Harvey Seel is something of a celebrity in these parts. Chauffeured around the city by his personal driver, complete strangers stop in their tracks to yell his name in hopes of catching his attention, or better yet, a photo to show their friends. Adults smile and children cheer with glee at his very appearance.
He isn’t a professional athlete, a famous singer, or a Hollywood actor. In fact, he’s a five-year-old Sheepadoodle who happens to love riding in a motorcycle sidecar with his dog dad, Phil. It’s gained him the nickname and social media handle @sidecarharvey.
Love at first sight
Phil met Harvey at a breeder outside of Ottawa when he was only four weeks old. The two of them bonded immediately. Harvey’s chocolate-dipped ears and buoyant personality immediately won Phil over and he took him home four weeks later.
They say only bikers know why a dog sticks its head out the window. As a long-time motorcyclist, Phil was intrigued by the fact that the hypo-allergenic puppy loved car rides. Initially concerned that perhaps a squirrel or cat would cause the pup to jump out the window, his fears were slowly calmed when he continually found that Harvey just loved feeling the breeze on his face and had no intentions of giving chase.
Side by side
Going through a breakup, Phil didn’t want to leave his furry friend home alone when going for a ride, so he decided to do something about it. Following Waffles the Great Dane on Instagram inspired him to start looking for a sidecar. He had a 1995 BMW R100R at the time, but that didn’t suit his plans. He found a 1988 BMW R100RT in the Goderich area which would serve as the basis for the project. Then he tracked down a 1985 Velorex 562 sidecar north of Quebec City. Phil explains, “I took on the task of marrying them together, hoping he (Harvey) would enjoy it as much as I knew I would.” He did some suspension work and upgraded the sub-frame for better handling.
Phil did a solo run around the block to get accustomed to the handling of a sidecar before giving the next ride to his dad to ensure it was safe. “Having weight in the sidecar actually helps it handle better,” says Phil. “That trip went great too, so I removed the bottom half of the sidecar chair, and bolted fabric bungies with carabiners to the lap belt mounting points.” From that moment on, if they were going somewhere and the sun was shining, it would be on three wheels.
Phil admits that he did lure Harvey into the sidecar with the promise of treats initially, but that now he genuinely loves it. When the gear goes on and the front door opens, he knows he’s going for a ride. He flies out the front door and runs up the driveway, jumping into the sidecar on his own accord. He would even sit in the sidecar during the construction process and didn’t flinch the first time the old 980 cc air-cooled engine fired up.
When asked if Harvey actually enjoys it (as he often is), Phil likes to explain that it’s like a dog riding in the car with the window open, but perhaps multiplied by 1,000. “He gets all the sights, smells, attention and treats,” adding, “He takes it all in, and all the while we’re enjoying time together rather than me riding and him sitting at home.”
Dressed for the occasion
Outfitted in a harness to make sure he stays securely in place, Harvey is often seen wearing a pair of dog goggles called Rex Specs and a jaunty scarf. When the weather turns chilly, he dons one of his fashionable jackets and a head muff to stay warm and toasty. He’s also been known to wear costumes on special occasions like Halloween or Canada Day.
“His balance is amazing,” admits Phil. “He’ll lean in the turns with me and stay vertical when I fly the chair.” Harvey remains in an upright seated position until they’ve reached speeds of about 60 km/h at which point he’ll lay down with his head out the side or he’ll curl up in a ball and have a nap.
From short trips to long journeys
Starting with short jaunts to the leash-free dog park several times a week, they’ve moved on to much longer trips. They stick to backroads rather than taking the highway. “We don’t get anywhere fast,” says Phil. “But isn’t that the point of riding? This way we enjoy the journey and get to take it all in.” You could say their trips are calculated by smiles per hour. One memorable weekend trip involved a ride through Algonquin Park, while another took them around Georgian Bay where they took the ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island.
“When we go on longer trips, I always plan stops where he can have a swim or run around on the way to our destination, explains Phil. “I’ve mapped out most of the dog-friendly patios in southern Ontario.”
Their longest (pre-pandemic) excursion thus far included a 10-day ride through the Finger Lakes to Lake Placid, New York and Stowe, Vermont where they stayed at pet-friendly hotels and ate on pet-friendly patios. Everywhere they go, Harvey is treated like a celebrity, and according to Phil, “He gets fed very well.” Finishing up his fourth season, Harvey and Phil have logged over 16,000 km together so far with no intentions of stopping. Travelling is better when experienced with friends and loved ones; it makes no difference whether they’ve got two legs or four.
Causing a stir
Phil admits that traffic patterns change around them wherever they go. People veer into their lane or get out of their cars at intersections to take pictures. Harvey loves the attention and no matter where they go, it is never dull for a moment.
Life is better, together
“I had no idea it would turn into this much fun for us,” says Phil. “It turns out he’s a total pro who loves to ham it up for the camera.” When stopped for photo ops, they’ve put other dogs and even small children in the sidecar with Harvey and he takes it all in stride. “I’m convinced by his smile that he loves it as much as I do,” adds Phil.
Harvey also gives Phil a reason to get out of the house and travel. He provided focus and gave him many reasons to smile even during life’s challenges – from a breakup to the pandemic. Not all dogs would be interested in riding in a sidecar and not many owners would build them one – it’s a unique a special relationship. Going on adventures together has enriched both Phil and Harvey’s lives and forged an indelible bond between them. The fact that it also brings so much joy to the strangers they come across during their travels is just icing on the cake. Initially just along for the ride, Harvey’s taking Phil on a whole new journey altogether.