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Suave Motorcyclists: Workwear That May Revitalize a Subculture Part 1

You return from France in the Spring of 1919. After nearly a year in Army–on a foreign continent, eating every tinned meal from an aluminum tray, and being trapped in the monotony of mundane military tasks. You’ve become restless. Even after the shells stopped raining down, a flu pandemic carried on killing those who were close enough to have breathed on each other. Just like artillery, it kills by the score and it doesn’t seem to care who is unlucky enough, only that they’re young and full of promise. All the while, you saw something in the eyes of those left living; the Americans, British, French, and even the Germans and Austrians; removedness. Your same restlessness.


A British dispatch (or despatch) rider leaving for the front in November 1917. He carries messenger pigeons on his back. Image via the Motorcycle Confederation of Canada.

However, in the final months of the war when the attrition of trench warfare was broken, you observed something else; mechanization on a grand scale. Tanks, airplanes, and artillery tractors. Model T ambulances brought your wounded comrades from the front and even the enemy prisoners remarked meekly what a fine vehicle it was. You would know because you passed many ambulances in your service as a motorcycle dispatch rider. The dispatch case with battlefield orders that you carried bound you to Army life, but the motorcycle would set you free.


English illustrator Charles “Snaffles” Johnson Payne illustrated this dispatch rider traversing the front lines. He appears to be riding a Douglas bike which was common among British forces. Note the riders in the background who were presumably killed by enemy fire. Image via 1stDibs.com.


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