| Joey and I after the games at the 1997 USCA National Rally.
The windshield is removed for the field events.
I was at the BMW Motorrad booth at the 1985 Americade Tour-Expo when the salesman said I could give it a test ride if I showed up at their motel at 8:00 the next morning. That night all I could think about was riding what in my mind was the ultimate BMW. Of course, I showed up at 7:55 with my wife Patti for the test ride. There it was, an R100, custom wheels, wide tires, café fairing, custom paint, simply beautiful. Patti and I got on and fired it up. The R100 felt much more powerful than my R75/5. Oh what music. Now for the fun!
I eased out of the parking lot and worked my way out onto a main road. Big motor, good shocks, dual disks, sport bars this thing is going to be a real hoot to drive. I waited for a clear shot in the traffic, gave a good measure of left correction for torque, then gunned it in second gear. All of a sudden I was in the left lane, gathering speed at an alarming rate. When I snapped the throttle closed and gave my normal correction and wham, I am heading for the right shoulder. I manage to stay in my lane, but only as a series of weaves. I could not go straight. This thing did just what I said. Only problem was I was shouting and it wanted a whisper. Talk about sensitive steering.
I slowed down and headed down a side street to turn around. I looked at Patti and she was scared. Way scared. I got the look that said, "This was not a good idea." Needless to say, I took it very easy on the way back to the hotel lot. Even with my best effort I could still not go straight, just a slow weave all the way back to the motel. So ended my first ride on an EML sidecar.
As the motor cooled, I tried to figure out why I could not go in a straight line. I had over 15k miles riding my R75/5 with California Friendship sidecar rig. One of the reasons I wanted the EML was better handling and easier steering. It seems these attributes combined with the short bars were in direct conflict with my experience of muscling around my rig. The problem was me.
The salesman offered me the Kawasaki KZ1300 rig for a test ride. The 6 cylinder Kaw was a monster. I was assured the wider bars on this bike would calm down the handling. My negotiating skills must have been in top form that morning because I was able to calm Patti down and convince her to take a second ride in one of the zigging-zagging sidecars. As I lowered the car, I assured her that I would take it very easy this time, with no weaving. The Kawasaki had much wider bars; almost twice that of the BMW. This made a huge difference in the steering. Weaving was still a problem but now the amplitude was about one-third and I could stay in my lane with confidence. On the way back, I screwed up my courage and decided to feel what six 218cc cylinders would do. Yeee-haaaa!!! This Kaw really hauled! I even managed to stay in my lane this time. The second ride set the hook.
On the way back from the rally, I thought about how much I liked the EML. As an engineer, I recognized that this was a no-compromise machine, purposely built to be a sidecar. The BMW kits have a whole new frame that is much stronger than the original. It has earls forks, car tires, good suspension and disk brakes all around. Patti liked it too; the ride was much better, it was easier to get in and out of, and there was this wonderful big trunk. The sidecar was much roomier inside, which would give our Labrador Retriever, "Bulk," a little more room to stretch out on his way to rallies. The EML was the ultimate no-compromise sidecar.
On the other hand, my R75/5 rig was full of compromises. The handling was poor. The bike would wallow and lean as the stock suspension tried to deal with the forces of cornering, acceleration, and bumps. Meanwhile, the sidecar had a puny little torsion bar with a full 2" of travel which made it ride like a skateboard. The stock drum brakes were somewhat overwhelmed with the combined weight of us, Bulk, and all our stuff. Similarly, the engine felt the weight too. I had dual plugged and ported the heads, but the engine still strained under the load. We also had issues with the sidecar as it was a tight squeeze for Patti and Bulk. The only luggage space was behind the seat so everyone had to get out to access it.
