Military motorcycles are a strange breed. They’re not built for ultimate performance, they’re not built for rider comfort, and they’re certainly not built to be aesthetically pleasing. However, they’re carefully designed and engineered to be the best on the battlefield, and that means they’ve got to be rock solid, reliable, practical and able to perform a variety of tasks. The ideal battlefield bikes needs to be able to cover any terrain, be able to handle tricky conditions, and if possible, pack a powerful punch in the firepower department. There aren’t many bikes that can do everything, but these are a few of our favorites. Naturally, there are plenty of easily recognizable machines that haven’t made the list…we’re just going for our favorite ones!
The Military Motorcycles That Made The Cut
#5 – The Royal Enfield WD/RE
The Royal Enfield Flying Flea WD/RE was probably the greatest small capacity motorcycle of World War II. Why? Because it was light enough to be dropped by parachute or to transport by glider; ideal for quickly carrying messages and signals between different troop units in areas without an established radio communications system. Powered by a rather small 126cc air-cooled two stroke motor, the little machine was capable of speeds of up to 45 mph, and thanks to its two-stroke nature it had enough grunt to tackle a bit off moderate off-roading. All in, it weighed less than a mere 60 kg (132 lbs), making it lightweight, durable and as tough as old boots. Royal Enfield produced a number of awesome motorcycles for the war effort, but this one is our favorite. When you’re on a ride behind enemy lines, you’re going to want something simple to repair. Especially if it was made in Great Britain.
#4 – The Husqvarna 258 A
Over the last thirty years, the Husqvarna 258 A has been the weapon of choice for the Swedish military. It’s a Husqvarna, so you know that it’s going to be able to handle any type of weather and terrain, from rain hammered dirt trails to frozen ice lakes in the depths of winter – and that’s why they’re still being used to this day. But what makes them so special? Aside from being Husqvarna through and through, the 258 A’s are equipped with a semi-automatic gearbox, meaning that you can smash through the four speed gearbox without a clutch in a similar way that you’d grind through the gears on an old Honda Cub. In short, that means that almost anyone can ride one and training courses are pretty short. And what’s more, they’re pretty adaptable too. The Swedes have even put skis on a few of them to make short work of the snow drifts.
#3 – The Rokon Trailbreaker
Undoubtedly one of the ugliest motorcycles ever made, the Rokon Trailbreaker may be lacking in the visuals department, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in pure grunt and practicality. Powered by a decent 208cc engine, the Rokon is equipped with a full-time 2-wheel drive, can tow up to 2000 lbs, ascend 60% gradients and generally smash through whatever you put in front of it. The wheels can float the entire bike or be used to store fuel or water, the frame can accommodate a wide range of add-ons, and if you feel like it, you could ride this up a mountain without breaking much of a sweat. It’s all held together with standard American nuts and bolts making repairs nice and easy…unless you find yourself stranded in a metric country, but that’s a small price to pay for the versatility. The Rokon is currently being used by the US Special Forces, as well as the Jordanian Military. And that’s why we like it.
Not Included: The Vespa TAP 150
In all honesty, this shouldn’t really get a mention…but it’s so well-referenced on top list style articles is would be a sin not to include this little weirdo. Why am I so against it? Well, if I were riding around any warzone, the last thing I’d want to be on is a Vespa. As iconic as they are, and despite their legions of fans, I’ve got no love for these little two-strokes. They’re the perfect vehicle for zipping around Rome on and wolf whistling at passing women but that’s where their usefulness(?) ends. On the battlefield they’re not what I want – unless your battlefield is Brighton seafront in the 60s. Everyone always loves this one because of the gigantic cannon that comes equipped with it, but in truth the M20 recoilless rifle has to be removed and mounted before it can fire, which somewhat removes the zest from this French military machine. It was developed to be deployed by parachute much like the Royal Enfield above, and if you had to choose between the two, you’d choose the Royal Enfield, right?
#2 – The Norton WD Big 4 (Model 1)
The Norton Big 4 was a cool enough bike in its own right, but here we’re specifically talking about the WD Big 4, “WD” meaning War Department. What made the WD different to the standard civilian model was the addition of a rather sturdy sidecar that could pretty much be adapted to do anything you wanted. Despite the liberal use of sheet metal covering some of the side car rigs, the WD edition was unarmored and the metal work wasn’t particularly tough. Despite that, it was the original motorcycle specifically outfitted for military use, with first trials beginning as early as 1907.
Powered by a 673cc side valve, air cooled, single cylinder engine the Big 4 was capable of hefting three fully armed soldiers around the battlefield, or two soldiers and a mounted Bren gun of 3 inch mortar unit in the sidecar. 4,700 of these brutes were produced, though very few exist in the present day, since they were ridden into the ground. They were eventually replaced by proper four-wheel style jeeps, and the Big 4 dream effectively came to an end in the early 1950s.
#1 – The Harley Davidson WLA
Coming in at Number One, it had to be the Harley Davidson WLA. This won’t come as a surprise, but when it comes to iconic military motorcycles, there is only one winner. As a military ride, it was fantastic. It came equipped with the iconic olive drab style paintwork, blackout lights to keep things stealthy after dark, specially designed fenders to prevent mud-clogging, and a wide range of bolt on accessories that included more practical skid plates and leg protectors, to the more combat orientated Thompson sub-machine gun holsters. Of course, this Harley Davidson military bike also came with plenty of luggage space for all that ammo and radio equipment too.
But despite its wartime legacy and it’s tenure as a military motorcycle, it what happened after the war that made this such an iconic motorcycle. Thanks to the surplus of them, they became the motorcycles of choice for a new generation, and they gave birth to radical custom scene that’s still with us today. There’s a line of thinking that might even suggest that if it wasn’t for the Harley Davidson WLA, motorcycling may not be as huge as it became. Or at least Harley Davidson might not be where it is today. It spawned biker culture, and for that reason, it’s our number one.