February 1896 – The gun bike

Sometimes pedestrians just get in the way of cyclists, and no amount of bell ringing, horn honking, or friendly shouting will induce them to move. In 1896 The Engineer presented a somewaht extreme solution to this problem that thankfully never saw the light of day — a bicycle with a machine gun mounted on the handlebars.

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In a report from the New York Bicycle show, The Engineer describes ‘a Columbia bicycle with a 40lb Colt automatic gun attached to a turntable on the front handlebar’.

The Gun Bike
The Columbia bicycle was equipped with a 40lb Colt automatic gun

According to the article, the gun, which can be moved vertically or horizontally in any direction, is a single-barrel weapon with a ‘pistol’ handle attached to a breech casing, containing the mechanism for feeding, firing and ejecting the cartridges. These are contained in belts stored in a boxes containing 250 or 500 cartridges each.

‘Single shots may be fired, or the gun may automatically fire all the cartridges on the belt at one pull of the trigger, firing 100 shots in 16 seconds,’ enthused The Engineer. The article added that the recoil from the gun would not cause a problem. ‘The recoil is very light, and does not affect the frame of the machine.’

The report also mentions a weapon-enabled duplex bicycle — a two-person bike with one front wheel, two rear wheels and two saddles side by side — ‘[these] were fitted with guns, one having a small breech loader and the other a small maxim rapid-fire gun.’

Though it is tempting to picture Victorian cycle couriers furiously mowing down pedestrians as they pedalled to their destinations, the bikes at the New York exhibition were, obviously, designed for military use. And though bikes with guns never caught on, there is quite a history of the use of bicycles in wars.

Push bikes were heavily used by infantry in World War I, and during World War II allied paratroopers were often issued with folding bicycles. Groups employing guerrilla tactics have also successfully used bicycles. During the Vietnam war, both the Viet-Cong and North Vietnamese Army used specially-reinforced bikes to transport weapons and supplies. In more recent years US special forces reportedly used bicycles to chase the Taliban through the mountains of Afghanistan.