The Clyno First World War motorcycle machine gun carrier
It is not often that my day job allows me to come face to face with some proper history, but today it did exactly that. This morning I was at a site visit at the National Motorcycle Museum in the Midlands. After a tour of the facilities we were invited to have a wander around the five halls of motorbikes – it is a very impressive collection and if you are in any way interested in two wheel speed then I highly recommend it. There are thousands of bikes and they are all lined up very close to each other and I almost missed the olive green bike and sidecar that was nestled in the corner of one of the halls, right next to the door.
If it hadn’t have had a Vickers machine gun bolted to the side car, I probably would have walked right past it.
The bike in question was the the Clyno First World War motorcycle machine gun carrier. Clyno was founded in 1909 by two cousins, Frank and Ailwyn Smith, at Thrapston, Northamptonshire, to produce a variable speed drive for motorcycles, , using a pulley with inclined faces. The Clyno name is derived from the word ‘inclined’. The firm quickly evolved from making just drives to producing complete motorbikes and in 1915 the war office asked them to look into the manufacture of a Motor Cycle combination with machine gun. They did this in conjunction with Messrs. Vickers Ltd.
I guess the original premise behind the design of this machine is simple – a motorbike roaring across France with a machine gun cutting the enemy to pieces in a series of mad dashes, making penetrating rushes deep into enemy territory – would be a great idea on paper . Alas, the realities of the Western Front (and other fighting areas where these machines were deployed) meant that such a set up wasn’t quite as useful as perhaps first imagined. On the shell battered roads and tracks the sidecar didn’t offer a stable enough platform to fire the gun, most often the gun was taken off the sidecar and set up on its own tripod on the ground. Machine gun crews often drove around in three machines like this. One carried the gun, one carried reserves of fuel, ammunition and water to cool the barrel of the gun when in use and the other machine was a spare in case one of the other bikes broke down or was put out of action.
Initially they were made in large numbers but by summer 1916 the relationship between Clyno and Vickers had broken down and the partnership was annulled in October that year. In 1917 and 1918 Clyno continued to supply military equipment and even signed an agreement with the Russian Imperial Army for the supply of solo and sidecar machines without the guns. During 1918 and 1919 they also produced a small number of ABC Dragonfly aero engines.
After the war the market for motorcycles collapsed with a shortage of material and large numbers of ex-army machines flooding the market.To make matters worse the Russians failed to pay their bills and as a result Clyno found itself bankrupt by 1920.