This Nazi Motorcycle Design is so Good, it’s Still Manufactured Today

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During the Second World War Nazi Germany used a large number of troop transport vehicles. Some of the successful constructions were conventional four-wheel drive jeep-like cars like the Kübelwagon, which had commercial success after the war in a modified design that Volkswagen offered on the civilian car market. The similar swimming car was an aquatic “bathtub on wheels”. Both vehicles were valued for their off-road capability and were considered robust and reliable. German industry also built a reliable motorcycle that was even more successful.
Two-wheel miracle
Both BMW and Zündapp designed a motorcycle at the request of the German Armed Forces in the late 1930s. Her designs were pretty similar, sharing about 70% of the parts. However, they were not exactly the same. Both designs had a relatively powerful 750 cc two-cylinder with a decent output of 26 hp.
Both motorcycles were praised for their remarkable off-road performance. They were able to tackle steep and rough terrain, request waters like streams and even had a sidecar. While sidecars typically reduce the performance of motorcycles by adding weight, both designs could work in two-wheel drive mode and were not overly stressed by their sidecars.
Two-wheel drive was possible thanks to a drive shaft that connected the driven rear wheel of the motorcycle to the wheel of the sidecar. The additional driven wheel helped to compensate for the relatively high basis weight, which increased when all three seats (driver, sidecar and passenger) were used by fully equipped soldiers. The sidecar also had a spindle mount for a general purpose machine gun that increased the firepower of the motorcycle.
Both designs served the German Wehrmacht in North Africa and Europe, proof of their high reliability and usefulness.
The successful design resulted in several near-duplicates. The Soviet Union produced the Dnepr M-72, a reverse-engineered copy of the BMW design that was acquired from Germany through the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It replaced several older and dated Soviet designs. The design was exported to China, where it was built as Chang Jiang, a very close copy of the Soviet design.
The United States was also impressed by the German design, which, despite the severe and demanding war conditions, was praised as extremely reliable and low-maintenance. The U.S. Army approached Harley-Davidson and the company created the Harley-Davidson XA. Although the design met the Army criteria, few machines were made since the Jeep became the preferred all-purpose vehicle.
The Ural motorcycle series built in Russia is still manufactured in Russia today and is based on more modern materials and components, but is based on the original German design of the late 1930s. The design is not far from 100 years away and is perhaps one of the more successful motorcycle designs ever built.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer for national interests. He has a Master of Public Policy and deals with US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
Image: Wikimedia
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