Accessibility Tools

| Michael P. Ehline

Motorcycles Used by US Marines in History

There are several types of specialized military motorcycles used by Marines and the army, both past and present. Guys my age will recall the iconic shaft-drive sidebar motorcycles with their machine guns bristling, used by the Germans throughout Europe and North Africa. There also used by American allies. During the Second Work War, the U.S. favored the Harley Davidson model bikes, and the Germans preferred the BMW. During its brief history, the Soviet Union had its battle-tested variants. The British Government went for a purpose-built, heavy-framed, side car-mounted BSA with its low-compression 500cc single-cylinder.

Even during the first world war effort, military forces used civilian model motorcycles for recon and communications. The Germans ran an NSU or TWN, and the Brits relied on a Douglas or Triumph with no rear suspension and even tried mounting machine guns on one-man bikes. The US was running either the Indian, Harley Davidson, or Excelsior. Many argue the Indian 841 was almost a copy of a BMW R71 front suspension, rear suspension, and a similar four sped suspension. Seeing their fair share of combat, motorcycles were used during the Mexican Revolution between world wars.

US/Mexican War Against Pancho Villa

It is true that motorcycles, including the Indian Powerplus and Harley-Davidson J Model, played a role in military operations during the Mexican Revolution and subsequent pursuits of Pancho Villa by General John J. Pershing’s forces, which included US Marines memorialized in teh Marine Corps Hymn capturing Mexico City and the Halls of Montezuma.

During Pancho Villa’s raids and guerrilla warfare in Mexico, his forces, including Villa himself, utilized the Indian Powerplus motorcycles for hit-and-run attacks. These motorcycles were considered two-wheeled terrors, providing a fast and agile means of transportation, allowing Villa’s forces to strike targets and evade pursuit swiftly.

In response to Villa’s attacks on U.S. soil, General Pershing led the Punitive Expedition in 1916-1917 to pursue Villa. As part of the expedition, Pershing’s forces, including the U.S. Army’s 13th Cavalry Regiment, utilized various vehicles and motorcycles, including the Harley-Davidson J Model.

The Harley-Davidson J Model motorcycles used by Pershing’s forces during the expedition were capable of reaching battlefield speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). These motorcycles provided mobility, rapid response capabilities, and the ability of soldiers to traverse different terrains, assisting in the pursuit and reconnaissance operations. Even a Jeep is outclassed in this capability of covering the country swiftly.

The utilization of motorcycles by General Pershing’s forces during the Punitive Expedition highlighted their advantages in military operations, particularly in pursuing a mobile enemy force across challenging terrain with a soldier on a two-wheeled vehicle. Trucks with more troops could follow along with supplies and ammo as the soldier stayed in contact, providing valuable battlefield intelligence. The top speed of a four-stroke bike running recon missions to and from the front lines makes it a cut above most other vehicles.

These historical examples about America alone demonstrate how motorcycles were employed for hit-and-run tactics, rapid response, and reconnaissance during specific military operations, further highlighting the effectiveness of a soldier-mounted bike in certain contexts.

Although they can be used to transport soldiers, during the Korean War, motorcycles came into their own as forward-observing recon vehicles. It’s also possible that Force Recon, MARSOC, and even ANGLICO utilize specialized military motorcycles designed specifically for special operations capable of use missions. It’s likely they use the same bikes used by DELTA, DEVGRU, and other Tier 1 units.

Why Do Active and on Duty Marines Use Motorcycles?

Motorcycles can provide mobility, maneuverability, and flexibility in certain operational environments and missions. Making it to and from liberty swiftly, makes motorcycles a favorite with young Marines as well. While motorcycles are not a standard issue or primary mode of transportation for the entire Marine Corps, they have been employed for specific roles and tasks even since before World War I. It was not until after the Second World War that Marine vets starting forming the more famous motorcycle clubs, such as the Original Leathernecks M/C.

Here are a few instances where the USMC uses motorcycles:

  1. Recreational Riding: Marines, like many individuals, may ride motorcycles for recreational purposes during their personal time. This includes riding motorcycles on and off-base as a hobby or for leisure. Former Air Force vets were famous for taking a military model Harley Davidson model and making them into the first chopper models ridding by the notorious Hells Angels.
  2. Training: The Marine Corps may utilize motorcycles as part of training programs, particularly for specific units or specialized courses. This can include teaching riding skills, motorcycle safety, and tactics for specific scenarios.
  3. Security and Escort Duties: Marines may use motorcycles in certain security and escort duties. This can involve providing escorts for high-ranking officials, conducting motorcade operations, or providing rapid response capabilities in congested or urban areas.
  4. Reconnaissance and Surveillance: In some cases, motorcycles have been used for reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Their maneuverability and ability to traverse diverse terrains can be advantageous in certain scenarios where larger vehicles may be less practical or inconspicuous.

