag #209, circa Aug 2009)

Messerschmitt 3 wheeler

Quirky, weird, dysfunctional – or not? Guido goes three-wheeling…

Okay, so someone enlighten me. What possesses people to buy big three-wheelers? Talking to more ‘traditional’ motorcyclists, you get the impression that, for them, such devices have as much appeal as deep-fried cauliflower on a stick. No, really. You can’t lane-split, can’t lean, can’t carry much more than on a two-wheeler and, believe me, there will still be myriad ways to hurt yourself in or on one…oh, oh. Maybe that’s part of the attraction.

Even in this tiny specialised sector, we’ve seen some trends over the long term. The classic Morgan three-wheeler came and went, while sidecars lasted remarkably well. Until recently. Now they seem to have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, with that niche taken over mostly by trikes.

And now the forecar, like the Morgan and the little green Messerschmitt you see here, seems set for a resurgence – that is if BRP has its way with the Spyder.

I’ve ridden several trikes of various sorts, mostly VW-powered but also a Harley Servicar and, while I’ve always had a good time…scratch that. There was the time when I forgot the handbrake was on (who uses a sodding handbrake for heaven’s sake?), and ended up bunny-hopping down the road with the owner watching the whole appalling exposition of incompetence unfold. Never mind – I’ve mostly had fun on trikes and have nevertheless been perfectly content to hand them back at the end of the trip.

Somehow I’ve been unable overcome a couple of ownership objections, one of which is having to assume the birthing position on some models. Worse is the prospect of staring at that single skinny front end and snapping down between the lines of cars, casually forgetting the fat rubber and diff out back.

As for forecars, the Spyder got me more than curious and it should be recommended by psychiatrists for anyone who has a fear of meeting new people. Every time you park one, you have to part the assembled throng and be ready with answers to: How much, what engine, what’s it like to ride, and, (from the smart-arses) did you buy it deliberately?

At least it has a couple of wheels out front, where you can see them. Then again, as someone who can’t remember anyone’s birthday, the names of most of the people I work with and many that I’m related to, or my wedding anniversary, I still face a pretty high chance of forgetting the bleeding obvious and try to lane-split anyway.

And sidecars. Now there’s a complete abomination. Wide, heavy, placing some unbelievable strains on the bike chassis, they’re also completely asymmetric in the handling department. Touch the throttle and they swing left, hit the brakes and they pirouette right. Who came up with that little gem? To paraphrase one of the pneumatic blondes in the TV lab rat show Beauty and the Geek, the bloke who came up with that must have been having a quiet day. (She was in fact talking about maths…)

Still, there must be something in this three-wheeler gig. Bertrand the Frog, current Mayor (at the time of writing - 2009) of beautiful downtown Bicheno, in Tas, has owned a Veedub trike for years and rides it like a demon. He’s a complete fruitcake, but in the nicest possible way – an afternoon spent with him is always a treat.

Then there’s the Messerschmitt driver Ed Blackbourn spotted hooting back from the recent world superbikes meeting at Phillip Island. Mr B said, in awed tones over the phone, “You should have seen him carving up the traffic, he was a complete loon!” Blackbourn calling you a loon is like Mussolini calling you a fascist – high praise. I’ve yet to meet a real live Spyder owner, but suspect there may be hope for them after all.

Meanwhile I’m a minor jetting adjustment away from getting Dr Gange the sidecar (see below) back on the road full time. And maybe it’s time to admit that I always got a special kick out of world championship sidecar racing in the glory days when they were part of the GP series.

Should we all be locked up? Possibly. But then again, I can’t help thinking that the world would be a better place if there were more Frogs and loons.

Dr Gange Suzuki sidecar

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