Bicycle infantry are infantry
soldiers who maneuver on (or, more often, between) battlefields using military bicycle
s in a form of foot drill called bike drill. The term dates from the late 19th century, when the "safety bicycle
" became popular in Europe, the United States, and Australia. Historically, bicycles lessened the need for horses, fuel and vehicle maintenance. Though their use has waned over the years in many armies, they continue to be used in unconventional armies such as militias
Numerous experiments were carried out in the late 19th century to determine the possible role of bicycles and cycling within military establishments, primarily because they can carry more equipment and travel longer distances than walking soldiers. The development of tire|pneumatic tires
coupled with shorter, sturdier frames in the late 19th century led military establishments to investigate their applicability. To some extent, bicyclists took over the functions of dragoons
, especially as messengers and scouts, substituting for horses in warfare
. Bicycle units or detachments were in existence by the end of the 19th century in most armies.
The United Kingdom employed bicycle troops in militia
or territorial units
, rather than in regular units
. Essentially this reflected the popularity of cycling amongst the civilian population and the perceived value of bicycles in providing increased mobility for home defence units.
In 1887 the first of a series of cyclist maneuvers involving British volunteer units was held. In France, several experimental units were created, starting in 1886. They developed folding bicycles
, that could be collapsed and carried slung across the backs of their riders, from an early date. By 1900 each French line infantry and chasseur
battalion had a cyclist detachment, intended for skirmishing, scouting and dispatch carrying. In the years prior to World War I the availability of an extensive network of paved or gravel roads in western Europe made military cyclists appear a feasible alternative to horse mounted troops; on the grounds of economy, simplicity of training, relative silence when on the move and ease of logistical support. The Dutch and Belgian armies, with extensive flat terrain within their national boundaries, maintained battalion or company sized units of cyclists. The Italian Bersaglieri
expanded their established role as fast-moving light infantry through the extensive use of bicycles from the 1890s onwards. Even the Swiss Army found bicycles to be a useful means of mobility in rough terrain where horse cavalry could not be used. The Imperial Russian Gendarmerie
used bicycles with outrigger wheels, to mount patrols along the Siberian Railway
before and during the Russo-Japanese War
Late in the 19th century the United States Army tested the bicycle's suitability for cross-country troop transport. The most extensive experimentation on bicycle units was carried out by 1st Lieutenant James A. Moss, of the 25th United States Infantry (Colored)
(an African American
infantry regiment with European American
officers). Using a variety of cycle models, Moss and his troops, accompanied by an assistant surgeon, carried out extensive bicycle journeys covering between 800 and 1,900 miles (1287 to 3058 km). In 1896 Moss' Buffalo Soldier
s stationed in Montana
rode bicycles across roadless landscapes for hundreds of miles at high speed. The "wheelmen" traveled the 1,900 Miles to St. Louis Missouri in 40 days with an average speed of over 6 mph. A proposed ride from Missoula to San Francisco was not approved and the experiments terminated.
The first known use of the bicycle in combat occurred during the Jameson Raid
, in which cyclists carried messages. In the Second Boer War
military cyclists were used primarily as scouts and messengers. One unit patrolled railroad lines on specially constructed tandem bicycle
s that were fixed to the rails
. Several raids were conducted by cycle-mounted infantry on both sides; the most famous unit was the ''Theron se Verkenningskorps'' (Theron Reconnaissance Corps) or TVK, a Boer unit led by the scout Daniel Theron
, whom British commander Lord Roberts
described as "the hardest thorn in the flesh of the British advance." Roberts placed a reward of £1,000 on Theron's head—dead or alive—and dispatched 4,000 soldiers to find and eliminate the TVK.
During World War I cycle-mounted infantry, scouts, messengers and ambulance carriers were extensively used by all combatants. Italy used bicycles with the ''Bersaglieri
'' (light infantry units) until the end of the war. German Army ''Jäger
'' (light infantry) battalions each had a bicycle company (''Radfahr-Kompanie'') at the outbreak of the war, and additional units were raised during the war, bringing the total to 80 companies. A number of these were formed into eight ''Radfahr-Bataillonen'' (bicycle battalions). The British Army
had cyclist companies in its divisions, and later two whole divisions became cyclists: 1st
and 2nd Cyclist Division
Prior to the start of trench warfare the level terrain in Belgium was well used by military cyclists. Each of the four Belgian carabinier
battalions included a company of cyclists, equipped with a brand of folding, portable bicycle named the ''Belgica''. A regimental cyclist school gave training in map reading, reconnaissance, reporting and the carrying of verbal messages. Attention was paid to the maintenance and repair of the machine itself.
