08 March, 2010

Spies on Bikes

How's this for a headline: "Spyclists: how Hitler Youth's cycling tours caused panic in prewar Britain"? Click through; the article, from today's Guardian is fascinating. And keep an eye out for those dastardly cyclo-tourists!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Greetings,

This article explains a lot. While cycling on my way to work one dark and dreary fog encrusted night I was unexpectantly followed by a "dark stranger" After hearing the roaring engine bearing down on me for what seemed an eternity, my heart rate out of sight and the indignity of wetting my pants not far away,....It was then, suddenly, the enormous yellow truck with the space age appendage looped around me and while mountains of fine snow was hurled my way, the driver sent the dreaded words that soon fell on my ears. "Get the hell outa tha road, you stupid SOB"

At the time, I took this as the usual red neck, making the mistake of opening his mouth. But now I know,while he was not on a bicycle, he was a NAZI spy. There're everwhere.

Best regards,

P.S thanks for the heads up

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Nazi spies be pretty easy to spot? - i.e. they obviously wouldn't be riding a French-style bike. Other giveaways might be the Spaetzle flavored PowerBars and the bib-style Lederhosen.

OBA said...

The Hitler Youth - always an ideal source of lighthearted levity for your cycling blog! Please, Chris, as a fan of VO and your blog thus far, do everyone a favor and leave this kind of stuff for The Onion in the future.

Tom SVDP said...

Well, to all of the humor here, I find this is an excellent article.

This is a rich history indeed.

What first strikes me about this article is how they were a group, the Nazi Youth and back before TV, in Great Britain, basically a "Club" culture thrived (which rightly or wrongly, I liken to Cyclo-Touristes on the continent if I have that correctly), that's why you have bikes called the Clubman and not only from Raleigh. I've looked back at that with some envy because touring as a club, camping, socially seemed to be a major pastime and very popular. Even here in the US, I believe the American Wheelmen were similar, youth rides and the like. Of course, we still have a little bit of that still, but probably not like in the old days, it is something we probably can't quite grasp in our present day as to how popular it was at least in Great Britain. So these Nazi youth were basically like a Cycling Club.

One can come up with a lot of cycling stories from that era and this is another. I'll just keep it short but those interested might find reading about Albert Richter, a star German cyclist but seemingly uncompromising in principles and who vanished under the Gestapo or the story of Great Britain's Harry Hill, Bronze medal winner from the 1936 Berlin Olympics as being compelling stories.

Ian Dickson said...

Interesting stuff. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you or one of your readers could post a link to a British paper written in the 1930 or 40s about modernist traffic engineering, its threat to cyclists and pedestrians and its association with fascism on the continent.

John B. said...

Wow, some people need to lighten up. Does every cycling blog have to be about "death to cars"?

Very interesting article. Why wouldn't Hitler send over spies on bikes? Bicycles were normal, everyday conveyances back then, especially for young men. And, as we all know, one can make much better observations of the land and get a better feel of the topography from a bicycle than a car. I think we find the idea of a bunch of Hitler Youth out cyclotouring a bit jarring because it doesn't jive with our modern notions of proper bicycling social attitudes.

Rick @ Bicycle Fixation said...

Here's a British paper, contemporary but it refers to cycle use in Britain in the past and why cycling was safer despite no special infrastructure: "Assessing the Actual Risk Faced by Cyclists".

Didn't find the contemporary reference in a quick search but have heard of it.

And BTW the article Chris posted is not a parody worthy of the Onion; it was a news story of the time. There was a great deal of sympathy for Fascism in UK 'twixt the Wars (and in the US; Henry Ford was a personal friend of Hitler's); the blitzkrieg drove that all underground and shocked the more casual followers to their senses.

The temptation of Fascism is always there: clubs can become gangs or sturmabteilung, and regimentation is portable between philosophies.

At least that's my excuse for riding slovenly....

Tom SVDP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom SVDP said...

It seems this information was just declassified and scores of news organizations through out the world published a story about this yesterday, BBC, etc. Just do a search of 'Spyclists.' It sounds like the M15 had reason to be wary. It sounds too, that the Hitler Youth in appearances only mirrored the Boy Scouts in the way they dressed. One of the articles said they toured Yugoslavia, Netherlands and Belgium too in the 1930s and may well have done reconnaissance, knowing where bridges were and the like. Europe was definitely spinning towards a war in the 1930s. A lot of people knew it. Our USA Soccer team did not go to the 1938 World Cup held in France because they were weary of the environment.

"Wouldn't Nazi spies be pretty easy to spot? "

Actually a good question, would they ferry their bikes over to the UK? I guess that is a possibility.

Jim Pace said...

My father in law, Sam Dix, then a Dartmouth student, plus Bill Rotch, a friend from Dartmouth, hitched a ride on a lumber boat from the Great Lakes to Norway, then road bikes to the Berlin Olympics in 1936, where the 8 Hitler youth running the whole show treated the two royally, since my father in law had an Eagle scout badge. The Germans thought Sam was the official representative of Boy Scouts of America. The ruse lasted for a few days, but when the truth was discovered, Sam and Bill almost got thrown in jail. As it was, they were asked to leave town, and other Hitler youth followed them on bicycles until they reached the border, making sure they did not reenter. It was creepy. Sam came back to the states convinced those Hitler jungen guys were nuts, and that they wanted to take over the world. My son is contemplating a repeat of Sam's trip this summer, writing up the journey to highlight what has changed and what a cyclist would still find familiar all these years later.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they spied on the Raleigh factory ? If they did, perhaps that's why German bikes were so terrible for so many years!

patates frites said...

I knew it! This whole cycling thing is a communist plot to destroy America by. Don't ride, drive (cough, cough)!