One of the biggest problems with the R75 rig was the steering. Because of its asymmetric thrust, no sidecar wants to go straight. Under acceleration, the bike tries to pass the chair, causing a right turn. When you slow down, the sidecar wants to pass you, causing a left turn. This was exacerbated on the R75 by the soft suspension and short wheel base that let the bike rise under acceleration that caused it to lean toward the sidecar and turn right. Of course, when you hit the brakes, the bike's suspension would drop like a rock, the bike would lean out, and the rig would turn left. I learned to compensate and ride straight but I often felt like I had been bench pressing instead of riding.
Compromise did have an advantage as I could take the sidecar off the R75 in about ten minutes with only a ½" and 9/16" wrench. There were two times when this was really handy. I always took the chair off when I went to get the bike inspected. I figured there was no reason to risk an accident by a mechanic who had never ridden a sidecar. Besides, with less to inspect, there would be less to find wrong. It was also handy to remove the chair at rallies and poker runs so I could participate in the field events. I would often ride a poker run, take the chair off and tie the dog to the chair, then compete in the slow ride. (Sometimes I would even win!). The best was at the BMW MOA at Lake Placid. I won the gold medal for the plank ride, then bolted on the chair and my Dad and I took the silver in the blind man's weave. I guess I could always borrow a bike for the field events.
Patti and I talked about buying an EML rig for a while, but never did anything. Then, BMW introduced the K100. This would be the perfect machine for hauling a sidecar. It had plenty of horsepower and water cooling so it could easily shoulder the load of a sidecar. The engineers at BMW must have been thinking "sidecar" when they made the K-series since the engine maintenance was performed from the left side. They were also thoughtful of the sidecar passenger since they put all of the noisy bits like exhaust, valves, injectors and cam drive on the left also. Only two questions remained: Did EML make a kit for the K-100 and how could I afford it? At that time, the EML kit was only about $1,000 less than the plain K-100.
The first question was answered later that summer at the Finger Lakes rally when I saw my first K100/EML. It was just like I had perceived it in my mind. A strong subframe went under the engine connecting the steering head to the transmission. There were three nice, wide car tires mounted on custom wheels. The teleforks were replaced with a robust earls fork which retained the stock dual disks and added a wide fender. The monoshock suspension was replaced with a dual shock arrangement in the rear. The suspension was via five adjustable Koni shocks. EML made it, but could I ever afford it?
Prices of used K-bikes were out of my reach since they were just introduced and did not have time to depreciate. It made much more sense for me to look for a wreck since I would not need the wheels and forks for the EML project. For the next year or so I kept feeling around for a wrecked K100. About once a month I would stop by my local BMW dealer, the now defunct Kawasaki of Sellersville and ask the salesman if there were any K100 wrecks. The owner, Bob Jones, happened to be on the sales floor during one of my visits. He asked me why I was so adamant about finding a wreck. I went through the whole story about the EML and he said, "How about this one?", pointing to the plain K100 that had been there all year. It turns out the bike was about to go off the floor plan and he was looking to sell it. I explained that I would still be better off with a wreck since I would not need the forks or wheels. He then offered to buy the parts back. Still, it sounded like too much money, especially when I figured in the cost of the EML kit. Bob was persistent and he offered to let me have the kit at his price. He also mentioned that I could finance the bike through BMW at a discounted rate. My arm was well twisted at this point.
When I went home, I explained the deal to Patti. Before I could get into it, she asked, "What about the weaving?" I assured her that I would grow accustomed to the light steering and I would be going straight in no time. She just said, "Go for it". I love that woman!
The next day I returned to the dealer with a list of all the parts I would not need from the bike, a second list of the BMW accessories I wanted for the bike, and the description of the model sidecar I wanted with the phone number for BMW Motorrad. A few days later, they called with a price and it was "all systems go". On June 16, 1986 I picked up my new, Caribbean blue K100.
