Armies and bicycles

Jemiba

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BTW, the Swiss army abandoned its bicycle units sometime after the year 2000 ...
Interesting document nevertheless, and I think, that still today the bicycle could
be useful for certain military operations. Easier to conceal, than motorised vehicles,
much faster than a soldier afoot and still able to carry heavier loads.
And today, the refusal of foldable bikes as being not stable is no longer a theme, just
look at Moulton bikes (photo from http://www.velofix.ch/moulton_pashley.jpg ).
But I would refuse to use a derailleur gear on a military bike, since there are 14 gear
gear hubs !
 

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perttime

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Jemiba said:
And today, the refusal of foldable bikes as being not stable is no longer a theme, just
look at Moulton bikes
I'm not quite sure I'd want to pack me, gear for a week, and a 20kg mortar tube on a Moulton ... like we did back in 1980s...

Agreed on derailers. I kept bending them on my mountain bike ... until I went singlespeed.
Depending on expected terrain, I might pick a singlespeed military bike instead of a hub gear. Hub gears (with cables that get snagged and shifters that break) are more complex, and weigh more.
 

Avimimus

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Does anyone know a good source of information on Vietnamese bicycles?

http://www.historynet.com/pedal-power-bicycles-in-wartime-vietnam.htm

"Load bearing by porters was greatly enhanced by the use of ingenious "steel horses" – bicycles specially modified by widening the handlebars, strengthening the suspensions and adding cargo pallets. Guided by two men, the specially modified bikes could move 300–400 pounds, several times that of a single porter" (Mentioned in John Prados, The Blood Road, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998), p. 2-45 according to the Wikipedia)
 

cluttonfred

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At least one modern manufacturer -- Montague -- believes that there is still a role for the military bicycle, in this case a folding model for airborne troops: http://www.militarybikes.com/

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8c3Ql4tsfr0
 

Jemiba

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Honestly, looks more like a public relations gag to me: "Drive the same bike, as the US Marines !"
It features exactly, what I would eliminated from a military bike: Derailleur gear, disc brakes and
suspension fork. Each of them are quite prone to damage and wouldn't last long.

perttime said:
Depending on expected terrain, I might pick a singlespeed military bike instead of a hub gear. Hub
gears (with cables that get snagged and shifters that break) are more complex, and weigh more.
Cables are needed for the breaks anyway and can be placed protected, even in the frame tubing.
Singlespeed is great, as long as you don't get into difficult terrain, but at the first steep hill, speed
drops below that of a walker. It's not a mountain bike race, where only you and your bike have to
come home, but a lot of baggage ! The weight penalty of a hub gear, compared to a derailleur gear
is less than 500 g and due to being capsuled, it's more robust.
So, my proposal for a military bike would be : Foldable lattice frame, hub gear and drum brakes.
 

perttime

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Jemiba said:
perttime said:
Depending on expected terrain...
Cables are needed for the breaks anyway and can be placed protected, even in the frame tubing.
Singlespeed is great, as long as you don't get into difficult terrain, but at the first steep hill, speed
drops below that of a walker....
Depending on expected terrain....
If you are in mountains, gears will be necessary. In the plains between Zagreb and Vukovar, much less so. In the gentle hills of Southern Finland, I had no problems with a coaster brake singlespeed, carrying gear for a week.
Cables inside the frame can be a maintenance nightmare WHEN something breaks.

If I might be on either plains or mountains, I'd certainly go for internal gears.

Disc brakes can be more forgiving than rim brakes (if coaster brakes are not an option). They don't have to be more complex to maintain. A bent rim may force you to disable a rim brake; with disc brakes you can just keep going but the ride is a bit wobbly. A bent disc brake rotor is usually easy to straighten enough to keep you going. A bent rim takes some expertise. I have no experience with "roller brakes".
 

Jemiba

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Well, if the terrain is flat, I'll agree about the single speed. Maybe the old, very old
solution could be chsoen then to fir both sides of the rear wheel with sprockets and
if a lighter gear is needed just to flip the wheel.
But the units using bikes, probably would have to be flexible enough, not to need a change
of their bikes, when they move from, say the plains of Saxonia to the quite steep hills of the
Harz mountains.
 

Hobbes

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The most solid option I've seen is drum brakes (no dirt gets in, no exposed parts to warp) actuated via rods instead of cables. These used to be an option on bikes over here (Netherlands). The drawback is limited heat transfer so they're more likely than disk brakes to overheat.
Similarly, you might want to opt for a drive shaft instead of a chain.
A coaster brake (back pedal) has VERY limited stopping power as it only acts on the rear wheel. Having owned a coaster brake bike for a few years, I went through rear tires in about two years (and I mean through: the canvas was showing) of commuting to school. When I switched to a bike with drum brakes, that dropped about tenfold, despite having 1/3 the stopping distance.
 

