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Bike Review - Posted 22nd November 2013
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1976 MZ TS250 and Sidecar

Think MZs are for old men and sidecar outfits are for old men with strange hobbies? Our man at Sheffield Polytechnic raises a wheel in disagreement...

It's September 1982. Thatcher is in power, the Falklands are safe from invading foreign hordes and "Eye of the Tiger" is at number one in the top forty. I'm in my second year of computer studies at Sheffield Poly and I've just spotted something intriguing pinned to the Student Union noticeboard.

I'd bought an MZ TS250 (the four speed predecessor to the TS250/1 Supa Five) earlier that year to keep me on two wheels while an insurance claim for my written off proper bike worked its way through the system. It had done me proud over the summer. A two-up camping trip to the Fairport Convention Reunion, countless thrashes across the Snake Pass and a fair bit of motorway cruising. The prefect student transport, to be honest, costing almost nothing to run but requiring very little of my precious (yeah, right) time to be devoted to maintenance.

Headlight raised to suit the screen that's no longer fitted, and Ace Bars for the Snake Pass... 1976 MZ TS250

And yet...

I was getting a bit bored with it. MZs are great as your second bike; a winter hack for ride to work duties or to take you to the Dragon Rally and back in six inches of snow, but when they're all you've got to play with you're sometimes left wanting something more. Something different, perhaps. Something cheap…

Which is probably why a hand-written note declaring "Sidecar For Sale. Fittings to Suit MZ250. £75." caught my eye. I had an MZ250. And I'd always had a hankering for a sidecar outfit. And hadn't I just paid my big fat grant cheque into the bank? That advert might as well have had my name written across the top. For a start, I was pretty sure I was the only student at the Poly with an MZ250, certainly the only one who rode one regularly. What were the chances of anyone else seeing that advert? It was meant for me. It was fate.

I had to buy that sidecar.

After a quick call from a phone box (students didn't have telephones in 1982) to check that it really was a sidecar to fit an MZ250 and that no one (like, who?) had already bought it, myself and my intrepid mate Colin made our way to the seller's address. Colin thought he was coming along to provide a second opinion and to stop me squandering all my readies on a rusty heap of junk. If he'd known that I'd never ridden a sidecar outfit before, and that I thought having someone like Colin in the chair as ballast for my first three-wheeled trip might be a sensible move, he probably wouldn't have come.

What sort of person would be selling an MZ sidecar outfit? A bloke in his sixties, perhaps, refusing to buy a Japanese bike after a terrible experience in the far-east during the war, but needing cheap transport for his livelihood as a chimney sweep or rag and bone man. A man with a flat cap and a limp, a liking for pale ale, and his own seat down at the working men's club for dominoes on Tuesdays.

Well, that's what I thought, anyway. Which is why it was such a surprise to be greeted by a man perhaps ten years older than me, but in all other respects my mirror image; long straggly hair, long straggly beard, little round glasses, big baggy jumper. "He looks like you from the future" commented Colin as we made our way through the terraced house to the back yard.

Check out the JPS-style pin-striping... 1976 MZ TS250 and Ewbank sidecar.

And there it was, in all its glory. A sidecar for an MZ 250. Made of sheet metal, painted black and shaped like a cross between an Austin Princess and a small coffin, it was apparently made by Ewbank. Yes, Ewbank the carpet sweeper people. From Accrington.

But none of this mattered; I had to have it!

After the briefest of haggling - "Will £65 do?", "Call it £70", "Deal!" - we set about attaching the sidecar to my MZ. Well how else was I going to get it home? With no knowledge of toe-in and lean-out (or is it lean-in and toe-out?) this was a surprisingly quick business and after a mug of coffee and the traditional exchange of convoluted biking tales that men with long straggly beards and little round glasses so love to share, Colin and I were mentally preparing ourselves for the trip back to my student digs.

Well, I was mentally preparing myself, anyway. Colin, oblivious to my total lack of chairing experience, was probably wondering what was for tea.

The fifteen miles per hour tank-slapper that I eventually managed to accelerate through (MZ250 plus rider plus passenger plus metal sidecar equals 'quite slow') soon woke him up though, as did the gentle weaving from side to side down the narrow terraced streets lined with parked cars as I adjusted to the fact that countersteering doesn't work on sidecar outfits.

The first left turn onto a main road went well, I thought, and Colin only had to shout "mind that car" (I think that's what he was saying, although it came out more like "Caaaaaargh!") a couple of times before I got the hang of having a big lump of metal attached to one side of the bike.

Sidecars are asymmetric. And although they don't fall over when you get off them, they could never be described as stable. When you accelerate, the bike wants to overtake the chair, so the whole outfit slews to the left. When you brake, the chair tries to get its own back by overtaking the bike, and so you slew to the right. With the toe-in and lean-out (or is it the other way round?) set properly, the bike will manage to hold a straight line on a gentle throttle, unless you happen to be riding at one of the many harmonic speeds which set the bars flapping from side to side.

At one point on the short trip home I had to stop because I was laughing so much. This was exactly the boost that my jaded motorcycling had needed; the previous six years of experience on two wheels counted for nothing as I started to learn a completely new set of skills. Biking was fun again.

Check out the red engine barrel. Meanwhile, in a romantic windswept lay-by...
Many MZs on

And it got better. Chicks dig sidecars. Everywhere I went, people - girls, in fact, nice ones even - would ask for a ride in the chair. Room for a picnic in the back, let me help you with that helmet buckle, and off we go for a sedate (or "flat out" - they're both the same speed on an MZ combo) tour of the Peak District, stopping at various cosy pubs and romantic windswept lay-bys..

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and in one fell swoop a drunken, uninsured and out of control driver put paid to half a dozen parked cars and one parked MZ sidecar outfit one cold and wet November night.

By the time I'd got the MZ combo patched up and back on the road my insurance payment on the other written off bike had come through and I had a shiny new Kawasaki Z750L to play with. The MZ went to a new home and I hope it brought its new owner as much happiness as it did me.

Check out the reflective 'Turbo' sticker on the back of the seat.. 1976 MZ TS250 and Ewbank sidecar.

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