Today is Global James Bond Day and is the 50th anniversary of the release of the first James Bond film, “Dr. No.” Because of that I’m feeling a bit James Bondish and I decided to do a quick post about an interesting bike I came across years ago.
For my senior paper in college I researched female spies in World War II. It’s hard to study espionage without looking at the gadgetry they utilized. Among them was the Welbike, a small, portable motorcycle that could be folded into a parachute container. It was popular among agents and paratroopers (as well as with other special operations forces).
Needing a vehicle that could be dropped by parachute, the Welbike was developed in Britain between 1942 and 1943. It was created by The Excelsior Motor Company of Birmingham, with help from SOE (Special Operations Executive). Evidence has shown that Excelsior Motor Company produced around 3,853 bikes. The goal of the bike was that if could be dropped behind enemy lines and assembled quickly so the person could make a speedy escape before getting detected.
Because of its small design, it was the smallest motorcycle used by the British Armed Forces. It weighed 70 pounds without gas and could only go up to 30 mph. On one tank of gas, the Welbike could travel around 90 miles. When folded down, to fit into the parachute container, the bike’s measurements were 4’3″ x 15″ x 12″ and could be taken out of the container and assembled in ten seconds.
The Royal Marine Commandos carried Welbikes ashore during Normandy and were said to have been used during Operation Market Garden. Even though the bikes were created for SOE agents, they were used more by the British Armed Forces. That is not to say that agents did not use them, Welbikes were reportedly used around Europe as well the Malayan jungle.
The Welbikes had some drawbacks, it had no suspension or lights, which limited its use. Because the weight of the parachute container was heavier than other containers, it often landed in a different area. If it was too far off-course, it could risk detection and could not be found and assembled quick enough. Additionally, by the time Welbikes were in full operations, larger military gliders were produced and they were able to carry full-sized motorcycles, jeeps and other vehicles.