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It is likely that bicycle troops would want to keep at least one hand free whenever possible for communications gear, binoculars, even firing a weapon, and it would be nice to be able to hold on to those things and still have full braking power.

Perhaps there would be a way to interconnect a coaster brake with a front brake to apply both with feet alone? I agree completely that a sealed system would be best, but gears would be a necessity for all-terrain use. So some criteria might be: light, rugged, possibly folding frame; forgiving suspension for off-road use; feet-only braking; sealed, enclosed chain or shaft drive; hub gears for varied terrain; integral front and rear panniers/racks for a heavy load; ordinary and IR lighting for night operations.

The concept of armed bicycle troops also raises some questions about weapons--a compact bullpup weapon like a short-barreled Steyr AUG or an FN P90 on a single-point sling would allow easy one-handed operation when needed. The combination could be quite interesting--"mounted" troops able to travel silently with a heavy load but then dismount to become fast, light infantry leaving behind their non-combat kit, extra rations, ammunition on the bikes.
 

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I know that this will sound odd, but: Would a bicycle built for two help with such requirements?

They are a less stable and maneuverable - but it gives a second crewmember and possibly more room for cargo pallets.
 

perttime

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You don't want to fight while on a bicycle.

On a bike you are a big target and it is hard to do other precise actions (like shooting to hit) simultaneusly.
If you run into an ambush, you crash (controlled or otherwise) into anything that might offer cover, and then return fire.
 

Arjen

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cluttonfred said:
It is likely that bicycle troops would want to keep at least one hand free whenever possible for communications gear, binoculars, even firing a weapon, and it would be nice to be able to hold on to those things and still have full braking power.

Perhaps there would be a way to interconnect a coaster brake with a front brake to apply both with feet alone?
Steering a bike with one hand while applying full brakes usually ends with rider and bike parting company. Drop everything, grab handlebar with both hands, then brake.

Avimimus said:
I know that this will sound odd, but: Would a bicycle built for two help with such requirements?

They are a less stable and maneuverable - but it gives a second crewmember and possibly more room for cargo pallets.
Riding a tandem bike offroad will entertain onlookers. Riders, less so.
Think bike trailer for cargo.
 

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bigvlada

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perttime said:
You don't want to fight while on a bicycle.

On a bike you are a big target and it is hard to do other precise actions (like shooting to hit) simultaneusly.
If you run into an ambush, you crash (controlled or otherwise) into anything that might offer cover, and then return fire.


True. Especially if you are a member of a Hungarian bicycle company who stumbled upon Soviet T-34's. Hungarians used them in Slavonia and Vojvodina too during the WW2. On the other hand, Sir Clive Sinclair believes that folding bike is the future :)


ps. He thoughT C-5 was the future too :D
 

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Jemiba

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bigvlada said:
..On the other hand, Sir Clive Sinclair believes that folding bike is the future :)

Those bikes are useful, if the nearest subway station is 1 to 2 km away. For some time, I actually
used one of those foldable scooters, that were en vogue some years ago. It saved me more than
half an hour every day and was fun ... until I realised the drawbacks of those very small wheels ...

perttime said:
On a bike you are a big target and it is hard to do other precise actions (like shooting to hit) simultaneusly.

Not much larger, than afoot, I think and much faster. Drawback of the bike is, that it is easier predictable, which
way you will use. Not much hiding behind trees anymore. Fighting from the bike is no option, I think, but bringing
light infantry into an area much faster, than expected.
 

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Jemiba said:
bigvlada said:
..On the other hand, Sir Clive Sinclair believes that folding bike is the future :)

Those bikes are useful, if the nearest subway station is 1 to 2 km away. For some time, I actually
used one of those foldable scooters, that were en vogue some years ago. It saved me more than
half an hour every day and was fun ... until I realised the drawbacks of those very small wheels ...

perttime said:
On a bike you are a big target and it is hard to do other precise actions (like shooting to hit) simultaneusly.

Not much larger, than afoot, I think and much faster. Drawback of the bike is, that it is easier predictable, which
way you will use. Not much hiding behind trees anymore. Fighting from the bike is no option, I think, but bringing
light infantry into an area much faster, than expected.

And the advantage of a bicycle over a motorbike or a quadbike is?

