Is it a motorcycle or a mini-tank?
Welcome to Weekend WTF, where the weird and wonderful wind their way into our wacky web of wonders to wind us up for the weekend. Anything goes, and the weirder, the better! To start us off, I'd briefly mentioned the Kettenrad as one of the top five bikes for winter riding, and my personal pick for fighting off Boston traffic. What is this odd contraption with tank treads and a motorcycle front wheel? Let's take a closer look at the Kettenrad, what it is, how it works, and why it exists.
Officially known as the SdKfz 2, the Kleines Kettenkraftrad HK 101, or Kettenrad for short, was a German invention that saw use in World War II. It was designed to be delivered to the battlefield by a Junkers Ju 52 aircraft and was the only tank-like vehicle that would fit in its cargo hold. Originally the Germans used it in the invasion of the Soviet Union, as its tank treads handled particularly well in the snow. Later it was also used in Africa where it could keep going through deep sand. Its tank treads were also covered in rubber, meaning you can drive it on the street without damaging the pavement.
The Kettenrad had no armor or weapons. It was used more like an all-terrain tractor, laying communication cables and transporting soldiers and cargo through the deep Russian mud. Later the Germans used it as an aircraft tug, not only for moving planes around but also for towing them on and off the runway to save aviation fuel, which was becoming scarce at the end of the war.
The engine was a four-cylinder from an Opel car that could propel the Kettenrad to a top speed of 44 miles per hour. It has six forward gears plus a reverse gear. It provided seating for three, the operator plus two passengers facing rearward. It also has all of the necessary hookups for towing trailers, weapons, and such.
As this older video from Blue Moon Cycle shows us, the Kettenrad was designed to be operated by experienced motorcycle riders with no special training, which was unusual for a tank. The hand throttle worked just like a normal bike, and the handlebars steered left and right. The small front wheel didn't actually provide much steering input, but turning the handlebars also applied the brake on the tread in the direction you were turning. The brakes and gears work like a car, making driving the Kettenrad a cross between motorcycle and car controls. The front wheel was also removable, turning the Kettenrad into a pure tank. This worked better in extreme off-road conditions where the front wheel would get bogged down.
About 8,400 Kettenrads were made in total, and few survive today, which isn't surprising considering that they were used primarily in areas where the Germans invaded, then got defeated. It's unlikely that I'll ever get one for commuting in the Boston area, but I can dream about how much of an intimidation factor a Kettenrad would have on the street.
Special thanks for eddi_the_Bad_Hombre for naming this new series for us!