The original plan was for me to take the bike home and let it sit until the sidecar came in, then I would start disassembly. This way I would be returning brand new tires. Unfortunately, there was a delay with the EML kit so the bike sat with eight miles on the odometer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since after a few weeks of delay, Bob felt sorry for me and said I should start riding the bike. I was able to break it in with 1500 solo miles before the EML arrived.
|The EML Earle's Front End|
| K100 Hanging From Ceiling. Note: I have
covered the headlight of the R75 so she would
not "see" her replacement.
| One of the Parts Bags, Brake Lines,
New Steering Stem and Double-sided Swingarm
The mechanical assembly process was fairly straightforward in concept. Remove the front and rear suspension, centerstand and lower steering bearing. Mount the subframe to the bearing cavity and to the transmission where the centerstand mounted. The first problem came when I realized that I could not put the subframe in place with the jack supporting the bike. I solved the problem by suspending the bike from the ceiling with tie-downs (tie-ups??). This turned out to be quite stable and made it easy to work around the bike. The bike modifications were pretty much a bolt-on affair requiring just a few small parts to be modified or fabricated. I had a few questions that required a call to Motorrad. They were familiar with the problem and gave me a quick answer, no matter how obscure the problem seemed to me. They were a big help when I needed them.
While the bike modifications were bolt-on, the sidecar body assembly was cut and file one piece at a time. My plan was to assemble the sidecar and run it for a month or so to find any assembly problems, then disassemble it and have it painted. The body was fairly rough with no mounting holes and no templates. Each part had to be fit, aligned, marked, drilled, re-fit, the remaining holes marked, taken off, complete drilling, then finally assembled. For example, the windshield attaches to the cowl, cross bar, convertible top frame, and the convertible top. This required the above procedure for all 31 holes in a $300 piece of Plexiglas that allowed no room for error. For each part, I had to root through the two large bags to find the most likely fasteners. About 140 of the 200+ hours of assembly time were spent on the sidecar.
One area where EML fell short was on the electrical wiring. There was not enough wire or conductors to make all the lights work. There was no provision for disconnecting the sidecar wiring from the bike for service. I solved this problem by running a nine-conductor cable from the bike to a quick disconnect that ran into a small junction box in the trunk. This gave me plenty of lines to the sidecar and gave me a place to install a relay. The relay activated the brake light so I would not pull too much current through the brake monitoring circuit on the bike.
Experience is a good teacher. One thing I always missed in my old rig was interior lights. If you dropped your riding glove into the sidecar at night, it was lost until you found your flashlight, or until daylight. I made interior from truck marker lights with clear lenses. I even put an automatic switch so the lights go on when you open the trunk. So far, the lights and electrical system have worked flawlessly.
My first ride was on a chilly, wet night in late October around 11:00. I put on my helmet and eased my new rig into the alley. I tentatively eased the clutch out and started off slowly, accelerating and decelerating to get a feel for the dynamics of the EML. This produced good results, strong acceleration and light steering. Then I tried the brakes. I squeezed the front brake and it felt awful, fair level feel, but almost no braking. I squeezed harder, but I was still disappointed. Then I pulled a little harder and I heard the front tire sliding across the wet pavement. I guess the brakes did work. From riding telefork bikes, I had equated dive with braking. With the earls fork, braking ¹ dive. I had a lot to learn.
With a little more confidence I went out on some larger roads and picked up the speed. It was "déjà vu all over again" as I relived my first test ride. I was compensating for bad handling that was not present. I would have to unlearn a lot of my driving techniques.
The maiden touring voyage was to the annual Tri-State Sport Touring Frosty Toes campout in November 1986. When I packed up Patti, Bulk and all of our stuff, it fit! Gone were the days of looking like a nomad with all the bags tied onto the bike. Patti and Bulk had much more room too. The first trip was a success. Everyone liked their new accommodations. The difference in the ride was like night and day. Nothing soaks up bumps like an earls fork. The swing arm suspension on the sidecar was a big improvement too. Oh, yes, I still weaved a little bit.
One thing we noticed was that the sidecar floor was soft, bending substantially when it was stepped on. It also vibrated at speeds that bothered the dog. I solved this by reinforcing the floor of the sidecar and trunk with a 3/16" mat of Kevlar and epoxy resin. This stiffened things up quite a bit and both passengers were much happier. While I had the Kevlar out, I also reinforced the body seam. BMW Motorrad told me that this seam could not be painted since it would always flex and crack the paint. Their solution was to put a wide strip of automotive door guard molding over it. This always looked like a Band-Aid to me and I wanted to avoid it.
