A Bike Like No Other

How do you get around when you live on a 1.2 square-mile island with no privately owned vehicles? If you live on Kwajalein Island, bicycles are the answer. But these aren’t just any bicycles.

Kwaj Bike

A cyclist on Kwajalein Island rides a modified “Kwaj bike” in a 1972 film

Kwajalein Island is a part of the United States’ Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (formerly Kwajalein Missile Range). The Range encompasses a number of islands that are part of Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Bicycles are the main mode of transportation, but these aren’t the 10-speed road bikes or mountain bikes common in the United States. Due to the salty air and humid climate, any bike but the most sturdy will quickly rust away. The “Kwaj bike” is usually a single-speed bike with coaster brakes. Some of them have been modified to elevate the handlebars to chin level, or above.

The film these images were taken from was shot in 1972, but similar bicycles can still be found today on Kwajalein Island.

This film (111-LC-57627) also includes footage of recreational activities on Kwajalein Island and images of an interview with base commander Colonel Jesse L. Fishback (no audio).

If you can’t get enough archival film featuring bicycles, here’s another treat for you. The Open Road, presented by the United States Information Service, follows a group of young people as they bike through Southeastern Pennsylvania, staying at a youth hostel in rural Lancaster County and visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park.

We wish you well in your own summer bicycle adventures!

About Heidi Holmstrom

Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
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