Bikes and wars

A bicycle is much more than a machine for transportation. It has been used in a variety of ways since it was invented. The ancient prototypes were used mainly for sports and bourgeoisie entertainment, but bike history is much more than this. Today I am going to write about bikes and wars.

Bicycles were initially used back in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71) when the French troops were the first to use them on the war field. Imagine how uncomfortable was ride high-wheel bikes on dirt roads and mud paths. Some 30 years after, the British experienced with the bicycles during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) in South Africa. Contenders looked for mobility.

During the First World War, the Belgian, German, Italian, British and French armies used bikes with unequal success. The Italians were who most employed them. Their elite light infantry Bersaglieri regiments made used of them in order to improve mobile tactics and flashy incursions. In addition, scouts and messengers were among the top bicycle users. Soldiers could attach rifles down the tube or swung across their back. The British bikes were manufactured by Birmingham Small Arms Company which was a major British arms and ammunition producer since the Crimean War (1854 – 1856). Millions died in the Great War and among the casualties were 15 cyclists who rode in the Tour de France in 1914.

Bicycles were used again in the Second World War. British and American paratroopers realised bikes offer advantages for reconnaissance. On the other side, Japanese dealt with rubber shortages and rode the rims without tyres on rough jungle rails.

The bicycle simpleness made transportation quick and reliable. Even in 2008 the Australian Military used it in East Timor to improve flexibility of field patrols. The unit was the Bicycle Infantry Mounted Patrol.

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