The Dream of the Motorcycle Warlords
The Antagonist's Tech Tree Vol 1
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Malian Insurgents associated with ISIS prepare for a raid
Part 1: The Dream of the Motorcycle Warlords
[Roop] Hey Sarge what’s the form on this thing?
[Sarge] Twisto-bikey. A scoot-jockey. A few hours ago down in Sun-City he goes berserk. Breaks custody, kills a young primary, takes off in a pursuit special. We’ve been on him ever since. This one’s run off the air Roop. I’ve seen the style before: Terminal Psychotic.
-MAD MAX, dir. George Miller (1978)
Recently some friends and I were discussing a Twitter thread ( follow me @FromKulak) that had cropped up. The author of the thread speculated that the advent of cheap drone based bombs was fast rendering armoured vehicles obsolete. Armenia took extraordinary casualties to their tanks, vehicles, artillery, and logistics from Azerbaijani drone strikes and Drone guided artillery in the recent Nargorno Karabakh war. Even ISIS and Iraqi Militia now regularly deploy commercial drones modded out to either explode themselves or drop mortar shells on armored vehicles with incredible success (the distribution of armour on most vehicles favouring the sides and front meaning that an explosion directly above bypasses most protection).
So the Author presents a solution already being deployed by militias and irregulars from Africa to Afghanistan: Motorcycles.
Lets take a deeper look a motorcycles in warfare, why they are so prominent in insurgent movements, and why despite their usefulness (and coolness) western forces still use them only sparingly.
A tattooed madman, I'm hell on wheels/ Born a wicked child left alone in the fields/ My father was the wind, my mother was fire/ Raised by the wolves and I grew up wild
-Mean Man, WASP (1989)
Motorcycle are fast, nimble, and outstrip even tracked vehicles in off road capability. In the woods a bike can get between the trees right under the densest canopy and travel along single track trails no wider than what a person or deer might walk, and wind between and, for the skilled enduro rider, Over! massive rocks and terrain that would rip a tank apart. Bikes preform uniquely well in mud, while the dual-sport bikers reading this are probably shuttering at memories of wrestling their bike up after a fall or stall in waste deep water, or their feet slipping about while trying to keep their bike balanced upright as they try to turn around on a trail… A fit guy can individually wrestle his bike out of spots professional teams would struggle to recover any larger vehicle from. With others to lend you a hand recovering even a heavy bike becomes fairly trivial.
Below is a good example of what light unladen Dual-sport bikes can do:
And this video shows what heavy bikes can do even laden with what looks like 80-100lbs of equipment:
Yes you read that right! 100lbs of kit (Equivalent to a heavy fighting load for a long patrol) is fairly easily and regularly carried by amateur adventurers on their bikes as they head out to the woods, or go on a cross-country tour. Allowing many to go hundreds of miles off-road at paces averaging well above walking or even running, and then instantly get back up to highway speeds as soon as they find one. This relative range and speed means that bikes can often get places those on foot can’t. what might be inaccessible via vehicle and a multiday hike on foot, involving multiple camp outs, on a bike can be a few hours trip, allowing not just faster travel, but trips that would otherwise be a prohibitive investment in time. This is especially true in regions where road passages do exist, or did, but washouts, lack of maintenance, shelling, uncleared snow, or mud have rendered otherwise inaccessible. The kind of thing that can tie up a mechanized company for days as they become the new defacto road building crew.
And, bringing it back to thread’s original concern about drones, Bikes are stealthy as hell.
Accused and tried and told to hang/ I was nowhere in sight when the churchbells rang/ Never was the kind to do as I was told/ Gonna ride like the wind before I get old
-Chris Cross (Saxon Cover)
The off-road capability means obvious or watched routes are easily avoided, concrete barriers are easy to skirt around or between (or in the case of enduro riders: hopped), and checkpoints set up to control car traffic easily circumnavigated. similarly most dual-sport bikes can ford up to waste deep (or even chest deep with a homemade snorkel) water and at 300-700lbs total weight, depending on bike and equipment, most bikes can be transported in civilian small boats (this is how many adventurers surmount the Darien gap on trips to South America), allowing waterborne insertion without specialized landing craft, and the evasion of bridges that act as chokepoints.
Then once the bike is stopped it disappears completely.
Armoured vehicles are large, made of steel, and have large, HOT, engines which drive Wheels or tracks, which in turn generates a great deal of friction, heating those elements massively. Thus Satellites, radar, And infrared imagining have a relatively easy time of finding them.
Just on the face of it, with no concealment, bikes are difficult to detect via satellite, the width and length of a bike viewed directly above resembles the profile of a log or trash bins or small pile of rubbish more than any other vehicle an analyst might be looking for. And that’s if the satellite has the resolution to see the bike at all. Satellites also have the weakness that they only get individual snapshots of an area, meaning any indirect movements (not in a straight line) don’t betray their destination if seen and, until machine learning improves, are highly dependent on analysts actually looking at images and drawing conclusions, thus inherently limiting how realtime the information they can (a troop movement might take an hour to be identified once the satellite passes at which point a vehicle can be hundreds of kilometers way).
Similarly the radar cross section of a bike is shockingly small. Now a radar cross section is the size of a shape estimable from radar detection. Stealth Fighters might have a radar cross section as small as 1cm², so ably have the designers limited radar bouncing back, but then they need to since there is no clutter or concealment around a jet flying through empty air over enemy territory, and very little naturally travels faster than sound. However For most objects their radar cross-section is largely proportional to their size: a human for example is about 1m², a non-stealth light aircraft 3-5m², etc.
Whereas the radar cross section of a light vehicle can be 10-50m² (~+10 to +20dbm), and tanks closer to the 40-100m² (~+15 to +20) end of that spectrum, well above their actual size due to their metal composition and shape creating natural corner reflectors, motorcycles have a max radar cross-section just under 10m²(10dbm), which only occurs in spikes 90 degrees to the side as well as smaller ones to the immediate front and rear, For about 280 degrees of the spectrum the radar cross-section of a Motorcycle is smaller than that of it’s rider (average of about 1m², or 0dbm), rendering it pretty much indistinguishable from clutter, unless it starts flying through the air or sailing a calm sea ( or I suppose travelling a perfectly flat desert). On an open highway At highway speeds a motorcycle would be detectable by aircraft radar, since in nature only Cheetahs and falcons move that fast, a computer could reliably distinguish that from background noise, if it had a good angle… but at an off-road pace of 15-30km/h? Fat birds and dear travel that fast, hell the tips of tree branches probably reach that speed shaking in the wind. And geese, with a ~30cm² (-5dbm) radar cross section, comparable to the bike’s low end cross section, Regularly fly at 50-70mph (80-110kph), so even on open roads at legal rural “highway” speeds, there’d either be a large number of false positives or good chance the bikes go ignored by the radar software/operator, or undetected.
