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Folding Bicycle
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...and "Gowgli"

A Replica BSA Folding Bicycle

Furthering my collection of strange WWII vehicles is my replica BSA Folding Bicycle.

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"Gowgli" the folding bike

History

During WWII, the British Army issued folding bicycles to their soldiers as a form of transportation.  One of the most famous of these bicycles were made by the Birmingham Small Arms Company, aka BSA.  Nowadays, BSA is better known for their motorcyles, but their folding bicycle was almost as famous.  This bicycle was made from light weight steel tubing and designed to fold flat, with simple pegs instead of pedals.  These bicycles were used throughout the British Army and were seen on tanks, in landing craft and being used by paratroopers.  Following are some examples of how and where the bike was used.

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BSA on a tank

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Airborne troops out practicing, 1944

How they jumped with it.
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It was released from this position after leaving the plane, so it hit the ground before the soldier.

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BSA folding bicycle in use by a "Para".

From the accounts I've read from the Parachute Regiment, the bicycle was more popular than the Welbike as a means of transport, probably because it handled rough ground better with it's large wheels, and pedaling a bike was more reliable than starting the Villiers Junior engine.

After the war ended, many BSA folding bikes were sold as surplus to the Danish government.  These bicycles were re-stamped with Danish serial numbers and used in that country for many years.  The bikes proved to be so popular that a Danish company manufactured nearly exact copies of the BSA bike up until at least the 1980's.  The two main features that distinguished the copies from the originals were the Danish bikes has West German made coaster brakes and the Danish front chain sprocket has a plain spoke pattern, rather than the original BSA initials.

My Bicycle

Which brings us to the bicycle that I own.  The original plastic handlebar grips have "Denmark" molded into them, so I'm pretty certain this is one of the Danish bikes.  Additionally, the coaster brake is marked "Made in West Germany" so I'm certain that it was made before 1990.  However, that is all I'm certain of.  Some sources say that the Danish government sold off large numbers of folding bicycles in 2000, so the chances are good that this is one of those bikes, but I have no idea how it got from Denmark to Southern California.

It took more than three weeks of sanding and stripping to get the old paint off.  Then I used the Rustloeum's red primer as a base for Marine Corps Green, the closest match to British Olive Drab that's availible in the States.  A major find was a British motorcycle restoration website that sold the proper BSA decals; the Army broad arrow, the BSA patent declaration and the BSA stacked rifle logo.  I've applied them as they would appear on a late war bicycle.

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Ride Quality

I've had this bike out to a couple of events now, and can tell you it's a lot of fun.  Just the thing for riding around air shows; it's easy to pedal (although it helps to wear boots with a positive heel to stop your foot from coming off the pegs).  Because of its light weight and surprisingly small size when folded, it'll fit next to the Welbike in the Toyota Matrix that my wife and I use to haul our re-enacting stuff in.  Once unfolded, the large wheels allow the bike to cover surprisingly rough terrain and it is easy to pedal on paved surfaces, too.  It rides a lot like any light-weight beach cruiser; it can't accelerate fast, but it is capable of very high speeds.  In general, it's a nice vehicle and I can see why they were popular with the soldiers.

News

06/11/2009

Gowgli and I attended the Wings Over Gillespie airshow and apparently we were somewhat of a hit.  We're the subject of a nice article written by a gentleman involved with InterbikeTimes International Bicycle Expo.  Read his article here:

Interbike Times Article

Many thanks to Richard for his article!

On to more fun with vehicles.