The Welbike was born to be air-dropped into WW2 battlefields to facilitate quicker on-ground motion. We share the story of this extraordinary British creation.
Printed On Jul 23, 2022 07:00:00 AM
Bikes performed a big function in World Warfare II, with the badges of BSA, BMW, Harley-Davidson, NSU, Triumph, Zundapp and others having seen motion throughout these horrible years. However there was maybe no bike of struggle that was extra quirky, distinctive and finally ill-suited to the job than the tiny and adorably cute machine you see right here. It was known as the Welbike and it was born with the intention of being para dropped into the battlefield to allow quicker on-ground motion for the troopers.
The concept was to design a motorbike that would match within the standardised CLE (Container Gentle Gear) canisters that had been used to air-drop provides to the troops. That meant that the Welbike needed to be designed to slot in a canister that was lower than six toes lengthy and nearly a foot and a half in diameter – now you realize why it appears the way in which it does.
The prototype was developed at a secretive British Particular Operatives facility referred to as Station IX, which was located within the city of Welwyn. A lot of the creations that got here out of Station IX had Wel of their title; so simply as there was the Welgun submachine gun, this was named the Welbike.
A Villiers Junior DeLuxe 98cc two-stroke engine was used within the prototype as a result of its horizontal cylinder design was good for the job. Since dimension and weight had been of absolute significance, the bike had no suspension, no entrance brake and the handlebar and seat had been designed to be collapsible to slot in the CLE container. As soon as the design was finalised, the prototype was extensively drop examined in its container to ensure that it may survive the vertical journey from airplane to battlefield.
The end result was a 35-odd kilo prototype with a 3.7-litre gas tank, a tubular metal chassis and a 1.5hp engine with a single pace transmission. Additional improvement and manufacturing duties had been then handed over to British bike firm Excelsior (to not be confused with the American firm that glided by the identical title). Lower than 4,000 Welbikes had been made in complete from 1942 to 1943 and so they had been produced in three generations, every with incremental enhancements.
Warfare video games
A fast Google search will inform you that the Welbike noticed obligation in a number of the best navy ops in the direction of the top of WW2, together with Operation Market Backyard and Operation Overlord. However a deeper dive will reveal that this little war-machine was not as profitable as meant. The issues had been multifold. Whereas the Welbike was designed to be assembled and rideable in below 15 seconds of eradicating it from the capsule, a typical drawback was that the capsules and personnel typically landed fairly removed from one another, which may put the troopers in weak positions.
The little 98cc Villiers Junior Deluxe two-stroke engine produces simply 1.5 horsepower.
The larger subject was that the Welbike with its small wheels and tiny energy was simply overwhelmed in robust off-road conditions.
The wheels would cake with mud simply, and whereas the claimed prime pace was 45kph, I think about that was on clean tarmac, one thing you’d be arduous pressed to seek out in a WW2 battlefield. In the end, legend has it that solely a fraction of the Welbikes made really noticed motion, and of these, many had been deserted on the sphere.
This was across the time when enhancing know-how additionally meant that bigger and extra succesful bikes (just like the well-known Royal Enfield Flying Flea) might be dropped into the sphere. Because of all these elements, the armed forces ultimately determined that these machines could be higher off as personnel transport choices in airfields the place their humble efficiency and restricted vary could be much less of a problem.
Having ridden this specific Welbike, I battle to fathom what it was like for the troopers who used them in lively battlefields. Given its historic worth and that it’s now about 80-years-old, I rode it very gingerly and for as transient an period of time as attainable. However it was sufficient to inform that this wouldn’t have been a simple factor to experience, particularly for bigger sized troopers. Past simply becoming on it, the instability of its tiny wheels is magnified by a severe lack of energy. On the upside, you’ll be grateful that it’s not fast once you uncover the just about non-existent braking drive from the tiny, foot operated rear drum.
Different challenges current themselves within the lack of a kick-start, so you need to do a working begin and dump the little thumb operated clutch lever to carry the motor to life. One other oddity is that as a result of the gas tank is mounted on the similar peak because the carburettor, you additionally should periodically use a hand pump to pressurise the tank in order that petrol continues to circulate to the carb.
The unknown story
There are quite a few Welbike replicas on the market right this moment, however the present proprietor Hakim Rawat tells us that he was in a position to set up that this was one of many originals by discovering the chassis quantity stamped into the body. The precise unit variety of the bike (painted on the facet) is unknown, however Rawat was in a position to establish the correct first 5 characters with assist from the Welbike archives within the UK. He selected his fortunate quantity for the final two.
No kick-start, so you need to run with the bike after which dump the small thumb-operated clutch lever to begin the engine.
Are you able to think about the spectacles this wondrous little contraption has seen in its lifetime? Clearly, its life started in wartime Britain, however the place it served obligation stays unknown. What’s a fair higher thriller, although, is the way it bought to India. Rawat bought it from the earlier proprietor in 2016, however the final recognized file of this bike in India is when it was found by a priest in a Pune graveyard within the 1970s.
India performed a giant function within the British struggle efforts in WW2 and one can solely assume the bike got here down right here as a part of an airborne contingent. What occurred to it within the close to 30 years after independence, because it was re-discovered, is a thriller that hopefully shall be solved sometime.
The bike was not too long ago restored and its newest proprietor changed many of the non-original elements it had with genuine parts. As of right this moment, the unique tyres and seat cowl nonetheless have to be sourced, however the remainder is kind of interval appropriate. One attention-grabbing component on this specific bike is that it has a fundamental stand, one thing hardly ever seen on Welbikes. Those who had it had been used to run a small transportable energy era unit that was linked to the flywheel through a sequence drive system.
The Welbike neatly suits into the again of a Mahindra Scorpio.
The welbike lives on
After the struggle, the Welbike was reworked right into a street authorized two-wheeler with a top-mounted gas tank and a entrance brake. In England, the automobile was named the Corgi whereas it was rebadged to the Indian Papoose in America – yep that Indian, and it even wore the identical iconic deep crimson paint. Each bikes weren’t success tales although, and that was primarily for a similar motive because the Welbike – the efficiency simply wasn’t sufficient.
The Welbike’s story attracts to an in depth with the deaths of its road-going counterparts, however the story doesn’t totally finish there. There’s an organization in England making devoted replicas with the Villiers engine, and you may have one for about the price of a brand new Royal Enfield Himalayan in the identical market.
Welbike historians additionally like seeing that the Honda Z sequence of Monkey bikes have taken affect from this cute little struggle machine. Whether or not true or not, the similarities are obvious, be it within the authentic Monkey’s lack of suspension, and even within the form and folding design of the funky Honda Motocompo – though that got here many years later within the early 1980s.
For me, the Welbike’s story and my reminiscences of the day spent with it come flooding again each time I spot a type of little electrical Yulu bikes silently gliding down a busy large metropolis avenue. In any case, they’re easy, gradual and cheerful – a system that has evidently been round for a for much longer time than most of us would think about.