The WW2 Excelsior Welbike
I spotted this rare WW2 Excelsior Welbike during a visit to the Musee de l’Armee Invalides in Paris last month. It was on display in their War in Europe exhibition.
Produced during WW2 by the Excelsior Motor Company in England, the Welbike was custom-designed for Special Operations troops to use during missions.
This lightweight mini-bike had folding handlebars and a telescopic seat which allowed it to be folded neatly into a standard CLE1 parachute drop canister which you can see in this photo.
Although created to give airborne troops mobility once on the ground – almost 4,000 bikes were produced from 1942 – using it was a challenge.
Only lightweights could ride this machine. It was too small for the average-build man and the small diameter 10 inch wheels, made it impossible to carry equipment. It was also useless off-road due to the wheel size.
How the Welbike Worked
The Excelsior Welbike was designed to be removed from its container and be ready to go within 11 seconds. All a paratrooper had to do was unfold the handlebars and the footrests, raise the seat, then push start it.
That was … once you found it.
There was no guarantee these canisters would land in the same area as the troops. And with parachute drops often taking place at night, the paratrooper had to unpack and assemble the bike in the darkness.
Power and Performance
The WW2 Excelsior Welbike was powered by a 98cc two-stroke Villiers engine and although it carried less than a gallon of fuel, it could reach 30 mph.
That must have been hair-raising on a tiny bike like this.
However, before it could be used, the fuel tank had to be pumped by hand to pressurize it due to its low gravity position. It also had the minimum of equipment – no lights or suspension and only a rear brake.
Due to its limitations, the bike was used primarily by despatch riders enabling them to deliver information between posts much faster.
And the bikes became a favorite find with RAF personnel who would “accidentally” stow them with their equipment for use on foreign air bases.
It’s still possible to find a working Welbike today, and spare parts are readily available. But if you would like to become the proud owner, be prepared to pay a three-figure sum to get this little piece of WW2 history.
1. CLE – Container Light Equipment
Image of bike and canisters courtesy of: Rept0n1x – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11309006
Image of bike folded inside canister: Author
Image of paratrooper with bike courtesy of: historybyzlm.com