BSA Airborne Bicycle

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C-47 Dakota, Ford GPW jeep and BSA airborne bicycle. 
When and where was this photo taken?
ANSWER: Would you believe 1999 at CFB Comox, British Columbia at the air show for the RCAF's 75th Anniversary? Barry Alexander (left) and Colin Stevens (right) at with a C47 Dakota, Ford GPW jeep and 1942 BSA airborne bicycle.
Douglas "Dakota" C-47 ex-RCAF at Comox Air Force Museum, CFB Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. This is the most common type of plane used by Allied  parachute troops in WWII. 
1943 Ford GPW ("jeep") - Owned by Ian Newby (International Movie Services).
1942 (?) BSA airborne bicycle  - Owned by Colin Stevens. Single seat column serial number R12463.

The folding airborne bicycle was made mainly by Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) starting in 1942 I believe. No factory records are known to be available. 

BSA_Commando_colour_drawing.jpg (72695 bytes) 

My web pages on the BSA airborne bicycle are organized as follows:

  1. BSA Home Page
  2. BSA Photos 
  3. BSA Models  Early Model  Late Model Post-war Off-shoots
  4. Getting to Battle 
  5. BSA in Action 
  6. BSA Survivors   
  7. BSA Restoring  
  8. BSA Parts  


Please also look at my friend David Gordon's page in Texas:

BSA was well known for its firearms and military motorcycles.

BSA Colin_s serial number R12463.jpg (147546 bytes) BSA Colin's wing nut bike FOLDED.jpg (102698 bytes) BSA Colin's frame wing nut bike OPENED UP.jpg (93270 bytes)
LOCATION OF SERIAL NUMBER - This example is BSA R12463. All serial numbers seem to start with "R" and the number may be from R1 to R77527 or possibly higher.
Wing nut and upper body hinge point when bicycle is folded. R12463



BSA R12463 showing frame wing nut (one of two for folding the bike)


BSA Colin's tommybar on stem.jpg (69132 bytes) BSA Colin's hand grip & brake lever.jpg (65613 bytes) BSA Colin's brake assemblies.jpg (105951 bytes)
Tommybar on stem for tightening & loosening the handlebars as they should be turned 90 degrees when the bike is folded for parachuting. R12463 Photo of left hand grip made by BSA and one of the two brake levers. R12463


BSA showing brake assemblies. R12463



BSA Colin's pedal pushed OUT.jpg (80403 bytes) BSA COlin's pedal pushed IN.jpg (51246 bytes) BSA Colin's BSA by pedals.jpg (156317 bytes)
Pedal pulled out for pedalling. R12463 Pedal pushed in for folding and parachuting. R12463 BSA (detail by pedals showing large BSA) R12463
BSA Colin's rear hub.jpg (180706 bytes)BSA rear hub right side BSA MK X colour.jpg (104963 bytes) BSA Colin's serial number R12463.jpg (106059 bytes) BSA SN R17807.jpg (35267 bytes)
Rear hub of BSA showing markings . B.S.A.  MARK X (Believed to mean Mark - i.e. model - number 10) R12463



The serial number on the BSA airborne bicycle is stamped into the left rear 'drop out' (where the rear axle is attached. R12463



Shown is SN R17807 with the axle nut removed. This bike is in the Canadian Military Engineers Museum, which is now at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick I believe.


BSA front bracket with BSA and rifles marking.jpg (73969 bytes) BSA Colin's original BSA seat.jpg (68773 bytes) BSA Colin's tire tread.jpg (79488 bytes)
Front bracket on bicycle. Note BSA name and piled rifles. NOTE: The No. 1 lamp does NOT fit on this as many people claim! That lamp is a belt lamp and has the wrong attachment. R12463 Original BSA seat, Model 40. BSA The maker's marking is in the big oval stamped on both sides of the seat. R12463


Original WAR GRADE tire on BSA R12463 One of the tubes was also marked WAR GRADE.


"Broad Arrow" transfer for front of BSA airborne bicycle. Mounted on the front of the bicycle, just above the front forks. Replica shown here.






Patent information transfer on BSA airborne bicycle. Mounted above the broad arrow on the front of the bicycle. Replica shown here.






