The history of guns being used on bicycles in militaries goes all the way back to the 19th century. In 1839, French troops used a velocipede, which was a type of early bicycle, to transport a small cannon. The cannon was mounted on the front of the bike and was fired by pedaling faster. This created a mobile and somewhat effective unit that could be used to fire at enemy lines from close range.
Public commons image of Russian Gendarmes (1890).
While this may have been one of the earliest recorded instances of using guns on bicycles in warfare, it is certainly not the only instance. Throughout history, there have been many different types of firearms that have been adapted for use on bicycles.
In 1865, during the American Civil War, Union soldiers were issued pedal-powered tricycles fitted with cannons. These were known as "trike batteries" and were used in combat against Confederate forces. The bikes were not very effective, however, as they couldn't move very fast and were easy targets for enemy gunfire.
Public commons image of the American Bicycle Corps in 1897.
During World War I, both sides made use of motorized bicycles fitted with machine guns. These proved to be much more effective than their pedal-powered predecessors and saw widespread use throughout the war. One famous incident involving a bike-mounted machine gun occurred in 1918 when German forces attacked a group of British soldiers who were riding bikes equipped with Lewis Guns. They proved to be very useful in trench warfare as they allowed soldiers to move quickly and easily while still being able to attack enemy positions with heavy firepower. The British troops managed to hold off the Germans long enough for reinforcements to arrive and eventually win the battle.
By the end of the war, most major armies had at least some bicycle-mounted units.
The interwar years saw a decline in the use of bicycle infantry, as motorized vehicles became more common. However, many countries retained at least some bike-mounted units for use in reconnaissance and other roles where speed and maneuverability were still important factors.
World War II (1939-1945) saw a resurgence in the use of bicycle infantry, as it was once again found to be an effective way to move troops quickly over difficult terrain. German forces made extensive use of mountain bikes in their invasions of Poland (1939) and France (1940), while British troops used folding bikes during their evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. In total, an estimated two million soldiers rode bikes during World War II.
Another example comes from World War II when German forces made use of what was known as “Kettenkrads” or “track-laying motorcycles”. These vehicles had machine guns mounted on them and were mainly used for reconnaissance purposes but could also be employed in combat situations if necessary.
Kettenkrads were tracked motorcycles (motorized bicycles) used by the German military during World War II. They were mainly used for reconnaissance purposes, but could also be employed in combat situations if necessary.
The Kettenkrad was designed in 1939 by Hans Trautwein, and was produced by the German company NSU from 1941 to 1944. Around 6,000 Kettenkrads were built during the war, and they saw service on all fronts where Germany fought.
The Kettenkrad had a number of advantages over other vehicles of its time. It was small and agile, making it perfect for recon missions in difficult terrain. It was also very reliable – a crucial factor given the often harsh conditions that it operated in. And perhaps most importantly, it could be easily transported by aircraft – an important consideration given that many battlefields were not accessible by road.
Despite its many positive attributes, the Kettenkrad was not without its drawbacks. One major problem was that it did not have any form of suspension, meaning that passengers often suffered from serious bruising after long journeys. Another issue was that its tracks made a considerable amount of noise – not ideal when trying to conduct stealthy operations!
Nonetheless, the Kettenkrad proved to be an invaluable asset to the German military during World War II, and remains an iconic piece of machinery from one of history’s most brutal conflicts.
After the war, bicycle usage declined once again as motorized transport became increasingly prevalent. However, many militaries have retained small numbers of bike-mounted troops for specialized roles such as scouting and patrols. Bicycle-mounted machine guns continued to see use in various conflicts throughout the 20th century but fell out of favor as more sophisticated armored vehicles became available.
Public commons image of a Sri Lankan bicycle platoon in 2004.
During the Vietnam War, soldiers found that bikes were a convenient and effective way to get around the jungle terrain. They could travel quickly and quietly, which was often critical for missions. Bikes also allowed soldiers to carry more supplies than they could on foot. Today, there are only a handful of militaries that still make use of bike-mounted firearms. Bicycles continue to be an important tool for militaries around the world today. They are particularly useful in counter-insurgency operations where speed and agility are key advantages over heavily armored vehicles which can struggle in built-up urban areas or rural landscapes full of obstacles such as ditches or walls.