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Hooligan Hack

by David L. Hough

So there I was, on the sidewalk in front of Liberty Sidecars in Seattle, with Jim Dodson, the Editor of HACK'd magazine, sitting nervously in the EZS sidecar. The scene included a bunch of sidecar enthusiasts watching Jim squeeze himself into the sleek little hack for a demo ride. I thumbed the Suzuki 1200 Bandit to life. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a hole in traffic, quickly checked that Jim was hanging on, and launched the rig off the sidewalk like a fighter jet being launched off a carrier. To provide a little entertainment for the onlookers, I burned rubber in first, second, and third gears, then braked hard and dove off onto a side street. We zoomed up and down a few hills, drifted around a few corners, completed the circuit and came to a sliding stop back on the sidewalk in front of Liberty. Well, it provided a few giggles for the crowd, although Jim did look a little pale.

Sporting Rigs

I know that motorcyclists tend to think of sidecar outfits as slow, cumbersome antiques for over-the-hill guys who can't balance a two-wheeler anymore. This Suzuki 1200 Bandit/EZS Compact outfit blows that concept into the weeds. It's not just a motorcycle with a sidecar attached, but a three-wheeled rocket with well-engineered frame connections, a special front end and wheels with outlandish low-profile car tires.
The Suzuki 1200 Bandit has more than enough power to haul a sidecar and two big guys from 0 to 60 in something like 5 seconds. That's not as quick as some of the latest two-wheelers, but adequately brisk to be a kick in the pants. And, the Bandit is tuned for mid-range grunt, rather than high-rev maximum power.

The combination of a nicely engineered sidecar kit, and a zippy bike, results in a motorcycle that delivers a lot of performance without the risk exposure of a two-wheeler. Even us old "silver hairs" can't seem to resist the temptation to squirrel around, knowing that we won't take a tumble if we punch through the traction envelope. Hey, it put a big grin on my face!

EZS, a sidecar company in The Netherlands (Holland), does the necessary engineering and fabrication to allow a bolt-up conversion of certain motorcycles to specific sidecar models. The Compact ("Kompakt") is the basic model, but shows the same attention to quality and detail that we have come to expect from European sidecar companies. EZS offers other sidecar models, with amenities such as opening cowls to allow easier passenger entry, double-wide touring sidecars for two passengers and convertible tops.

Liberty Sidecars in Seattle is the USA EZS importer and installer. Liberty loaned us their Bandit/Compact outfit for a couple of weeks, time enough to allow a full evaluation in a variety of conditions. My overall impression is very positive. In fact, the outfit was so much fun we were sorry to have to give it back. I may just have to get one of my own.

One of the unique aspects of sidecar rigs is that you can choose a bike, a sidecar, and components to match your pocketbook or your desires. With EZS rigs, you can have your choice o0f the tried-and-true "leading link" front end, or the new EZS telescopic forks. You can choose between front wheels that will accept a wide profile auto tire, or a narrower wheel that mounts a motorcycle tire. You can leave the cockpit open, or add a convertible top. You can attach a lightweight sporting car such as the Compact, or a bigger, heaver double-wide such as the EZS "Summit," designed for the BMW K1200LT or the Gold Wing GL1500.

Our test Bandit/Compact came with the EZS telescopic fork, and wide wheels that sported 185-55 R15 car tires front and rear, and a 165-60 R14 on the sidecar. The sidecar wheel was a stamped steel car rim, while the bike wheels were composites of spun aluminum rims bolted to an alloy hub.

Left: The test Bandit came with the EZS telescopic fork and wide wheels with auto tires.

There are several reasons for special "sidecar" wheels. First, the side loads are much greater than with a two-wheeler. Second, auto tires are available in slightly smaller diameters than motorcycle tires, which results in the engine spinning slightly faster for the same final gearing. One additional benefit of car tires is cost. That's more important when you are constantly tempted to twist the throttle.

Right: You definitely want that lower cost auto tire on the rear of this rig.

So, How Does It Handle?