In its 1937 invasion of China
, Japan employed some 50,000 bicycle troops. Early in World War II
their southern campaign
en route to capturing Singapore
in 1941 was largely dependent on bicycle-riding soldiers. In both efforts bicycles allowed quiet and flexible transport of thousands of troops who were then able to surprise and confuse the defenders. Bicycles also made few demands on the Japanese war machine, needing neither trucks nor ships to transport them, nor precious petroleum
. Although the Japanese were under orders not to embark for Malaya with bicycles, for fear of slowing up amphibious landing
s, they knew from intelligence that bicycles were plentiful in Malaya and moved to systematically confiscate bicycles from civilians and retailers as soon as they landed. Using bicycles, the Japanese troops were able to move faster than the withdrawing Allied Forces, often successfully cutting off their retreat. The speed of Japanese advance, usually along plantation roads, native paths and over improvised bridges, also caught Allied Forces defending the main roads and river crossings by surprise, by attacking them from the rear. However, there were one or two cases of Australian troops turning the tables on the Japanese by isolating cycle troops from their accompanying motorized forces after blowing up bridges over rivers. Another advantage that the Japanese had with using bicycles was that it allowed an individual soldier to carry more without needing to rest and resupply often: British soldiers carried only 18 kilograms of equipment in order to march long distances through the jungles whereas Japanese bicycle soldiers could carry 36 kilograms of equipment.
During the Invasion of Poland
of 1939, most Polish infantry divisions included a company of bicycle-riding scouts. The equipment of each bicycle company included 196 bicycles, 1 motorcycle with sidecar, and 9 horse-drawn supply carts, plus three to six anti-tank rifles
and standard infantry equipment such as machine guns, rifles, pistols, and hand grenades.
The Finnish Army
utilized bicycles extensively during the Continuation War
and Lapland War
. Bicycles were used as a means of transportation in Jaeger
Battalions, divisional Light Detachments and regimental organic Jaeger Companies. Bicycle units spearheaded the advances of 1941 against the Soviet Union. Especially successful was the 1st Jaeger Brigade
which was reinforced with a tank battalion and an anti-tank battalion, providing rapid movement through limited road network. During winter time these units, like the rest of the infantry, switched to skis. Within 1942–1944 bicycles were also added to regimental equipment pools. During the Summer 1944 battles against the Soviet Union, bicycles provided quick mobility for reserves and counter-attacks. In Autumn 1944 bicycle troops of the Jaeger Brigade spearheaded the Finnish advance through Lapland against the Germans; tanks had to be left behind due to the German destruction of the Finnish road network.
The hastily assembled German Volksgrenadier
divisions each had a battalion of bicycle infantry, to provide a mobile reserve.
Allied use of the bicycle in World War II was limited, but included supplying folding bicycles to paratroopers and to messengers behind friendly lines. The term "bomber bikes" came into use during this period, as US forces dropped bicycles out of planes to reach troops behind enemy lines.
By 1939, the Swedish Army
operated six bicycle infantry regiments. They were equipped with domestically produced Swedish military bicycle
s. Most common was the m/42
, an upright, one-speed roadster
produced by several large Swedish bicycle manufacturers. These regiments were decommissioned between 1948 and 1952, and the bicycles remained for general use in the Army, or were transferred to the Home Guard
. Beginning in the 1970s, the Army began to sell these as military surplus. They became very popular as cheap and low-maintenance transportation, especially among students. Responding to its popularity and limited supply, an unrelated company, Kronan
, began to produce a modernized version of the m/42 in 1997.
Although much used in World War I, bicycles were largely superseded by motorized transport in more modern armies. In the past few decades, however, they have taken on a new life as a "weapon of the people" in guerrilla
conflicts and unconventional warfare
, where the cycle's ability to carry large, about , loads of supplies at the speed of a pedestrian
make it useful for lightly equipped forces. For many years the Viet Cong
and North Vietnamese Army
used bicycles to ferry supplies down the "Ho Chi Minh trail
", avoiding the repeated attacks of United States and Allied bombing raids. When heavily loaded with supplies such as sacks of rice, these bicycles were seldom rideable, but were pushed by a ''tender'' walking alongside. With especially bulky cargo, tenders sometimes attached bamboo poles to the bike for tiller-like steering (this method can still be seen practiced in China today). Vietnam
ese "cargo bikes" were rebuilt in jungle workshops with reinforced frames to carry heavy loads over all terrain.
_bicycle_infantry_[[platoon_north_of_Killinochi_in_2004.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="platoon.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="LTTE bicycle infantry LTTE
The_use_of_the_cycle_as_an_infantry_transport_tool_continued_into_the_21st_century_with_the_[[Switzerland.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="platoon">LTTE bicycle infantry [[platoon north of Killinochi in 2004">platoon.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="LTTE bicycle infantry [[platoon">LTTE bicycle infantry [[platoon north of Killinochi in 2004
The use of the cycle as an infantry transport tool continued into the 21st century with the [[Switzerland">Swiss Army's Bicycle Regiment, which maintained drills for infantry movement and attack until 2001, when the decision was made to phase the unit out.
The [[Finnish Defence Forces still trains all [[Conscription in Finland|conscripts to use bicycles and skis.
The [[Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam|LTTE Tamil Tigers made use of bicycle mobility during the Sri Lankan Civil War
* Army Cyclist Corps
* Australian Cycling Corps
* Swiss army bicycle
* ''April 9th'' (film)
a 2015 Danish film about a group of Danish bicycle infantry during the German invasion of Denmark (1940).
* Reich Labour Service