Interbike Blog

Bikes on D-Day

My kids and I took a trip down to tiny Gillespie Field east of San Diego for their semi-annual airshow, “Wings Over Gillespie,” this past Saturday. As with any such show, the focus is on military aircraft and it just happened to be the weekend of the 65th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion that was the beginning of the end of World War Two.

I wasn’t thinking of this anniversary when we decided to make the trip, but when we got there, the first demonstration we caught was of a paratrooper deployment featuring a plane that actually dropped soldiers into Normandy on that June 6th day back in 1944 (in the background of the photos below). After watching the precision landings of the parachutists, we heard some loud popping sounds and followed the crowds over to a re-enactment of a battle between US and British allies and the Germans. It was all very exciting with incredibly detailed outfits and gear assembled by the re-enactors. Oh, and the Allies won (in case you were wondering).

I also wasn’t thinking of D-Day when we walked over to the US, German and British ‘camps’ set up by the actors to see their gear up close and found a bicycle on display. It was a replica of a BSA folding military bike in matte green paint. I took a couple of photos that I posted on Twitter, but later in the day, we came across Private Ken of the British Army riding his BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) across the tarmac.

Replica BSA Folding Military Bike

We flagged the friendly soldier down, and in typical ‘Brit’ (he was actually from Riverside or San Bernardino) fashion he enthusiastically and patiently entertained all our questions and requests for photos. What we learned was that some of the paratroopers deployed in the D-Day invasion were equipped with these folding BSA’s along with their weapons, rations and other gear. With a bike, the troopers could cover more ground more quickly than on foot. A rifle could be be mounted along the top tube and he described a range of other packs and panniers that the bikes would have setup with back in the day.

Ken showed us the simple and sturdy folding mechanism using wing nuts. I asked him about the coaster brake, and he admitted that this was only major difference between this Norwegian-made replica and an actual BSA that would have had caliper brakes.

Replica BSA Folding Military Bike

I’d always known about the Swiss army’s use of bikes fairly recently (I think Ochsner used to distribute them a while back) and that other armies had used them over the years, but to learn that bikes were used during the Normandy invasion was fascinating. And not just behind the lines, but actually inserted behind enemy lines right in the thick of things.

As my 3 year old son said throughout the day, “that’s pretty cool.”

[Update: Make sure to read the comments to this post since Ken Glaze (Private Ken in the post) fills us in on a few more details about his bike.]

Posted In: Cycling, Interbike, Photos

10 Comments

  1. It is very cool but I’d probably want to replace those “pedals” right quick as they’d eventually ruin my feet even worse than they are already are.

    I’m big on folding bikes these days, might even be in the market for one soon.

  2. Hello! I’m the Ken pictured here. Fantastic pictures, Rich!

    A few more details: The bicycle is Danish-built copy of the bicycle made by the Birmingham Small Arms Company for the British Army in WWII. After the war, a large number of the British bikes were bought by Denmark and they proved so popular the Danes built their own copies of the design, which were exact copies of the BSA design except for brakes and front sprocket. This particular bike is one of those copies. I have no idea of it’s date of manufacture, but it’s before 1990 because the coaster brake is labled “Made in West Germany”. The Danes sold many of these bikes as military surplus in 2000, but I purchased this machine from a private collector in 2006.

    The pedals are actually pretty nice to use, as long as your shoe has a positive heel. Sneakers roll off the pegs in 2 revolutions of the front sprocket.

  3. I was very young when the war ended, but I seem to remember another type of folding bike (or just possibly a folding moped). I have no idea of the nationality, because it was “owned” by one of my friend’s older brothers who had been in RAF ground crew, and so may have been “liberated”.

    It was red, had smallish wheels, and a small square-ish frame that was made at least in part of sheet metal. I think the frame had hinges. Does anyone have an idea of what the real object behind this vague memory was?

    John

  4. Re: Bikes on “D” Day, (June 6th, 1944).
    The French had folding bikes during World War I, which they carried on their backs. They weighed 18 pounds!!! Where have we been?? I doubt that they had the know-how to “draw” tubing back then and must have had “wire wound” tubing?? I don’t know, but I thought—WOW!

  5. I have one of those original bicycles, it was purchased war surplus by my father in the 1950′s. It has caliber brakes, leather seat, everything by BSA. It otherwise looks identical to the one pictured on the website.

  6. During World War II, the German Army had a large number of bicycle units, probably more than the British or the French, in view of the German want for non-motorized transport of troops.

  7. So did the Italians but they had soid tyres and did not fold. Ultra rare. Only ever seen one that i was offered for £800.00 in 1973 at Rimini, Italy. In the surplus yard were willys jeeps stacked 10 high, helecopters and motor guzi motorcycles with shaft driven side car and machiene gun mounts also Guzi mini tracked motrs like the German Ketenkrad. I owned 10 well bikes and 3 drop containers.I still have a bonb clip for it. I also bought out Brock House 35 years ago. 20 new corgis and parts. Sorry nothing left. See my well bike @ the para museum frame 375 and the national mororcycle museum in its container. All but 1 of my Well Bikes came from The Hook Of Holland and were gas cut up into sections. I could not get any more in the car and left 3 un-
    repairable sections behind. I do still have an original supply basket, droppoing straps and parachute. dropping parachute for the folding cycle. One dummy parachute man as used in Arnem dated 1944. and some other small items.
    Phone 0784-3995-935