We wouldn't describe driving the Bandit/Compact outfit as "easy", but it was very controllable by all the sidecar enthusiasts who tried it. Straight-line acceleration and quick stops were easy. But in curves, without a passenger, it wasn't difficult to fly the car. Driving swiftly through turns required a few tricks, such as hanging off and applying throttle and brake together in right-handers. Liberty believes in not ballasting the sidecar, and I concur. My preference is to keep the rig light, and learn the necessary skills to drive it like a Porsche, rather than loading up the car with ballast and driving it like a 4x4 pickup truck. If it isn't obvious, driving a sidecar rig requires a whole new bag of tricks.  

While the stock Suzuki rear suspension soaked up the bumps well, the EZS telescopic fork up front was relatively stiff and non-compliant. The good news is that stiff suspension allows rapid cornering with minimum roll. The bad news is that stiff suspension doesn't absorb the jolts. In a curve with lumpy pavement, the front end wanted to dart left-right, which required a steady grip on the bars.

One odd characteristic of a wide front tire is darting out of grooves. In a deep pavement groove such as the ruts pounded into the wheel tracks by heavy trucks, the side of the tread contacts the side of the groove, causing the wheel to suddenly steer to that side. It's only a problem if you aren't aware of what's happening.

Left:  With such a wide front tire, the contact patch can move sideways several inches on uneven pavement.

One solution to this "darting out of grooves" phenomenon is to choose a narrower tire with a rounder profile for the front. The advantage is less sideways darting on rutted surfaces. EZS is now offering an optional 3.5 in. rim to carry a 140/80 15 rear motorcycle tire. Which, if you're lucky, could be the wide-oval stock rear tire you replaced with that auto radial when you assembled the rig. Of course, motorcycle tires are more expensive, but tires last much longer on the front than the rear, so a rear motorcycle tire on the front wheel should provide decent mileage between replacements.

Braking Performance

We didn't measure any braking tests with the radar gun. Our seat-of-the-pants braking experience showed that the large front disks were more than adequate to haul the outfit down from speed, even pointed downhill and carrying a passenger. On the test rig, the hydraulic sidecar brake was connected directly to the rear brake master cylinder, which resulted in somewhat feeble rear braking, and a drag to the right. For even quicker stops, some additional modifications to the rear brakes are in order--either a larger-capacity master cylinder, or an independent sidecar brake system.

My own personal preference is for a totally independent sidecar brake system, with a parallel brake pedal. That allows full power on the bike's rear brake without any changes, adjustment of the sidecar pedal to equalize rear/sidecar braking force, and much easier disconnection of the sidecar to enable servicing the bike.

Of course, building a parallel brake pedal is a modification a sidecar gear-head could do to customize the outfit. But it's not an option currently available from EZS.

The Passenger's Viewpoint

My wife Diana took a ride in the sidecar to evaluate its passenger accommodations. She found riding on the highway very comfortable. Even after a relatively fast, bumpy, jaunt on a twisty back-road, she reported the ride surprisingly good. The windshield curves back along the sides to deflect wind from buffeting into the cockpit. The cushy seat is low enough to keep the passenger's head out of the breeze, and nicely padded to keep the passenger in place during tight turns. The seatback extends up behind the passenger's head to provide both support and whiplash protection.

Right:  Passenger accommodations are very good, although it's a bit of a trick getting in and out of the Compact, with it's fixed windshield.

The one passenger complaint with the Compact is that it isn't easy to climb into, and even harder to climb out of at the end of the ride. The windshield is bolted rigidly in place, which means the passenger must stand on the seat, and then wiggle down into a sitting position. That's the reason for the next EZS model up the line, the "Rally", which has a forward-opening cowl that swings the windshield out of the way for easy passenger entry. It's a few hundred bucks more, but would make life a lot easier for a passenger, which is a pretty smart investment.

Part of the decent ride is the sidecar suspension. The additional hidden touch is that the sidecar body mounts to the frame with vibration isolators, similar to those used to protect sensitive electronic equipment. Most bike engines will transmit some vibration to the sidecar frame, but with the body on rubber mounts, the passenger won't feel any foot-numbing buzz.

Right: The sidecar wheel suspension is a leading link. Note the disk brake.

Design-wise

EZS has arrived at some sidecar designs that are a good compromise between practicality and appearance. All of the EZS sidecars, including the Compact, have a huge trunk in back, accessible by a locking lid. It's great to have spacious waterproof, lockable carrying space, and it's so much more civilized to be able to open the trunk lid to get at your gear.