NOTE: a tactical force might want to consider jerry-rigging additional fairing’s around the engine, I’m almost certain those spikes to the side at 0 and 180 degrees are the result of cooling fins and other engine parts forming natural corner reflectors. with a minimum of material left in flat surfaces to reduce bounceback (so very easy to jerry-rig), i’d think you could get the radar cross section of of a motorcycle consistently below 0.5 or even 0.3 m².
Image taken from this paper on the struggles of making computer assisted motorcycle safety systems.
(For those who want to know more about ground radar detection (and thus evasion) I recommend: Tactical Radars for Ground Surveillance (free paper))
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By contrast tanks and armoured vehicles are detectable by radar dozens if not hundreds of kilometers away… there are limitations to such radar detection, just as there are ways to exploit those limitations (touched on later)… and quite frighteningly if you’re in the tank or troop carrier, the specific capability and the limitations of air-to-ground radar varies widely from system to system, with even decades old systems having the specifics of their capabilities highly classified such that not even the experienced, highly educated, unit commanders on the ground are really going to know whether they’re completely visible or successfully hidden. This uncertainty applies to bikes too, but far less so, just on the face of it, there is a ton on the ground that looks like a 30cm-3meter² hunk of metal… by contrast the 40-60m² a tank or comparable troop carrier looks like is an object that stands out even in the midst of a reasonably large town.
Which leaves us with IR. Which ya, Bikes are hot engines that move chains which move tires which generate a lot of friction. They glow on FLIR or other IR imagining.
Note: bikes don’t often glow quite this hot, pay attention to the other bike at 1:12. Also note this is another good case for arranging additional fairings around the engine.
(Also Also note most police helicopters have a fuel range of 3-4 hours, they have to get back to base, and they probably didn’t take off for this specific guy. This guy kept it up for 40 minutes… if he had the gas in the tank and kept it up another 40min to an hour, he’d probably have gotten away with it.)
With engines exposed to the air and and lacking the wrap around fairings of cars, bikes have an IR signature comparable to a larger car, Or if running especially hot a pickup truck.
this is still better than most armored vehicles, and in contrast to radar, IR is fairly limited, most FLIRs having a max range of ~16km that gets cut down to a few hundred meters in rain or fog, vastly weaker than the hundreds of kilometers radar can detect at, Likewise whereas radar is fairly automated, with many systems able to scan 360 degrees in a second, then highlight targets which meet parameters and can be separated from the noise, IR is largely dependent on a human operator actually looking through the video feed and interpreting it, with the exception of some very specialized applications like Heat seeking missiles or the CIWS Cannons that try to shoot them down, IR remains a relatively analog affair. Ultimately a thermal imaging system is just a camera that sees a different spectrum from you, even for an automated one you ultimately need a human looking at the image and making a judgement as to what he’s looking at, and that’s only IF you chance to get it pointed at the target and they aren’t in the 359 other degrees of view your camera isn’t pointed at, in a cluttered environment with lots of living things or other humans and vehicles moving about, or variable terrain , or woods… your chances are going to be comparable to detecting a person or vehicle with binoculars from kilometers away, a veritable where’s Waldo.
For contrast’s sake this is what a convoy of armoured vehicles and tanks look like under IR, notice the plume of hot white, that’s just the tanks exhaust:
adjusting for scale That bike, running frighteningly hot, is equivalent to maybe one or two of the tires on the front troop carrier.
However all this is assuming no attempts at concealment are made.
How to Hide a Tank
To hide a tank or armoured vehicle from Satellite, Radar, or IR detection you have about 4 options:
you can hide it within the lay of the land, say there is a ditch or brook, mounds of earth, you can put your tank within the crenulation and now radar and IR are less likely have a clear line to it, reducing the effective range at which they can detect you, if a radar could detect an unhidden vehicle at 100km on open ground, this would most likely reduce that by 10s of kilometers if not 50% or more of the range. indeed Russians seem to partially bury their vehicles.
You can use woodlands as a natural camouflage to conceal you. The tree canopy and branched act as surfaces both the thermal imagining and radar detects as noise, meaning that tank behind them quickly becomes just a series of small patches where the radar or IR is able to get through instead of a full image. massively shrinking the detectable size until its not intelligibly different from just more objects in the woods, or small animals.
NOTE HOWEVER, it is still possible to detect through foliage. As early as Vietnam close range perimeter radar was used to detect VietCong (humans on foot) approaching bases (though I doubt the max range never exceeded a few hundred meters), and revisiting Tactical Radars for Ground Surveillance: It leaves off somewhat cryptically (Radar tech being one of the more classified capabilities in modern warfare), suggesting ground vehicle detection in foliage was doable by 2000, but remained heavily flawed, prone to false positives, and of course limited effective range.
This has almost certainly improved massively since then with advancing radar software and Moore’s Law, however the basic principle stays the same: that foliage massively cuts down radar range. If a radar could detect at 100km in the open, this might be cut down to 10-30km or less in foliage. from a high angle radar detection only has to pass through one or two trees and their canopy, from a distance dozens of kilometers away however that angle could be 10 to 30 degrees above the horizon, at that angle to detect a tank in woodlands the radar waves have to pass through dozens if not hundreds of trees and their canopy to reach the tank and then bounce all the way back through those same trees to get to the plane that’s searching for tanks.
you can mimic or enhance the effects of the canopy with Multispectrum Camouflage nets. Now while the name may sound like there’s some advanced materials science going on, (which I don’t know… maybe some of the classified wonder materials are worth the tax dollars?) In principle basic camo netting is doing the job. Just like the leaves or tree branches , what the netting does is get in the way and break up the radar and infrared image with all the netted “leaves” own radar or IR signature… As pictured below the more of a gap you can get between the vehicle and the netting, the better. this way the surface of the vehicle doesn’t flatten or merge with the netting (defeating the purpose) and the heat from the vehicle doesn’t heat the net thus giving away the position.
If you know more about the varieties of Multispectrum Camouflage and the factors that improve performance against radar or IR please comment and let me know
and finally you can hide it behind walls, in large buildings, or just generally around manmade structures which have their own dense signatures.
4 1/2. You can only operate in the rain or other weather that cuts into radar range.
Ultimately Radar, IR, and Satellite imaging are all line of sight tools similar to how your eye sees (with some exceptions for weird radar variants we’ll discuss later)… Aside from coloured paints and the like that are spectrum specific, if it would conceal you from eyesight, it will similarly interfere with detection along the radar and IR spectrum.
How to Hide a Bike
All of the techniques covered above work equally well for a bike. the remarkable thing is how well.
