Top 10s

Top 10 military bikes

Would you like the optional anti-armour cannon with that Vespa, sir?

MILITARIA has always held a fascination for many – just check out the prices of most war-related trinkets to see how strong demand is.
But while a real tank or even a WW2 jeep is probably a bit too big and expensive for anyone but the most rabid re-enactment fanatics, a real ex-forces motorcycle can be far more attainable.
Immortalised in both history and endless movies – and we’re not talking about the Great Escape Triumph here – these are our top 10 military motorcycles.
10. Cagiva T4ETHEY might be a little on the young side, but the Cagiva 350s that were used by the French army from the 1980s onwards (no reverse gear jokes, please) are easy to find and probably the cheapest machines you’ll find on this list.
These bikes were used in the Gulf War, and appear in various films, notably the Bond flick Goldeneye. Most appear to be 350cc, but there are also 500cc models out there.
9. Cushman Model 53IT'S surprising that there haven’t been more bikes like the Cushman Model 53, which was specifically designed to be compact, lightweight and suitable for parachuting into combat. Just under 5,000 were made during WW2 for the US military. While they’re cool, the lack of suspension and the single-cylinder, 4.6bhp engine means they’re not really a practical proposition for any purpose other than simply turning up at military shows.
8. Royal Enfield WD/REALSO known as the Flying Flea, the Royal Enfield WD/RE was a 126cc air-cooled two-stroke single-cylinder bike that weighed less than 60kg. It was designed so that it could be dropped in one piece, without requiring disassembly, by parachute with airborne troops. It was produced at Royal Enfield’s factory in Edinburgh and was actually derived from the German DKW RT100.
 
Image: Wikipedia under licence from Creative Commons
7. The RokonTHE 208cc, two-wheel-drive Rokon is a bit like a two-wheeled Land Rover. It's designed to conquer any terrain, albeit slowly, and even floats. Instead of suspension it has enormous balloon tyres and wheels that can store fuel in. It’ll also happily accept lots of luggage and a gun rack, which is why it’s been used by the Jordanian military and US special forces
6. WelbikeA SIMILAR idea to the Cushman, the British Welbike was made specifically for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and used in Operation Market Garden. They weren’t a success but they do stand out for being specifically designed for the job in hand rather than a conversion based on an existing bike. It later evolved into the Corgi scooter.
5. Vespa 150 TAPWE HAD to include the Vespa TAP because, well, it’s got a massive anti-armour cannon attached to it. Sadly you can put aside your ideas of using one against obstructive car drivers, since the cannon (more accurately an M20 recoilless rifle) actually has to be removed from the bike and set up on a tripod before it’s fired. Again, the idea of this 1950s machine was to drop it by parachute into war zones.
4. Harley-Davidson/Armstrong-CCM MT350/MT500DESPITE being known by various names, the Armstrong MT500 and the later MT350 are the archetypal modern(ish) military motorcycles. Harley gained a licence to build them and all the later 350cc machines are Harley-branded, but the design was from Armstrong-CCM so feel free to gain a warm rush of patriotism if you’re a Brit. If you’re in the market for an ex-army bike, these are the easiest to find now.
3. Husqvarna 258 ATHESE 250cc Husqvarnas have been used military personnel in Sweden for the last 30-odd years and Husky have built about 3000 of them in total. They’re favoured by the Swedish army because they’re reliable and low maintenance and have a four-speed automatic gearbox, meaning they be ridden without a huge amount of training, so can be utilised by a wide range of soldiers. The Swedes have even stuck skis on either side, to make it easer at crossing snowy terrain.
2. Norton WD16HTENS of thousands of Norton WD16H – the ‘War Department’ version of the civilian 16H model – were churned out in the late 1930s and throughout WW2 as the UK’s staple military bike, making it one of the definitive military machines of the era. It’s by no means the only British WW2 bike though – the military also used the Royal Enfield Flying Flea, the James ML and the BSA M20
1. Harley-Davidson WLAIF THERE'S a bike that looks good in olive green, with a leather rifle case strapped to the forks, it’s the Harley WLA. Nearly 100,000 were made, with around a third being sold to the Russian army. Like the Jeep that’s perhaps the WLA’s four-wheeled equivalent, the Harley’s career extends beyond just WW2, with the bikes also serving in the Korean war. It’s thanks to the huge post-war surplus supply of ex-military bikes that Harleys became the bikes of choice among America’s youth, with many early custom bikes and choppers starting life as WLAs. Harley continues to reap the rewards today.

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