This Memorial day, as we remember all who sacrificed for us, let us cyclists also remember the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps at Fort Missoula, Montana, back in 1896. Those are the Buffalo Soldiers you see up there, at Yellowstone. This infantry was established to see if bikes could work for military purposes in mountainous terrain. Seeing as bikes were getting popular and the Europeans had already been using them for both recreation and military use, we decided to give it a look.
General Nelson A. Miles started all this. He’d seen a six-day race in Madison Square Garden and got the bug. He thought that, unlike a horse, a bike didn’t need to be watered, rested, and fed. There’s also the stealth qualities of a bike, compared to a snorting, neighing horse – an asset in battle. So the Bike Corps was formed.
Spalding bikes loaned the soldiers some single-speed bikes and they set out on their first jaunt – a four-day, 126-mile trip. Each bike plus gear weighed over a hundred pounds. Not bad considering their rations:
“…1 jar Armour’s extract of beef, 7 cans beans, 2 lbs. salt, 5 lbs. prunes, 6 lbs. sugar, 5 lbs. rice, 2 lbs. baking powder, 1 can condensed milk, 20 lbs. bacon, 3 cans deviled ham, 2 ounces pepper, 2 lbs. coffee, 35 lbs. flour, 3 cans corn, 1 can syrup, 3 lbs. lard.”
The roads were muddy and steep, creek crossings meant tires had to be re-cemented to the wooden rims, but despite this, longer and tougher journeys were planned to test the men’s mettle. Journeys of 790 miles in 16 days and, the biggie, a 1,900-mile, 34-day journey from Missoula to St. Louis.
In the end, they realized that an Army Bicycle Corps could travel twice as fast as a typical cavalry or infantry and at one-third the cost and effort.
A large part of those tremendous stats and conclusions can be attributed to the spirit and toughness of those buffalo soldiers.
Thanks, guys. And thanks to everyone who’s made the ultimate sacrifice.
18 Miles Per Hour is Brian Miller and Rhys Newman. Illustration by Rhys. See more at 18milesperhour.com.