Unlike almost every other vehicle the motorcycle has two resting states. either upright on its wheels, or leaned over on its side (though do remember to close the fuel petcock, or you’ll come back to an empty tank)… this means it is variably about as narrow as a man’s shoulders or a mere foot or two above ground. Even a remarkably small indentation in the ground can conceal a bike on its side (and you could quickly dig it if one was not forthcoming), likewise its narrowness means it can hide up against walls or large rocks. Similarly, as we’ve already seen, bikes can get into some of the thickest of forest and between tightly packed trees with the bike fairly easy to push right into dense bushes once stopped. Likewise Camo Netting can take 20+ minutes to get set up over something as large as an armoured vehicle, a process involving setting up stakes to hold it off the vehicle and a multi-man struggle to hoist the netting over it… (I’ve never done it, but I’m imagining the struggle of trying to put a cover on a boat or camper van, but with the risk that doing it too slowly might kill you). By contrast getting camo netting over a bike is a 20 second triviality, hell the need for stakes is even forgone for the most part since the windshield, handle bars and luggage naturally hold the netting away from the engine and frame (though leaned over you might want some 2 foot sticks, or to rearrange your luggage so the netting doesn’t rest next to hot elements, you only have to worry about this for 20 minutes-ish while the bike cools down, but hey better safe than sorry).
And once you have a built environment… well Bikes fit through doorways, in the open they’re ridable up and down stairs, and within a building a pair of people could guide one up a flight of stairs fairly easily. Finally at 400-600lbs… and an average weight limit of 30-40lbs per square foot for residential buildings, you could fit dozens in a house without hitting the weight strain limit… which should be intuitive given how rarely houses collapse during massive American parties and family reunions. (This is doubly useful for covert action since in most countries authorities need a warrant to enter a domicile, whereas they merely need to drive by or fly over to identify a half dozen or more cars parked at one house).
all the above resists Satellite detection as well, even the indentation in the land, since satellites are rarely truly directly above, steep rises in the land can cut into their detection. Likewise foliage combined with multispectrum camouflage works against the visual detection of the satellite. However, satellites will notice large hordes of motorcycles bunched up together or moving about, so immediate concealment once stopped, staying spread out, following circuitous routes that don’t betray their destination, and only concentrating sparingly for immediate action or when on the move is good opsec hygiene. Likewise regularly relocating positions so the accumulation of passes and data don’t build up into a clear picture of your position.
Similarly Using cover of night and cloud cover to conceal movements is highly advisable, observation drones generally don’t take off over a certain percentage cloud cover because their odds of getting a clear IR picture is negligible through all the moisture, though the skilled operator will insist on using a kestrel and calculating the dew point and cloud ceiling to be sure clouds are below 10,000 ft, and thus a drone won’t simply fly under them, also best to make sure you can tell the difference between Stratus and Cirrus clouds (and you thought your second grade teacher was wasting your time).
Now the US does have “see-through” technology on at least some of its satellites, that use radar instead of the visual spectrum, and are speculated to have an images with a resolution 1 meter wide or smaller… the extent to which this can detect a bike is debatable, especially if we bring in concealment. but thought I should mention it.
Also secure your damn Phones
All of these efforts of course are pointless if your phone is relaying your exact GPS coordinates or triangulated cell position. you could try to solve this with software… but you’ll probably screw it up, and it only takes a clever hacker to overcome it (most governments have plenty). If for any reason you want to operate without your phone tracking you, and for understandable reason need to keep it on your person, this is what you do. Software will likely fail, and there are plenty of known exploits to get around you simply turning it off. You could buy specially designed privacy phone that still has a removeable battery, and hardware switches to disconnect the cellular radio, GPS, bluetooth, etc… but this might not be practical, or you might not have the budget to equip all your comrades with a $300-500 new phone… instead keep your SIMcard stored outside the phone, buy an external charging pack and drain the phone’s battery to zero before storing it in your bags, restarting it every time it turns off til the screen stops coming on (even if there is nefarious software that still tries to track you, chances are it will drain whatever remaining charge it can get before getting too much info from you).
Next store your phone in a faraday cage or bag. This could be a metal container on your vehicle, this could be a specially bought 50 dollar farraday bag off amazon, this could be a pouch you make yourself out of aluminum foil… the important thing no matter where you get it is to TEST IT. call yourself or a phone nearby, shove it in the box/bag and see if the call drops. Connect to a Bluetooth device like a speaker, shove it in the box/bag and see if the speaker stops playing. Pull up a YouTube video on wifi, turn up the volume, shove it in, and listen to hear if the video stops, then repeat this test on mobile data. Use an app to start tracking a GPS route, shove it in the box/bag, go for a trip, and see if the route is recorded (pointless blocking it all if it just reports all of where you’ve been the second you connect to wifi again).
And of course any device you need to use covertly for its software, say offline mapping or GPS, ballistic calculators, etc. , it should be a separate device which doesn’t touch your identifying data, and you should have a technician open it and physically disconnect all the receivers, transmitters, cameras, sensors etc. which aren’t needed. so a phone turned into a GPS can’t ping cell towers for instance. (and be sure to test its actually disconnected)
The most advanced forces in the world want, and those more skeptical of irregular warfare ascribe to them, a near omniscience and perfect knowledge of the battlefield due to satellites, radar, IR, and drone observation… and they certainly want you to think that’s true. But this is not the case. between 2013-2017 ISIS in Iraq held out for months employing massive homemade armoured vehicles against US backed forces in the dessert, with US air patrols, satellites, and radar, having a near free hand to observe them from every angle and fire missiles into them… It still took months of fighting to finally remove them from Iraq, and they maintained heavy vehicle support right up til the end. Even with massive pickup trucks or larger vehicles outfitted with armor and heavy guns the most powerful force in human history with the most advanced signals, recon and image intelligence ever devised by man could not achieve the real time omniscience to defeat an irregular force, in pickup trucks. Against bikes that challenge would be an order of magnitude more difficult.
We hold each other closer, as we shift to overdrive/ And everything goes rushing by, with every nerve alive/ We move so fast it seems as though we've taken to the sky/ Love machines in harmony, we hear the engines cry.
-Turbo Lover, Judas Priest (1986)
Indeed used properly Motorcycle’s stealth has only really one weakness compared to any other vehicle… Bikes are kinda loud.
Now this isn’t that big a deal. Contrary to your personal experience with Harley Davidsons ruining outdoor conversations… most bike can be equipped with mufflers that work, indeed contrasted with heavy armoured vehicles a properly muffled bike is almost certainly more quite at low revs. However within a 200-500 meter range the sound can give away a position. There have been some experiments with electric and hybrid electric bikes for special forces, that switch to much more silent electric motors for the final close in with the enemy… But so far I haven’t heard much about anyone having great operational coups with them.
This final 200-500 meters on foot isn’t critical for the vast majority of applications, infantry fighting has to be done unmounted anyway, and defensively its right there with you, however it does mean the bike can’t be used as a battlefield escape pod… or atleast not from a position you walked to.
Finally when all your best efforts prove for not, and your enemy lucks into finding you anyway… its shockingly hard to kill someone on a bike.
