The Military Folding Bike

I generally try to avoid re-blogging and instead generate new content of my own. However, my computer is not working at the moment at my ability to blog is seriously limited by the small amounts of time I can sneak in on my wife’s computer.  Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a really excellent WordPress blog: The Online Bicycle Museum. As I have grown increasingly interested in vintage bicycles, this blog has provided endless reading and I highly recommend it. There are numerous “rooms“ in the museum to visit.

It being Remembrance day, I have been reading about the use of bicycles by the military. I was aware that the folding bicycle had its origins in military use. I  had the vague idea that it had first been invented for the use of WW2 paratroopers, but apparently they date back at least to 1900 and were used in the Boer War. The early technology seems to have left something to be desired:

There are, more especially on the Continent, critics who advocate the use of the folding cycle for military purposes. I cannot but believe that these must mostly be people who have never ridden a folding bicycle. It is heavy, lacks rigidity and strength, entails loss of time in folding and unfolding, and even when it has been folded and is strapped on to the back in such a manner, by the way, that it cannot possibly be unstrapped except by the assistance of a comrade, it is the most unwieldy burden I have ever carried.

The advantages claimed for it, even if real, would hardly compensate for these drawbacks; but the advantages are theoretical rather than practical. It is claimed that cyclists when they wish to cross fields, etc., will dismount, fold their bicycles and stow them on, their backs. I was once the proud possessor of a folding bicycle, which I used for experimental purposes, and I can assure you that for half a dozen excellent reasons nothing would induce me to take one on service, or if I did it would never be folded except when the spring got out of order and it collapsed automatically, which is one of its unexpected habits.

THE CYCLE IN WARFARE: ITS POTENCY AS A STRATEGICAL AND TACTICAL FACTOR.
By Captain. A. H. TRAPMANN, Adjutant, 25th (Cyclists) Battalion (County of London) The London Regiment. 16th December, 1908

I assume that the shortcomings were addressed, as these bicycles continued to be used by various militaries. Here are two early folding bikes from the WW1 period , one British and one Italian:

And here is a later example, a WW2 paratrooper`s folder:

I could post many more links here, but my stolen computer time will soon be over, so Ithink I will spend it wandering through the online museum myself.

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10 thoughts on “The Military Folding Bike

  1. Thanks for the post; the site is an interesting read! I’ve heard about military bicycles and often wondered what their application might have been. Although some of the models have portals for rifles, it strikes me as being very cumbersome to use in combat, where one generally prefers to be laying on the ground or hiding behind something substantial. Pedaling along while firing is not an optimal solution. I suspect the major use was for individual transport in rear areas – couriers and whatnot. Gasoline was in short supply, so this would have been a handy way to save some fuel.

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    • Yes, I believe the intent was just to increase mobility. In the case of the paratroopers there were apparently few jumps where they actually jumped with the bikes. There is the famous case of the battle of Singapore where the Japanese used bicycles to great effect. Here is an excerpt from a detailed account (http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/singapore.aspx)

      “The British would try to make a stand, the Japanese would attack, the British would retreat. It is often true that soldiers retreating toward their base can move faster than their pursuers. Supply lines shorten, and the advancing enemy must contend with blown bridges and obstructed roads. However, in the Malaya campaign the Japanese were able to stay right behind the retreating British, never giving them time to catch their breath. There were at least two reasons for this. First, the British abandoned vast quantities of stores and supplies. Tsuji refers to theses as “Churchill Supplies”, and the Japanese helped themselves to food, transport, and munitions, which greatly eased their somewhat tenuous logistical situation. The second reason was that the Japanese had issued their soldiers thousands of bicycles. Western Malaya had good hard surfaced roads, and the Japanese soldiers rode down them, as much as twenty hours at a stretch. The Japanese had sold many bicycles in Malaya before the war, so they were able to find parts and repairs in most towns and villages. When they could no longer repair the tires, they rode on the rims. If the Japanese soldiers came to an unbridged stream, they slung their bikes over their shoulders and waded through. When larger bridges were blown, the Japanese engineers performed prodigies of quick repair, so that not only bicycles, but tanks and lorries as well could pass over in a surprisingly short time. “Even the long-legged Englishmen could not escape our bicycles”, says Tsuji, “This is the reason they were continually driven off the roads and into the jungle where, with their retreat cut off, they were forced to surrender”.

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  2. I actually picked up a Compax Paratrooper last year and I must say it’s a pretty unpleasant ride but I can definitely see the advantage for military use in ease of packing and unpacking from crates and just fastening a bolt and having them be ready to ride.

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  3. If you can find a copy, there’s a good book talking about this stuff:
    The bicycle in wartime : an illustrated history by Jim Fitzpatrick. It came out in 1998.
    My local library has a copy.

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