Historian to speak about bicycles in wartime

By: Bria Brown | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published September 26, 2016

 U.S. Army Air Forces personnel pedal in front of a B-17 bomber in England. Bikes were found to be fuel-efficient means of traveling around air bases.

U.S. Army Air Forces personnel pedal in front of a B-17 bomber in England. Bikes were found to be fuel-efficient means of traveling around air bases.

Photo provided by Mike Unsworth

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EASTPOINTE — The Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society, located at 16600 Stephens Road, will host “Bikes in Wartime,” a presentation by Mike Unsworth, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. 

Unsworth, chairman of the Tri-County Bicycling Association’s Advocacy Committee and a retired Michigan State University history and Canadian studies librarian, will discuss the use of bikes by the military and civilians in wartime.

“My talk will begin with a discussion of the historical development of military cycling. I will then talk about their use in four major conflicts:
the South African War of 1899-1901, in which they were widely used by both sides for reconnaissance and patrolling; World War I use by the Germans to spearhead an amphibious force that captured a key island in the Baltic Sea; World War II, in which the Japanese imaginatively used bicycle troops to help conquer European colonies in Southeast Asia; and North Vietnam’s employment of cargo bikes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to supply their forces in South Vietnam,” Unsworth stated in an email to the Eastsider.

He explained how bikes in wartime began.

“In the early 1890s, in several countries, soldiers saw that the newly introduced ‘safety bicycle’ (wheels of equal size, with the pedals powering a chain that was attached to the rear wheel) had military potential. By the start of the first world war in 1914, most of the armies in Europe had bicycle infantry units,” he stated.

According to Unsworth, bicycles’ low-impact virtues have proved invaluable in times of conflict by being easy to master and stealthy in espionage and reconnaissance.

Unsworth believes attendees will gain an “appreciation that bicycles have and continue to fill military missions.”

Chris Causley, executive director of the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society, said Unsworth is enthusiastic about this subject.
“I understand he’s a collector of antique bicycles and he’s involved with local antique bicycle clubs. It’s a subject he’s passionate about, and it’s a slightly different topic from what we normally do,” said Causley.

Admission to the presentation is by donation.

For more information on this event or the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society, visit www.mimths.org or call (586) 872-2581.

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