Salt Addiction Sidecar Fever

May 21, 2009
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

You see them in almost every discipline: motocross, road race, speedway, observed trials competition. They’re the two-man team on a single motorcycle with a carriage attached to the side for the “monkey” or passenger to share the ride. Sometimes he leans over the motorcycle peering over the rider’s shoulder. Other times he hangs his derriere in the wind inches off the ground, daring the earth below. Rider and passenger work in tandem to balance and accelerate as one. It’s not an easy proposition.

The Three Amigos: Bob Bakker  Larry Coleman  and Warren Ryan.
Three Amigos: Bob Bakker, Larry Coleman, & Warren Ryan.

Bob Bakker has been involved in sidecar racing since the early 1960s. After a serious spill at Willow Springs on a solo bike he was laid up for 5 months. During this time he designed his first sidecar, a “kneeler” with a BMW engine. By 1962 he was racing his creation at AFM sanctioned events on an exhibition level with Bob Bender as his passenger. Bakker became president of the Sidehack Association and convinced some of the dirt track and scrambles sidecar teams to go road racing. Their “exhibition” status was removed and they were welcomed to compete at the same venues as their two-wheeled brethren.

The AMA followed suit bringing on Bakker as AMA Sidecar Coordinator. Being from the Netherlands, he made time to race in select club events in Europe as well as a couple of GPs. His wife Linda rode passenger on many occasions, though I’m certain the term “monkey” was deleted from Bakker’s vocabulary during that period.

As the ‘70s came to an end, he found himself at the Bonneville Salt Flats with his road race sidecar, a BSA triple. He ran an impressive 114 mph and was later asked to write the sidecar rules for the SCTA/BNI sanctioned events. The Bub Speed Trials also counts on Bakker to help with their rules pertaining to sidecars.

With the help of Mike Corbin – legendary seat designer and big idea guy, Bakker built a streamliner sidecar. The machine was powered by a 1000cc Suzuki motor. The pilot he chose to handle driving duties was one of the most successful sidecar racers of the time, Larry Coleman.

To his credit Larry has 3 AMA Pro Racing sidecar championships, 3 or 4 AFM sidecar championships, a couple of SCTA sidecar records and a couple of AMA records to boot – the man was well qualified for the job.

Bob Bakkers wild Bonneville streamliner. No passengers allowed!Larry Coleman hugs the inside line at a road race in Germany.
Coming at you  Larry and passenger  Warren Ryan ham it up for the cameras.Larrys sleek Kal Gard TZ 750 rounds the bend in route to victory.  1980
(top left, clockwise) Bob Bakker’s wild Bonneville streamliner; Larry Coleman hugs the
inside line at a road race in Germany; Larry’s sleek Kal Gard TZ 750 rounds the bend in
route to a 1980 victory; Larry and passenger, Warren Ryan ham it up for the cameras.

Larry recalls: “When we got to tech inspection that year the inspectors took one look at it and told us we could not run a passenger.” The three-wheeled streamliner ran in excess of 174 mph, which in 1990 was a significant achievement. “The liner really handled good and went down the course straight as an arrow.”

The streamliner went on tour in Europe before the project was shelved, though Bakker continues building three-wheeled racers to this day.

“All of the sidecars I have raced at Bonneville have been built by Bob. I guess as long as he wants to continue to build them I will ride them!” Bakker also holds records at Bonneville. Several years ago he took one of his salt sidecars to Europe to an FIM speed trials and went 187 mph!

Larry shares his thoughts on the evolution of his sport: “As a traditional road racer I believe that sidecar racing is a team sport and should have two people involved regardless of the discipline,” he says.

The AMA/FIM sanctioned BUB event is the only LSR venue on the salt that still allows sidecars to run with a passenger. Consequently, this meet gets top priority for Larry and others who believe sidecar racing is a two-man sport.

Craig Anderson poses next to his record setting sidecar streamliner.Craig Andersons AMA record run of 168.333 mph!
(top) Craig Anderson poses next to his record setting sidecar streamliner. (bottom) Craig Anderson’s AMA record run of 168.333 mph!

Other notables in the sidecar arena include Craig Anderson, known to some as “Peg Leg Craig”, a double amputee who found his niche in sidecar LSR competition. Craig noticed the “Flying Kiwi” sidecar streamliner on E-bay after seeing it in person at a vintage bike festival in New Zealand. The former owners had much success with their machine, setting an FIM record of 168.953 mph. Craig made some modifications to suit his special needs and took to the salt at Bonneville, setting an AMA record of 168.333 mph, having a best one way top speed of over 177 mph!

Craig grew up racing dirt track, tried his hand at road racing, and logged countless miles in the desert. After losing both his legs above the knee in a work-related accident, his racing days were thought to be over. It’s a true testament to the human spirit that Craig continues to compete. Aside from his wife Laura, he’s thankful for the help and mentoring from Bob Bakker, the guidance and assistance provided by Kent Riches, and, of course, the support of his crew, Richard Neprud and David Wheeler.

I asked another go-fast junkie, John Noonan, if he could describe the differences between a pass down the salt on an open bike versus a pass on a sidecar machine. (John has 4 records over 200 mph on sidecar, and is one of only a handful of open bike riders with land speed records over 250 mph)

“The first thing I noticed on the rear-strutted machine (sidecar) was that I found the handling to be different in a unique way; the ‘bike’ no-longer handled as a standard two wheeler, yet was more like a car without the cage. I realized that once underway at greater speeds the sidecar needed much more attention with regards to steering input than I was used to giving. What felt like a stable platform at lower speeds became an arduous task to manipulate at over 200 mph. The main differences between our 260 mph open bike and the 218 mph sidecar has to be the handling differences with respect to correction and over correction; we also have one more wheel/tire to worry about.”

Whether you ride with a passenger or without, go 20 mph or 200 mph, don’t overlook these creative machines and those who ride them. Motorcycling takes on many forms and is oftentimes better shared.