“Truly, the bicycle is the most influential piece of product design ever.” – Hugh Pearman
The bicycle has gone from being used as a mode of travel to becoming a popular sport and hobby throughout time. But the fascinating uses of the bicycle don’t stop there. Many do not know that there have been several times in history that military forces around the world used bicycles. Let’s dive into the role of military bicycles during wartimes throughout the world.
While bicycles were used as a way of transportation during wartime as early as the 1880s in Europe; it was the start of World War I where the German Army started to see their military value. In fact, the German Army had 36 independent companies of bicycle infantry, a battalion of cyclists attached to every cavalry division, and an additional 10 reserve bicycle companies and 17 replacement crews. At this time bicycles were used extensively as scouts, messengers, and ambulance carriers.
During WWII bicycles were introduced to paratroopers as a way for them to have transportation upon landing. These folding bicycles were designed to fold into a compact form so that they could easily be carried into buildings or boats. The term “bomber bikes” came into use during this period, as the US forces would drop these bicycles out of planes to reach troops behind enemy lines. However, bicycles were used limitedly during World War II due to rubber shortages because of the war.
In Sweden, the Swedish Army operated six bicycle infantry regiments by 1939. The Swedish military used bicycles for field radio operators as well as a way for mounting stretchers. Even after the end of the world wars, military bicycles remained in use by the Swiss Army, and it wasn’t until 2003 that it reformed its last three Bicycles Infantry Regiments.
While today we have planes, trains, and automobiles that are mainly used in wartimes, the innovations from previous military use have found their way in the civilian markets. For example, we have military bikes to thank for coaster brakes as well as the cyclometer. And while there are no bicycle infantry units around the world any longer, in modern times, bicycles and electric bicycles are still used by many armies and militaries for patrolling bases.