This is incredibly counterintuitive… you can look up videos of cops doing insane unethical rammings of hooligans who are just stunting or the terrible lethal accidents bikers suffer when they try to flee police, killing or maiming them. Getting in a chase ln a bike is almost certainly amongst the most dangerous things anyone could possibly do, not least because the cops would never be convicted of homicide for crashing with you, and, given the paid time off for trauma, etc. are effectively incentivized to kill you ( Hell There are leaked Social Media messages related to this with regards to shooting…where they do at least face some scrutiny), but its dangerous primarily because as soon as you start freaking out and riding above your skill on a bike your odds of just crashing on your own is incredible…
And Yet… bikes escape the police all the time. Whereas its very rare to see a video online of car chases ending in escape, “Bike vs. Cop” videos ending in a bike victory are stupendously common, Teenagers on their dirt bikes often post videos of themselves messing with cops only to go down a barriered walking path or take a shortcut through the woods and disappear. The versatile maneuverability of the bike means escape from ground vehicles are trivial, a car in pursuit simply can’t follow a bike along 90% of the paths available to it, and certainly not at the speed the bike can travel them at.
This video (sorry age restricted) from Afghanistan depicts a bomb maker on bike being shot at from helicopter (I didn’t see any gore, but don’t play it if you’re squeemish).
It takes 2 helicopters and several on ground armored vehicles minutes to stop the bike, when they’re free to open fire, in a flat open dessert, where the bike can’t escape… and still the bomb maker makes it quite some distance with the helicopters gun and rockets seemingly struggling to hit him. In most other environments, with more urban cover or woodlands, he’d have gotten away.
to consistently stop or capture a bike you need about 5 conditions:
Helicopter or overhead guidance (so merely escaping visual view or crossing something impassible isn’t an automatic escape)
Clear weather so the overhead watch can see
an uncluttered environment with minimal trees, high buildings, or dense buildings, so he can’t escape visual contact and hide
On the ground vehicles to close with and cut off the bike’s escape
passible ground conditions such that the ground vehicles can keep up with the bike (if roads are washed out, shelled, narrow muddy cuts in the woods, or have fallen obstacles, etc. the bike will be able to move faster than even a super charged pursuit vehicle… because the bike will be able to go 20kph while the pursuit vehicle is stopped or going 5)
Anything less than these five conditions would mean the bike will escape if it doesn’t crash or get hit, and the pursuers are dependent on a lucky shot in a limited window if their rules of engagement would even allow them to make the shot (even in hot wars most helicopters aren’t empowered to start firing at fast moving targets in urban areas).
And if you do hit a biker, say with one of those drone mounted bombs we started off this whole thing speculating about…Well, you hit ONE (maybe 2 if he has a pillion), Compare that with armoured vehicles where you might have 4 or even a dozen people in one troop carriers and that’s a massive reduction in potential loses from one hit, in addition to the reduced chance of a hit given a smaller faster moving target.
So summing up: bikes are incredible.
They provide a tool in many ways better than an armoured troop carrier, at a fraction the cost, have the best stealth of any vehicle under a 100 million dollars per unit, and given the easier time radar has at detecting supersonic airborne units… perhaps the best stealth period. They perfectly combines the versatility of foot travel, with the ability to get up to highway speed in under 10 seconds, and give fighters the ability to carry a full 100lb fighting load without significant physical exertion.
No wonder they are currently being used by Insurgents and militias across the middle-east and Africa, and no wonder many of the armies fighting said militias have started to replicate their tactics.
Quoting from a sputnik piece hilariously sympathetic to Assad’s army:
"The way we fight has changed since the beginning of the war, and we have developed our offensive methods," said Hany, a 25-year soldier with the Syrian Army. "Nowadays, we use motorbikes for their speed and mobility."
The bikes offer a number of advantages. Maneuverability lets the driver adjust course more rapidly to avoid sniper fire, while the lightweight frame allows it to sail over mines intended for larger vehicles.
"My bike is harder to track and is too light to set off landmines," Hany said.
The tactic was inspired by the very militant groups that the Syrian government is fighting, but it’s proven so effective that motorbikes may become a permanent fixture of the Syrian Army.
"We don’t deny that we learned the tactic of using motorbikes from the militants," he added. "We’ve come up with an advanced course on street fighting and guerilla warfare, and fighting on motorbikes may become a tactic that regular armies come to rely on."
The Syrian Army first implemented the new tactic nine months ago.
"We were divided into groups, with each group assigned three motorbikes that were used to move food and ammunition and transport the wounded from areas that ambulances couldn’t access” said Haj, another Syrian soldier.
"It’s fun to ride in times of peace, and in times of war they are useful. Eventually they’ll become an essential piece of equipment, like a gun or ammunition."
(note: I don’t recommend testing the landmine thing… Improvised landmines are almost certainly to be of a… less than predictable sensitivity. And most professionally made landmines would have a trigger sensitive enough to be set off by a 200-600lb vehicle+rider)
As an avid biker I wish Hany’s prediction were true…Indeed for poorer countries such as those Middle-eastern regimes without US backing, or African regimes barely ahead of the militias they fight, it very well might be…
But as we’ll see the US and western countries are for now, and possibly forever, cut off from the dream of the motorcycle warlords.
Much as aesthetically we might want the future where soldiers ride into battle a blend of 18th century Dragoon and Mad Maxian road warrior, and much as everything above screams the martial practicality of motorcycles, and much as I might wish for a world where military doctrine leaves Americans equally experienced and enamored of bikes as they are with guns…
Such a dream will never pass.
Part 2: Uncle Sam Don’t Bike
Won't you take that ride on heavy metal?/ It's the only way that you can travel down that road/ Satisfied on heavy metal/ Baby won't you ride, ride it until it explodes
- Don Felder (1981)
US and western use of motorcycle in combat has declined massively since WW2 when they were used primarily as messenger carriers.
Motorcycles and motorcycle capable troops are still kept on hand but if anything the numbers have decreased even in the last few decades. Motorcycles’ traditional roles in message delivery, scouting for larger forces, reconnaissance, and sniper insertion + special forces ops have all been gradually displaced by many of the same forces we mentioned in part 1.
While motorcycle messenger capability is still nominally maintained, its rarely if ever used.
American soldiers are almost never without a direct means of communication, SATCOMs connect almost every FOB and temporary position. And the patrols and units that go out without large SATCOMs rarely venture far enough to lose radio connection.
“Ah but Afghanistan is mountainous and vast” you might think, “Surely they lost radio signal all the time?”
They did… and invariably they solved this not by setting up a system of motorcycle curriers but by speaking some profanity, and then pulling out a cell phone with an Afghan simcard, or a commercial satphone if their platoon commander made the investment.
Now on paper this is a big No no… as anyone who’s seen the opening of Narcos season one can tell you Satphones are technologically simple to intercept and listen in to, and cell phones are easy to triangulate the location of or even listen in to with fairly straightforward devices that spoof a cell tower, collect all the info, then pass it on to a real cell tower. Police throughout the US, Canada, UK, and others use Stingray and other similar devices to do exactly that, with the civil liberties concerns being an ongoing debate. And of course, anyone with a modicum of competence could order a Chinese knock off of the devices law enforcement uses… cell spoofing and cloning has been fairly straightforward since the 90s.
