April 13, 2009

Before the Rides

"In that heyday of the bicycle, the year 1897, there was organized at Fort Missoula, Montana, the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. In command of the cycle corps was Lieutenant (now colonel) James A. Moss, widely known as the author of Moss's Manual and other military text books. His talent made him a fit chronicler of the activities of his command--activities which were to resolve themselves in a veritable peace-time anabasis, a series of hikes through the Rocky Mountains.
Now this Bicycle Corps of the 25th Infantry, was not the sizable organization it sounds. With customary army conservatism, the strength of this new department was restricted to one lieutenant, one sergeant, one corporal, one musician and five privates, one of them a good mechanic. They all presumably qualified as being able to ride wheels. Before very long, they could do a good deal more than that. They could drill, scale fences, ford streams and hike--or bike--forty miles a day in heavy marching order.
The Corps would clear a nine foot fence in twenty seconds. The command was, "Jump fence," and they did it--of course "By the numbers." A front-rank man would rest his wheel against the fence and pull himself over. Thereupon his file would pass over both wheels and follow himself. On the other side, the Corps would smartly assume the position of "Stand to bicycle." To ford a stream not deep and swift, they dismounted and rolled their wheels through, but if it was a more formidable proposition, two men slung a wheel on a stick resting on their shoulders, and carried it over. Their packs consisted of a knap-sack with blanket roll and shelter half strapped to the handlebars. A haversack was carried forward underneath the horizontal bar. Under the seat was a cup, in a cloth sack to keep off the dust. The rifle was strapped horizontally on the left side of the wheel. Slung on the rider himself was the canteen and thirty rounds of ammunition, it having been found that it was prudent to burden the soldier's person with little, in case of a fall."
- Buffalo Soldier Regiment, John Nankivell pg. 62

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