07 December 2012

GI Bike

I am not what anybody would call a "war buff."  And I don't get into the jingoistic self-congratulations that mark too many commemorations of armed conflicts and their combattants.  

On the other hand, I do understand that war cannot be separated from history, and that many valuable lessons can be learned from studying the strategies and mistakes of various military leaders, as well as the effects war has on people who aren't directly involved in the fighting.  And, I must say, it does make me a little sad to realize that most World War II veterans are dead or dying.  It's something I realized today, when I saw a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  A few veterans were present; I think the median age was around 92 or so.

In thinking about the 71st anniversary of the deadliest attack this country would experience until the ones on 9/11, I looked at some images of--you guessed it--military bikes and soldiers on bikes.

The US Armed Forces never designated official bicycle patrols for World War II.  However, soldiers, sailors and airmen used bicycles in a variety of ways during the war.  Here is a patrol in Hawaii:

From The Liberator

They are riding official US Army bicycles made by Westfield Manufacturing Corporation, a.k.a., Columbia.  Here is one, close-up:

Some of the bikes were painted entirely in olive drab, as this one was.  Others had blacked-out hubs, handlebars, cranks and other parts that would have been chromed prior to the war.

Huffman Manufacturing Co (a.k.a. Huffy) made a nearly-identical model that was also commissioned by the Army.  However, Huffy did not make a women's model, as Columbia did.  Columbia also made a folding version of the bike.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese also made extensive use of bicycles during the war (which, technically, began in 1931, when they invaded Manchuria).  Here is a Japanese bicycle patrol in the Phillipines:

From Hyperwar

Perhaps even less surprising is the fact that the British armed forces used bicycles in warfare--or that Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) made a folding bike for the troops.

Interestingly, before the War,  BSA bicycle components were the ones most widely used by racers, including those in the Tour de France.  And, yes, the company is the same one that made BSA motorcycles, which were the world's most popular before Japanese makers took most of their market.


  1. One nice aspect of your blog is that it prompts me to do added research on topics you talk about. BSA was always of interest, for example, but your post ramped things up and prompted more checking. It turns out that the BSA bicycles were sold off to Raleigh, but an unexpected piece of BSA still exists today, along with other products that merely stick BSA on an unrelated product. That product turns out to be London Taxicabs, now a subsidiary of Manganese Bronze. They are the largest British-owned auto manufacturer in the UK. It is almost as peculiar as the fact that Foot Locker is the surviving piece of FW Woolworth.

  2. Steve--Yours is one of the most interesting comments I've had on this blog. I was aware that BSA bicycles was sold off to Raleigh. (So,for that matter, were most of the other British bicycle manufacturers we associate with English three-speeds, e.g., Dunelt, Rudge, Robin Hood. But I didn't know about the rest of the BSA story you mentioned. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; after all, some manufacturing companies (like AMF) managed to survive as "brands" and came to be associated with products that had nothing to do with their original product lines.

    As for Footlocker: Everyone's heard of it. But I'd bet that most people under 30 or so have never heard of FW Woolworth stores. When I was a kid, there was a store in my neighborhood; even then (when the Beatles were still together), it would have been difficult to imagine, judging from that store or others I'd seen, that FW Woolworth was once the world's largest retailer. It seems that Sears (What ever happened to Roebuck?) is going the same way.

  3. Could you tell me where you got the last picture in this post?

    Thank you!

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    I'm sorry I didn't include a link. Here it is: http://tubulocity.com/?p=60

  5. Hi Rebecca!
    The folding is similar to www.gibike.com ? Isn´t it?