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The Charge of the E-Bike Brigade: The Ukraine War and the Return of the Military Bicyclist

  • Published
  • By MAJ Viktor Stoll

In his classic wartime novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), Ernest Hemingway reveals the panic that overcomes the Royal Italian Army as the Fronte alpino collapses during the Battle of Caporetto (1917). The fictionalized account of American Ambulance Corps volunteer Frederic Henry dramatizes the lighting-fast historical infiltration and envelopment of Italian defensive positions by German infantryman – careening down the southern slopes of the Carnic Alps on bicycles. Yes, bicycles!  As Hemingway elaborates in his quintessential laconic prose:

“Along the top of the stone bridge we could see German helmets moving. They were bent forward and moved smoothly, almost supernaturally, along…They were bicycle troops… Their helmets came low down over their foreheads and the side of their faces. Their carbines were clipped to the frame of the bicycles. Stick bombs hung handle down from their belts…They did not talk but we could not have heard them because of the noise of the river. They were gone out of sight up the road.”1

Henry and his ambulance team were deep in the Italian rear area withdrawing to the Po River when they were overtaken by one of Germany’s Bicycle Infantry Companies.2 Serving the traditional role of a mounted reconnaissance and security light cavalry force, bicycle formations were widely employed by both the Entente and Central Powers during the Great War. Racing along in relative silence, these bicycle troops could support the exploitation of those attacks executed by the heavy artillery and dismounted infantry divisions of the day. Reaching deep into the rear areas, bicycle infantry could seize and hold key terrain, conduct ambushes along enemy lines of communications, and neutralize command and control nodes. Although the mechanization of warfare during the interwar period and World War II relegated the role of the bicycle mounted infantryman, this form of minimal-sustainment speed and mobility has continued to play a role maneuver warfare. 

During the Japanese Imperial Army’s blitzkrieg in British Malaya (1941), Japanese infantry relied heavily on “liberated” bicycles to by-pass and envelope Australian and Indian defensive positions en masse along local jungle trails – ending with the strategic capture of Britain’s “Gibraltar of the East” at Singapore. Likewise, Vietminh General Võ Nguyên Giáp employed a bicycle corps to rapidly deploy artillery along the heights surrounding French defenders to achieve decisive maneuver advantage during the climactic battle of the First Indochinese War – Dien Bien Phu. North Vietnam would employ the same bicycle-mounted approach against American and South Vietnamese forces during major campaigns.  In its most recent gas-powered form, motorcycle mounted Jihadist light infantry caused havoc in Iraqi and Afghan Army rear areas and led to the collapse of superior defensive forces at Mosul (2014) and throughout Afghanistan in 2021. 

However, in the West, the nadir of bicycle troops seemed to come in 2001 – when Switzerland decided to shutter the last of its bicycle formations.3  That was until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Outnumbered and outgunned in the traditional post-World War maneuver sense, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) have adopted a variety of off-the-shelf solutions to maintain tactical freedom of movement and degrade Russia’s heavier and slower armored formations. Commercial drones are now acting as artillery forward observers, other drones are knocking out entrenched Russian Main Battle Tanks (MBT) by dropping archaic anti-tank grenades with 3-D printed stabilizer fins, and Ukrainian anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) teams are zig-zagging the battlespace on E-Bikes and turning entire columns of Russian motorized infantry to scrap with U.S.-provided FGM-148 Javelins.4 The latter has led Popular Mechanics to question if “Military E-Bikes” are the ”next big thing in land warfare?”5

The thought of tatted-out, bearded biker bros, Tik-Toking their “Epic” lifestyle while cutting through Russian Cold War armor like a hot knife through Beyond Butter – all while remaining environmentally conscious – seems to suggest that a new hipster revolution of military affairs has arrived. The E-Bike offers an affordable, off-the-shelf “mounted” solution for light infantry and would, no doubt, greatly enhance their mobility.  Reduction in sustainment footprints via the ability to “charge” anywhere a working outlet is available and the do-it-yourself repair requirements, as well as the reduced thermal and acoustic signature are added benefits.

