The bicycle is an amazing invention.
It allows you to get from place to place quickly and efficiently, and it’s great for exercise. Interestingly, war bicycles were also instrumental in helping change the tides in World War I.
The bicycle was one of the most essential tools used in World War I. Using bicycles in the war allowed soldiers to travel quickly and helped them carry supplies. It also enabled them to communicate with each other, letting them travel faster than a horse could to send a message.
In this article, we’ll explore how war bicycles altered the course of history by changing how soldiers fought World War I.
History of the Bicycle in Military Forces Before WWI
The history of bicycling is long and colorful, but the military has long been interested in bicycles.
One of the first instances of this was the penny-farthing, a bicycle that featured a tall front wheel and was known for being difficult to ride and dangerous. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the military dispatched riders and scouts to test these war bicycles on the field.
The war that toppled Napoleonic France also destroyed the early French bicycle industry. Still, development progressed in Britain and even the USA—where advances included a chain-driven system that gave way to a more stable riding platform.
John Kemp Starley, an English inventor, followed this development by creating the world’s first successful “safety bicycle,” the Rover, which he launched in 1885. It is still recognizable today due to its design that balances speed and stability.
During the 1890s, the safety bike concept caught on, and many military thinkers from other countries saw its potential as a new form of transportation for soldiers.
The French army formally introduced this bike on July 1, 1887. The USA soon followed suit, as various National Guard regiments experimented with war bicycles. Some had built-in cannons designed to fire explosive rounds during battle situations.
Impact of a War Bicycle
The bicycles in the war were a big part of the mobilization of troops. Before World War I, they were used primarily as a form of recreation, but when the war broke out, they became much more important than that.
Here are the five reasons why the bicycle proved invaluable as transportation:
Bicycles in the war were very fast, especially when compared to walking.
They could cover more ground in a shorter time and allowed soldiers to move quickly between places. Bicycles were more efficient transportation than horses or carts.
Bicycles could go where cars and trucks couldn’t. This made them very useful in warfare because they could move quickly between places without getting stuck in muddy or rocky terrain.
They could also go to places where there were no roads or highways. War bicycles could be used in areas with rugged terrain, making them ideal for the travel and movement of troops.
3) Easy Maintenance and Repair
Bicycles were easy to manage and repair on the field. As a result, many soldiers learned how to fix their own bikes while serving in the military. Additionally, they didn’t have to be fed or cared for like horses.
They didn’t require much maintenance, making them ideal for soldiers who needed bicycles but didn’t have much time to fix them.
Bicycles were very lightweight, so moving them around didn’t take much effort. They could easily fit inside a soldier’s backpack or luggage, allowing soldiers to carry multiple bicycles if needed.
Bicycles were very quiet, which meant they didn’t make noise when approaching an enemy position.
This allowed soldiers to sneak up on their enemies without being heard and made them the perfect mode of transportation for a covert mission.
Who Deployed Bicycle Infantry The Most?
The bicycle infantry was a revolutionary new way of waging war, changing the face of combat forever. All sides used bicycle infantry in World War I, but no country used it more than Great Britain.
At least 100,000 British soldiers were estimated to have used war bicycles in some way during World War I, demonstrating their crucial role in military operations.
In World War I, each British division included a cyclist company. For example, the 1st Division’s structure included the 1st Divisional Cyclist Company. These units were technically part of the regular army, and their soldiers wore standard military uniforms.
Many divisions of the “new army” were created under Lord Kitchener’s direction in 1914 and included a cycling company made up of soldiers from other regiments.
The Army Cyclist Corps’ primary roles were surveillance and communications (messengers carried important messages from place to place). They could also provide mobile firepower in a situation that required it. Troops who went overseas during WWI continued in their roles as mobile forces.
Once the conflict transitioned to entrenched warfare, they took on labor-intensive tasks and trench-holding responsibilities. They also performed patrol and traffic control duties in rear areas behind the front lines.
The Territorial Force brought together elements of the Volunteer Force and Yeomanry to create a home defense force during times of war. During the first months of the war, when volunteers rushed to join in hopes of coming home as heroes, some units were split into two groups.
Of these, the “first line” was sent overseas, and a second group (sometimes labeled the “second string”) was made up mainly of those who refused to go overseas. Later, the 3rd Line was used as a reserve and provided trained replacements for the 1st and 2nd Line regiments.
The Difference in Bicycle Use: Western Vs. Eastern Front
The first world war was fought on the Western and Eastern fronts. The difference between the Western and Eastern fronts during WWI was the use of war bicycles.
Each front of the war saw the use of bicycle troops. In fact, at some point in the war, every major army deployed a unit of bicycle troops.
The German and French armies, two of the most powerful military forces in Europe, fought on the Western Front.
In 1913, France reorganized its bicycle infantry regiments into ten groups of 417 men each. Each group was assigned to one of the army’s ten cavalry divisions.
During World War I, these units saw much action early on but fell out of use during trench warfare. They became relevant again during offensives in 1918.
Meanwhile, each German Army Jäger or light infantry battalion had a war bicycle company at the start of hostilities. Over time, and as conditions warranted, additional companies were formed—some to form eight battalions organized into Radfahr-Bataillonen or bicycle battalions.
The Eastern Front was home to the main fighting in World War I, between Russia and Romania on one side (the Allied and Associated Powers) versus Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria on the other.
In 1917, the Imperial Russian Army formed over 30 bicycle troops. These troops were to fight as conventional infantry and boast several advantages in speed and maneuverability—but they left their two-wheelers behind at the beginning of World War I.
Russian bicycle infantry used French ‘Peugeot Gerard’ bikes. However, the Russian-made Dux Boevoy or Dux Combat replaced them during the fighting.
Germany also used war bicycle troops in the fighting. During World War 1, the German Army formed several units of bicycle troops. They used them for reconnaissance and flank security. Meanwhile, the British Army deployed its first unit of bicycle troops in 1916, the Army Cyclist Corps.
World War I was the first time all sides used bicycle infantry, but Great Britain employed it extensively. At least 100,000 British soldiers rode bicycles in some capacity during World War 1.
The Army Cyclist Corps’ main roles were surveillance and communications, but they could also provide mobile firepower in a required situation.
Bicycles were a great invention, and they changed the world. They made it possible for people to travel farther and faster than ever before. They also helped change how wars were fought by giving armies new mobility.
In World War I, the war bicycle was an essential tool for soldiers. It allowed them to travel more quickly than they could by foot and helped carry supplies. The use of bicycles in war and the creation of a bicycle infantry was a revolutionary new way of waging a war that would change combat forever.
Bicycles have become less common in war since the end of World War I. But some armies still use them to transport soldiers and supplies over rough terrain.
The war bicycle is not only a symbol of freedom and independence but also of innovation and ingenuity.
Last Updated on July 11, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic