We’re big fans of those year-end “Best Of” posts that are popular on web sites around the world. As such, we decided we’d create our own special top-ten list of the most widely-read posts that have appeared on the Bicycle Times web site this year. We spent at least fifteen minutes looking at our web site statistics to see what you, our dear readers, read most often this year. The result is a list you can read while you’re sitting at work, pretending you’re being productive during the least productive time of the year. Thanks for supporting us in 2016, and we truly look forward having you back in 2017. Cheers!
Salsa released some most-excellent new bikes earlier this year, including the Deadwood, Ponyrustler, Marrakesh and the Tour Divide-inspired Cutthroat. We take a closer look at each of them. More…
Looking to get into some truly long-distance riding? Read this piece to learn about brevets, randonnées and everything you need to know to prepare, ride and survive long distances. More…
Trek’s entry into the fat bike world has been quite successful, and the company updated its Farley line. We take a look at the updates in more detail. More…
The Secteur is the aluminum version of Specialized’s very popular high-end “Roubaix” road bike. This review looks at how well this bike for mortals like us performs for group rides, racing and maybe some light touring. More…
More and more people have been throwing legs over all-surface bikes such as the Specialized Diverge. We got our hands on one, and took some time to offer initial ride impressions before our long-term test. More…
Trek dove into the gravel/heavy-touring bike category with the aluminum 920, which features bar-end shifters and disc brakes. Designed for exploring, long rides and rough roads, the 920 shows some influence from the mountain bike world. More…
The Trek CrossRip is designed to be your go-to urban bike. Perfect for loading up with groceries or riding to work, this aluminum rig nicely combines utility, comfort and performance. More…
The aluminum Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc is designed to be an all-around bike that can get you to the office in the city, and then away from it all to ride some trails when you shut down the computer. More…
Each June, the cycling press descends upon Park City, Utah to get a first glimpse of, and usually a maiden voyage on, many of the industry’s newest bikes and components. Here’s a quick look at some goods from Cannondale, GT, Blue, Ridley and more. More…
On June 7, a 50-year-old Michigan man drove his pickup truck into a group of cyclists outside Kalamazoo, killing five and injuring four more. “They are not a statistic. They are not a meme. They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, who will never return.” More…
On August 21, 1914, in southern Belgium, a 17-year old British soldier named John Henry Parr was sent on a mission with another reconnaissance cyclist to obtain information on the German army’s position. While offering covering fire for his comrade, who escaped on his bike, Parr was shot and killed, thus becoming the first British soldier to die in the Great War. Over 700,000 more would follow over the next four years.
The fact that the first man to die was a cyclist is not particularly surprising. Bicycles were regularly used in dangerous missions for scouting, relaying messages and medical evacuations due to their relative speed, silence and carrying capacity. So effective were they that by the conclusion of the war, over 100,000 Brits were employed as army cyclists (up from 14,000 at the start of the war). In the French and Belgian forces, that number was closer to 150,000.
In fact, almost every army in Europe, as well as a host of others including the United States, contained a bicycle contingent by the end of the 19th century. They had gradually replaced the cavalry units for reasons best explained in the October 1914 issue of Cycling Weekly:
“The reasons of the success of the soldier-cyclist are not far to seek. In the first place it must be realised that his mount, unlike that of the cavalryman, is silent in progress. This gives him an enormous advantage over his noisy foe…But silence is by no means the cyclist’s sole advantage. He has a good turn of speed, which is a factor useful alike in attack and retreat.
“… the ability to take cover often spells the difference between victory and defeat, and here the cyclist scores distinctly. He has but to lay his mount down flat upon the ground and it is practically invisible.”
In addition, several military strategists noted that unlike horses, bicycles did not need to be watered, fed or rested, they were cheap to produce and training troops to ride them was quick and easy.
Cycling Weekly also captured one of the finest examples of the effectiveness of the bicycle-soldier when it described the moment in which the actions of a few British cyclists saved the lives of hundreds of their allies:
“In the forest near the German trenches it was believed that a force of German infantry, with machine and field gun, was hidden. Along a road which runs past, French reinforcements were advancing, and unless they were warned would go to total destruction. Who was to warn them?
“Suddenly, from out of the trees where the English lay hidden, dashed a figure in khaki on a bicycle. He went down when he had only covered a few yards. Another followed him, and he, too, went down, but a third carried on. Riding at full speed across an inferno of fire, with his head bent low over the handlebars, he managed to reach the advancing line of French untouched and to deliver his message of warning.”
Bicycles were not simply used as a means of travelling somewhere quickly and quietly, however. While attempts to convert them into actual weapons by mounting machine guns on handlebars and makeshift sidecars ultimately failed, the bicycle did prove to be very adaptable during the war.
The French were instrumental in developing folding bikes that could be slung across their infantrymen’s shoulders and deployed when they reached suitable terrain or needed to make a speedy getaway. Bicycle ambulances were created by welding two bicycles together, side by side, and placing a stretcher in between them. Tandem bikes allowed for a primary pilot to sit at the front and a gunner at the rear. And some bikes were rigged to tow machine guns and other small artillery into position.
By today’s standards, the bikes, fitted with front and rear carriers, rifle clips and other attachments were cumbersome, inefficient and ill-suited for the rough terrain. Ridden by dedicated troops, however, they proved to be surprisingly effective, as noted here by Sir John French, Commander- in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, when addressing the British House of Lords in 1915:
“I am anxious in this despatch to bring to your Lordship’s special notice the splendid work that has been done throughout the campaign by the Cyclists of the Signal Corps. Carrying despatches and messages at all hours of the day and night in every kind of weather, and often traversing bad roads blocked with transport, they have been conspicuously successful in maintaining an extraordinary degree of efficiency in the service of communications. Many casualties have occurred in their ranks, but no amount of difficulty or danger has ever checked the energy and ardour which has distinguished this corps.”
The Future of Bicycles at War
Considering the speed at which military technology has evolved over the last century, it is unsurprising that bicycles, as an instrument of warfare, enjoyed a relatively short moment in the sun. Where once they were considered state of the art pieces of equipment, they have largely been superseded by motorized transport that offers greater carrying capacity, firepower and protection for their troops.
They have, however, continued to thrive as a guerrilla weapon in unconventional conflicts, such as in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, where they are used for much the same purposes and reasons as in WWI.
The last army to formally disband its cycling unit was Switzerland in 2003. However, some personnel felt that this decision was short sighted and that the humble bicycle still had plenty to offer on the battlefield.
“No one can understand why they are going to abolish us,” said Swiss army cyclist Julian Voeffray in 2001. “It is stupid. Over short distances we are very fast, much faster than the motorized units. We can be very discreet, we are well armed and we perform well against the tanks.”
There are signs that perhaps other militaries are beginning to come around to Voeffray’s way of thinking. Famous bike-lovers, the Dutch, used bicycles during their recent deployment in Afghanistan as a means of carrying out patrols once they felt the situation was safe enough to dispense with their armored vehicles. In a war where, towards the tail end, the focus was more on public relations than firepower, they felt that the bicycles enabled them to build closer relations with the local people.
So if you’re a gun nut and a bike nut, don’t despair; the next generation bicycle-mounted machine gun may well be just around the corner.Tweet Print
This piece, written by Beth Puliti, originally appeared in Bicycle Times issue #29. Photo courtesy of Beth Puliti.
At a routine doctor’s appointment in my early 20s, a stethoscope revealed an unusual sound in my heartbeat. “It’s probably nothing, but just in case…” my physician wrote me a referral to get it checked out at a local hospital. Tests multiplied, hospitals enlarged and probably nothing turned into “definitely something.” Turns out I am in the one percent—not the luxury car and fancy jewelry kind, the one percent of Americans born with a heart defect kind. I had no limitations, so as far as I could tell, nothing had changed.
NO BIG DEAL.
Ten years after my doctor detected the barely-audible sound of a broken heart, a routine cardiologist appointment showed it deteriorating. To prevent early-onset heart failure, it was recommended I have the defect corrected.
UM, MAJOR CONCERN.
For months I fought to regain control of the wandering “what-if” scenarios running wild up in the space that, up until this point, consistently forgot what I did last weekend, but somehow remembered every single word to every single Ace of Base earworm ever. Finally, I stopped thinking about what I didn’t want to happen, started focusing on what I wanted to happen and came to peace with what was about to happen.
Then, with zero symptoms, and arguably in the best shape of my life, I had open-heart surgery.
On November 9, 2013, I passed out mid-conversation talking with the anesthesiologist about whether this ordeal was worthy of a new pair of shoes. (It was, according to the nicest needle-holding woman in the world.) On November 10, I awoke with a freshly-sawed sternum, protruding medical tubes, wires and needles, and a feeling that didn’t exist before—the profound realization that I’m living on borrowed time. Today, every time I look into the mirror, a 6-inch scar left over from an oscillating saw reminds me that modern medicine has granted me a few extra rotations around the sun.
I DON’T WANT TO WASTE A SINGLE HEARTBEAT.
In the years following that first doctor’s appointment, I bided the time by getting a college education, getting a job and getting married. Many (many, many) mortgage payments later, has me questioning my “right-on-track” lifestyle. I’m checking boxes. But is this what I really want? Or what I’m supposed to want? Is this what I’m passionate about?
Thoreau said we spend “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.” He’s right. We’ve got it wrong. Let’s stop checking boxes and travel the world. Now. Not tomorrow—we’ll run out of tomorrows. Today, while our hearts are still beating strong.
Last week my husband and I bought one-way tickets out of our adopted New England mountain town. On July 7th, we fly into Munich, Germany and will set off for an unknown amount of time to see the world via two wheels. We have a rough idea of where we want to explore—Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Vietnam. Along the way, I’ll detail our journey with you, sharing the good and the bad, the tailwinds and the headwinds, and the ins and outs of leaving scripted life behind.
Long-term travel to distant lands doesn’t have to be a dream. I hope this column inspires you: To stop living vicariously. To indulge your passion. To enjoy the ride—and create your own along the way.Tweet Print