Youngstown Harley-Davidson
5700 Patriot Blvd, Youngstown, OH 44515
History of Sidecars and Motorcycles

History of Sidecars and Motorcycles

The motorcycle sidecar has a rich history, sources dispute a bit on when it was officially created, but we found sources as far back as 1893 in France. A newspaper competition wanted to discover the best way to transport passengers on a bike. The French army officer M. Bertoux won the contest with an unexpected idea, putting the passenger on the side of the bike. However, officially it was patented by Mr. WJ Gram in 1903. 

Harley-Davidson began to fit frames with Sidecar mounting lugs in the early 1900s, and in 1914 the first sidecar was made available in catalogs. 

Harley-Davidson motorcycles were first used in the U.S. Army when they ordered twelve motorcycles with machine gun-mounted sidecars for General Pershing's 1916 Mexican Excursion. These were just slightly modified stock motorcycles, but it started the long history of H-D producing military-specific vehicles not intended for the public. 

Throughout WW1, 20,000 motorcycles were produced by Harley-Davidson to support the war effort. Medical units used them to save wounded on stretcher-equipped sidecars, running ammunition, and vital information to the front lines. 

The sidecar remained popular in commercial use throughout this period. For example, AAA famously used sidecars to rescue motorists stranded by their overly optimistic views on fuel range.

Their commercial usages were as vast as delivering candy, milk, eggs, and other groceries, all the way up to lumber and delivering the mail. 

The great depression had made most cars a luxury; most simply couldn't afford a sidecar but had a low cost and made initial startup costs significantly cheaper for businesses. 

Sidecars are still legal in the united states, although their popularity has dropped dramatically to the point you'll rarely see them on the roads.

The Decline In Popularity

Sidecars remained popular throughout their invention to the end of WWII, at which point consumers wanted actual cars, not sidecars. However, once german automakers like Volkswagen started producing cheaper cars in the late 1950s, the sidecar's popularity declined dramatically. 

Once full-sized cars were more affordable than a sidecar, businesses switched to the safer alternative; cars could be modified more extensively. As commercial use abandoned the sidecar and sales fell dramatically, rear seats made improvements in comfort, and a family sedan became the societal norm. However, as they lost popularity, their price became more expensive, and the sidecar was relegated to the world of recreational novelties.

In 2011, Harley-Davidson halted all civil production of the sidecar. However, it's interesting to note that the Secret Service still receives a special delivery from Harley-Davidson for the presidential motorcade.

Sidecars played an indispensable role in the history of motorcycles due to their contributions to warfare and commerce. Even as the memory of their wide use fades, they played an essential role in creating the society we live in, and for that, they deserve a round of applause. So tip your hat and notice those rare moments when you see one on the road. 


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