If your force doesn't have adequate supply lines and access to fuel, such as in the case of the Germans in 1944-45, then I could see a point to mounting infantry on bikes to increase their speed of movement. If, however, you do have adequate supply lines and access to fuel and you want to carry sufficient equipment to actually be able to fight nowadays (and the terrain isn't dead flat), then forget it. A motorbike or a quadbike is a much better idea (also your troops will arrive in much better physical condition).

Either way, fighting mounted is for romantics.

I wasn't aware that Sparky's ideas still held any credence any more. He was the last person I came across heavily pushing the idea of military bicycles. ::)
 

cluttonfred

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While I would agree that the idea of large numbers of troops mounted on bikes seems a bit farfetched, I can definitely see a role for mountain bikes in reconnaissance or scouts operating outside of the major formations or even special operations behind enemy lines. No noise, no bright thermal signature, but able to go further and faster and carry more than if on foot, and more unpredictably in terms of routes than if in a motorized vehicle.
 

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Kadija_Man said:
And the advantage of a bicycle over a motorbike or a quadbike is?

If your force doesn't have adequate supply lines and access to fuel...
In addition to refueling needs, there's the matter of noise. A platoon on bicycles is more stealthy than a platoon on motorbikes. There are scenarios where that can matter.

Even the refueling need can still matter for small recce units (etc) on independent missions. "Our" platoon on bicycles can keep doing their thing for quite a while (and distance) on MREs or stolen potatatoes. The endurance of a motorbike platoon is more limited by the size of the fuel supply they can carry.
 

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I don't know a lot about the military use of bicycles, but I came across some historic examples.

The Japanese used them with good effect when they took Singapore;
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/fall_of_singapore.htm

http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/singapore.aspx


The Wehrmacht used them extensively as well;
http://www.milweb.net/webverts/56287/

http://www.dererstezug.com/GermanBicycle.htm


The Allies used them quite a bit in Europe as well, but I don't know all the particulars;
http://www.theliberator.be/militarybicycles.htm


This is a brief history of military cycling;
http://www.utilitycycling.org/2011/07/military-bicycles/


Finally, here's a Combat Reform webpage on military bicycles, which advocates an expanded use of them;
http://www.combatreform.org/atb.htm


That's all I could come up with on short notice --- I hope it's helpful. ;)
 

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royabulgaf said:
That Sinclair bike looks like something a monkey would ride at a circus.

He was just ahead of his time. 30 years later, recumbents (with or without streamline bodies) are commonplace, and every manufacturer has bikes with electric pedal assistance.
 

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Hobbes said:
royabulgaf said:
That Sinclair bike looks like something a monkey would ride at a circus.

He was just ahead of his time. 30 years later, recumbents (with or without streamline bodies) are commonplace, and every manufacturer has bikes with electric pedal assistance.

And now that we are talking about recumbents and military...
it is possible to shoot a weapon from a recumbent bike, especially These two models:
Flevobike bike
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-DSoVeeG-Qf0/URpHIhAVSAI/AAAAAAAAYAQ/W-qtluPzSOA/s1600/1-Flevobike+Bike+110513.JPG
Racer
http://static.ligfiets.net/uploads/33/66/racer.jpeg
The flevobike racer and bike are both driveable without hands ( you steer with your feet, difficult to learn but great fun when you can :) )
 

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What people are forgetting is that the pace of modern operations on the battlefield are such that you cannot hope to keep up on a push bike. If you're carrying out a recce you need to be faster than the main force, you're carrying out the recce for. Push bikes may confer stealth but if you're after stealth, walking would be better.
 

Abraham Gubler

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Interestingly the Swiss Army retained a bicycle mounted infantry regiment (multi battalion) attached to each armoured brigade right up to their stand down after the Cold War. Their reason was the bicycle infantry was faster than any other type of combat troops including tanks.

Of course this definition of speed was in mobilisation. The role of the bike mounted infantry was rapid mobilisation to protect the tank mobilisation areas as these units could mount their tanks, form up and deploy for combat without interference by enemy advanced units. No one was faster from peace time posture to deployed into blocking positions than the bicycle infantry. After the tank brigades were in combat their bike infantry would operate as supporting and rear defence infantry.

There are arguments for using bikes for infantry today much along the same lines as some police units use bikes. But fighting from a push bike is ridiculous. They are simply a means of getting from A to B in C with less energy than similar speed-distances than on foot and without the ‘footprint’ of motorisation.
 