Left:  The spacious, waterproof, lockable trunk holds slightly over 7 cubic feet of gear.

While the Compact isn't bad looking, most people who saw the test rig immediately homed in on the front wheel. That massive 185-55 R 15 front tire is just too "bad" to ignore. But it looks right, stuffed between those huge offset telescopic forks on the Bandit.

There is nothing wimpy about the EZS telescopic sidecar front end. The offset castings that support the special EZS down tubes look like cast aluminum, but they are actually cast steel, according to my magnet. The sliders are massive, extending well below the axle mounts for greater support. The fork brace between the sliders is cut from thick aluminum plate, and secured with large socket-head bolts.

Right:  The EZS telescopic sidecar fork is definitely not wimpy.

Still, my vote would be for the uglier leading link front end rather than the telescopics, especially for a machine such as the BMW K1200 or Honda 1500. It's not a matter of strength, but suspension compliance and tuning. External shock/springs would have less stiction than the big telescopic sliders, and it would be easier to change spring rates, or adjust damping. OK, I'll admit that a leading link wouldn't look quite right on a Bandit, but for me performance is a higher priority than style. Of course, for some purchasers that decision is driven by what's available. For some bikes, you can have your choice. The telescopic front end is slightly more expensive.

Currently, the Compact is available for most BMW models, Moto Guzzi, and Suzuki GSX1100G and GSF 1200B. The Rally is available for those plus Honda GL1500 and ST1100.

The Bottom Line

Liberty prices EZS sidecars and optional components FOB the Netherlands, because your choice of sidecar package, components, shipping and installation will determine your final cost. For instance, you can choose to have the sidecar shipped by sea and land (at a cost of approximately $600), or have it air-freighted (about $800) with a much shorter shipping time.

The base price of the Compact conversion kit is $4,800. That's a pretty fair deal considering that it includes wheels, front end, sub-frame, plus the sidecar with brake, lights, windshield and tonneau cover. Add about $2000 for shipping and installation, plus another $1000 or so for painting, if you want a color other than black. You should be able to find a low-miles Bandit for $6000 or so. In other words, you can put together a high-quality hooligan hack for less than the cost of a new cruiser. The EZS "Rally" base price is $5700, but it's actually a slightly larger car (about 3 in. longer) that includes a classier wheel and a slightly wider seat, as well as the opening cowl and convertible top. The shipping and installation costs would be roughly the same for either version.

Above: The bottom line is that you could build a Bandit/EZS "Hooligan Hack" for less than the cost of a new cruiser.

Putting It Together

It is possible a dedicated motorcycle gear-head, with a little sidecar experience, could take a crate of sidecar parts and a motorcycle, and bolt it all together into a three-wheeler. But as yet there are no EZS instruction manuals in English, and no "tab A in slot B" assembly diagrams - it comes as a big pile of parts. So, the smarter choice is to have Liberty assemble the outfit for you, and either drive it home from Seattle, or have it delivered. SR!


Facts and Figures, EZS Compact:

Overall length 83.5 in.
Overall width 35 in.
Seat Width 22 in.
Weight 198 lb.
Front tire 185-55 R15 (auto)
Optional 140-80 R15 (motorcycle)
Rear tire 185-55 R15 (auto)
Sidecar tire 165-60 R14 (auto)

 
Suzuki Bandit/EZS Compact as tested:

Average fuel consumption: 32.5 mpg
(corrected for speed error due to smaller dia. front tire)

Engine RPM in top gear:
Indicated actual stock rear tire 185-55 R15 rear tire

80mph 77mph 3752 rpm 4800 rpm
70 67 3846 4150
60 57 3283 3500

If you're curious about the different EZS sidecar packages available from Liberty Sidecars, information is available at:

www.ezs-usa.com or www.libertysidecars.com

Liberty Sidecars
2310 Rainier Ave. S.
Seattle WA 98144
206-568-6030; fax: 206-568-6045


David Hough is a long-time motorcyclist and journalist. His work has appeared in numerous motorcycle publications, but he is best known for the monthly skills series " Proficient Motorcycling " in Motorcycle Consumer News, which has been honored by special awards from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Selected columns were edited into a book " Proficient Motorcycling " published by Bowtie Press. He is also the author of "Driving A Sidecar Outfit". A

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