Yet think… In what situations do American’s need immediate comms yet don’t have it? Medivac? Calling in emergency fire support? In any other situation not having comms isn’t really that urgent. Indeed radio signals can be triangulated in much the same way cell signals can… thus the imperative to “maintain radio silence” and “keep chatter to a minimum” depending on the op. (though of course military comms are encrypted and so can’t be easily listened into).
Beyond that think of the enemies America has faced for the past 30-70 years… how reliably do you think the Shia militias of Baghdad or the Taliban, or even Saddam’s army could detect cell or sat signals where they shouldn’t be, triangulate the position get someone who speaks English to translate, and then successfully mount an attack based off that info, against what is still probably a more numerous, more heavily armed, and certainly better trained force? And all before the US forces move and that intel becomes worthless?
What are the odds the US takes a casualty due to this coup of signals intelligence and coordination vs. the likelihood that the lone motorcycle messenger you send out to avoid this risk gets hit by enemy forces?
Again the US maintains motorcycle currier capabilities… But unless Chinese rockets take out all of America’s satellites or some new counter signals wonder-tech comes out… Motorcycle messengers are only going to keep declining in relevance for the US.
So what about the other roles of military motorcycles?
Well for Recon, scouting, and even sniper ops… Drones have displaced tons of what skilled men on the ground used to do. When a predator drone can stay in the air close to 40hrs, maintain a constant unseen presence during that time, and then launch missiles to take out targets after commanders and analysts back in Utah or Nevada have looked at the footage themselves. You know instead of trusting what a grunt or NCO happens to say when they radio back to base.
The importance and frequency of scouting, recon missions, and even sniper and special forces ops have declined massively since the introduction of drones. Think about it, when the president wanted someone assassinated in the past, by and large someone actually had to get close enough to pull the trigger or plant the bomb… it might be OSS, or later CIA, or special forces, or some shady deniable ally or asset… but some form of Tactical Espionage Action had to happen, even if it was sneaking chemicals into Castro’s shampoo…
Whereas now, if the president put you on his kill list, Peace Prize or not, 95+% of the time you’re just getting a drone strike to the face.
“Ok” I hear you say. “But what about all that other stuff you were talking about before!? going anywhere fast! Carrying 100lbs easily! Disappearing instantly! What about STEALTH!?”
“And anyway can’t large predator drones be shot down?”
You’re asking the right questions… which is good because I’m putting them in your mouth, it’d be embarrassing if you still managed to ask the wrong ones.
In answer to your drone question, as we will soon see, US predator drones are at once trivial, and impossible, to shoot down.
But to isolate the most important question:
Indeed, What about stealth!?
Marine Special Forces prepares to air insert from the deck of a Nimitz Aircraft Carrier… Circa 2003-2004 judging by the mismatched camo.
Air superiority is THE priority.
I'm elected electric spy/ I'm protected electric eye/ Always in focus/ You can't feel my stare/ I zoom into you/ You don't know I'm there
-The Hellion/Electric Eye, Judas Priest (1982)
In part one we unpacked the advantages of Motorcycles in combat. Ahead of pretty much everything else, their stealth comes out as a massive, standout feature. A fully functional military humvee with massive tires you can control the inflation and deflation of as you drive, or tanks with treads that go over most anything, and the bulk to knock down most trees, that will probably still get you most places a bike can in a reasonable enough amount of time… But when it comes to staying hidden pretty much nothing competes with a bike. Satellite, radar, IR, for the most part the bike overcomes all except IR, and even there its still functionally invisible once stopped, and still has a much smaller signature than armored vehicles.
Now stop and think a sec… When’s the last time the US faced an opponent with any of those?
As far as I’m aware the US has never fought an enemy with satellite capabilities. Maybe Saddam snuck one up on one of the rockets for his WMDs that are still hidden, or maybe Russia and China slipped the Taliban or Syrian militias some up to date satellite images, but aside from that the greatest satellite threat the US has faced is insurgents who depend on Google Earth and other largely US or NATO based Satellite imaging sources whose open high-res images are almost always months, years or even decades out of date…Needless to say you aren’t tracking active troop movements with those, and the companies themselves go out of the way to make sure they don’t betray US movements.
(comment if you have a good source for recent high res sat images… I want to try and track what’s happening in Ukraine)
This leaves Radar and IR… With ranges of hundreds of kilometers for radar and over a dozen kilometers for IR you’d think these would be major concerns… But where do you have to be to use those long ranges?
Radar and IR are both line of sight tools, sure there exist over-the-horizon radar that bounce the radar waves off the Ionosphere, and groundwave systems that curve with the contours of the earth, but these are blunt instruments. Ground wave would be more precisely called “over water wave” since they can only realistically detect over water (on actual ground hills, trees, and building would cut it off well before it reaches the horizon most places), and even then not sure how they perform in weather or over choppy seas, since any movement, variation or object at ground level would cut into its transmission… Meanwhile skywave or skip radar that bounces off the Ionosphere, are necessarily vague and imprecise, able to tell you that a large ship, or ICBM or conventional non-stealth bomber has been detected, but unable to give you the precise location for targeting since variation in the ionosphere and the atmospheric conditions it has to pass through, twice, create inherently large amounts of variation (seemingly up to kilometers), at best both exist as forms of early warning, or for guiding units with line-of sight radar into the region of the target. Interestingly the US Navy has skip systems for targeting drug traffickers in the Gulf of Mexico, and Canada for monitoring fishing waters… so presumably something as small as a speedboat or fishing trawler can be detected this way if they’re moving at sufficient speed… but part of me still doesn’t believe that this could detect if there was any weather or the seas were choppy enough… How would a radar detect low down speed-boat, when waves might be breaking higher than it? At full speed maybe the doppler effect would make that stand out, but at a speed closer to that of the waves?
Hey, Retiring radar techs, the cartels and Chinese fishing conglomerates want your skills.
So of course on crowded land where there are buildings and forests, and hills, and valleys to block groundwave, and a skip radar margin of error of hundreds of meters to kilometers would mean dozens or hundreds of vehicles and buildings might be within just that margin… Ya, Only line of sight radar will work for detecting ground vehicles. So how do you get line of sight radar to work? A radar on a 10m pole (3 stories) above the ground is only 13km to the horizon line and will see vastly less if there are trees, buildings, or hills in the way, you can place it on a mountain side and extend that range but still any hills or buildings or trees will cut you off, and given you’re on a mountain, there are probably other mountains that block you.
If you couldn’t tell from the title of this segment, you want to be airborne. At 10s of thousands of feet a treeline only conceals what’s in it and immediately behind it, not the entire world past it, likewise buildings and hills, and since you are in a fast moving, likely supersonic, vehicle you’re going to get new vantage points every few seconds to see in all those little cracks and crevices quickly. The US Airforce is even deploying an automated system to share all this gathered radar data and correlate it into a live map of the battlefield all aircraft and commanders can see, stretching hundreds if not thousands of kilometers. Yes it sounds like an RTS map to me too.
