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The Military History of the Bicycle (Hardback)

The Forgotten War Machine

Military Photographic Books

By John Norris
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 70 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526763518
Published: 2nd March 2021



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Almost as soon as a viable metal-framed bike was invented, it was put to military use, offering a much cheaper, less fragile and less logistically demanding alternative to horse transport. Widely used in many armies from the late 19th century, through both world wars and beyond, the bicycle really is the forgotten war machine. John Norris traces traces the development of military cycling from first experiments, including early (often flawed) designs for armed and multi-passenger versions. He explains how any why bikes were used for rapid movement of infantry units as well as carrying messages and other tasks.

First used in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, then by both sides in the Boer War, they were widely adopted throughout Europe before the First World War. In the Second World War, the Japanese used over fifty thousand bicycles in the conquest of Malaya and the German army used over three million, relying on them increasingly as petrol shortages immobilized motor transport. The Allies famously made use of folding and air-dropped bikes in Operation Market Garden and in Normandy. After WW2 bikes were used extensively in Vietnam, particularly along the Ho Chi Minh trail and some European armies maintained specialist bicycle units throughout the Cold War and into the 21st century. Specialized military bikes, collapsible for use by parachutists, are still being made for Special Forces units. John Norris examines the whole history of pedal-powered warfare and illustrates it with an array of high-quality photographs.

"An excellent read that sheds light on the history of pedal-powered warfare."

Classic Military Vehicle, December 2021

“Norris, author of several works in military history, has produced what seems to be the first comprehensive look at the use of the bicycle in warfare. An excellent look at a rather neglected tool of war.”

The NYMAS Review

"This book is enjoyable."

Timothy Campbell, NE Regional Chairman

I knew there was a Swiss Cycling squad in the Swiss army, but John Norris's book reveals the true extent of the use of bicycles in war and in peacetime military operations.

Books Monthly

I think this is an amazing book that anyone reading anything about warfare in the 20th century should read this book. You probably hadn’t considered how important the bicycle was. I know I hadn’t.

Read the full review here

Medieval Sword School
 John Norris

About John Norris

John Norris is a freelance military historian who writes regular monthly columns for several specialist titles, ranging from vehicle profiles to re-enactment events. He has written well over a dozen books on various military historical subjects, inlcuding Fix Bayonets! (2014); Mortars of WWII (2015); World War Two Vehicle Art (2016) and Logistics in WWII (2020); all published by Pen & Sword.

Perfect Partner

Logistics in World War II 1939–1945 (Hardback)

John Norris shows how logistics, though less glamorous than details of the fighting itself, played a decisive role in the outcome of every campaign and battle of World War Two. The author marshals some astounding facts and figures to convey the sheer scale of the task all belligerents faced to equip vast forces and supply them in the field. He also draws on first-hand accounts to illustrate what this meant for the men and women in the logistics chain and those depending on it at the sharp end. Many of the vehicles, from supply trucks to pack mules, and other relevant hardware are discussed and…

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