The History of Military Motorcycles in the US Armed Forces

When most of us think about military vehicles, the first thing that comes to mind is not the motorcycle. Motorcycles are more commonly associated with counter-culture, while tanks and all-terrain vehicles are the images that crop up when we consider military transportation. And, let’s be honest, a motorcycle doesn’t exactly look like the most tactically sound vehicle. It provides no armor, no shielding against enemy fire.

Military Motorcycles

Despite this, motorcycles have played an important role in the U.S. military for one reason and one reason alone: they are fast. When the need for speed and agility overcame the need for protection, motorcycles were called into play. You already have to be pretty tough to ride a motorcycle, but to ride one in a war zone? You have to be tough as nails. The history of the motorcycle in the U.S. Military begins in the Mexican revolution. Soldiers sent by the U.S. were equipped with high-speed Harley-Davidsons to get them in and out of sticky situations. It wasn’t until the first world war, however, that motorcycles really became a standard in the American military.

World War I

 Though entrenched in Europe, the U.S. military deployed more than 150,000 motorcycles along enemy lines, used for conveying supplies back and forth from the rear to the front lines. Often, military motorcycles were used to transport extra rations and ammo from distant supply lines to those soldiers who were struggling in the trenches. The most important task given to the motorcycle, however, was reconnaissance and delivering messages. As the fastest and most agile vehicle on the front, the motorcycle was the most practical way to get a message from point A to point B, enabling the rider to get around all of the dangers of the battlefield with enough speed to avoid being shot.

World War II

 World War II saw even more motorcycles, being used primarily, again, by messengers and to convey supplies from bases to units in the field. More than 90,000 Harley-Davidsons were built just for the war, with even better specs that the civilian vehicle. For a while, the German motorcycles were outperforming the home-grown versions, but the BMW models were soon captured and their technology used to rev up the U.S.’s motorcycle. By the end of the war, Harley-Davidson had a bike that was nearly impervious dust, could ford deep water, and was still fast enough and smooth enough to get any soldier out of the worst situation.


 After the Second World War, motorcycles largely fell out of vogue in the military, as other, more protective vehicles became faster and more maneuverable (though, most still cannot compare with the agility of a motorcycle). The motorcycle saw little action during the rest of the century. It has, however, found some notoriety again, on Iraqi and Afghani soil, where their speed makes them perfect for patrol. Though a motorcycle goes against all of the traditional military dogma, as it lacks armor and stealth, it is still well-loved among those who know how to utilize this vehicle for its tactical strengths.

Indian Motorcycles – An American Motorcycle Icon

Indian Motorcycles was founded in 1901 by George Hendee, a racing legend in his own time, and Oscar Hedstrom, a self-taught engineer dedicated to innovation. From the beginning, the bikes were built for speed and performance and for decades, Indian dominated the racing circuits and was the premier American motorcycle manufacturer. However, how did Indian really come to be? It is said that George Hendee took a bicycle racing at the age of sixteen. He won his first national championship in 1881 at Hampton Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. He continued his undefeated rain until 1886, when he retired unbeaten.

Indian Motorcycles

The name Indian was chosen because the founders thought that there was nothing more Amarican than the Native American Indian. By 1930, Indian Motorcycles was the market leader, producing over 30.000 units per year, and the largest motorcycle fabricator in the world. Its popularity was driven by its reputation for reliability, innovation and technology. The automobile was Indian motorcycle`s ultimate competitor. In 1930, Henry Ford implemented the moving assembley line to speed up the manufacturing process and reduce costs on mass production. The motorcycle industry had to change and adapt after the introduction of the automobile.

Motorcycles were now viewed as transportation as well as recreational vehicles. Racing became even more important as motorcycling became an enthusiastic activity. The race track became a play ground for everybody that owned a motorcycle. During World War II, Indian Motorcycle probably meet almost 60% of Amercia`s military motorcycle requirements. In this period, Indian dedicated all of its production to the military effort. When the U.S. War Department asked Amercian Motorcycle manufacturers to develop military machines for World War II, Indian created the model 841. The motor featured a 750cc V-twin, with the cylinders turned sideways and set at 90 degrees.

The 841 also featured several other new features, including shaft drive, a food shift, hand clutch and so on. These models were handed out to post-war cheefs. World War II proved hard on Indian since contracts from both the U.S. and allied governments were fruitful at first, but the Jeep quickly substituted the positions that the motorcycle once occupied. Indian made it to the end of the war, producing non-motorcycle items like aircraft engines. At war`s end, Indian Motorcycle had to reduce its workforce, finding itself with a weaker dealer network and a still declining market share. The company could not survive the period after the war.

2014 Indian Motorcycle

Indian Motorcycle has stopped the production in 1953. The production was stopped from 1953 until 1998. In 1998, the production has started once again in Gilroy, California. Their first products were powered by an S&S engine, and the first Indian engine in 50 years was introduced in 2002, as the PowerPlus 100. In September of 2003, Indian Motorcycle in Gilroy, California ceased the operations. In 2004, entrepreneurs acquired the trademarks, headed by Chairman Stephen Julius. After extensive market research, the company re-designed the Indian motorcycle. Only after some exhausting testing the production begin in 2008, with every bike being hand-built.

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