Heavy Metal Military Thunder: meet the American military motorcycle


Much of the Global War on Terror involved getting to places where teams need to get in and out quickly, and that included remote locations where you can’t always rely on helicopters or other planes to provide security. transport. In some cases, two wheels can do the job much better than four, which is why, after being first adopted by the U.S. military over 100 years ago, the motorcycle is still used to ride in action.

It’s also easy to see why, in 2013, the U.S. military adopted the Zero MMX motorcycle for special operations forces around the world. The bike has been specially developed for missions where stealth is essential. a single charge. It is reported to be virtually maintenance free and designed to go almost anywhere, making it ideal for reconnaissance, search and rescue, and other covert operations.

Replacement for the horse

Motorcycle technology has certainly evolved since the Harley-Davidson Model 17F / J was used by the US military to track down Mexican bandit Pancho Villa.

It was not the first motorcycle to be used by a serviceman – that honor belongs to the Triumph Model H, which the British Army adopted for expedition pilots to France in 1915 during World War I. The single-cylinder, air-cooled, 499cc engine could only produce four horsepower, but the Model H was so reliable that it earned it the nickname “The Trusty”. In total, some 30,000 Model H motorcycles were used by the British Army.

The Harley-Davidson 17F / J model was used the most during what was then called “the Great War”. The bike, which was powered by a 61 cubic inch F-head motor, was so successful that the U.S. military ordered 20,000 for use in Europe. The Seventeen featured fifteen horsepower, which was quite heavy at the time, especially compared to the Trusty, as well as a simple three-speed transmission. What really made this 17F / J model so versatile was the fact that it could be fitted with passenger sidecars as well as hospital stretchers. Machine guns could be mounted on the bike, which was able to navigate terrain that would have swallowed up the trucks of the day.

Harley Davidson’s main rival at the time, Indian, also stepped up the war effort with the Indian Powerplus Big Twin, which had been introduced in 1916. The company devoted almost all of its production to 1917 to 1918 in the war effort and sent nearly 50,000 Big Twins “out there”. It proved to be ready for action, with a 1,000cc Flathead V-twin engine that produced eighteen horsepower. As the company fully engaged in the war effort, the irony was that the company was unable to reclaim its civilian production market when the boys returned from Europe.

From the interwar period to the second world war

The US military did not focus on motorcycles in the interwar years of 1919–1940, but it was then that Harley-Davidson became the dominant player in the civilian market. Part of this dominance is the result of the company’s efforts to design ever faster and more powerful motorcycles. So Harley was there when the US military again sought to use two-wheelers for action.

Harley-Davidson introduced the WLA, which went on to earn the nickname “The Liberator”. Based on the civilian WL, the upgraded version for the military featured a 45-inch flathead motor that was easy to work on in the field. The 740cc V-Twin engine offered twenty-three horsepower, making the WLA ideal for military police and dispatchers. Almost 70,000 of these bikes were produced for the war effort, and several thousand were sent as part of the Soviet Union’s lend-lease efforts. WLAs were often equipped with holsters for the Thompson submachine gun!

After the end of WWII some of the WLAs were refurbished and used during the Korean War, but by the early 1950s most army bikes were sold as surplus. It was the birth of “biker” culture as returning soldiers bought the bikes. These veterans cut out the excess features needed for a military bike and so the “chopper” was born.

By the way, the use of motorcycles by the US military pales in comparison to the British and Germans during WWII. The British used the civilian modified Norton 16H as the WD16H, which had a four-speed transmission, as well as the BSA M20, a light but fast motorcycle primarily used by dispatchers. Over 100,000 WD16H and approximately 126,000 M20 have been used by the British Army. None of the British motorcycles, not even the American ones, could compete with the German-made BMW R71 / R75, designed from the start for military use. Introduced in 1938, the R-71 featured a 750cc side-valve engine and a shaft drive capable of traversing dirt, sand and snow. He saw action from North Africa on the Russian front to Western Europe. This motorcycle was so reliable and versatile that it was later copied by the Soviet and Chinese militaries, as well as by Harley-Davidson as the War XA, the first double-flat shaft motorcycle manufactured by the company.

During the Cold War, the helicopter and other advanced vehicles made it easier for soldiers to move around the world, but in the 1980s Harley-Davidson developed another bicycle for the US military. He purchased the rights to the Armstrong MT 500, a British dual-sport military motorcycle that offered a 32-horsepower, 482cc, four-stroke, single-cylinder Rotax engine. It was used in a limited way during Operation Desert Storm when it was used for reconnaissance missions. Its biggest drawback became evident during the conflict: it runs on gasoline and not diesel, which meant that gasoline had to be sent to it!

The Harley-Davidson version of the MT 500 was not the only motorcycle to be used during Operation Desert Storm, as the US military and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies adopted the Kawasaki KLR650. , known to its main users, the US Navy. Corp like the M103M1. It could run on both diesel and jet fuel and travel up to ninety-six miles per gallon. This versatile bike has a 651cc single cylinder engine with forty-five horsepower.

It’s unlikely – even with the nearly silent MMX – that the U.S. military would use tens of thousands of bikes for combat, but even 100 years later the bike still has a job to do and a well-respected and well-respected place. deserved alongside other soldiers. Vehicles.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military hairstyle including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on Amazon.com.

Picture: Zero.


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