Just before Christmas, I pulled the body off and disassembled all the bits. I then loaded the whole lot, and a quart of BMW Caribbean Blue into the truck and headed off to a local auto body shop. They used my job as a fill between other jobs and it took 2-1/2 months. However, the results were worth the wait. The color match was perfect and the body seam had completely disappeared. It only took a day to put it all back together. The completed rig looked brilliant. The lines of the plain K100 and sidecar looked well together.
I also do a lot of local riding with the rig. I split my commuting about 50/50 with my other bike, an R90s. It is very handy for running errands. The trunk alone will hold three bags of groceries and a case of beer. I have had two people on the bike with two people and the dog in the sidecar without problem. I use it to haul everything. It has gotten to the point where the checkout person doesn't question me anymore when I have 40 pounds of dog food in one hand and my helmet in the other. Some of the more interesting things I have hauled are; 2x4 studs, engine block from my Toyota, 12' concrete rebar, rolls of insulation, five gallon buckets of drywall compound and roofing materials. Of course, having three wheels expands my riding season. Light snow or ice is no problem.
One of the best parts about the BMW/EML is the handling. I can easily keep up with my friends on solo bikes, even with the chair empty. Four disk brakes acting on three tires with a combined width of over 16 inches stops the rig quickly, wet or dry. I take it out in the snow when conditions are right. One wheel drive is a little limiting and if I don't like the way I am sliding, I just use the other brake. Oh, yes, I have licked the pilot-induced weaving problem.
The rig has remained almost the same as the day I put it together. Still, a few improvements were made along the way. I improved the brake feel with stainless lines. Honda VR750 hydraulic clutch lines fit well on the earls fork. I switched to Dunlopad brakes to eliminate the brake squeal. Sidecar vibration was further reduced by replacing the original rubber body mounts with larger ones from the Lord Company. This cut the vibration by about half.
The K100/EML combo has been easy to live with. I get 30-40 miles per gallon depending on load and speed. (The mileage is corrected for the 15" car tires.) Tires last a good while; rear 22K, sidecar 10K and the front I replaced at 34K miles due to dry rot. Looking back at my records, the problems have been fairly minor. The left saddle bag kept falling off until I realized the rear wheel bearing was hitting it. I fixed this by heating the saddle bag and making a relief for the outer bearing carrier. The starter Sprague clutch stopped working at 10K. I replaced the part and the problem is fixed, but I can't say if the clutch was bad or if it had frozen due to ice buildup. I had been taking very short rides in January and there were water drops on the part when I took it out. I will never know the real cause. Motorrad encouraged me to have a look at the wheel bearings at 25K. Upon inspection I found one to be trash and several others to be marginal. All bearings and seals were standard sizes and available locally. The rear brake reservoir disintegrated from the sun at 26K. I installed the new style. The oil/water pump seal went at 32K. I was able to rebuild it with the sidecar in place. The EML steering damper developed a leak at 34K. BMW Motorrad had the rebuild kit in stock.
In short, the first 11 years have gone well and we still love the EML. Empty, the complete rig weights 820 pounds. This is about the same as a Honda Gold Wing. I have taken it to the national rallies is Escanaba, Madison and York. I am sorry to say that Bulk passed on with about 10K sidecar miles. Our new Labrador, "Kasa," loves to ride. My favorite passenger now is my five-year old son, Joey. He has been hacking since he was two, just barely able to hold the helmet up. Our first rally together was the United Sidecar Association national rally in Monson, Massachusetts. We had a great time and he wants to go to more rallies. I can't wait until my five-month old son Matt can come with us. All in all, my problems have been few. The bike continues to fill an important role at the Dille house even as the family grows and changes. I look forward to the next 11 years.
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