Military Motorcycles: The History of Motorcycle Racing in the World Wars

If you’ve never watched a movie of Buster Keaton, don’t know what you’re missing. You can start with Sherlock Jr that is a good starting point. Has a scene in which the actor is catching a ride on the handlebars of a motorcycle and do not realize that the driver is tipped. The motorcycle passes blindly through a series of obstacles fantasizing with a series of unbelievable stunts. This movie was released in 1924, when the bikes, as well as the cinema, were very different…

Military Motorcycles The History of Motorcycle Racing in the World Wars

The culture of motorcycling as we know it today should all the military motorcycles. The performance of the motorcycles, especially in the world wars, has left a great legacy. But what was exactly the role that they played in the armed forces?

The most iconic images of the bikes of war are the Second World War. Back to the subject of cinema and motorcycles, two of my chase scenes favorite happen in this context: Fleeing from the Hell, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The records the most famous may be this conflict, but the history of military motorcycles begins well before.

Vehicles used in combat operations prioritized protection and fire power. The sound of ricocheting bullets on the shield is a “relief” for anyone who was surrounded by explosions. The bikes do not have any of that. They leave the rider exposed, do not have the power of fire, are easily damaged and don’t work on certain terrains and weather conditions.

The U.S. came to use some Harley-Davidson during the conflict with the revolutionary mexicans led by Pancho Villa between 1910 and 1919. They have not had a decisive role and the use was more for a test that has brought some innovations and proved the potential of the machines.

The advantage of the motorcycles in combat are: The speed is ideal for scouts, reconnaissance missions, and messengers. By being smaller and more agile, they had ease of access, used less fuel, and could be grouped together and transported to strategic positions.

The First Great War

The First World War was the first time that the armed forces of several countries have used the bikes on a large scale. Despite the conflict of the trenches, they were an important piece and versatile in the arsenal ally.

Were used for direct combat in infantry units equipped with motorcycles that transported quickly to the teams of artillery to the position more strategic. Medical teams came on the bikes, both to evacuate the wounded in sidecars with stretcher-equipped kitchen, as well as to take supplies and ammunition to the front lines.

The motocas have also been used in missions of reconnaissance and security patrols, but between all of these functions, the more valuable it was to deliver messages! The electronic communication of the time was bad and to check in to someone was the most effective way to deliver orders, reports, and maps. Messengers mounted on bikes flew by areas of the fire, going over craters, debris, and dead bodies, penetrating the enemy lines.

Types of bikes in the First World War

The demand in the military for bikes had a huge impact in the world’s production. Only the U.S. produced more than 80 thousand, among them 50 thousand Indians and 20 thousand Harleys.

Until the beginning of the war, Indian was the largest manufacturer in the world, and his model of the battle was an adaptation of the PowerPlus Big Twin. Who exploded (in the good sense) with the beginning of the war was the british Douglas, that has produced over 70,000 motorcycles.

Among the brands that are alive today, Triumph has focused has provided its integral production of 30,000 machines, and Harley has devoted about a third of its production to deliver up to 15,000 bikes for the war (an adaptation of the model J).

The abundance of war was short-lived, and many brands have closed the doors in time of peace, and the Great Depression. The Indian examined poorly on the impact that the sale of the military would have on the internal market in the civil and its concessionaires Indian had nothing left to sell. Even with a large effort of post-war, it never regained the first place in the market. The Harley, on the other hand, may have been in the background in military supply, but so was able to keep the internal sale, quickly recovering his stance.

The Second World War

Who got the most and the best military contracts in the Second World War was the Harley. The production of the Harley-Davidson 1942 was all to the outside, and each seller in the internal market the american just received a bike that year.

Unless the guy was a police officer, firefighter or military, the chance of it riding the Harley new at that time was zero. In total, there were about 90,000 bikes, among them the 30,000 lent to Russia, in addition to small sales to other allies. This experience has prepared the company to handle the huge demand as returning soldiers wanted to ride the same machines.

Harley Davidson WLA

The Harley-Davidson WLA began to be produced in 1940. Unlike the adaptations of the first war, they were made with great specificity. Were heavier and much more comfortable.

