The Story of Joe & Alma: The Sidecar TT Couple

joe & Alma Isle of Man TT Sidecar

It’s pretty rare that I come across sidecar racing stories. I run into Facebook updates from fellow racers of course, and I see results from the British and World Championships as they happen. However, when it comes to normal media, sidecars usually come up only as travel stories of people with Ural road-legal outfits, traveling the world.

So imagine my surprise when I came across Joe and Alma – The First American Couple To Race The Isle Of Man TT,” last week on Silodrome. The website is well known for sharing oddities from gearhead culture, but sidecar TT is still obscure even on their pages. The story of Joe and Alma Rocheleau reads like a movie plot. Outlaw bikers from Detroit decide to get into racing, one club member buys a sidecar and races with his wife as passenger, the couple earns a shot at the legendary Isle of Man TT races… adventure ensues. That is a synopsis I could write a feature-length film on in a single binge.

There is no reason for me to rehash the story though since it is already told by Jon Branch in great detail over on Silodrome. Suffice to say that the article is full of excellent photos and reads as part love story, part “local-boy-does-good” story, and part gearhead adventure chronicle; there is something for everyone.

In an interesting plot twist for me, I looked up Joe Rocheleau after reading the story and found I already had spoken to him on social media, back in 2013 when I was trying to head to the Isle of Man TT myself. Sidecars are an unbelievably small world. It seems like I know everyone on the planet that races three wheels on pavement, but of course I run into new people all the time. The discipline is a sub-sub-subculture of motorsport, and you just can’t help but get to know people in the fraternity.

The story also rekindled my interest in actually competing at the Isle of Man. We gave up the effort due to financial constraints and then an injury suffered by then-passenger Giorgina Gottlieb, which pushed the effort past the timeline when she wanted to get out of sidecar racing. If I do ever make it to the Isle of Man to compete, it may have to be the Manx TT, where slightly less money is needed, but there are no sidecar classes… two-wheels-only.

Ah, to dream…

joe & Alma Isle of Man TT Sidecar
Photo via Silodrome
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13 thoughts on “The Story of Joe & Alma: The Sidecar TT Couple

  1. Brian March says:

    It is a great story….as you say almost a movie plot. But as Joe says….there is a part 2. The bike is now in Australia and is back racing again. How do I know….well I own it and I’m racing it! It’s a great bike, handles beautifully and roars from it’s current engine – a Norton 750. I’m in contact with Joe and Jerry Kaplan, who found the bike after being hidden away for 25 years, and hopefully the rest of this great bike’s story can be told.

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    1. johnnykillmore says:

      So many US sidecars end up over there. Have you taken it ti the Island Classic? What number is it? I watch the pics and videos of that race all the time, especially the Irving Vincent bike of course 🙂

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      1. Brian March says:

        No I haven’t raced it at the Island Classic as yet. But it’s raced at a number of tracks around Australia plus it’s competed at hillclimbs and sprints. Classic sidecar racing is huge down here. We regularly get around 40 entered at our club’s events. I have heaps of photo’s I can send you if you’re interested.

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      2. johnnykillmore says:

        Cool. Yes I’ve seen the grid at the Classic and also seen some modern stuff at Eastern Creek. All the vintage sidecars here are on the east coast, so there isn’t much of a show. Otherwise I would have a vintage machine myself. As it stands we run an F2 with a 1000cc engine to compete with the F1s everyone has and also do the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It’s unfortunately a small sport here.
        If you have any galleries online I’d love to take a look of course. My stuff is on http://www.johnnykillmore.Smugmug.com

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  2. Joe Rocheleau says:

    Thanks for writing a great addition to super article posted on Silodrome.com . I am starting to think about a part 2. Joe

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    1. Brian March says:

      In Australia, sidecar racing is big enough to support classic and moderns. We have everything from F1 long bikes to pre 46 girder forked old bangers. The most popular historic sidecar class is what we call Period 3 – 1946 to 1962. This is full of Nortons, Triumph’s, BSA’s and even a few HD’s. I have a Period 3 Norton as well. 2 years ago I raced it at Eastern Creek….we were in with F2’s! Lucky my swinger was good at letting me know when the quick guys were coming! Most historic sidecar teams don’t do the Island or the Creek….just too hard on the old motors. But there are heaps of tight twisty tracks down here to race at where we can get them sideways…. Check out the HMRAV Facebook page….tonne’s of photos there.

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      1. johnnykillmore says:

        Yes we run the classics with the F1 and F2 all together. At Willow Springs there is a lot of 5th and 6th gear corners. The closing speed is amazing. They are going 80mph, we are going 125mph. You have to plan ahead. On the east coast there are bigger grids of P2 and P3. It takes a very large grod to separate the modern and vintage bikes though.

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    1. Brian March says:

      That doesn’t sound like much fun for anybody! That sort of speed differential is dangerous. When I raced my 62 Norton with the F2’s I was lucky as I knew all the guys and they gave me space. But I think we just spent the whole time thinking about who was coming up behind us. It’s hard to make the classes grow when they’re all in together. Our club has put a few things in place which has really seen the classes grow over the years. Our Championships in a weeks time has three separate races for outfits – P3 1946-1962, P4 1963-1972 and P5/F2 1973-1982 & modern F2’s. We have about 40 sidecars entered out of a field of about 220 bikes.

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      1. johnnykillmore says:

        Well, it’s hard to run a race weekend if you split a grid of 8 modern and 2 vintage bikes into two races. That is what we usually have. Even if we get 20 bikes, it’s 3 modern and 17 vintage.

        The speed difference can be a problem but you just think about it 2 corners ahead. It’s not fun, but in practice it’s cool following them around for a few corners.

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