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I remember seeing a program on Discovery channel about electric bike vs internal combustion one. First impression? Stealth. The electric one was totally silent. I cycle a lot and see electric bikes from time to time (Vespa like dimensions) In mountain range and in drag race, the electric one won. Perhaps a small unit (platoon?) on electric bikes could be implemented in modern military doctrine. Electric bike with a sidecar and MG 42? :D
 

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perttime

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The range of electric bikes is pretty short.
Batteries have developed a lot in recent years but a Fuel-Cell powering an electric motor might still be better for getting more range.
 

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Cyclists can travel around 100-150 km daily, but this is not something that you use when highway or railway is present. How much range is desirable? Of the shelf electric bikes offer some 60 km worth of battery capacity.
I pondered about the tandem configuration but it seems that someone already built that. :)
 

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Via a link Avimimus provided over in the 'ball tank' thread, an interesting PLA training vehicle:

235628_chineseparamilitarybigwheelp.jpg

[IMAGE CREDIT: Dark Roasted Blend blog]​
 

Grey Havoc

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Thought we had a dedicated thread on Pegasus Bridge but I could not find it for the life of me.
During the night, the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and British airborne and glider troops had landed in Normandy in an attempt to capture key roads, towns, and bridges. The RAF had bombed the coastline. Then came the minesweepers and air and naval bombardments. Sword, like the other beaches, was protected by German beach obstacles and 75 mm and 155 mm guns from shore batteries and by 88 mm guns inland. There were also snipers, mortars, and machine guns trained on the beach from the summer houses along the shore, as well as pillboxes in the dunes. The British Third Infantry Division would land at 7:25 a.m. and secure the beach while the Royal Engineers would clear the mines and the obstacles. They would be followed shortly thereafter by the commandos.

Huddled belowdecks in his landing craft, infantry (small), in the early morning hours of June 6, Peter Masters knew they were in the vicinity of Sword Beach when suddenly all the naval guns in the world seemed to let loose at once. The Royal Navy was softening up the coast in advance of the main invasion.

[Peter Masters was the nom de guerre of Petar Arany, a Jewish Austrian refugee who had escaped to Britain as a teenager and had been interned as an enemy alien before being selected as a member of a top-secret commando unit called X Troop. The X Troopers, nearly all Jewish refugees like Masters, were German speakers who were trained in counter intelligence and advanced combat techniques. To protect themselves from execution if captured they took on fake British names and personas. The X Troop had proven itself so valuable to the British military, that the men had been parsed out in small groups to assist existing commando units. Masters has been chosen for the Bicycle Troop (officially known as No 1. Troop of No. 6 Commando). If all had gone according to plan, in the early hours of D Day a coup de main force of 181 glider troops led by Major John Howard, should have landed by glider and taken Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal near Benouville. At first light the Germans would have almost certainly counterattacked, and they would need to be reinforced as quickly as Bicycle Troop could get there.]
 

riggerrob

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They still need bicycles that fold to little more than the size of a wheel to allow paratroopers to jump with them and make bikes easy to stow on the outside of vehicles.
 

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Seems like it would be easier to put bicycles on a pallet and throw them out of a plane with the Humvees, honestly.
 

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Seems like it would be easier to put bicycles on a pallet and throw them out of a plane with the Humvees, honestly.
On the other hand, available volume on an airlifter is often at a premium.
 

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Then the paratrooper units should be smaller, or have fewer trucks, to compensate. Putting a 50 lbs bike (Swedish m/42 sized bike) on a paratrooper is just going to break their ankles.

A palletized bike rack would be the most efficient way of doing it. The paratroopers are going to need to group up with their vehicles anyway, so dropping bicycles with the Humvees kinda of just makes sense. Maybe the paratroopers could jump with their front wheels or something and the bodies are carried in a pallet I guess, since that would maximize the density of bikes on a rack without being overly massive for the jumpers. Would be kinda awkward and bulky though.

FWIW I'm not even sure the Montague folding bikes went anywhere except random Geocities pages and hipsters' garages, TBH, and that was probably the last time someone seriously looked at a military bicycle I guess.
 
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riggerrob

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Dear Kat Sun,
May I disagree?
Paratroopers routinely jump with rucksacks weighing 50 to 100 pounds. After their parachute opens, they lower their rucksack, rifle and snowshoes on a 3 to 5 meter (yard) "lowering line. The LL separates the paratrooper from his equipment just far enough to reduce landing injuries, but it is short enough that he can quickly retrieve his equipment even in the dark, smoke, "fog of war," etc.

Bicycles are most valuable during the first few minutes after landing - before defenders have time to respond. Dropping bikes in two separate pieces (e.g frame on one pallet, but front wheel on second pallet) is a receipt for lost bike parts, confusion and disaster. Bikes are most valuable BEFORE paratroopers link up with their motorized transport (e.g. Humvees).
Finally, para-bikes need to be dropped with shoulder straps already attached. This simplifies strapping bikes to paratroopers and makes it easier to climb over obstacles (e.g. fences) with both hands. Keeping both hands free is equally important when firing weapons.

