The Bicycle & Equipment
The bicycle came equipped with a kitbag strapped behind the saddle. This contained the soldiers kit & rations. A toolkit hung under the crossbar. What looks like a bedroll was attached to the handles.
It is perhaps not to be wondered at that the uniform and equipment of the Cyclists has always been somewhat unique and original-for many years it was a unique Corps, the only entirely Cyclist Corps in England, or for that matter, in the world.
Formed before the era of puttees and composed of men who, above all things, were enthusiastic cyclists, great believers in the theory of ankle action, it is not unnatural that a point was made of having knee breeches and stockings. Most of the original members invariably used racing shoes, and in order to make these look more tidy and to render them a trifle more wear-worthy box-cloth spats were adopted (compulsory stout shoes or boots, lid not come into force until the Territorial regime made it possible).
At the time of formation, there was no type of head-dress in use in the British Army at all suitable for cyclists-they were all either hideous or unserviceable or both! It was Major Wallace Carpenter (an ex-cavalry man) who suggested adapting an alteration of the cavalry forage cap to suit cyclist requirements. The original cap was gaudy and not particularly suitable, but it soon developed into the "Kipper" cap which, with its chin strap, looked smart on parade, and when unbuttoned and its flaps let down made an excellent head-dress for bad weather or for sleeping in hay. In full dress, officers were supposed to wear the "beehive" and a gaudy tunic heavily adorned with silver braid further embellished by a "rifle" cross-belt. This garment was known as the "Silver King." Officers and N.C.O.'s in undress were allowed to (purchase and) wear a dark blue tunic.
With the advent of the T.F., the uniform was simplified and the silver braid abolished. The "French grey" - it was really what the French call "horizon blue,"- was retained for walking out dress, and the universal khaki adopted for service. But a very good modification was introduced : instead of the dark blue stockings, hose-tops were substituted, thus enabling men to change their socks frequently and at the same time the knee breeches were lengthened with "continuations" down to below the calf, the hose tops being worn over these, thus giving greater protection to the legs.
There can be little doubt that for cyclists this uniform was ideal, especially when supplemented (as it was) with a good waterproof cape for mounted work and a greatcoat for dismounted use.
From the very start of the military cyclist movement, opinions varied enormously as to how the rifle should be carried. Some cyclist companies made their unfortunate men carry their rifles en bandolier , others adopted carbine buckets fastened to the front fork, which filled with water on rainy days and affected the steering at all times. Messrs. Lucas brought out a pair of rifle clips, one, under the saddle, designed to take the small of the butt, the other took the barrel a little behind the upper band.
In many cases the rear-clip fouled the rider's right leg whilst the barrel of the rifle protruded unduly over the front wheel. The Corps were the first to adopt a modification of this method of carrying the rifle. The front clip was discarded altogether, the stock of the rifle being allowed to rest on the cape which was rolled neatly on the handle-bar.
It was Colour-Sergeant "Jack" Rule who was responsible for this great improvement. He and the team he used to train to give displays at the Royal Military Tournament, and elsewhere, invariably carried their rifles in this way ; it was found that it was possible to attach or detach arms in a second, whereas with two clips it was often a matter of a minute or 96 before cyclists could get their rifles on or off the machine.
This method of carrying the rifle was sanctioned for "C" Troop, which included the "Gun" and Signallers, in 1903, and soon after it was adopted by the whole corps. In Territorial days most of the 14 cyclist battalions adopted the single rifle clips and many other features of the London 's equipment.
The 2/25th adopted rifle clips of perhaps an even better pattern. A leather shoe, fitted in the bottom of the cycle frame, took the butt (and the weight) of the rifle, whilst a guide (spring) fork, attached to the "head" of the cycle, held the stock of the rifle. This form of attachment had all the advantages (except some slight difference in weight) of the other pattern, and there was no risk of the rifle fouling the inside of the rider's thigh. Perhaps it was more unsightly, but that did not detract from its efficiency.
Most practical of the items of kit were the braces and the valise. The latter was a very strong waterproof canvas bag with leather straps on to the handle-bar. When dismounted the valise could be unfastened it was only the question of a stud-the straps passed under the shoulder straps of the tunic and fastened on two other metal studs on the front of the braces. The weight of the valise thus worn served as a counterpoise to the ammunition pouches worn on the belt, and made a thoroughly serviceable equipment, at the same time having no strap across the chest to restrict free breathing.
For this same reason the haversack did not have the band across the man's chest but was attached, by two leather loops, to his belt.
In addition to the above-mentioned ammunition pouches (worn on the belt), there was the "Reserve Ammunition Pouch" strapped on to the back of the saddle. This carried l00 rounds and the cycle tools and repair outfit. It was of stout black leather (embellished with Corps Crest in white metal for officers). Finally, a stout back carrier completed the outfit. This was designed to carry the rolled overcoat and (if necessary) a pillion passenger.
[From 'The London Cycle Battalion']
See Percy Chisnall's equipment papers for an example of the soldiers kit.
The Cycle in Warefare
- Articles from 'Cycling' magazine.
Pedal Power - The British
Military Bicycle - Copy of an article in 'Arms &
Malitaria Collector' magazine.
Military Bicycle Manufacturers
It’s not easy to tell the difference between the manufacturers of military bicycles – they all worked to the same specification agreed with the War Office, and during WW1, were supplied by BSA, Phillips, Royal Enfield, Sunbeam, Raleigh and others.
The Swift bicycle was made by the Coventry Sewing Machine Co. During WW1 they produced military bicycles. The photo below was taken in 1898/9 and it may have been a modified civilian bicycle.
Bert Hambling of the 26th Middlesex Cyclist (Rifle) Volunteers ca. 1898-9. [My thanks to Teresa Goatham for the photo]
The Military Roadster
Though the majority of Sunbeam’s military models were made for the French government, a limited quantity were also on sale in Britain. It was essentially the J.P. model painted khaki, without oil bath or gears, and with the pump fitted to the down-tube. A front carrier was fitted as standard, but the rear carrier and Lucas rifle clips were extras. The price was 10 guineas. [Wolverhampton History & Military Website]
It appears that some 25th Londons had pre war Sunbeam's, possibly a civilian model, as the following photo shows a bicycle with a chain oil-bath.
This is confirmed by the following photo.
The original caption to this photograph says 'Soldier
cyclist on Silent Sunbeams". It is dated 1914, the unit is the 25th
City of London Territorial Reserve Battalion, and the cycles are civilian
models with rifle clips for the Enfield rifles. [Source -
The Illustrated History of Sunbeam Bicycles and Motorcycles by Robert
In the following photo the 25th Londons look like they are riding a Royal Enfield bicycle, the "Girder".
The 26th Middlesex also used tricycles at some stage :-
Apart from their bicycles the battalion also used some motorised transport as follows
A small three wheeler built by the Autocarrier Company of Thames Ditton was hired by the 25th Londons for exercises in 1910. Powered by a 5/6 hp single cylinder engine with the driver perched over the single rear wheel.
The following photos are undated and the make of the machine is not established.
This picture is on the reverse side of a postcard from
Private Sims. Written on the postcard is :-
Acknowledgment :- 'The Soldiers War,
1914-1916' by Peter H. Liddle.
[Source - ‘War Cars – British Armoured Cars in the First World War’]
The BSA & Military Bicycle Museum - excellent web site with history of other manufacturers as well as BSA.
Russell Ridout for the photos 'Stretcher party' and 'Olympia'