News & Politics

Washingtoniana: Whose Side(car) Are You On?

In this week’s edition of Washingtoniana—our feature where we collect your questions about Washington and do some sleuthing to find the answers—we find out the purpose of police motorcycle sidecars.

Photo by Flickr user takomabibelot.

"Why do DC policemen attach sidecars to their motorcycles around this time?"

You’ve seen them around—the motorcycles with the little car attached to the side. While recreational bikers might use them as an attention getter, it serves a real purpose when utilized by the DC police force.

It helps provide extra stability during the winter months, according to Traci Hughes, the executive director of the public information office for the Metropolitan Police Department. She says that sidecars are typically attached from mid-October (after Columbus Day) until March 17.

When the sidecar—also referred to as a combination or a rig—is attached to the motorcycle, it creates a three-wheeled vehicle. Sidecars include a passenger seat and a small trunk in the back.

The sidecar was first manufactured in the early 1900s and was used often during the recession years of the 1930s through 1950s, according to For instance, the site says in 1925 the German manufacturer, Steid, was contracted to build a sidecar for the Ardie TM-500 motorcycle. In addition to police using sidecars, the armed forces also used them, and during World War II, the German military used BMW (which used Steid sidecars at this time) and Zündapp sidecar motorcycles.

Hughes says that the DC police force started using sidecars in 1932. The Special Operation Division has 40 motorcycles with sidecars, while Patrol Services has 12.

Though the sidecars can hold passengers, the DC police rarely uses them to carry riders, Hughes says.

“For some parades and community events, children have been allowed to ride,” she says, but police dogs are not allowed in sidecars. Motor officers sometimes give foot-beat officers a ride, but Hughes says that doesn’t happen as often as it used to.

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