The following information came from a book published in 1919, “First Deficiency Appropriation Bill, 1919, Hearings Before Subcommittee of House Committee on Appropriations” and pertains only to machines being requested by the U.S. Army. It does not include those used by other branches of service.
Motorcycles and side cars were work-horses in the army, and by researching the First Deficiency Appropriation Bill, 1919, Hearings Before Subcommittee of House Committee on Appropriations we find some interesting statistics. Let’s look at those statistics as they pertain to motorcycles and motorcycle side car outfits.
In 1919, the estimate submitted by the Army for purchasing motorcycles was $40,558,662.60. The Committee Chairman of the Appropriations Committee asked what was the number of motorcycles estimated for an army of 30 divisions. The answer was 30,424. There were 28,172 motorcycles with side cars and 2,252 solos without side cars.
When asked for a break-down of how the motorcycles were used, Col. Noble explained that there were some organizations known as motorcycle companies, so many were assigned to the different headquarters and various organizations, such as regimental brigades and division headquarters. “They are used mostly for messenger service and also for machine-gun organizations”.
The unit cost for a solo motorcycle was $175 and the motorcycle side car fit for such hard service was $400. “The solos, I think, are Indians, and the others are Harley-Davidson cars. The solos have one cylinder and have a smaller horsepower than the ones that carry the side cars. But the Indian motorcycle does carry a side car.”
Capt. Smith said there was no problem with availability in purchasing the requested number of motorcycles and side cars, but there was a bit of difficulty in obtaining enough tubing for the frames used to attach the side cars. “There seems to be a very great demand for tubing in this country for war purposes, and the only hold up at all has been on the question of the tubing”.
The number of bikes and the number of soldiers they would supply was broken down further. The number of motorcycles requested with those in existence were expected to serve three armies of 30 divisions each with 3,780,000 men for the three armies on the basis given of 90 divisions of 42,000 men each. Capt. Smith agreed with the Chairman this was a motorcycle for every 41 men.
The Chairman then asked, “Will you have left anybody to walk or ride on anything else?” Apparently he thought the Army was requesting an awful lot of machines.
Maintenance estimates were figured at the same for a motorcycle as an automobile or truck – 60 per cent for the first army, 15 per cent for the second army, and 5 per cent for the third.
That made 80 percent for one army. Expressed in motorcycles it would be an addition of 24,339 for the three armies. Of the 91,272 motorcycles 84,526 would have side cars. That number was expected to carry 175,000 men on motorcycles counting the side cars.
The request for transportation didn’t end with motorcycles and side cars. It also included 19,393 Army issued bicycles. It would be interesting to know if most of those motorcycles ended up as army surplus purchased back home, the number that were damaged beyond repair, and whether any of them were put into service again for WWII.