A sidecar ride to heaven

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The coffin sidecar rig attached to a 1936 Rudge Special.

RHYS Wilson is giving people the opportunity to have their last ride in supreme style.

Rhys Wilson with the motorcycle hearse which he has designed and created.

Whether it be the scenic route, a lap of Teretonga Park, or revisiting a person’s favourite places, Mr Wilson has built a coffin sidecar rig to transform his Rudge into a motorcycle hearse to take people on their last lap.

He has developed the service to take loved family members and friends to wherever they wanted to go on their final journey, he said.

“It is a way to give others the ride of their life, and a chance for people to honour their loved ones.”

The hearse made its debut at the Riverton Show Day almost two years ago, and yes, it certainly caught the attention of everyone who passed by.

He described the creation of the coffin rig as a “labour of love” and a way to honour his dad.

It was the beginning of the Rudge addiction for Mr Wilson, of Ryal Bush.

His first was a 1936 Rudge Special, the common garden variety, he said.

The difference was, it was in pieces, in 12 boxes.

“It was a real basket case which needed to be put together.”

That was 17 years ago.

Mr Wilson worked on it the first two to three years to get it “semi-right”, before running it around for the next year unpainted to get all the “gremlins out”.

Then came the paint job in the traditional Rudge colour with gold details and signage, which John McMurdo was commissioned to do.

Now, “it’s got its own patina”, Mr Wilson said, especially when the seat and saddle bag were taken into consideration. The seat came from England and the saddle bag via a swap meet.

“The seat is original – patina and all,” which means it is well worn and certainly has character in a Steve McQueen way which adds to the charm of the vintage classic.

Throughout the years it has been taken on various motorcycle runs, rallies and shows, sometimes with a traditional sidecar attached, including to Bluff, at Mandeville and the two day Around the Mountain Run via Te Anau.

Its latest incarnation has been to attach the coffin sidecar rig and transform the Rudge into a hearse.

Mr Wilson has been working on the concept for a while.

“The idea began when I started building racing sidecars,” he said.

While at a funeral a while later, he casually said to his son, Michael, ‘when it’s my time, take me on the sidecar’, to which his son replied, ‘if that’s the case, then you better build one cos I won’t have time’.

It was three years ago when Mr Wilson’s father died and he constructed a similar coffin rig to the Rudge.

“Dad was a bike man as well, and it seemed fitting. We also had Dad’s helmet resting on top of the coffin.”

It was a basic setup for his father’s trip, with plywood and strapping. But from that, the template for current rig was designed.

The deck has been fashioned from white oak by Heritage Furniture, and the fittings (rollers and sizing latches) were sourced from Canada.

Although motorcycle hearses were “common” overseas, in particular used with Harley Davidsons, the folk at Heritage Furniture were “very surprised” by the request, he said.

“They used the template from the ply, rollers have been fitted into it for the casket to roll along, and sizing fittings have also been incorporated for the different casket sizes, as well as secure strapping.”

For Mr Wilson, the coolest thing on the rig was the hubs, which he sourced from Ireland.

“The oldest piece on the bike came from the furthest place away – Ireland.”

The frame was made from a modified sidecar, and can be attached to a variety of his Rudges, whether the classic Rudge Special or the racing Rudge Ulster, which has been used at several Burt Munro Challenges.

Mr Wilson had spoken to a few funeral directors before designing the final plans, and said so far the reaction had been very positive.

Although Mr Wilson would always be the driver, he was also willing to take along another passenger on the back of the bike if they would like to travel along.

Asked how it handed, given the extra dimensions and weight, Mr Wilson said it was “very heavy to drive”, and it paid to be cautious.

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