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Wicker Sidecars

March 29, 2012

This article is part of our continuing series on passenger seating for motorcycles of 100 years ago…  We’ve seen wicker trailers and forecars, next up is sidecars:


Sidecars were patented in January 1903 by the Graham Brothers of Middlesex, England. An interesting anecdote about the sidecar is that was first proposed as a joke in a cartoon in a motorcycling magazine. The Grahams thought is was a good idea, so they patented it three weeks after the magazine hit the newsstands! Ariel and Trafalgar were among the first companies to build and sell the outfits, licensed to Graham. So this Trafalgar in the 1903 adverts was one of the very first to be seen by the buying public and was the beginning of a million stories about dogs and children riding as passengers, or new drivers putting the outfit into a ditch.. The image is from The Veterans, by Lord Montague.   Note the name SIDE CARRIAGE.  Which we now of course call a sidecar.


1903 Trafalgar


That sidecars appeared on the market so quickly seems a bit shocking, but they were based on known technology.  The chasses of lugs and tubes had been used on bicycles and motorbicycles for some time, as had the spoked wheel of course.  The attachments were simply cast iron lugs fashioned to work as clamps to the bikes downtube and other suitable places.  (It was  few years before bike frames had sidecar mounting lugs cast integrally).  But the wicker chair was a new feature for motor vehicles though.  I thought it was novel, but some time ago I saw an old movie that featured a Victorian era wheelchair.  And of course it was made of wicker, and looked very much like the sidecar bodies that were rolled out in 1903/04.  So it was simple to buy or build these and drop them onto the sidehack.  Here is a photo of an Invalid Chair as they were called and a link to a description:



The early sidecar chairs had big, long leaf spring suspensions for the body.  The wicker cane made for a light weight assembly, although not as durable as a steel body.  We can only imagine how many of these fine cane bodies were destroyed in minor accidents.  While it was common back then to find people that could repair the wicker, that skill is now another one of the those things that is largely forgotten today.  Every so often a worn wicker seat comes up for sale, but I’ve so far resisted the urge to buy it and teach myself underwater basket weaving.   Chris K in Australia has bitten the bullet and made his own, I’ll show it in a future article.


“Displacing the horse”

1905 sidecar


A “shoe” type sidecar body.  I don’t recognize the bike, but it is around 1910.  A “coffee grinder” handle can be seen on the left side of the fuel tank, so it may have had a NSU two speed…  The missing mudguard on the sidecar gives a good view of the long leaf springs.

1912-13 RE


I don’t recall where I got these next two images, sorry.  Taken on the Banbury run a few years ago.  Chris Read with his Vindec.  Note the Traffault front forks and not one but two dogs on board.

Chris Read VindecP1010135


I like these old adverts.  Lots of references to flying, the sun, wings, etc.  dc_1


This advert from Milford shows some beautiful cane work  and optional covers and windscreens in 1910.  Click on the pics to see the large versions.  Right click to open in a new window.1910 Milford sidecars


And Chater Lea from around the same period.1911 Chater Lea sidecar bodies


And here is a Chater Lea outfit with four headlights, two bulb horns and a stuffed animal mounted just in front of the windscreen!wicker_sidecar


Two pics of a Matchless outfit from Yesterday’s.wicker sidecar1

wicker sidecar2


This one looks a bit like a Rey:




A Christmas card from Barnstormers New Zealand

vintage Xmas bike & sidecar



Photo by Bill Phelps.  He rode his Triumph in the 1960s.  The wicker is from an invalid chair, and the combination still does the Pioneer Run each spring.


This final note from  Ixion’s Reminiscences of Motorcycling:


 Ixion sidecar


13 Comments leave one →
  1. charlie 101 permalink
    March 30, 2012 9:25 am

    Your blog is in my 4 top ranking! Regulary read and always find very interesting info and good pictures. Most every time your pictures make me wish I had the chance to be where you been, at meetings and museums. I really hope you keep up the good work! I read AMCA forum as well, but as I’m not a member I can’t reply there.

  2. Bevars permalink
    April 2, 2012 12:04 pm

    Hi Pete – the bike with the “Coffee Grinder” lever is a circa 1913 Royal Enfield 6 HP model (770cc JAP v-twin). It has 2 primary chains and the coffee grinder engages 1 or other of the 2 clutches to give 2 different direct chain drive ratios. No gears involved.

  3. April 4, 2012 6:35 am


    Great Blog, will see if i can dig out some info, and help you with more info for the next article.



  4. Geert permalink
    April 4, 2012 10:28 am

    I saw a wicker sidecar when I was about 12 years old, quite a few years later I knew I wanted one for my bike.
    A friend sold me his veteran sidecar frame, the body was already thrown away as the condition like most was very sad(the wicker body)
    After buying some cane and a book on how to make small baskets I just started to make my own sidecar body, like Chris K in Australia did.
    I just started at the bottom, if you make mistakes nowbody wil look there, so it’s the best place to start.
    It took me about 2 weeks of christmas holiday to do the weaving (most days were longer than the normal work day)
    After that I spend almost every weekend for about 2 months hand stiching the upholstery.
    I’m very pleased with the result.

    thanks for your article


    • April 4, 2012 10:41 am

      Yeah Geert! Congratulations. It must have been great fun to make up a body starting with nothing. Do you have any photos?

      • Geert permalink
        April 5, 2012 8:58 am

        Hi Pete
        I’v got some photos
        Send me an Email


  5. July 5, 2012 4:24 pm

    Hi Pete,

    Just stumbled upon your awesome Blog. This is amazing. Would like your permission to add your link to my website, on a new page under construction, about info on Vintage Wicker Side Cars. I’m also doing pages on Vintage Wicker Car Body’s, Vintage Wicker Carts and Prams.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Richard. ‘wickerguru’

    • July 5, 2012 4:28 pm

      sure thing Richard! I’m glad to see your site about wicker work. Restoring and building with wicker looks to be a lot of fun, but it isn’t done so much anymore. I hope to learn the basics someday…

      • July 9, 2012 6:10 am

        Many thanks Pete. Incidentally your ‘Two pics of a Matchless outfit from Yesterday’s. looks very familiar to me. If this lives in Sth Australia, then I reckon I’ve done a bit of work on the side car. My next major project is to build a wicker car body and I hope to video the process. If all goes well I’ll give you a link to view. Cheers Richard

  6. November 17, 2014 8:35 pm

    Hi there,
    Love the column! William John and Sidney Charles GRAHAM are my great-great-uncles? 🙂 Their Uncle, John Graham, emigrated to NZ in 1874. He was my great-grandfather.
    Thank you so much.
    Patricia Graham
    New Zealand

  7. Albert Bruin permalink
    June 24, 2022 8:36 am

    Thank you for your interest and work to preserve the creation and early years of the sidecar. The evolution of the (motorized) bicycle is a significant factor in societal changes due to increased mobility; more freedom, choices, an incremental step in women’s emancipation, new fashion modes, etc. I also very much enjoy the sepia tone look that reinforces authenticity. Nice.
    I see you have a blog, great.


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