Master Corporal Rob Warner
Canadian Army Basic Paratrooper Wings
West German Army Bronze Paratrooper Wings
More than 6,600 civilian skydives including 4,600 tandems ... meaning that my logbook is bigger than Kat Tsun"s
 
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Kat Tsun

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Practically speaking the way paratroopers are employed means that they don't really need anything more than a few Humvees to carry a couple .50 cals or something, but I suppose if they were dropped off their target or something they might want a folding bicycle. But that's rapidly moving away from use of parachute battalions like Rangers and toward something more akin to Navy SEALs or Special Forces, who prefer Humvees anyway because they can carry Javelin missiles in them.

A parachute company or battalion is either going to be dropped directly on a target (an airbase or something) or employed as motorized light infantry using borrowed/attached vehicles or motor forage/stolen cars. In either case they'd not really be helped by jumping with bikes that are just going to be left in a ditch as soon as they find a working Toyota or F-150 in some dude's driveway. It would just result in a couple dudes breaking their ankles for no real benefit. That 50 lbs just could be used for FGM-148s or Carl Gustafs or M240s or just ammo.

The bicycles would be better off stored as a single unit in a pallet rather than in pieces, of course, but if you were going to strap pieces of a bike to a person it would just be the front wheel since that would help make it a bit easier to stack bikes horizontally on a pallet. Instead of pulling them down vertically you would just pull them and attach a front wheel. Perhaps you could even have the bicycle pallets fly themselves in using a INS guided gliding parachute like has been done for certain large payloads in Afghanistan. Given you can probably fit 50 to 100 bikes of the types of the Swedes used (which are better than folding bikes by miles) on a 463L pallet easily, this would result in a better bike, anyway.

Bicycles would be a decent alternative to shuttling troopers in Humvees and LMTVs in places where available motor forage is lacking and the paratroopers need to move a few kilometers after seizing an airhead. But that's post assault, after the airstrip has been cleared, and the strip is ready for an airlanding. That's about the only case they're useful these days. You aren't jumping with the bikes then, but maybe the battalion can have a bicycle pool that brings in 200-300 bikes on a couple pallets on a plane.

They aren't really an assault thing though, at least not anymore, and haven't been for a while. I'm not really sure of a situation where paratroopers would be either dropped many kilometers away from a target, but still in large masses sufficient to be considered "paratroopers" and not "Navy SEALs" or something, and not simply be able to steal a few cars and pile in to get to their target, though. Certainly nothing of the sort has been contemplated for parachutists in the past 50 years, if not longer.

And as I said, the Navy SEALs would just jump with Humvees or sandrails with .50 cals and Javelins on them.
 

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I put some thought into this awhile ago and the only situations I could think of where bicycles would be preferable to motorcycles/quads/etc. was when there was some serious transportation constraint:
  • Amphibious landings via a Zodiac type craft, where everything needs to be man-handled into and out of the boat, including in surf
  • Troops landing via CB90, or similar, craft where everything has to be man-handled through a small opening / up-down a narrow ramp
  • Some helicopter operations where the helo is very weight constrained, probably with older helicopters or in very hot / very high situations
  • Helicopter (and esp V22 with its small door) when the helo has the weight/volume capacity to carry a heavy load that is being transported by a slow motorized vehicle (mechanical mule, SADF Gecko) but not enough weight/volume to carry a full sized vehicle that can both accommodate the load and its crew. Then the bicycles provide a very weight/volume effective way of letting the crew keep up.
In these cases, bicycles have their classic advantages of giving leg infantry greater operational mobility (carry heavier loads, faster, over longer distances) than marching, but admittedly these are all niche situations.
 

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A few years ago I posted this article on the whole issue of infantry mobility and load-carrying, including where bicycles might fit in: https://uklandpower.com/2017/12/13/reducing-the-infantrymans-load/

I enjoyed the overview. I hadn't thought much about carts; it's an interesting approach.

The "horses for courses" solution might be to have reserves of various types of transport (from bicycles/carts up through mechanical-mules/ATV, all the way to MRAP type vehicles) to support infantry units. Each unit might, for instance, train 2/3 of the time with whatever equipment set fit their intended (or "best guess") area of operations, and 1/3 of the time on other sets to maintain familiarity.
 

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Having been at many a Defence Trade show over recent years I know these guys get a lot of interest:

 

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