Early Examples of Military Motorcycles

In 1885, the self-powered machine gun was invented by Sir Hiram Maxim.  Maxim's gun was a major breakthrough in machine gun design, being the first to use the recoil power from the previously fired bullet to reload the chamber.  Up until that point, all machine gun used a hand-powered crank to reload the chamber, which drastically limited the firing speed.  The Maxim machine gun was also much lighter, allowing it to be mounted on a vehicle instead of towed by a horse team.

Initial attempts at creating a mobile machine gun platform were based on four wheeled pedal cycles.  One such design, by the Humber Company, used a quadricycle that was powered by three men sitting in tandem.  A working prototype was built and demonstrated for the British Army, but was rejected since the rear mounted machine gun pointed directly at the heads of the front two riders.

By the late 1890's, the French company DeDion began producing a motorized quadricycle.  These were  widely available across Europe as the design was either licensed or copied by other countries.  An inventor named Frederick Simms of Coventry, converted one of these quadricycles into one man machine gun platform.  He mounted a Maxim machine gun to the front of the cycle and replaced the passenger seat with ammo boxes.  He even added a small armored shield to protect the rider.  As with the pedal powered quadricycle, this vehicle was also rejected by the military due to a number of short comings.

The mass production of motorcycles in the early 20th century gave inventors the opportunity to experiment with yet another vehicle, but a solo motorcycle rider could not operate a machine gun and a motorcycle simultaneously.  It wasn't until a sidecar was attached that the motorcycle became a practical mobile machine gun platform.

Sergeant Northover from the Canadian Militia developed the first motorcycle based machine gun platform in 1908.  He used a sidecar mounted Maxim machine gun attached to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  The sidecar was equipped with a forward facing shield and in some cases an additional shield on the rear of the sidecar.  This idea was soon copied by the American forces who built similar rigs, but used Colt or Hotchkiss machine gun in place of the Maxim.  In both cases, the machine gun was operated while the vehicle was stationary with the driver acting as the ammunition feeder.