BSA piled rifles symbol for BSA as found on later model (single seat tube) airborne bicycles. Has also been reported in SILVER, apparently without magazines on the rifles. SILVER MAY BE THE ORIGINAL PATTERN FOR THE BSA AIRBORNE BICYCLE. No such transfer (decal) is known for early twin tube model. Replica shown here.
  Replicas of these transfers (decals) are available from Classic Transfers , P. O. Box 17, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos, GL12 8YX England.  
BSA_tool_kit_eBay_Mar_2002_1017480025.jpg (112759 bytes) BSA airborne bike tool bag jbbrooks2.jpg (141570 bytes)BSA_airborne_rigid_BSA_bike_tool_pouch_mounted.jpg (65114 bytes)  
BSA airborne bicycle 1943 New Old Stock tool bag with original tools and the original waxed paper that they were wrapped in. Note the BSA marking on the tool. Ziggy W. in the UK sold it on eBay in March 2002
No he does not have any more for sale but he agreed to my using his photos to help other collectors. 
Tool pouch for the RIGID British Army Mark IV bicycle. In typical army "make-do" fashion, some of these were used on BSA airborne bicycles. Second photo shows one mounted on a BSA airborne bicycle at a Royal Marine Commando kit inspection shortly before D-Day in 1944.
This type mounts in FRONT of the seat. the side strap attaches to the vertical seat post, and the two top straps to the tube(s) between the rider's thighs. Ziggy W. in the UK sold it on eBay in early 2002
No he does not have any more for sale but he agreed to my using his photos to help other collectors. 
Colin Stevens with BSA airborne bicycle at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, near Victoria, BC in May 1999. I am dressed as a member of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, am holding a No. 4 Mk. I* Lee Enfield rifle, and behind me is a Bren Mk. I and a restored (and operable) WWII twin-six-pounder gun turret. Colin Stevens' BSA airborne bicycle with Everest Carrier and Bergen Rucksack and mannequin dressed as a Commando on the D-Day invasion June 6 1944. Displayed at the Annual Gun Show, British Columbia Historical Arms Collectors, in Coquitlam, BC. Note the poster of the then "politically correct" Prime Minister Winston Churchill - holding a Thompson Machine Carbine (Sub-machinegun). The table cover is a 1944 British camouflage mountain troop bell tent.
BSA Colin's as found in Victoria.jpg (35734 bytes)  Colin Stevens' first BSA airborne bicycle "as found" on the evening when I bought it.  It was dirty but all original. Click to enlarge photo. 
Don Thomas and Colin Stevens with Colin's BSA airborne bicycle at Fort Rodd Hill NHS, May 1999.  Colin Stevens with BSA airborne bicycle folded, in front of my 1944 British mountain troop bell tent. Fort Rodd Hill NHS, May 1999.
DesMazes in Colin's jeep.jpg (80905 bytes) Colin with jeep at Abbotsford Airshow 2000 Aug.jpg (93287 bytes)
Michael Desmazes wearing WWII RCAF officer's uniform in Colin Stevens' 1944 Willys MB jeep now in RCAF markings for 2nd Tactical Air Force.  Note BSA airborne bicycle folded and on front of jeep. Colin Stevens with 1944 Willys MB jeep now in RCAF markings for 2nd Tactical Air Force.  Note BSA airborne bicycle folded and on front of jeep. I  am wearing my current issue air force uniform as I work with 583 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets in Maple Ridge, BC.

Analysis of the serial numbers indicate that over 70,000 were made. They are now considered to be rare, and collectible. Many were sold surplus after WWII for as little as Canadian $3.95 from Capital Iron in Victoria BC, to Cdn $9.95 from the Hudson's Bay Company.

The early airborne bicycles had twin columns under the seat. Later models, which appeared sometime between serial numbers R8000 and R13000 had a single column under the seat.

These bikes are often called "parabikes" by collectors, but so far it seems that this is an erroneous term. This appears to be a post-war nickname applied to a commercial variant. The only war time manual references found so far clearly call it the "airborne bicycle".

The bike was designed to be folded in half and carried on board an aircraft. It could be landed by glider, thrown out of the aircraft with its own small parachute, or carried by a paratrooper as he jumped out of his aircraft. It was NOT carried on his back as some authors have suggested, as he had his parachute there.

By the time of the big invasion of June 1944, larger gliders were available and other larger vehicles were available, so the folding bicycle was already obsolescent.

The paratroopers disliked them and the main combat use was by infantry in the second wave on the British (2 beaches) and Canadian (1 beach) on D-Day, 1944 June 06. The other two beaches were American and they did not use them apparently. The soldiers disliked the bikes intensely and most were discarded within a few miles of the beach. 

Counter added: 2002 August 4 Hit Counter
Copyright Colin Stevens Updated: August 24, 2008
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