WWI Photography US in London detail
WWI Photography Catalog

The Fine Print

« Great Maps Department: Nationalities of Manhattan, 1894. | Main | Magnificent Displays of Quantitative Data by 5-Year-Olds »



This is awesome. This should be an Olympic sport, the summer equivalent of the Biathlon. It could be like the Tour de France with periodic sharpshooting stages.

Sam Ketner

Love your blog, but I think you're missing the point. Obviously the bike would be a major nuisance in battle, but it would be very useful for getting people to the front. Once there they would dismount to fight (I hereby trademark the term "velocipede dragoons.")--I realize the pictures don't show that, but I think they're intended to show that the bicycles wouldn't have to be completely discarded even in combat. You might want to look into the battle of Dien Bien Phu in Indochina, when the Vietnamese used cargo bicycles to encircle the french with artillery.

John F. Ptak

Well, yes, I guess at certain points it might be nice to have a bike. But I have a feeling that overall it would waste more time than it would save, even if it was used far behind the lines...just look at these guys trying to maneuver the bikes over a wall or across a creek. If you had thousands of soldiers moving around on these things, and suddenly a la the Tour someone goes down, then you have the possibility of massive pile up, injuries, so on. Plus the soldiers in the pic were hauling these things into battle. Seems to me that if it is difficult to aim properly with a bayonette on your rifle that it would be tough to do the same with an unstable piece of heavy metal on your back tugging this way and that.

I think I remember pictures of the Vietcong struggling with moving bikes up a hill carrying ammo. It wouldn't surprise me 'tho, considering that those guys burrowed thru mountaintops to emplace cannons without the French being aware of it. What a bad feeling that must've been to the French, to suddenly feel cannon shells coming down on them from a place they thought it impossible to put a cannon.


There's actually quite a long history of soldier using bicycles:

The Swiss Army had a Bicycle Regiment until 2001.

However, I agree, as soon as one got anywhere near contact with the enemy the bicycles would be cast aside. Meanwhile, they are a good way to get around and carry a fiar amount of extra gear (though the bicycles the porters used in the famous Dien Bien Phu photgraphs were modified to carry up to 400 pounds of stuff, yet could not be ridden - a sort of better subsitute for a wheelbarrow, a contrivance invented by Chinese armies long ago to carry supplies around).

John F. Ptak

first, thanks for your input Lt. Again just because someone did it doesn't mean its a good idea--looks to me that a bike in combat would be waaay more trouble than it was worth. I don't know what to say about the Swiss part of this--almost-highest per captia soldier/civilian or not, its not like they are attacking anybody or in someone else's war...and not for along time. But as I said above the use of bikes at Dien Bien Phu was remarkable, if not for riding them.


Remember at the time powered wheeled transport was not available, and probably the next step was the motorcycle. If motor fuel were not available, I'm not sure trail bikes would not still be a good way to move soldiers across country. They're a lot faster and more energy-efficient than walking, though the tires do have to be matched to the terrain. Think poor man's horse, not army truck or helicopter transport..

The comments to this entry are closed.