And of course once you know where everyone is, well you have the super fast fighter jets right there to take them out. With the missiles, bombs, and cannons aircraft wield able to cut through even thickly armored tanks like butter ( the uselessness of trying to armor against airstrike being a major reason nobody heavily armors the tops of vehicles).
Now the speed and exposed open air round aircraft means Air battles happen fast…the 500km distances it might take ground forces weeks to cover might be crossed and decided within hours, modern fighter-jets don’t even get into visual range before launching their missiles and taking the evasive maneuvers that will decide the fight. For this reason most modern wars start immediately with one side winning the air and then being dominant in the air for the remainder of the war (with some possible weirdness on the extremes). Winning this air battle totally and then maintaining dominance of the sky is the Backbone of all US doctrine since the end of the Cold-war, indeed even during the cold war US doctrine was laser focused on Air superiority with the US stockpile of 4600 F-16 multirole fighters, a single aircraft model, dwarfing the entire soviet 1990 air-combat arsenal of 1275 Fighters and 2510 attack aircraft (ground attackers more maneuverable than bombers, with fairly limited antiair capability). The soviets seemingly didn’t even to try to compete with this massive advantage, instead investing heavily in ground based anti-air to try and keep things from being completely lopsided.
Trillions, almost certainly 10s of trillions inflation adjusted, have been spent over the past 70 years ensuring the US will always always ALWAYS have air superiority, everywhere, every time.
Borrowing an infographic from Al Jazeera:
These are all the US military bases around the world. There are countries out there with fewer soldiers total than the US has bases, and the first thing the US does with all but its smallest bases, is set down a runway.
The US also has 11 nuclear powered Super-carriers with a compliment of 90 aircraft each and 0ver 5000 personnel, half of which are just there to attend the aircraft. The Rest of the world has a combined 9 Carriers the next largest of which carries 50 aircraft. At full battle stations the Nimitz Supercarrier becomes the busiest airport in the world, able to take off and land planes faster than Heathrow, and America has 11 of them it can park off anyone’s shores.. a power made even more awe inspiring when you consider 80% of the worlds population lives within 82 miles of a coast.
America is the air. A unit commander drives along a slightly exposed roadway and the entire unit gets wiped out by attack helicopters? You think that of America!? America is the one who strikes.
Every war America fights, America has perfect vision, while its enemies are blinded. Every war America fights enemy columns melt away to a fraction of their original force well before any armored units are in striking distance. Its long since gotten past the point where the pentagon invests, not in winning the air-fight, but in crippling the enemy’s ability to swat back from the ground.
Just as the first 3 of The Ten Commandments all relate to not worshipping anyone but God, nor worshipping images of stuff that isn’t God, Nor insulting God by using his name without sufficient reverence… So too are the first three commandments of the US military “Achieve air superiority, do not lose air superiority, do not squander air superiority”
So ya motorcycles are awesome, they allow one to maintain maneuverability and stealth even if one has lost or never had air superiority. As such America doesn’t really need them.
“BUT WAIT!” I hear you cry, the dream of a bad-ass Mad Maxian future fading, like tire marks in the sand.
“The American military buys and maintains tons of stuff they don’t need by any stretch of the imagination. Eleven super-carriers? 750 bases? 175,000 troops deployed? 4,500 F-16s!? The US spent 1.7 trillion on the F-35 alone?! …I mean 1.7 trillion so far! The Army, the Navy, the Marine corp, the Airforce… each of them has their own Airforce that outstrips almost every other nation in the world! How many types of special forces unit are we up to? A doctrinal commitment to being able to fight two major wars at once, on opposite side of the world?! America exists for overkill!” You cry as the pure righteous principle of the matter fills you.
“To quote David Bowie: God is an American! And just as God encompasses all things and all conceivable possibilities, if there is a conceivable way to kill someone, somewhere, sometime, someway, then God-damn it! The Pentagon needs to be spending at least 20-50 billion on it.”
“Harley-Davidson is a boomer beloved brand, with a proud American history, that they’re committed to run into the ground through political protectionism, corrupt Washington deals, and mismanagement, an American brand that manufactures in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SWING STATES! They’re a perfect contender to become the next Raytheon! If we can have entire Airborne divisions rehearsing mass parachute deployments that haven’t happened since WW2…Surely we could have a mere 10,000 to 25,000 soldiers as part of some ultralight Iron Dragoon Division riding into battle atop glorious American steel.”
“Sure the US is utterly dominant in the air…but the Us dominates the entire air! Pearl Harbor to Peking, Seoul to Malmo, The strait of Malacca to The Strait of Gibraltar, The English Chanel to the Panama Cannel, the North Pole to the Coast of Antarctica… But what if, while we’re dominating almost everywhere, Russia or China concentrated… somewhere? A sudden united, Russian -Iranian- Chinese- Taiban push for the Saudi oil fields, with all they’ve got! They could achieve regional dominance in airpower! Why you’d need some kind of motorcycle corp that could operate without air-support for atleast a few weeks to slow them up so they don’t take the entire Arabian Peninsula.”
“Surely if we’re still maintaining B-52s and keeping amphibious landing crafts in the arsenal, Just In Case! (hello the 1950s called, they say they have helicopters now), Then surely something as practical as these motorcycles should be a no brainer.”
No brainer, an apt choice of words. Also don’t call me Shirley.
But Bravo, A good effort. I’m sure the representative from Wisconsin is already dreaming of the governorship, and presidency he’ll win off this glorious porky coup.
There’s one problem. America doesn’t want it. And I don’t mean they need persuading or there’s some irrational institutional aversion. I mean: For God’s Sake America, You don’t want this!
Part 3: Fuel Injected Suicide Machines
Guy Martin crashing at the Isle of Man TT 2010, from the documentary Closer to the Edge
Joining a band of brothers together, a group with one common interest or mission, whether as a company, a team, or a motorcycle club, requires not only a commitment to loyalty, but an understanding of self-preservation as well.
-Sonny Barger, Last Surviving Hell’s Angels founding member
As your grandmother will tell you: Motorcycles are deathtraps.
The micromort is a unit in insurance and actuarial accounting representing a 1 in a million chance of death, or 00.0001%
Skydiving is 8 micromorts per jump.
Scuba-diving 10 per dive.
base jumping 430 per jump.
Driving in your car is 1 micromort per 370km travelled (250 miles).
And coming in as one of the deadliest things you can do…
Motorcycling is 1 micromort per 10 km travelled (6 miles). meaning that even a lazy summer of riding say 4300km is as dangerous as going Base jumping. and the avid motorcyclist or retiree who buys a modern ADV bike or goldwing with the intent to see the world and travel the extent of north America, putting down maybe for 400,000 kilometers over the next decade with maybe a new bike purchase in there… ( a very normal amount of distance to put on any other automobile)… That person is aspiring to a feat more dangerous than successfully summiting Everest. their 40,000 micromorts (4% chance of death) exceeds the 38,000 micromorts successfully summiting Everest represented in 2013 (and Everest has actually gotten safer since then).
