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 all 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 a little 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 on occasion because they can go places no vehicle can readily reach. There are really no obsolete forms of transportation. There are only new forms that must work together with the old to do new things.
When you consider 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, so that makes for some real tactical advantages.
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, and 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 of 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 are embracing e-bikes. Not only do they allow you to travel a lot further into the woods a lot 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 not only gives people more connection with nature, but 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 along.
You can’t do all of this in designated wilderness areas in the United States, as they don’t even allow normal bicycles in them. Whether this is actually protecting wilderness is debatable (horses are allowed and studies show they have a higher impact than bikes would), 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 a lot 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 starting to experiment with using them for special forces, paratroopers, and other applications where an e-bike makes the most sense.
Like anything government does, it’s going to happen slowly. Rebels or other non-state actors are quick to field new gear and learn on the job, but large militaries are a lot more cautious about doing new things. They have to start with testing to see if they equipment can perform in 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’s not going to happen overnight.
What These Military Bikes Could Look Like
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 that you can set up camp and charge a second battery while you use the other one to perform tasks.
We also have this longer video from Sur Ron showing the Australian military’s actual testing:
Featured image by Australia Department of Defense. Public Domain.
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