Bicycles were introduced by the Swiss Army in 1905. We talk to Pierre-Alain Renfer, who served in the Swiss Army Bicycle Unit for eight years from 1981 onwards.
Pierre-Alain is still cycling today and you can even go for a ride with him. Now living in Morocco, Pierre-Alain works as a professional mountain biking guide in the Marrakechbikeaction.com agency based in Marrakesh. Some time ago we visited Morocco with him.
Photo: Profimedia – French Soldiers Occupying Essen
For how long did you serve in the Swiss Army?
I served in the Swiss army between 1981 and 1989. When I was twenty years old I took part in a service of three months. Then it was 8 x 4 weeks per year service, until the age of thirty eight.
Did you have to pass some exams to get into the cycling unit?
Yes, because the bicycle unit was considered an elite unit. Everyone who wanted to join it had to be in excellent physical condition and pass the entry exams, which were far from easy.
What kind of bikes did you use?
In the beginning we used quite heavy single speed bikes which were later replaced by better bicycles, equipped with the gears. The old type was called M0-5 as the short abbreviation for the ”Ordonnanzfahrrad Modell 05”.
The bike was produced until 1989 by four different companies and weighed almost 22 kilograms. All riders had to be quite fit, as some soldiers were expected to carry up to 32 kg of equipment, with only a single gear.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Ordonnanzfahrrad Modell 05
The basic model saw many variations as it was adapted for use in many different fields of warfare. The latter MO-93 model was already equipped with a 7-speed derailer gearing system in the rear axle. As I know, the latest type arrived in 2012. More than four thousand bikes were purchased by the government. The bicycle is also available to private customers at a price of almost three thousands Swiss Franks.
Do bikes have a place in a modern army?
Of course they do. By bike you can move a company without noise and need for petrol in the diastase up to one hundred kilometres during one single night.
Were your bikes adapted to carry arms?
We always carried our guns strapped on our back and sometimes heavier gear on the bike. Except the saddle bag. Some bikes had metal frame panniers for mortar rounds and ammunition. Some of them could even transport carriers for a 60mm mortar, Panzerfaust and machine gun.
What was your training like?
Within our primal three month training we made bicycle tours every day. Each day we had to ride a little bit more than the day before. In the end of the period we rode two hundred kilometres per day.
Do you have any amusing memories?
During my military service I was in really good shape so the pace of the rides was too slow for me. I remember that I fell asleep a couple of time on my bike. So I had a few crashes…