From the US
Army Signal Corps. to the 50 cc folding Welbike motorcycles that
would be airdropped behind enemy lines with the British and American special
ops teams in World War II, the military has a long and storied history with
two-wheelers. It’s such a natural fit, in fact, that it almost seems weird that
we don’t see more military e-bikes!
Some of our readers, and even
more of our critics on social media, like to remind us that electric cars
aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to get around. Transit, walking,
and bicycles emit less, and if you live in a well-designed city, you can
probably use all three to travel just about any distance. E-bikes are even
better because they can cover more distance with the same effort or almost
zero effort if the bike comes with a throttle. This leads to practical uses not
only in the suburbs but out in rural areas. So, this naturally leads to
an important question: Where are the military e-bikes?
Military E-Bikes Make Sense
In 2022, it might sound silly for soldiers to use bicycles. To borrow and adapt a common loaded
question: what good’s a bike going to be when the enemy has tanks, drones, and
fighter jets that can go faster than the speed of sound?
Truth is, things are never that
simple. Militaries, even the biggest and most well-funded ones, still have
people walk and hike like humans did in the Stone Age. Horses are still used occasionally because they can go places no vehicle can readily reach. There are
really no obsolete forms of transportation. Only new forms must
work together with the old to do new things.
Considering that, it should
be no surprise that military bicycles have
seen a lot of use over the years.
As the video shows, there have
been many uses for bikes. Some militaries would drop paratroopers into a war
zone with folding bikes they could use to get around faster. Whole units would
get put on bikes because they don’t require fuel or nearly as much maintenance
as combustion vehicles. Plus, bikes are silent, making for some real
The Swiss stopped having whole
units of bicycle infantry in 2001, but bikes haven’t gone away. Militaries
still use them for niche needs where bikes have an advantage. They’re even
more commonly used by rebel forces and other fighters who don’t have the
benefit of a big supply chain to deliver all the things combustion vehicles
need to keep running. They aren’t as common as they used to be, but they’re
also not gone completely.
Hunters and Explorers Prove Their
Worth Off the Grid
While not exactly military,
hunters and other people enjoying the outdoors embrace e-bikes. Not only
do they allow you to travel a lot further into the woods faster than a
regular bicycle, but they also allow you to do this without creating a lot of
noise like you would on a dirtbike or other combustion motorcycle. This gives people more connection with nature and allows hunters to enter an
area without scaring all of the game away.
When combined with a trailer,
e-bikes are plenty capable of hauling camping gear, hunting equipment, and most
anything else you’d need to spend time in the woods. If you bring along a solar
power generator, you could even recharge the e-bike at your base camp during
extended stays in rural areas. You couldn’t do that with a dirt bike or other
motorcycle unless you found a way to bring a lot of gas.
You can’t do all this in
designated wilderness areas in the United States, as they don’t even allow
normal bicycles. Whether this protects wilderness is
debatable (horses are allowed, and studies show they have a higher impact than
bikes), but for other areas like national forests, Bureau of Land
Management land, and other public lands that aren’t designated wilderness,
e-bikes remain a great option.
Another thing the video shows is
that even with military gear (he’s a military veteran), an e-bike can help a lot
with carrying that extra load. Pedal-assist, throttle, and gearing combine to
help just about any loadout be much easier to get where you need to go.
E-Bikes Do All This, So Why
Aren’t Militaries Using Them?
They actually are starting to do
this. Here’s a video showing Australian military personnel testing Sur-Ron high-power e-bikes:
You’re still very unlikely to
start seeing full units of military personnel all riding e-bikes, but
militaries are experimenting with using them for special forces, paratroopers,
and other applications where an e-bike makes the most sense.
Like anything the government does,
it’s going to happen slowly. Rebels or non-state actors are quick to
field new gear and learn on the job, but large militaries are much more
cautious about doing new things. They have to start with testing to see if the
equipment can perform simulated exercises (that’s where most militaries are
right now). Then, once they know they’ll do the job, they have to figure out
what works best to develop tactics and techniques. Then, they have to develop
training, train people, equip them, and start actually using the new equipment
in real-world fighting.
Plus, they might go through
multiple cycles of this as they see problems and have to go back to fix them,
so it’s a process that takes years. In other words, don’t expect to start
seeing them in real military actions for a while. With some rare exceptions for
special forces, it will not happen overnight.
What These Military Bikes Could
The good news from an
environmental perspective is that military e-bike testing already includes
the use of solar in the field. Beyond the environmental reasons for doing this,
it makes a lot of sense to be able to recharge in the field without the need
for a noisy generator or vulnerable supply lines. Most mentions of military
testing of solar e-bike charging were during trials of QuietKat bikes, and they
have this video of their solar panel in action:
The folding panel can not only
charge the bike but can connect directly to a removed battery pack. This means you can set up camp and charge a second battery while using the other
one to perform tasks.
We also have this longer video
from Sur Ron showing the Australian military’s actual testing:
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Posted by ZEE
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