Politicians from across Europe gathered in Ypres, Belgium this week at the Menin Gate, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.  As speeches were made and wreathes laid, here at ibikelondon we've been looking back through the online archives of Flickr at images of the cycling soldiers who took part in the conflict.

Today's "Friday Throwback" forms part of a series looking at the best images hosted in The Commons by cultural instritutions and seats of learning from around the world.  The above photo of allied soldiers moving forwards through a recently captured village shows how bicycles were used to move small units of soldiers.  A dog watches from the muddy sidelines in this image from the National Library of Scotland.

Bicycles were also commonly used to relay messages from command to outposts on both sides of battle lines.  German soldier Adolf Hitler was a bicycle message during World War I, long before he dragged the world in to a second terrible war.  London had its own battalion of cyclists, as detailled on Roads Were Not Built for Cars blog, whilst recruitment posters exhorted British young men "Why Not Cycle For the King?"

The below image from the United States Library of Congress shows French cycling solders, with their guns slung over their shoulders, in the village of Chauconin-Neufmontiers in 1914.  A single woman appears in the photo smiling on the left, perhaps proud to see these soldiers off, or happy after they've returned from their first tour at the outbreak of the conflict.

In this final image, again from the National Library of Scotland, cycling orderlies come under enemy fire on the front line.  Whilst the two cyclists have upturned their bikes and appear to be using the frames to offer some protection from the enormous shell blast, a third man in the centre of the image is using a chisel - seemingly unconcerned - in the centre of the road.  For me, this strange and violent photo powerfully captures a dramatic second of the four years of experiences of men using bicycles through the world's first global conflict. 

As we mark 100 years since the start of WWI its humbling to consider the role of the simple bicycle in this, the first "mechanical war".