Soldiers once rode mighty steeds into battle, but they turned to machines like tanks and ships as technology progressed. Though many battles were fought on foot during World War I and II, soldiers turned to another method of transportation, a bicycle.
Introduction of the Bicycle
Powered by their own two legs, the bi-wheeled transportation device propelled soldiers into battle. They were the perfect vehicle for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
The bicycle as we know it was created in the 1860s and began as a modern convenience for rich men. But, it quickly evolved into a reliable transportation vehicle.
It was not long before the military found a use for it. Europeans were the first to hop on board with the use of the bike. They thought it made the perfect scouting vehicle.
Scouts on bikes could get closer to the enemy to gather information. Then they could flee faster if need be to get back to safety. However, in the 1880s, military circles debated whether bicycles were better than horses.
Bicycles Find Their Place
Horses were an effective method of transportation. They could cover ground faster than those on foot or a bicycle, and the infantryman would dismount before fighting anyway.
But those on bicycles were able to traverse 40 miles per day while carrying their gear. When cyclists went head to head with other signal soldiers relaying information, they always arrived first.
One unit was able to carry a message from Washington, D.C., to Denver in six days. They traveled 1,700 miles and rose 5,000 feet in elevation.
On June 28, 1914, the day of the 12th Tour de France and when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, bicyclists became involved in the war. As World War I began, Allied governments began building their cyclist corps.
The first casualty was John Parr, a 17-year-old British cyclist who lied about how old he was to join the war efforts. The British cyclists rode out front to bolster the attacks against the Germans, and some even pulled machine guns.
World War II
Bikes took a minor role in the second World War but were still used. Some European countries kept bicycles in their military. Switzerland had their until 2001.
Present-day cyclists run special operations and espionage. They were in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the military leans more toward armored vehicles and motorcycles for modern operations.