In the 70s I was living in Warwickshire with Paul Mullis. He had, amongst other bikes, a R75/5 BMW which he had had from new. In 1976, the hot summer, we had ridden up toward the North Cape but just within the Arctic circle in Finland we had a major disaster with the oil filter and the engine was starved of oil. We managed not only to get a lift, with the bike, to a BM dealer 350 miles away but we rebuilt the big ends and managed to ride it home. Unfortunately the main bearings also should have been replaced and the engine was in a sad state by the time we got home - on 90 grade oil! The engine was rebuilt but it was never quite as good again.
In 1981 We saw an advert for a low mileage R75/5 in London and arranged to ride up to have a look at it. Very nice, in a dark red. He decided to buy it and was amused when the guy said 'But how are you going to get it back?'
We shared the riding home, it was as nice as it looked. I used it a bit but I was a dyed in the wool British bike rider and never took to it. My 750 Matchless was good enough for me and far more fun!
Paul used it for work and during the winter I remember it was very reluctant to start at times. It had a kick start as well as the button but it hated the cold. He was struggling one morning trying to get it to fire and came in to the kitchen seething "I don't know what's wrong with that bloody Bbbbeetroot!" and so it was christened. The fault turned out to be something with the choke set up but it took ages to sort it.
By this time the old 51/3 BMW, a 1951 500cc, was struggling on the sidecar and becoming difficult to start so Paul decided to swap the Steib onto the new red bike. He knew that in Germany the R75/5 frames were not TUV approved for sidecar use so he made a strong subframe to take some of the extra load and welded extra fitting points on to the frame.
I was riding the original R75 down to Bristol one weekend when Paul was at a rally in Scotland on his 'new' outfit. I was travelling down the Fosse and the engine started to make the noises I had last heard in Finland. Game over. He wasn't too happy but neither was he surprised. This signalled another development - buy a 1000cc engine for the outfit and the 750 engine could go into his original bike.
We bought a R100RS engine to fit. The outfit was fitted with Wasp forks and 15" CMA wheels. We used the bike during all these improvements but after the forks were fitted it became quite a skittish outfit to ride - too skittish really, almost unmanageable at times but we carried on. Paul was sure the problem was with the tyres - or the suspension - or the damper. He kept altering things to try and fix it.
I was riding it to work one day and after a quick overtake of a van I got into the most terrifying tank slapper. Who knows what the van driver thought but I was Very Worried! When I related the incident to Paul he sort of brushed it off as Heather overreacting as usual. Some weeks later he had altered yet another fitting and went for a test ride. He came back white as a sheet "I've jjjust had your ttank sssslapper" he said! "Not good is it?" I replied, trying not to put a "I told you so" sort of face on.
We let friends ride it and one who was well used to all sort of outfits said it was unrideable, Great. It was fine round corners but unstable on the straight. Another friend, one of those who not only Knows Everything but is actually worth asking, measured the forks. "The forks are the problem - they have no trail. No wonder you have a problem". Ah, lets get back to Wasp.
End of problem, Wasp made the forks for Moto Cross outfits and hadn't taken into account the fact that for a road going outfit you need a different geometry. This was very early days for Wasp selling road going parts and they let us have a different swinging arm which cured it entirely.
The tank was found at the BMF rally - £5 and in need of fittings, no problem! The sidecar heater was made, forcing cold air into the chamber and round the exhaust pipe until, nicely warmed, it blew into the sidecar.
A disc brake was fitted to the rear wheel on an outrigger bearing, a Citroen wheel and disc brake was fitted to the sidecar. The brakes are Lockheed items, Paul worked there. Fibreglass mudguards were bought and adapted to the wider wheels and the sidecar mudguard had additional lights moulded into it.
The very nice instrument panel is home made and incorporates a volt meter and oil pressure gauge. It has five positions on the handlebar heaters which are a welcome addition for a winter outfit.
The Steib body was getting pretty ropey, as they do, but we heard that a fibreglass one was being sold so we passed the original one on and replaced it with the new one.
The fibreglass sidecar was made by Roy Dudgon and Tony Wilde for Mary Dudgon. It is a faithful copy of a Steib body but is about 35mm longer in the boot area. It uses a Steib chassis.
Paul and I designed and made a hood, using my grannies old sewing machine and some waterproof upholstery cloth. We actually made two hoods - the first one had a bit too much headroom so we just made another! Tucked into the chair the passenger was as snug as a bug with the heater on and the rain outside! We took turns riding it and I used it a lot for getting to work in the winter. It is a very stable outfit to ride.
At Christmas we used to join a group in Wales to go trailriding and I rode the outfit with all our luggage etc (I didn't 'do' trail riding!) while Paul used his trail bike. After I left he rigged up a towbar and managed to tow his trail bike by fixing the forks to the sidecar chassis and putting the front wheel in the sidecar body.
Paul and I separated in '89. He took up gliding not long after and didn't use any of his bikes so much then. We kept in touch.
Paul died in 1999 and I inherited the Beetroot. After 10 years it was shabby and hadn't been used for some time. My husband got it going and we used it for several years until it was obvious it needed a major overhaul. This was going to be costly and not an easy task. Paul hadn't left any clue about what he had done in the way of brake components and of course the wiring was a total mystery.
We threw time and money at it and the finished outfit was beautiful. We had a new hood made and had the engine refurbished and checked out. Bear in mind we had bought this engine from a breakers in 1982 and it had never given any trouble.
Unfortunately, within a relatively short time I left Somerset and moved with all my bikes to Bradford. Ted Trett now took on the task of keeping it running.
- Heather MacGregor
The Beetroot moved north to join Paul's R80 in my suddenly larger fleet of vehicles. Keith, Heather's ex-husband, had made a superb job of rebuilding the outfit but as always, there were teething troubles to be sorted out and 11 years later I am still sorting them!
Non standard vehicles are a real pain to work on if you didn't build them yourself. Finding out what the parts Paul and Keith had used were originally made for and if they are still available is all part of working on the Beetroot. For example I have just replaced the rear/sidecar brake master cylinder. It is now mostly a Classic Mini one but I have no idea what the previous one was off. I had another problem with the back brake a few years ago. I hadn't realised it was set up as a floating caliper. The bronze bearing on the caliper bracket had seized onto the rear wheel spindle. The brake still worked fine but because the bracket wouldn't move it made the rear suspension solid. That looked like a major job but luckily it wasn't.
The main problem with the bike is a lack of ground clearance and after knocking a hole in the sump at the Small but Perfectly Reformed rally I made and fitted a sump guard.
Most people think that the sidecar is a Steib but while we were at a local classic bike show someone said "That's a Dudgeon sidecar isn't it?" We got talking and he said he had a pair of Dudgeon & Wylde panniers if we wanted them - how lucky is that? They are fitted now and complete the set.
We both enjoy riding the Beetroot and it does come in handy in winter when the local roads are too icy for a solo bike. We usually use it for our New Year camping weekends in the Brecon Beacons and a couple of years ago we started the year with two weeks touring on it also doing the Force Ten rally and then the week after to the Brass Monkey.
Its on the road all year now being a Historic Vehicle. The tax is free and it no longer needs an MOT
- Ted Trett