It’s important to note that the usage of motorcycles within the Marine Corps can vary depending on factors such as mission requirements, available resources, and the discretion of commanding officers. The specific motorcycles employed can also vary and may include models such as dual-sport bikes capable of handling off-road conditions or motorcycles tailored for military use.

Pre to World War II and Modern Military Motorcycles

These motorcycles may be tailored to meet the specific requirements of Force Recon and the Raiders, including stealth, range, and off-road performance. However, detailed information on such specialized motorcycles is limited due to their classified nature.

Throughout history, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) has utilized various motorcycles for a range of purposes, including reconnaissance, communication, and transportation.

Here are some notable motorcycles used by the US Marines:

Harley-Davidson WLA

During World War II, the USMC utilized the Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycle extensively. This rugged and reliable machine was used for various tasks, including dispatch riding, reconnaissance, and escort duties. Marine Raiders, an elite special operations force during World War II, utilized the Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson WLA was a motorcycle specifically designed for military use and was widely employed by various branches of the U.S. military during the war, including the Marine Corps.

The Marine Raiders were known for their unconventional tactics and their ability to conduct rapid and stealthy operations. The Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycles provided them with enhanced mobility and agility, allowing them to navigate through different terrains and quickly deploy to their objectives.

The Harley-Davidson WLA featured a 45-cubic-inch (740 cc) V-twin engine and was built to withstand the rigors of military operations. It offered reliable performance, durability, and off-road capabilities, making it suitable for reconnaissance, communication, and transportation tasks.

Honda XR650

The Honda XR650 is another dual-sport motorcycle that Force Recon may utilize. With a powerful engine and off-road capabilities, the XR650 is designed to handle challenging terrain and provide reliable performance. Its lightweight design and maneuverability make it suitable for special operations forces that require mobility and agility. While there is limited publicly available information regarding the specific motorcycle models used by Marine Reconnaissance (Force Recon) and the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), it is known that the Honda XR650 is a popular dual-sport motorcycle used by military and special operations forces around the world.

The Honda XR650 is renowned for its off-road capabilities, durability, and performance. Its powerful engine, lightweight design, and maneuverability make it suitable for various military applications, including reconnaissance, patrolling, and transportation in diverse environments.

Given the Honda XR650’s characteristics, it is conceivable that Marine Recon and MARSOC could potentially employ this motorcycle or similar models for their operations. Special operations forces often utilize motorcycles for their mobility, agility, and ability to access challenging terrains where traditional vehicles may face limitations.

Indian 741

Another motorcycle employed by the USMC during World War II was the Indian 741. Similar in purpose to the Harley-Davidson WLA, the Indian 741 was used for reconnaissance and communication. It featured a 500 cc (30 cubic inches) side-valve engine and was known for its durability and off-road capabilities. While the specific usage of the Indian 741 by Marine Raiders cannot be confirmed without detailed historical records, it is plausible that they would have utilized motorcycles like the Indian 741 to support their missions. Motorcycles provided a means of rapid and stealthy transportation, enabling Marine Raiders to conduct reconnaissance, execute hit-and-run tactics, and maintain communications in the field.

The Marine Raiders operated during World War II and were later merged with the Marine Corps reconnaissance units to form what is now known as Force Reconnaissance. While motorcycles continue to be used by the Marine Corps for various purposes, the Indian 741 specifically played a role in the historical context of World War II.

Kawasaki KLR650 (FORCE Recon)

The USMC has recently utilized the Kawasaki KLR650 dual-sport motorcycle by various military and special operations units worldwide, including Force Recon and the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). MARSOC is the Marine Corps component of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and conducts a range of specialized missions.

While specific details about MARSOC’s utilization of motorcycles like the Kawasaki KLR650 are not publicly available due to the sensitive nature of their operations, it is known that special operations forces often employ motorcycles for specific purposes.

The Kawasaki KLR650, being a versatile dual-sport motorcycle, offers several characteristics that make it a potential choice for special operations units like MARSOC:

  1. Off-road Capability: The KLR650’s design and features allow it to handle diverse terrains, including off-road environments. This capability is valuable for special operations forces that may operate in remote or rugged areas where traditional vehicles may face limitations.
  2. Mobility and Maneuverability: Motorcycles provide increased mobility and maneuverability, allowing operators to navigate through tight spaces, congested urban areas, and rough terrain with agility and speed. This can be crucial for special operations missions that require rapid deployment and quick movement.
  3. Versatility: The KLR650’s dual-sport nature is suitable for both on- and off-road riding. It can travel long distances on highways while still being capable of handling unpaved roads and trails. This versatility of a purpose-built military motorcycle can be advantageous for special operations units that operate in diverse environments.

It’s important to note that the specific usage of motorcycles within MARSOC, including the Kawasaki KLR650, may vary depending on operational requirements, mission profiles, and the discretion of commanding officers. The selection of motorcycles for special operations is influenced by factors such as durability, noise reduction, range, payload capacity, and the need for rapid insertion/extraction capabilities of United States military personnel and members of our allied armed forces.

