You may have seen Isle of Man TT onboard laps before, but usually, they’re with some of the solo riders. Maybe you’ve seen an onboard with the likes of John McGuinness or Michael Dunlop or something. While that’s cool, of course, it’s a completely different world from sidecar racing—as you’ll see in this video featuring the seemingly unstoppable Birchall brothers.
Ben and Tom Birchall have been an absolute force to be reckoned with in TT circles since 2013. The pair started in 2009, refining their teamwork and getting to grips with the infamous mountain course. From 2013 forward, though, they started racking up TT sidecar wins left and right. If they could finish a race, it was always on top.
How fast do they go? At the 2022 IOMTT, the Birchalls very nearly topped 120 miles per hour on one lap—which would have been a new record. However, rather than concentrate on outright speed, the pair instead focused on getting themselves around the course as quickly and well as they could. Although they didn’t top their own record, they still went plenty fast.
For most of us, experiencing sidecar racing through the action cameras on the Birchalls’ helmets is likely as close as we’ll ever get. Still, it’s an exhilarating education—and one that shows you once and for all that the term “sidecar passenger” as conferred in a racing context is, quite possibly, the most misleading term in racing.
The word “passenger” usually denotes a passive participant, someone just going along for the ride. A sidecar passenger in racing, on the other hand, is anything but passive. To be successful, sidecar teams must work as one, with the rider and passenger anticipating each other’s every move and acting accordingly. While the rider mostly stays at the controls, it’s the passenger’s job to shift their weight around the entire surface of the sidecar—even hanging off at awkward, strange, and dangerous angles when they deem it necessary.
Why do they do this? If you’ve ridden a solo motorcycle, you’re probably already familiar with the idea that shifting your weight around the bike can help you steer around corners. The same is true of a sidecar rig, only it’s much wider and lower to the ground. The sidecar passenger can (and does) move all over the entire surface, even to the point of almost getting on top of the rider in certain circumstances.
Basically, it’s a good passenger’s job to do whatever needs to be done to keep the rig flowing around the course. The rider, meanwhile, may even be able to keep the throttle wide open most of the time, depending on the lines and maneuvering the pair have worked out for a given course. Sidecar rigs may not have the most power—but they’re torquey machines, and in the right hands, watching them work is nothing short of breathtaking.