Cycling History

Military Cycling: Cycles Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896

With the invention of the bicycle in the nineteenth century contemporary interest in the military use of bicycles saw the French, Italian, German, Austrian, and British armies experiment with the use of troops mounted on bicycles, as we have seen with the Easter Manoeuvres of the British Army. As well as considering the tactical employment of cycling corps the military discussed the best bicycle design for use by troops. In an 1899 lecture to the Royal United Service Institution Captain B. F. S. Baden-Powell (younger brother of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement) drew attention to the advantages of the folding bicycle for military use.[1]

1. That when a piece of rough ground has to be crossed it is desirable to be able to fold the machine and carry it bodily over the ground … Such advantage is specially noticeable  when a cyclist detachment, in skirmishing up a hill, or over rough country, to clear it of the enemy, leaves the machine at the bottom, and then has to return down again to get its machines.

2. Compactness in storage especially for railway and steamer travelling.

 In 1896 the French bicycle manufacturer, Clement-Gladiator, produced a folding bicycle which they no doubt hoped would be adopted by the French Army. This series of staged photographs shows the bicycle in use, demonstrating how a soldier could carry the bicycle while engaged in combat and then quickly assemble the bicycle for use as a method of transport.

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (7)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (8)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (6)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (4)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (3)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (5)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (12)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (1)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (10)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (11)

The Gladiator Folding Bicycle, 1896 (13)


[1] Captain B. F. S. Baden-Powell. “The Bicycle for War Purposes.” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 63, no. 257 (July 1899): 715-736.


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