However, despite the benefits of E-Bike infantry the application of such a capability has its limitations. Most glaringly, Lithium-Ion battery capacity limits the range and carrying-capacity of E-Bike formations. Even with a robust 52 Volt battery producing 995 Watt Hours (Wh) of charge, effective range is limited to no more than 100mi/160km – and that is with the most economic usage over paved surfaces at less than 20mph.  Assuming your standard bicycle infantryman is employing the vehicle in more aggressive “rushes”, then the range could drop precipitously to 33mi/53km.6 Moreover, this range is only assuming the weight of one rider plus limited personal effects, not the expected weight needed for a fully-equipped ATGM team. 

For instance, a ready-to-fire FGM-148 weighs in at 49lbs/22.3kg, with each extra missile tube adding another 35lbs/15.9kg to the equation.  If an FGM-148 crew of two were outfitted with E-Bikes, the team could realistically carry a combat load of one Command Launch Unit (CLU) and three to five missiles between them – a not inconsequential amount, but an amount that would, nonetheless, significantly impact range performance below the 33mi/53km “slick”-load base range. If wire-guided, tandem-warhead ATGMs with reusable mount and launch tube, such as the U.S. BGM-71D TOW-2A or the Franco-German Milan F3 were employed, a greater amount of missiles could be carried by an E-Bike ATGM team – possibly up to 50% more than an FGM-148 equipped team.7

Battery limitations thus, consequentially, limit the utility of E-Bike mounted infantry – particularly in an ATGM role – to ambushes, “shoot-and-scoot” engagements during mobile defense, or a tactical reserve employed to blunt a localized armored thrust in support of an area defense. The capacity for an E-Bike ATGM formation to infiltrate the enemy rear area or exploit a broader breakthrough of the front, rush ahead, then seize and hold key terrain along an adversary’s ground lines of communications for a protracted period-of-time would be limited. 

Ultimately, the E-Bike ATGM solution presently employed in Ukraine is one of immediate necessity and optimized to an area defense fixed primarily on urban terrain strongpoints. This solution provides ready mobility to UAF ATGM teams operating against disjointed and piece-meal Russian armored attacks moving principally along established hardball roads.  The idea of a Caporetto-esque breakthrough and envelopment of substantial Russian forces by a charge of the E-Bike brigade, however, won’t be showing up on TikTok anytime soon.

MAJ Viktor Stoll 
Major Viktor Stoll (US Army) has served in a variety of strategist, planner, and intelligence roles in the USINDOPACOM, USAFRICOM, and USEUCOM theaters.  He earned his MA in Modern History from King's College London and is currently pursuing his PhD in History at the University of Cambridge where he studies the nexus of Great Power Competition, colonial administration, and social scientific expertise during the Interwar Period.



1. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (London: Jonathan Cape Publishers, 1929), 222-223.

2. For more on the historical utilization of Bicycle Infantry, see: Rolf Leiser (Hrsg.), Hundert Jahre Radfahrer-Truppe, 1891-1991 (Bern: Bundesamt für Mechanisierte und Leichte Truppen, 1991).

3. Claire Doole, “End of the Road for Swiss Army Cyclists”, BBC World Service, 11 May 2001,

4. Enrico Punsalang, “High-Power E-Bikes Are Heling Ukrainians Stop Russian Invaders”, InsideEVs, 20 May 2022,

5. Kyle Mizokami, “Are Military E-Bikes the Next Big Thin in Land Warfare?”, Popular Mechanics, 19 May 2022,

6. Juiced Bikes Staff, “E-Bike Riding Range”, Juiced Bikes Co., 19 May 2022,

7. Army-Technology Staff, “TOW-2 Wire-Guided ATGM”, 15 March 2022, ; Army-Technology Staff, “Milan ATGM”, 16 March 2022,

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