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We all enjoy our ZiZZO folding bikes for a fun activity to stay in shape and as a form of transportation but are you familiar with the folding bikes used in wars of the past? After seeing a picture of an early WW2 folding bike produced by the Birmingham Small Arms company, we decided to investigate a little folding bike history.
In the late 1890’s the French made folding bicycle popular in combat with their use of them in a raid against the South Africa Republic as cyclists were used as messengers. The British took note and decided to take on a similar strategy. In 1908 Britain adopted the idea that taking folding bikes into war would help get soldiers to place quicker than on foot. With the bike attached to their backs and all the problems they had many soldiers were not in favor. The additional weight and clunkiness always was a hassle and it took an additional soldier to help detach and employ them. One captain was quoted as saying “Whatever advantage claimed for it, even real, would hardly compensate for the drawbacks”
By WW2 even with a bad reputation, over 60,000 Airborne Folding Paratrooper Bicycles bikes were made by the British Small Arms company and used on D-Day by the British and Canadian soldiers. Once dropped the bikes were situated so they didn’t land on the wheels but upside down so the wheels didn’t get damaged when they hit the ground. The idea was that the soldier could move quicker and stealthier to cover larger distances behind enemy lines. This turned out to be somewhat of a failure as many of the bikes were just left behind once the soldier landed. They either were in a hurry to get out of harm's way, or the bikes broke. I can’t imagine messing with a bike while tracers of bullets flew by my head. No time for unfolding.
The bikes had two large wingnuts at top and bottom to fold. They came with 24-inch wheels and weighed around 20 lbs. Apparently, some soldiers found them useful as there are many pictures from WW2 showing folding bikes strapped to the back of jeeps and trucks. Many of the bikes were left in France and Norway and can be found in museums and owned by collectors today selling quite a large amount at auctions. We salute all those brave soldiers dropping from the sky holding their folding bikes not knowing what to expect when they landed as they fought for freedom.
Credit: Images from the B.S.A Military Bicycle Museum