We’ve all seen the iconic pictures of the hack’d BMW R71, A machine that would occupy a revered place in military history had not Rommel run out of gas, amongst other stupid mistakes of the third reich. But the engines that were first fastened to unsuspecting bicycles were barely cooled before the military took a liking to them. In the years between the “Great (hard to honestly describe any war as great, but they were big) Wars” many a motorcycle manufacturer was kept alive by military contract. By the time the second of the world wars spread across europe, virtually every combatant country with a motorcycle industry was well stocked with military motorcycles. Heck, Harley was even ordered to build a BMW clone, though few saw battle.

Then somebody invented the Jeep. It was small, simple, seated 4 or in the alternative a few less soldiers and a ton of stuff. With four wheel drive it could go almost anywhere a motorcycle could, save single track. While Harley and Indian weren’t greatly strained to fill military orders, the Jeep’s maker, substantial manufacturer Willys-Overland, needed help from Ford to meet the demand.

Not surprisingly, postwar orders from Uncle Sam for military motorcycles were rather slim, and Indian passed on after years of suffering as the American motorcycle market hit bottom. Meanwhile the Jeep was replaced by the Mutt, visually a ringer for the jeep but powered by a diesel engine and riding on swing axles. Those swing axles were the Mutt’s undoing and resulted in their being cut in quarters and scrapped rather than sold whole, although later models had proper double jointed suspension and were less tippy. Meanwhile, the Italian military wisely gave a contract to Moto Guzzi for a three wheeled artillery mover powered by a V-Twin engine, and the Russians and Chinese kept several factories very busy building hack’d BMW clones.

Come the 80s and America’s generals decide they needed an uber-replacement for the Mutt. Thus was born the Humvee, a cross between a desert racer (4 wheel IRS and mid mounted engine) and a truck (said engine was a diesel V-8). It was huge, and critics noted that it’s size would be a handicap should war ever come to europe again. That probably explains why the British and other forces stuck with their Land Rovers and similar sized vehicles.

The Marines, who always seem to think these things out more thoroughly, took a different tack. Along with BMW, they had veteran sidecar fitter Doug Bingham fit a bunch of BMW R80GSs with nifty foldup sidecars. That project never went anywhere (perhaps the BMWs were too pricey or perhaps the Marines wanted and American made product), and Doug Bingham provided the Marines with another batch of folding sidecars fitted to Kawasaki KLRs. Sadly, the sidecar part of that project never went anywhere, but the Marines and later other NATO forces bought the KLR250, later the KLR650, and now a diesel KLR650.

As the 21st century dawned, America found itself in another war with terrorists whose perverse idea of fun was burying explosive devices in the road and waiting for American soldiers and their vehicles to come along. This resulted in round after round of formal and informal uparmoring to the already bulky Humvees, pushing there weight well over their design limits to as much as 13,000 pounds. From what I’ve heard this overloading and desert sand have cut the life expectancy of Humvee ball joints to six months. The terrorists adapted by building bigger IEDs, and the American military replied by replacing the put upon Humvees with what is essentially a medium sized big truck with a heavily armored passenger compartment.

In Iraq/Afganistan war conditions the fuel economy of a Humvee reportedly falls into the single digit range. The Humvee’s medium truck replacement? Probably 5 MPG. No surprise that the American military is the world’s largest user of diesel fuel. Again, that got the Marines to some deeper thinking, and recently they sent a combat unit to the theatre powered by renewable energy as an experiment. The Marines noted that fuel transport was one of the most dangerous assignments in the combat theater, and the less fuel they used the less chance that soldiers would be maimed or killed hauling fuel.

Which brings us to an incredible opportunity for the military and the motorcycle industry… Motocross bikes are built to speedily transverse the same terrible terrain the military hopes it doesn’t have to traverse, and they weight only around a hundred kilograms. The diesel KLR650 has been debugged and then some, and it often covers a hundred miles on but a gallon of diesel. Lighweight and energy saving technologies and sophisticated electronics abound everywhere… Can you image in 100 kilogram bike with computer controls, LED lights, titanium and carbon fiber parts, and it travels 100 kilometers on but two liters of biodiesel?

All possible with existing technology, and all it’d take is some military funded R&D followed by volume orders to bring it to your local motorcycle shop!

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