They don't call it the Wall of Death for nothing. The biggest risk is crashing off the top. That's when it gets really messy.
-Guy Martin, Multiple world record holder, Isle of man TT podium finisher
The thing is its actually kinda worse than that. If you summit Everest and fall and break 3 limbs, you’re probably going to freeze to death on the mountain. That catastrophic injury is captured in the micromort figure. Whereas bike accident by and large happen on roads, where people notice, and ambulances can reach you. The ratio of catastrophic maiming without death on a Everest ascent might actually be less than the risk of death itself… whereas on a bike its at minimum a multiple… most likely an order of magnitude.
I’d Guess that your odds of being maimed on a bike (loosely defined as an injury that leaves you disabled for months, years, or permanently (so anything from a clean bone break to lifelong quadriplegia)) Is probably 10x your risk of death.
Of the 5 people I’m immediately remember in my circle who had bad motorcycle accidents: One had broken bones and massive road rash, Two (a couple riding on the same bike) had a months long recovery and needed gravel debrided from their legs, the forth died immediately when his head impacted with a horse (who also died), and the fifth was me.
I got away shockingly well from the crash, no roadrash, spinal injury, or organ damage (it pays to wear protective kit)… But I had a crush injury to one of my limbs thats taken just shy of a dozen surgeries to repair and a year later I still don’t have full use of it (though I’m hopeful it’ll eventually work and I can ride again).
That ratio of 4 to 1 injuries to death is almost certainly an underestimate, the death was by far the person I knew least and there are probably 10-20 more people closer to me than him who have just never mentioned their accidents. So that ratio is likely to be 10-20 maimings or catastrophic injuries that might set back a recruit a year, or just end their military career entirely, for every one that dies.
To take just one example of how bad these injuries can be: Clayton Atreus, a fellow Student of philosophy and my inspiration for my cross-country motorcycle trip, had a catastrophic crash which paralyzed him from the chest down on a motorcycle trip to Argentina, his memoir Two Arms and a Head: The Death of a Newly Paraplegic Philosopher (free) accounts how horrifying his injury was and is a deep philosophic defense of his decision to commit suicide rather than suffer its nightmares… His death would not be counted in that micromort statistic. He didn’t die in the accident, he committed suicide because of the injuries he suffered in the accident.
Dispatch riders of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, Worthing, England, January 7th 1942. Library and Archives Canada
The Bugle sounds and the charge begins/ But on this battlefield no one wins/ The smell of acrid smoke and horses breath/ As I plunge on into certain death.
-The Trooper, Iron Maiden
So lets imagine you’re the US Army and you’re creating your Motorcycle Cavalry division. A majority of recruits are never going to have ridden, at all, and will need to be taught. They’re going to need basic motorcycle training, they’re going to need off-road training, and they’re just going to need road training and experience… How many miles does a young driver have to drive before they’re not a massive risk of a crash?
Now current Marine corps and police motorcycle courses are 2 weeks… But at least the police require those taking the course to already be fully bike licensed with years of experience under their belt, I suspect its the same for marines… And the marines don’t use their bike capable troops that aggressively, there were only 2 marines that rode the entire invasion of Iraq from Kuwait to Baghdad, a 500km distance and a 3 week invasion (march 18 to april 10). The rest of the time motorcycle certified troops are either at base, in vehicles with 4 wheels or more, or doing missions on foot.
What we’d be asking of these Motorcycle Dragoons would be vastly more intensive, we’d be asking them to live off their bikes potentially for months, maintaining hidden positions and constant mobility , relocating regularly.
Realistically any fresh American recruit expected to ride a motorcycle into battle and treat their bike as “an essential piece of equipment, like a gun or ammunition" (to quote that Syrian soldier) would need something close to 10,000 km of experience riding, minimum. Close to as much time as they spend holding their rifle (not shooting, holding). That’s still a relatively new rider at higher risk of crashing, they’re just not likely to run wide off the road, or tunnel vision into an obstacle at that point. (For reference my Accident happened at almost exactly 10,000km of experience, after I’d made a quite uncommon mistake) At 100km an hour that’s 100 hours of just road experience; combined with classroom work, tactical education, off-road training, maintenance and roadside repair (you really want your troops to know how to replace a tire, break and mend a chain, and check the fuses), and just generally know how to live off the bike…That’s closer to 200-300hours. At an average 10 hours a day of functional education time, that’s a month possibly two.
So….at 1 micromort per 10 kilometers, Just with the 10,000km requirement this hypothetical course would have a death rate of 1 out of 1000 minimum (you’d still have other accidents related to weapons, etc.). In all of 2017 the combined US military across all services had 81 training deaths. So say the Marine Corp and Army both create Dragoon divisions of 25,000 each, then you’d have 10-20,000 troops completing this course each year (based on a 3 year enlistment contract), or 10-20 deaths per year… or a 12-25% increase in total military training deaths from just this course. But that’s not the worst of it, as we’ve established the maiming injury rate on motorcycles is10-20x the death rate. So you’d have an additional 100-400 recruits being horribly maimed annually… Some of these might just be broken bones that they can recover from and retake the course in a few months… but a lot are going to lose limbs, suffer major organ damage, become paralyzed, have limps for life….
That’d be 1-2% of all recruits, most all who take the course will witness something like that, and the military will be left paying their disability.
(oh and there will probably a learning curve for instructors where they figure out how to have 20-50 strong training platoons all handle motorcycles at once without crashing into each other).
But that is literally just the beginning… now you’ve made them all motorcyclists! It isn’t going to stop at the end of the course, what do you think they’re going to do on the first weekend off when they go to a bar and try to pick up base bunnies… How do you think they’ll travel there!? (You thought biking was dangerous, drunk biking is a whole other game) When they go on vacation, what type of trip do you think they’re going to take? Are they going to drop thousands on a cruise? or are they going to save that money and do a cross country camping trip with all the skills you just taught them? When they go visit family how will they travel there? When they commute to the base for work, how will they get there? And there’s no escape, most US bases are in temperate to tropical climates where you can bike year round! ( I live in Canada and bike down to 1-2 Celsius (34-36 Fahrenheit) I just pull on long underwear and use aftermarket handlebar warmers)
Possibly one of the greatest warriors of the 20th century T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame) survived WW1 fighting a guerilla war behind enemy lines, Turkish prison, and an entirely separate career as an enlisted man in the RAF…only to die on an afternoon motorcycle ride in Dorset.
You’d be taking annual casualties in the 2-5% range per year (of which 0.1-0.5 would be deaths), All before training exercises and peacetime deployments overseas… and then you actually get to the war where to exploit these new capabilities you have to be sending them out for long stretches at time to, or beyond, the edge of even the most extreme air support. We don’t have actuarial tables for a unit type that doesn’t exist in wars that haven’t happened… but we can safely bet they’d be high.
