I can’t think of a worst war vehicle than a motorcycle. The rider is absolutely exposed and they are dangerous even when not being shot. But motorcycles had their say in big armed conflicts and I can only feel admiration for those riders
WWI had motorcycles sending messages and even acting in open fire situations. However; when one think of military motorcycles, we have to focus on WWII, a time when bikers risked their lives on daily basis riding through shotgun fire. Not easy friends, not easy.
Motorcycles were mainly used as messengers, for the injured transportation, and even to fight. Always with the assistance of a sidecar -except when high speed was needed- and being ridden through all kinds of terrains.
When it comes to WWII motorcycles, we have to talk about the BMW R-75. A machine way ahead of all other motorcycles of their time, with which BMW showed the way to everybody. The main problem of a war bike is to keep on running no matter how much it rains, how much muddy the road gets or how many times you drop it. They must be indestructible machines.
Harleys Vs BMWs
US Army deployed many motorcycles, the ones the government was using for other duties in the states. That is to say basically Indians and Harley Davidsons. Mechanically -and in many other aspects- the american brands were inferior to the german bikes.
But everything is valid when it comes to war, and those BMWs captured were quickly dismantled and studied, so that Harley Davidson could copycat their engineering and create a better bike.
Not that the Harley WLA was a bad bike, but it felt inferior when it came to perform in the harsh conditions of the battle field. The crank shaft of the BMW allowed a better performance in muddy roads, as the mud would not interfere with the chain. Solution that Harley would copy in order to give a better bike to their troops.
British Parallel Vs German Boxers
The British were also great motorcycle producers, and they soon turned their Nortons and Triumphs into war machines too. The allies joined forces and engineering against the German Boxer engine of the BMW.
And so after one of the worst moments of our history, came something great. Motorcycles evolved much more during WWII than any other previous time. Post war machines were better, faster, lighter and cheaper.
The Russian Bike
The Soviet power would not leave the issue alone and had to create a new motorcycle. They decided to go simple, imitating the best.
Just look at it and you’ll see BMW’s best copy, the Ural. A great bike you can still buy brand new today pretty much like it was back in the old days. A war machine designed to go cross country, over the permafrost and the cold lands of Siberia.
I guess the germans would have looked at them and think they might have stolen a bunch of their own motorcycles. The Ural proved to be a great war machine and a great motorcycle. It is a pity it’s been the one least developed after the war, and they haven’t tried to follow up with Harley or BMW.
Moto Guzzi at war
Italians wouldn’t have fought in a motorcycle battle without creating their own and unique war machine on two wheels. The italians have that passion for motorcycling deep inside their hearts, and a great taste for speed, so as you can imagine, they developed their own incredible motorcycle.
Manufacturers are in battle nowadays, in the battle of market sales and dividends, not shooting each other anymore. They fight in racetracks and we all peacefully respect each other. But WWII like no other human conflict put the motorcycle industry in battle as never seen before.
Communications had to be fast, and you needed great riders and great bikes for that. Many manufacturers claimed their great bikes after WWII as a total achievement of their designs. MCs were created in USA in the postwar times when soldiers didn’t have much to do and bikes were cheap as they were far too many. So WWII changed the motorcycle world forever.
Triumph, Norton, Ural, BMW, Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Indian… brands we all know well and which fought in the final sacrifice of their riders. History of motorcycles at it purest expression.
May the brave on two wheels not be forgotten