Travelling to the battlefields of Europe.
Motorcycle sidecars are a niche area of interest and there are not many on the roads. A French army officer won a prize for his design of a sidecar for a bicycle in 1893. A cartoon of a motorcycle with a sidecar appeared in the January 7th, 1903, British Motor Cycling issue. Three weeks later, a provisional patent was granted to Graham Brothers, Enfield, Middlesex for a motorcycle sidecar. Jaguar cars began life as sidecar manufacturers in 1922. The British Army employed the use of motorbikes and sidecars to transport their Vickers machine guns in World War One. It took a squad of about seven men to carry the gun, tripod, ammunition boxes, and water to cool the barrels, so fixing the gun to a side car that could carry the driver and machine gunner, as well as the ammunition and water made a lot of sense. The bike that comes to mind where warfare is concerned though is the German “Krad” or BMW R75 and its opposite number from Zündapp, the KS750. There was an agreement between the German army and the two bike and sidecar manufacturers, to standardise the bikes and make a new Zündapp-BMW motorbike and sidecar, but the progress of the war prevented that from happening.
This standardisation between BMW and Zündapp has meant that 70% of the parts on the bikes are interchangeable. This greatly improves the supply of spare parts for these bikes, many of which are still running today and are very sought after by enthusiasts. An R75 can be still used on or off-road for everyday transport and they are very adaptable and reliable vehicles. One such enthusiast recently contacted Motorcycle Rambler and has forwarded a couple of photographs of his machine. Gerd is originally from Germany but now lives in Japan. His is an unusual story and he is a motorcycle enthusiast, and a side car enthusiast, as well as a military and history buff. He was very badly injured in a motorcycle accident in Germany when he was 20 years old. A woman carrying shopping bags ran into his path while he was riding his motorbike. While trying to avoid her he hit a parked van and suffered multiple serious injuries that left him in hospital for many weeks, with a much longer recovery time, having suffered broken bones requiring metal plates to be fitted.
Gerd did his bike test when he was fifteen, graduating to a KTM 500GS at 18 years of age and studied mechanical engineering. He had a love of engines from when he was a young child and still loves how reliable and dependable a well maintained machine can be. His other love is for the military life and he was a member of the German Army for four years, and became a tank commander. He wanted to become a paratrooper at that time but injuries from his accident prevented that. He has since realised his dream to become a paratrooper. He runs his own business in Japan but he returns to Germany every year to do reserve training in an active paratroop platoon. He always wanted to own a motorbike and sidecar from the war era and there were a lot of mishaps along the way to achieving ownership. The original bike was actually a BMW R71 which the Soviets copied with their M-72 and in turn the Chinese copied that bike with the CJ750. Gerd was living in Japan and he thought he could get his dream bike through a Chinese company, that promised to make him an authentic world war 2 era bike, with a Chinese frame and a German BMW engine. All they did was messed him around a lot and spent a considerable amount of his money. In the end he had nothing to show for it and was many thousands of euros poorer. He eventually gave up on it and started looking again for the bike of his dreams. This time he found the bike he wanted in Germany. He was almost broke from the misadventure with the Chinese company so he borrowed the money from family and bought the new bike without even having seen it. It worked out brilliantly for him as the guy he bought it from was also an enthusiast, who helped him rebuild it into a reliable bike for the massive journeys he had planned.
Gerd is delighted with his new bike and he has undertaken some big expeditions across five countries and 6400 kilometres (4000 miles). The bike is fitted with an BMW R100RT engine and has some new parts for reliability but as you can see from the pictures, or if you go onto his site you can see video clips and even a drone clip of the bike from the air, it looks so authentic it is scary. I had never thought I would be interested in a bike with a sidecar but his machine looks great and I wouldn’t mind a try. Gerd’s trips are planned around visits to the sites of battles where many Germans lost their lives. He visits the historic battlefields and memorials to the fallen at those sites. He believes it is important to acknowledge the young men who gave their lives fighting for their country. We are very accustomed to Hollywood movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, that sets out the story of a mission to save the sole survivor out of four brothers, the Ryan brothers, to return him alive to his family. Hollywood doesn’t often acknowledge that millions of young German soldiers left home, never to return to their Mothers and Fathers. These were also little more than boys who courageously and heroically died fighting for their country. Europe is littered with battlefields and graveyards where these boys lost their lives.
Gerd says that he has no political motivation, just a desire to visit and acknowledge these dead comrades. To the victor go the spoils but he believes that their sacrifices should also be marked. He travels to these sites on his “Krad”. Krad is a term that comes from the word Kraftrad, a German word used by the military to describe a motorbike, not to be confused with Kettenkrad which referred to a military motorbike with a standard front wheel but with tracks to the rear. In 2017 he plans to visit Monte Cassino, a famous hilltop monastery which was left in ruins after Allied bombing before the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. In 2018 he will visit the site of the Battle of Crete in 1941. In 2019 he will visit Stalingrad, where what many believe was the biggest battle of all time took place, between August of 1942 and February 1943. In 2020 he hopes to begin a world tour on the Krad. The planning is in the very earliest stages and already he has hit a snag on the route he has been considering. He had hoped to travel up through Britain and Scotland and on to Iceland but he doesn’t think there is a ferry to bring him and his bike to Iceland. He would appreciate any suggestions that you might have.