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Friday, 11 April 2014

Bicycles Ride to War


I have a news for you, and a story, too.

As you can probably guess from the headline, this is a story about how we cycled our way into and out of war. I have found it online, and I knew it needed to be shared with the rest of you.

Hawaiian troops on their rides

Various nations conducted tests to see if a bicycle could be used as actual gun platforms, and the 1890s saw a series of strange designs, including sidecar mounted early machine guns, and side-mounted rifles that could be fired from the handlebars. As these were prototypes and not surprisingly failed to go very far past proof of concept, few - if any - of these early bikes survive, even in museums today
While the bicycle was unable to be transformed into a new type of weapon of war, some nations instead looked to see if tactics could be devised to use the bike in combat. This begat the first practical study of tactics for bicycle riders, and it is widely accepted that it was during the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa (1899-1901) that the bicycle was first used in an actual conflict. Cycles were used by messengers, adapted into portable stretchers and even used as a part of a specially devised two-man cycle to patrol the railroads. The bike had been tested in battle, and it looked as if it would find a place in future wars.

Japanese WWII military vehicle

However, it was not to be a front-line bike. The First World War, which had began as a very mobile and fluid conflict at first did seemed to be ideal for bicycles. Both sides used a large number of bikes to help troops get to the front lines quickly, but as the war bogged down into the hellish nightmare of trench warfare the two-wheel machines were relegated to rear echelon duty. Cycles were used to some degree by sharpshooters in less static areas, as well as by scouts and of course dispatch riders
A generation after the trench warfare of the First World War, the outbreak of war in Europe and Asia put the cycle back in the field. The German Army, even during its rapid-moving blitzkrieg still relied on horse-drawn carriages to transport men and equipment, and bicycles too played a part. Moreover, wartime shortages throughout World War II also resulted in many nations utilizing the bicycle to save on fuel. This was especially true in isolated Great Britain during the Blitz, and followed even after the Yanks arrived in great numbers. The United States, which was also on wartime rationing, used bikes in great numbers, but ironically for collectors, few of the American bikes have survived the war.

A few of the several hundred bicycles 
used for transportation on a WWII U.S. Bomber Station, 
parked outside the sergeant's mess 
during a cloudy day in England on Dec. 29, 1943

I know of only a handful of real 'left-behind' bikes in Europe,” said collector Johan Willaert. “I think they were used much more at U.S. camps and airfields than in Europe.”
 After the Second World War the civilians were the ones who had to adapt and overcome, and many of the wartime bikes passed to civilian hands as the world recovered from the horrors of the war. This was especially true in Europe, where fuel was still hard to get and where there had been an existing bike culture.
Bicycles have been a part of European history and culture for many, many years,” says Willaert. “For ages the bicycle has been a means of everyday transport for thousands of people, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands. The bicycle was a cheap and easy means of transport for people who couldn't afford a car for decades.”

And now, allow me to show you what I have patiently been waiting for quite some time. I have ordered it from our local bike-repair man (indeed, you are reading it right: we still have those folks, since a lot of us like riding our bikes). 
My order was specific: a vintage, all-metal, leather seat women's bicycle. It took him some time to locate it, and than some more to get it. Why, you may ask me? Because, the bike I wanted was in Germany. 
Finally, a day before yesterday.. it has arrived!

Meet my new ride!

With all the original metallic parts, even the lamp is there. It was so well preserved, that it has the key still in the lock, and lock woks perfectly. I could not be more contempt.

I hope you've liked the story.
And, let me know about your bikes - do you like them, have one, ride it?
Have a great day!


  1. I never learned how to ride a bike. And I wish I could. Love this 'new ride' of yours. I have a love of vintage bikes and if I had to get one would love to have a British Airborne bike that folds. Just because I love all things airborne.

    1. Gosh, Sean...
      You don't know what you're missing. But, it's never late (sounds like an overly used cliche, but it's the truth). You can start now - how many people do you know that started skating in their forties? Or decided to learn how to swim well into their "best" age?!
      If you like it, try it out.. maybe you're gonna like it even more.