The Ukrainian military is using stealthy electric bikes modified to carry next-generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWS) to fight Russia.
Soldiers on electric bikes have been spotted across Ukraine since the early days of the war, mostly on ELEEK brand bikes. e-bikes are fast and, critically, much quieter than a gas powered bike. They allow soldiers to perform quick guard patrols or move swiftly into position.
On Telegram last week, pictures surfaced of the Delfast branded bikes that had been modified to carry massive anti-tank weapons. The two photos showed the e-bike modified with a crate on the back and a huge missile launcher poking from the back.
The e-bikes are used for transporting the launchers; the anti-tank weapons aren’t fired from the back of the bikes. The quiet design and fast speed—a Delfast can reach speeds up to 50 mph—allow the bikes to move NLAWS into position and quickly flee once fired.
Both Delfast and ELEEK are Ukrainian companies. When reached for comment, representatives of Delfast in the United States denied it had sold Ukraine any of its bikes. “Delfast continues to support the people of Ukraine. We are working with governments and the larger tech community to end this war,” a representative of Delfast in the U.S. told Motherboard. “We have not sold Delfast bikes or made modifications to our e-bikes to support any military action. We are also donating 5% of all sales to fund humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.”
This is technically true: Delfast has not sold the Ukrainian military any of its bikes. It gave them away. Daniel Tonkopi, CEO of Delfast, is Ukrainian. When the pictures of the modified e-bikes surfaced on Telegram, Tonkopi shared them on his personal Facebook page and explained what was going on.
“Delfast has been providing electric bikes to the Ukrainian Army since the first day of the war,” he wrote on Facebook. “We transferred electric bikes to the front line, but we did not talk about it—we do some things quietly. Now we've gotten permission from the command, and we're publishing these pictures.”
Tonkopi also shared some quotes he said were feedback from the Ukrainian military about the bike. “The bike was great and can really work for mobile groups,” a member of the Ukrainian military said, according to Tonkopi. “Plans to use it for aero driving tours and with equipment for work on tanks.”
“It was very hot out there. Three cars came back with holes, the guys intact luckily,” said another unnamed member of the Ukrainian military, according to Tonkopi. “One of them got his arm caught on the edge. All in all, your bike was highly appreciated by the guys.”
Tonkopi also mentioned the donations on his Facebook page. “We help the Ukrainian Army from our own pocket,” he said in his post. “Since the first day of the war, we have been donating at least 5% of all revenues to help Ukraine.”
Militaries across the world have been developing electronic stealth bikes for around a decade. Australia has been testing them for the scouting missions and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—the Pentagon’s mad scientists—began throwing money at the problem in 2014. The development has led to two prototypes: the NightHawk and the Nightmare. The SilentHawk is a hybrid model that sounds about as loud as a vacuum cleaner and can get up to 80 mph. Less is known about the Nightmare.
The speed and low heat signature make e-bikes ideal for reconnaissance and special operations. In addition to the NLAW hauling Delfast bikes, reports have flourished online of Ukraine using e-bikes to move snipers around the battlefield and quickly deliver medical supplies.