To take an example from one of the few armed professions that does employ motorcyclists extensively: Law Enforcement is really dependent on bikes to navigate blocked traffic where only a bike can lane-split through, control urban environments, and generally follow criminals who might be able to outmaneuver a patrol or even interceptor vehicle… And they pay the price for that. 39% of Law Enforcement deaths and 39% of injuries involve an officer on a motorcycle.
In contrast, the “Armoured” part of armoured vehicles actually works, if you’re American. Sure Saddam’s armoured vehicles get cut to shreds by attack helicopters and airstrikes, but when you don’t have to worry about those: armour is really nice to have. Rifles can’t do much to it, tons of engineering goes into resisting common anti-vehicle weapons and rocket launchers, some resist even barrel sized IEDs buried underground… Oh and anyone who tries to pop off a RPG (rocket propelled grenade) or Recoilless Rifle in your direction is almost certainly in range of your machine-guns or repeating grenade launchers. You don’t have to take dangerous high-speed evasive maneuvers when you can return fire.
So ya under almost no conceivable circumstance would the US military ever consider deploying motorcycles beyond the specialized, limited, and shrinking, role they already have.
Indeed if you were secretary of the army and given a choice between making motorcycles “an essential piece of equipment, like a gun or ammunition", or banning every single member of the military from ever straddling one… you’d be a fool not to choose the later.
And Yet They Work.
Concluding Vol 1: Freedom Machines/Hell on Wheels
Behold! the only people to defeat both the USSR and the USA
I live my life like a shot in the wind If tomorrow don't come I know I stole my share of fun for me Cause I'm too fast, I'm too rad I'm going wasted when I'm done The cost of freedom's never free
-Rebel in The FDG, WASP (1989)
On paper or in a wargame an Iron Dragoon company or division would be perfect. Natively hidden, off-road capable in the extreme, fast. An inexhaustible supply of motorcycle couriers for when comms are compromised. Throw in a few Humvees or Technicals at a ratio of 1-2 per 15-20 bikes… that you can have heavy weapons at an equivalent speed, with off-road capability to at least partially keep up, and a radar signature that can be hidden when stopped and are hard to notice in such small numbers… That’s a strong cheep fighting unit that’s able to operate hidden under enemy aircover, then strike and relocate before the enemy can respond.
But their incredible rate of casualties means no western nation could deploy them, and indeed even second tier national forces and poor conscript armies might struggle to deploy them to their full extent…Would Putin or Erdogan or Sisi really trust their soldiers to ride motorcycles into battle instead of using them to avoid battle? An unremarked aspect of military tech is how all these “capabilities”: radios, large multi-person carriers, aerial observation, etc. are also used to confine soldiers, to keep them under constant supervision so they can’t shirk or desert… Indeed the chain of many expeditionary forces logistics often ensures the only way of a young private to find food or any passage back to his own country is by staying in the good graces of his superiors… The barbed wire, checkpoints, and watchtowers around military bases don’t just control who comes in, they control who can leave.
Motorcycles on the other hand concentrate extraordinary, dangerous, and extraordinarily dangerous power in the hands of an individual. A teenage Russian conscript in the 80s or a teenage American volunteer in the 2000s had little prospect of making it home from Afghanistan if they just ditched and started hitch-hiking to Islamabad or Tehran or Tashkent. By contrast this girl solo tripped Pakistan on her bike, even fell in love with the place and moved there… Ewan McGregor (yes Obi-Wan) and Charlie Boorman have now crossed every continent except Antarctica and Australia on their bikes (and I think Charlie did Oz on a vacation), In their series Long Way Round, Long Way Down, and Long Way Up… So if hobbyist actors can do all that, travelling desolate Mongolia and the Siberian road of bones in spring (washout season)…presumably a trained motorcycle warrior is never really going to stay anywhere unless he wants to.
This is presumably why so far Assad is the only Dictator to invest in motorcycles with any seriousness, his is an ethnic war of survival for the groups aligned with him… any fortunate enough that they could/would desert or turn refugee already has. To find other motorcycle heavy forces you pretty much have to look to insurgents or militias.
Happiness is an enemy. It weakens you. Suddenly, you have something to lose.
-Niki Lauda, 3 time Formula 1 World Champion
The only forces I know in the world that have embraced the “Every Man a Biker” ethos of our hypothetical Motorcycle Cavalry force… Are the Hell’s Angels and other similarly structured Outlaw biker clubs for whom ownership of a large motorcycle is a prerequisite of membership.
Biker gangs are actually kinda unique, they’re one of the rare examples of an organized crime group built along neither geographic nor ethnic divisions. The American-Italian Mafia famously wouldn’t let partial Italians become made-men: Irish, Jewish, and other hangers-on without pure Italian blood were stuck merely being attached as associates to a full Italian made-man, as immortalized in the films of Martin Scorsese. And most famous street gangs in cities were named for the literal street they live on. Whereas amongst Hell’s Angels There’s a vague “requirement” that members be “white” ( a rule that seemingly gets stretched and broken with some regularity)… but that’s more about racism and the section of American prisons they wind up in, not any deep ethnic solidarity. During the 90s Quebec Biker wars, an event that occurred in the wake of the wake of the narrow Quebec stay vote… Anglo and Franco Hell’s Angels fought together against Anglo and Franco members of the Rock Machine Motorcycle Club. Similarly the vast geographic distances ring leaders and mere members live across and operate on, within even a single clubhouse, Outstrips almost any street or regional gangs.
What about the motorcycle in particular allows this seemingly improbable organization? ( I genuinely don’t know, interesting exercise for the reader, comment with your theories/speculations)
The generations of motorcycle poets and heavy metal romantics who would call bikes freedom machines: inherently outside to the confines of civilization, the steppe embodied in steel, outlawry in overdrive… they aren’t wrong. There is a primordial chaos bound in those perfectly timed engines. A power which only a free man, one step outside modernity, and mad enough to assume more ancient risks could ever wield.
we have a seemingly perfect weapons technology (in the loose sense of the word), that is a, as close to optimal as we’re going to get, counter to billions if not trillions worth of air-power and surveillance technology… but it can only be fully wielded by Outcasts, Freaks, Criminals, Insurgents, Terminal Psychotics, desperate Alawites, Quebeckers… and worst of all: Influencers, Actors, and Philosophers.
Is there anything else like this?
Is there anything else buried in the annals of hobby, sport, crime, or irregular warfare, that seemingly counters trillions of dollars in military investment if one is desperate, crazy, or stupid enough to use it?
Stay tuned for…
The Antagonist’s Tech Tree Volume 2:
Arsenal of the Damned!
Coming soon to… Here. you can read it Here.
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Dude, this is pretty sick.
I will say, if you actually wanted to be able to field motorcycle infantry, you'd massively subsidize production of PW50s or equivalent and the construction of trails and tracks. Especially on dirt, good riders start very young.
This is a truly phenomenal post well done