Kettenkrad – the motorcycle tank

Kettenkrad - motorcycle tank
Yesterday's post about the single tracked all terrain motorcycle designs reminded me of these WWII motorcycle tank hybrids. Very odd vehicles and I'm not really sure of the reasoning behind their construction, why the motorcycle front end was necessary isn't clear, the one site says it's for stability at high speeds and you actually could remove it in really rough terrain, but they do look interesting.

Kettenkrad - motorcycle tankSpecs say they could get up to 45-50mph with the 4 cylinder, 1478cc gasoline engine sourced from Opel, while the vehicle itself was made by NSU. It was designed to go into mountainous terrain and tow a trailer or small gun.

The web sites say there were about 8400 Kettenkrads produced during the war and over 500 afterwards. Some collectors keep them going and I think they look like a real hoot. I love stuff like this and if you dig around enough, you never know what you might find. Neat.

Kettenkrad USA


  1. Bucho says

    It doesn’t seem like that little motorcycle front end would get that thing to turn very well.

  2. Steve says

    As I sure most people realise most tracked vehicles steer by braking on one set of track thus slewing the vehicles, if I remember rightly these tracked bike thingies have a set of brakes activated by the turning of the forks.
    Would be cool to turn up in one of these things to a ‘strictly motorbikes only’ rally and see what happens on the gate

  3. george says

    they had diffrentials like a half track truck. the front end was nessasary for stearing. the traction would just follow the front wheel. no need for expensive complex power dividers. They were mainly for pulling flack guns to position.

  4. says


    The SdKfz 2 Kettenkraftrad, or Kettenkrad employs a “Clectrac” braked differential to steer, just like all German WWII halftracks.

    Power is supplied by a 1.5ltr Opel car engine, via a 3 speed gearbox with high/low range capability giving 6f and 2r speeds.

    The vehicle can be driven without the front wheel, indeed the user manual recomends this on certain terrain types.

    In the next few weeks a Kettenkrad that I found in Austria will complete a 24month restoration. And I hope to have it registered and on the road by mid June, just so I can take it to a local “Bike Show”.


  5. LARRY says


  6. T.Kelleher says

    These things must be a little dicey to operate.Remember in”Saving Private Ryan”The guys nearly flipped it making a fairly simple turn!

  7. Ashley says

    these things were also known as ‘rabbits’ to the americans during WW2
    if you have seen saving private ryan they use on of these to draw the germans into the town
    they looked pretty quick considering the time they were built

  8. kneeslider says

    Jesse, Kettenkrads occasionally appear on ebay. We’ve had two here just in the past couple of weeks. Watch the ebay spotlight in the upper right corner of this page.

  9. says

    The Kettenkrad I mentioned in an earlier post is back from the restoration shop.

    I look after it for the owner.

    On Sunday I did some work on the carb and took it for a test ride……..


  10. Jonathan says

    I think that the motorcycle front end is to stop the very front facing part of the tracks from getting stuck/ digging into the bottom of a very steep hill. In other words the motorcycle front end would climb up first then only the bottom of the tracks would take over AND it also serves to stop the front facing part of the tracks from digging in at the bottom of the hill on the other side ! The motorcycle front end would touch first and then by the time the tracks touch , it would be the bottom tracks only. No getting stuck with the pointed end :-) , Thats my thought any way !!

  11. Wayne says

    It was designed as a gun tractor that would fit inside a Ju52. It was tracked to provide the most traction and lowest ground pressure in a small unit.

    It proved very useful in the Russian mud, and many uses were found for it. Over 8,000 were produced during the war.

  12. says

    The front wheel helped getting the thing over obstacles. Turning the handlebar to either side brakes one track, making the vehicle turn. This could be a problem if the ‘krad stalled going uphill (60 degree inclines possible): Accidentally locking one set of tracks while rolling backwards could find you and your Wehrmacht helmet pushed two feet into the ground with half a ton of hot motorcycle on top of you.

    Many years ago I asked the military museum in central Copenhagen (Denmark) if the had any Kettenkrads. “Not anymore, but a while back we junked three of them…”.

  13. John says

    A vehicle with tracks do not dig in, other small full-track vehicles of WW-II like the Brittish Bren Carrier or the American Weasle did not dig in eihter. The German Kettenrad was build to transport 3 man with weapons and ammo. It is designed for fallschirmjager, or in English: for airborne purposes. It was small and light enough to be transported with a glider or to drop it on a parachute. The motorcycle front is just for the motorcycle feel of driving. In those times, in Europe not much people had a car and know how to drive a car or tracked vehicle, but most men know how to drive a motorcycle. A motorcycle was verry common at that time. All the controls of the Kettenrad are in motorcycle style. This made it easy without further education to drive for every soldier.

  14. matt says

    it seems kinda pointless, think about it, carries one driver and one passenger the same as a real motorcycle.

  15. Mike says

    it carries 1 driver, 2 passengers, and (dependind on purpose) a small trailer or planes or stationary guns.

  16. motoxyogi says

    I love this eccentric little contraption, but i’m rather sceptic about it’s uses. Does anyone else here know about the zundapp/bmw KS750. Powered by an almost flat 750cc v-twin. It incorperated a 2 wheel drive system by powering the sidecar wheel through a lockable differential. It was designed to carry three people and all their equipment plus a pintle mounted MG34, and tow a trailer. It seems to me that the Kettenkrad performs many of the duties that the 750 was but where there were only 9000 or so kettenkrad’s built 18000 750’s were built.

  17. Rusty says

    Check out Ural Motorcycles they make a 2 wd sidecar rig based on old bmw designs. Looks like a great gas saver for the snowy times.

  18. Chris says

    haveing a motor cycle front end on this track vehicle is a waste its just there for looks would help in any way. the tracks do all of the turning

  19. h phillips says

    i was watching Saving Private Ryan and saw the units – glad for a website to confirm they actually existed

  20. kyler says

    people. stop saying the front end is pointless. it not. people did not know how to drive cars and things in europe in the 1940s. well most of them. the motorcycle front end gave it a more comfortable feel. also, the front wheel helped it get over obstacles. and even though it didnt help much, the wheel DID help steer it.

  21. NickA says

    the differential brakes on the tracks didn’t start to work until the steering was turned by more than 5 degrees. For a vehicle that did 40mph on roads [many people quote 50, but that was at 4000rpm for emergencies only] you’d rarely get to turn the handlebars by more than 5 degrees except low-speed manouvreing – so on-road MOST of the steering would be by the handlebars. Compare with the Bren carrier steering mostly by track bend, and only braking for sharper turns.

  22. julian constantine says

    I briefly owned a kettenkrad which had had the motorcycle fork assembly removed.It came as part of a land clearance project I was involved with.I used it to tow a small trailer.It operated quite well using the differential controls to the tracks.Lovely little toy.I gave it away at the end of the project,silly arse.