BMW R1200GS (FORCE Recon)

The USMC has also employed the BMW R1200GS adventure motorcycle for certain roles. The R1200GS offers excellent off-road capabilities and durability, making it suitable for reconnaissance and patrol missions in rugged terrain. Its larger engine provides ample power and torque for military applications.

Air Force Uses Mini Bikes?

Yes. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has been known to employ mini bikes to rapidly and efficiently survey airfields. The utilization of trucks in such scenarios may pose a risk of damaging runways, making implementing motorcycles a practical alternative. Among the modern motorcycles employed by special operations units, the Kawasaki M1030 and the Christini AWD are two notable examples.

The Kawasaki M1030 is a diesel-powered motorcycle utilized by various military and special operations units. It is compatible with JP-8 fuel, commonly used throughout military operations. This compatibility ensures that motorcycles can easily access and utilize the available fuel sources, thereby enhancing operational efficiency and logistical convenience.

Another motorcycle known to be employed by special operations units, including AFSOC, is the Christini AWD (All-Wheel Drive). Like the Kawasaki M1030, this motorcycle is diesel-powered and capable of utilizing JP-8 fuel. The Christini AWD stands out due to its innovative all-wheel drive system, which provides enhanced traction and maneuverability, making it well-suited for navigating diverse terrains encountered during airfield surveys.

By utilizing these diesel motorcycles, AFSOC can carry out airfield surveys swiftly and effectively while mitigating the potential damage that larger vehicles might cause to runways. The ability to operate on jet fuel ensures compatibility with the existing fuel infrastructure, simplifying logistics and reducing the need for specialized fuel sources faced by the first motorcycles.

It is important to note that the specific motorcycle models used by AFSOC may vary over time as military units continuously evaluate and adopt new technologies and equipment. However, the utilization of motorcycles for airfield surveys aligns with the broader trend of incorporating versatile and efficient vehicles into military operations, enabling special operations forces to carry out their missions with precision and agility.

The Future of Stealth Motorcycles in USMC Doctrine?

Marines, even non-Special Ops, understand how smells and sounds are magnified on the battlefield, especially at night. The inclusion of zero motorcycles in a list of USMC motorcycles may come as a surprise, as it represents an innovative development in military technology. Introduced in 2013, this electric motorcycle was designed specifically for American Special Operations Forces (SOF) use in situations that demand both stealth and mobility. The Zero MMX stands out for its advanced features, setting it apart from traditional combustion motorcycles.

Electric Power Stealth

What distinguishes the Zero MMX is its electric powertrain, which offers several advantages over its conventional counterparts. One notable benefit is its ability to operate without emitting exhaust, producing no discernible noise and leaving behind no telltale smells. These features contribute significantly to the bike’s stealth capabilities, enabling it to move almost silently and leaving behind a minimal heat signature. In comparison to a regular combustion motorcycle, the Zero MMX’s reduced heat signature makes it exceptionally difficult for adversaries to detect.

The use of electric motorcycles like the Zero MMX reflects the growing emphasis on incorporating advanced technology and unconventional approaches into military doctrine. By utilizing electric powertrains, these motorcycles can operate in a manner that aligns with the modern requirements of stealth and efficiency. As militaries around the world continue to adapt to changing operational landscapes, it is conceivable that the integration of stealth motorcycles like the Zero MMX could become a more prominent feature in future doctrines.

While the Zero MMX may have seemed ahead of its time upon its introduction, its inclusion on this list signifies the recognition of its groundbreaking capabilities. This electric motorcycle exemplifies the ongoing pursuit of innovation within military technology, with a focus on enhancing stealth and mobility in critical operations. As the landscape of warfare continues to evolve, it will be interesting to observe how stealth motorcycles, such as the Zero MMX, further shape the strategies and doctrines of military forces worldwide.


It’s important to note that the specific motorcycles used by the USMC can vary over time, depending on technological advancements, mission requirements, and procurement decisions. The motorcycles mentioned above represent notable examples of motorcycles that the USMC has used in different eras. The media does not have all the intel, but we can guess the Marines use some great bikes out there we don’t know about. At least we know a bit more about motorcycles used by U.S. Marines in history.

Our Trusted Supporters
Taran Tactical Innovations
USMC Bagpiper
As seen in Leatherneck, Magazine of Marines

Your Name Here

Marine Corps League, Orange County, CA
Lytle Creek Firing Line

Follow Us


General Stuff


Paul Ehline Ehline Memorial Ride
3838 W Carson St.
Torrance, CA 90503
Phone : (310) 622-8719

© All rights reserved.

Donations submitted through donation forms on PaulEhlineRide.Org are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by U.S. and state laws. These will be in U.S. Federal Reserve Notes. Paul Ehline Memorial Ride™ is a U.S. nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable Section 501(c)(19) organization that benefits US Armed Forces veterans under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. (Tax identification number 85-4040563.)