Sidecar for a Dog

I'll never leave my best friend at home again.

I BUILT this sidecar for the dog, a working and herding border collie; not the type of dog you can go to work and leave at home all day. I work from home so she usually spends the day with me — except when I go off on my bike — and that’s why I built the sidecar — so she could enjoy riding bikes too. I guess you’d have to be a dog owner to appreciate what I’m saying…

Having decided I needed a sidecar for my dog, I got onto the internet to do some research. There are sidecar builders in Victoria and South Australia, but the closest one to me was SRK Engineering in O’Connell (Bathurst), just over the Blue Mountains.

Always looking for an excuse to go for a ride, I jumped on the bike and headed off to Bathurst — man, I’d forgotten how cold it gets going over the Blue Mountains in winter! Remind me to wear more clothes next time.

SRK Engineering is set on a farm; a number of out-buildings hold a conglomerate of lathes, drill presses, welding equipment, spray booths, pipe benders, etc… you name it, you’re going to find a machine to do almost any job here. There are also any number of sidecars about, either half-built or in for modifications. I could spend hours here and still not get to check out all the weird and wonderful projects on the go.

Sean Kelly is the man behind SRK Engineering. He has a couple of skilled tradesmen working for him, however, Sean is the engineer with all the necessary qualifications to issue engineering certificates for modified vehicles.

Sean spent several hours with me as I ummed and ahhed about what I wanted to build. Finally we agreed to build a classic-looking sidecar outfit from the 1930’s.

We chose the Softail Slim as the base for the project firstly because of its 1930’s accents — oval floorboards, cat’s eye dash and Hollywood bobber handlebars — but more importantly, because its front and rear wheels are the same size meaning we could end up with all three identical wheels on the finished sidecar outfit.

The sidecar body was a no-brainer. Sean has half a dozen different options available, including one which is very similar to a Harley sidecar, however, the Indian Princess was just far too curvaceous to ignore. The original Indian Princess body would have been made in metal, but since nobody has the skills to build them in metal these days, Sean had it copied in fibreglass.

Making the sidecar wheel the same as the other two was expensive but an important visual aspect of the project so totally worth it. Sean used a Sporty hub, which was re-machined to suit his bearing assembly, and a stub axle from a small car; the hub had to be black powder-coated and laced with stainless steel spokes to the black powder-coated rim.

A mechanical parking brake is mandatory on sidecars. It has to hold the vehicle for five minutes on a 30 degree incline. Sean used a cable-operated caliper from a boat trailer and a disc on the sidecar wheel to satisfy the registration requirements.

Sean had the sidecar body trimmed and painted by local guys in Bathurst.

I made several trips to O’Connell during the build, to check on the progress, so I had a fair idea of how it would look. However, on the day my wife drove me up to pick it up, the Candy Orange and black sidecar outfit far exceeded my expectations — it was absolutely stunning!

The dog took to the sidecar like a duck to water. She’s since travelled more than 60,000 km up and down the east coast of Australia with me. And she’s probably the most photographed dog in Australia. Cute as a button with her doggles and Driza-Bone jacket, at almost every set of traffic lights, somebody will be taking a photo of her with their iPhone.

This is not my only Harley, but it’s the Harley I ride the most. I don’t own a car so if I’m going somewhere the dog can’t go, like the psychiatrist (the dog won’t lay still on the couch), I take one of my solo bikes.

There’s no doubt it’s harder to ride a sidecar than a solo bike — you just have to man-up — but it’s lots of fun. The sidecar is on one side so it’s inherently unbalanced which creates some interesting handling problems. One thing I learnt very quickly in left-hand corners — you never know what’s too fast until you’re going too fast!

The installation of a sidecar these days needs to be certified for registration and insurance. Sean has all the necessary bits of paper to certify modified vehicles; a good bloke to know if you’re building a custom bike or car. SRK Engineering, 1747 Mutton Falls Road, O’Connell NSW 2795; 02-6337-5705.

Photos by Wall 2 Wall; words by Skol

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