  • The fenders were molded to fling the mud of the wheels from the side
  • The frame was equipped with a luggage rack for ammo and radio, in addition to satchel, which could be hung on the side.
  • The front of the bike has gained a hem large enough to carry a submachine gun Thompson, and a support for a box of ammo.
  • A secondary pool of lights was installed to spread the light and leave the bike less visible at night.
  • Also there have been changes to the mechanical; the crankcase has been redesigned to reduce the consumption of water.
  • The air filter has been replaced by a filter in the oil bath. The soldier could do the maintenance with the engine oil rather than load filters extra.

BMW R75

The Harley was already making bikes since 1906 and that’s why he came in front of the competitor BMW, which began around 1921. The manufacturer european dominated the electric arc welding, and thus I succeeded in creating the joints extremely strong. This practice was born of necessity; the sidecars continued to be quite popular in Germany, but forced quite the frame of a bike.

The R75 from the German army had a sidecar permanently with the wheel connected to the rear wheel of the bike, which greatly improved the traction and driveability in adverse conditions. All three wheels were interchangeable and a tire reservation was attached to the rear of each sidecar. Each motorbike carried three gallons of fuel and a machine gun, making the R75 a vehicle of war, super utility, capable of carrying three people.

Any bike made by BMW until 1994 also had another trick mechanical smart that Harley-Davidson had not been able to do: transmission type shaft. The transmission of the Harley, as most of the bikes of the time were made by current USA and Germany find that in the sands of the campaign for north Africa the transmission closed, the BMW was so much better than the WLA with the chain exposed.

Nothing is created, everything is copy!

For us it is easy to understand but for the american engineers in the 1930s and 1940s, these concepts were totally foreign; they were able to imagine in theory, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. The BMW had the secret of the formula and its advanced design gave the German military a important advantage.

However, as well as the famous gallon Jerry Can, the allied troops were able to capture a motorcycle in germany to study at home. The engineers of the USA have sent the information to the Harley-Davidson, which was tasked to produce a project with transmission similar. It worked, and little more than 1,000 models XA were ready.

The bureaucracy, the military and the use of jeeps, best to carry more than one person, have few Xed produced going to stop at the base on american soil. The Soviets also acquired the same design, that the Ural has used to develop its M-72 sidecars.

The Second World War is considered to be the pinnacle of motorcycle in the military, but they have played a role as well reduced in comparison with the combat operations of the first World War. The predominance of armor moving in the form of tanks of war has limited the effectiveness of the bikes in the battles. The use was limited to policing, recognition, and of course, mail.

The main reason they scored so much is that train the military were escorted by motorcycles, including the Second Armoured Division “Hell on Wheels” the brigadier-general George S. Patton, who liberated much of Occupied Europe. The bikes of recognition were generally the first to enter the territory freed, and so the Harley WLA became known as “The Liberator”, an icon of freedom.

Post War

The motorcycles produced by the US and by Germany during the Second World War helped to boost many aspects of mechanical engineering, enabling the machines that we have today. And what happened to all these bikes, used or not, scattered around the world when the War is over?

Although the Second World War has helped Harley-Davidson survive and thrive, the policies of the post-war sowed the seeds of eventual difficulties of the company (and the Indian), who had to compete against british brands and european.

The american had to wait until the end of the decade of 40 to be able to buy the raw materials to satisfy the demand, because a large part of the steel and aluminum was reserved for the Marshall Plan, facilitating the entry of foreign cheap and light.

The story also says that many military and people enchanted with the war-machines they bought excess stocks of WLAs, full of equipment and unnecessary parts. These pairs were cropped (chopped) off of the bikes, giving rise to the term “Chopper”, and the eventual rise of motorcycle culture of the 1950s.

Despite the production of hundreds of thousands of units for military use in the War, the bike never saw the use so widespread in conflicts, probably because of the advancements in communication and the radical change in weaponry. Some models off-road still has a space as well little for the military arsenal as a means of quick and agile to transport documents in case of emergency and to move troops from one point to the other but the days of really fat Harley and BMWs with sidecars were in the past.

Not that the Harley, which sold more than 250,000 motorbikes in 2015, and the other brands survivors feel so much missing as well, because the legacy of freedom that the bikes spend continues stronger than ever.

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