About one year ago I approached Mike McMillan about doing a special project for a friend in a wheelchair. My friend Kenneth had an old 750 Hondamatic with a special-built sidecar on it that allowed him to drive from the sidecar. A rather strange sight going down the road, but it worked. After acquiring a 1976 1000 Convert from a guy in Ft. Worth, Texas, and putting up with Ken Hand a whole day just to get it home, I asked Mike if it would be possible to put the sidecar rig on the Convert. The Honda was about to fall apart, and I was tired of gettin' an oil bath every time I followed it anywhere. Mike said, "I don't see why not," thus The Project was underway. Little did he realize what a wild time was in store in order to do this.
About the time all this talking was going on, he and I were preparing to go to the National Rally in New Mexico, so everything kinda went on hold until we got back. At the National we looked at several sidecar rigs, attended a seminar, talked to sidecar owners, and discussed a lot of possible ideas for The Project. Upon returning home after a wild trip, we started to discuss ways of improving the old setup and making the rig easier to handle and safer to operate. I will try to recall each incident to the best of my ability. I know I will get reamed if it's not right, but my memory ain't what it used to be, so here goes ...
NOTE: As you read this, remember that when I refer to "we", it means I'm coming up with all the dumb ideas, and Mike is doin' all the work and engineering. If anyone decides to try this at home, please seek professional help from your local mental institution!
[Ed Note: By the way - there used to be a dis jockey at a local radio station in Salina, Kansas, who owned a Honda with a sidecar made for a wheel chair. The sidecar was very low at the back, and using a metal ramp, this guy would wheel himself onto the sidecar and away he'd go. Neat! -FW]
First brainstorm was to remove the sidecar from the old bike, and for me to get the Convert running since it hadn't run in over five years. After a few days of tinkering I managed to get it going and everything seemed fine. Why didn't somebody tell me that a Convert will try to leave the garage on its own when running it on the center stand? I got the Honda into the shop and removed the sidecar, so off to another stage of revamping. We decided to remove the boat trailer tire from the sidecar and put on a motorcycle tire and wheel assembly. Mike headed to the drawing board and a few days later emerged with a perfect setup. After much bad language and sweating, it was installed and functional. The old setup worked but caused a lot of steering and stopping problems. Now I know why they put boat trailer tires on boat trailers!
Since I was so good at comin' up with ideas and Mike was so good at makin' em work, I asked him if it was possible to put a ramp on the back so Kenneth wouldn't have to jump the chair up into the car every time. Mike said, "I don't see why not." Off he went to the drawing board and the next time I saw the sidecar I couldn't, believe what he had done. My first thought was, "This guy watches too much Star Trek or sumthin', but after he demonstrated the ramp I had to admit it looked good and it worked, so that was good enuff for me.
My next brainstorm was how about a reverse so Kenneth could back up if he got in a tight spot. Guess what Mike said ...(yep, you guessed it), "I don't see why not." So I acquired a starter motor off a motorcycle (if yours is missin' I ain't got it), and Mike built the weirdest lookin' thing you ever saw. It had a lever and a switch and a rubber wheel, and guess what, it worked!
While at the national rally, Mike checked out some different bikes with sidecars and strange front ends and decided to move the front forks forward to increase the whatever it is you increase to make a sidecar rig work, I told you I don't know a lot about this stuff but if he liked it and it worked, it was okay with me.
Now here's the trick, he didn't wanna build a new front end so he came up with his own way of moving the forks, and it looked really good. Don't ask me what he did, and I wouldn't suggest askin' him either unless you wanna hear some bad language.
Next came the mounting of the sidecar to the bike, and I decided to stay out of the way for awhile 'cause I'm not exactly too popular around the shop after all the ideas I kept coming up with, but I did drop by occasionally to see if I could help in anyway. Not that I am much help, but at least I offered moral support and Mike had a chance to throw stuff at somebody! He got the mounts built and attached the sidecar to the bike. I forgot to mention that the original mounts were solid, so there was no adjustment, which meant if Kenneth turned loose of the handlebars the bike would head for the ditch, which it did a time or two. Sidecars have to be mounted and adjusted so that the whole rig runs straight down the road, for those of us who don't know these things.
Now we were into the remounting of handlebars to the sidecar and relocating controls so Kenneth could operate from the sidecar as originally set up. Boy was that fun! Have you ever tried to make a standard cable reach another three feet? It was a matter of removing and trying to locate longer cables and running longer wires from bike to sidecar. Now The Project seemed to take on a different look.
Longer cables and brake lines aren't available just anywhere, so we started looking and scrounging and finally got everything needed to make it all work. Mike built brackets and mounts for almost all the controls so everything was operable. In the meantime, I chased parts and thought up new stuff to add or change. It was time for me to disappear again!
During the next few months things sort of dragged along, and the usual problems kept popping up. We didn't have things we needed or there was a ride somewhere that we had to go on, you know, the usual stuff. Local folks kept asking when will "The Project" be finished, and we started wondering where all these people were when we needed parts or help. As usual everybody had something else better to do.
Also, several things had to be removed and changed on the bike. The original seat wouldn't work due to the parking brake assembly that was added (we won't go into that), and a small pad was built to replace it to cover the battery and components. Since the handlebars were moved, a bracket had to be built for the speedo housing, and it was mounted on an angle where the handlebars were before. It sat on an angle so Kenneth could easily see it from the sidecar. Another problem was the clutch disengaging lever. It had to be mounted in the sidecar because the two top levers are now brakes. The kickstand was removed and the switch disabled. The right turn signals were removed and mounted outside the sidecar.
As "The Project" moved into the finishing stages, I (being the wiring guru) managed to get most of the wires back to where they belong and things started to work again. It was nice to hear it spin over again after all those months. I would love to get my hands on the guy who tried to rewire the bike before! I also discovered during the rewiring process that the bike was a police model and had a lot more wires than a normal Convert. Just what I needed to know!
During some of my slack time, I managed to repaint the tank and sidecovers. I am good for a few things, just don't tell my wife!
Okay, so it took almost a year to complete, but what do you expect from a guy who works a full time job, and another who is just slow and lazy (me, of course). Now as I look back and remember all the stuff that went on in building "The Project", if anyone ever asks about building another one all I can say is "I Don't Think So!" unless they got lots of money, and we can start with just a bike. Recreating somebody else's mess turns into a nightmare.
This article is a tribute to Mike McMillan for all the blood, sweat, and ugly words that went into building "The Project". I feel he deserves national recognition for his time and effort. After all, everything that went into this came out of his pocket or mine with the exception of the bike. So, when you see Kenneth at some of the rallies on his new "Guzzi Sidecar Rig", drop by and say, "Hello," and check it out, and if you see Mike anywhere, don't mention it 'cause I might not be there to pull him offofya!
Thanks Mike - For A Job Well Done !!