Ever wonder who comes up with the names for bikes? We did. It turns out the process can be one of the most fun, and frustrating, jobs in the bike industry.
We asked a few friends at various bike brands to share their favorite stories.
If you missed Part 1, check it out here.
By Chris Holmes, Marin Bikes
I don’t have any stories of bike model names having to be changed due to conflicts or learning that the name we chose was slang for something we wanted to distance ourselves from. About the closest I came to that was when I was at Schwinn Cycling & Fitness when we’d periodically get complaints about our Homegrown line of American-made mountain bikes having a “drug name,” even though we had nothing that’d imply marijuana. The bikes even used a tomato icon for years — we thought that if Americans grow any veggies in their gardens, it’s likely tomatoes.
We were also a bit miffed when Nissan introduced the Frontier truck to the U.S. market, as we had a registered trademark for that model in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Class 12 (Vehicles; apparatus for locomotion by land, air or water), but our legal staff advised not spending the effort to go against a much larger company. Truth be told, I don’t think anyone would really confuse a pickup with an entry-level mountain bike, but companies have to be protective of their intellectual property.
Marin is an interesting study in that the vast majority of the model names came from places within Marin County. Pine Mountain, Indian Fire Trail, Mount Vision, Bobcat Trail, Bolinas Ridge, all on the mountain side. Fairfax, Terra Linda, San Rafael, Larkspur, Kentfield, etc. on the pavement side. The Gestalt, introduced for the 2016 model year, was named in part after the popular Gestalt Haus in Fairfax.
The Long and Short of It
By Eddy Marcelet, Kona
The process of naming bikes, at least at Kona, is something I dread. No one agrees, it takes ages and it’s hard to come up with winners. We’ve been known for all the Hawaiian names and ones with volcanic themes, but in recent years have switched to a lot of Japanese stuff like Honzo, Kitsune, Raijin and other cool sounding stuff that also has some character. We also like to keep some old ones alive like the Hei Hei, which means “race” in Hawaiian and was reintroduced in the 2000s after a long hiatus from when it was a titanium hardtail years before.
Some names we are known for are the Humu humu nuku nuku apua’a which for ages was the longest model name in the industry until Quintana Roo came up with something even more ridiculous. We went in the other direction and chased the shortest name in the industry with the A, a dual suspension singlespeed. It was a good name since A is also ONE as in A bike, so it had a cool story built into it. I still think after all our Hawaiian names the Munimula was one of the better ones we had. It’s just ALUMINUM spelled backwards, but sort of sounds Hawaiian. The thing that sucks is so many people can’t pronounce our names and butcher them constantly.
Another good one was the Chute, a mountain bike we named to work with riding steep and gnarly terrain like you find on the North Shore. Unfortunately, “Chute” (at least phonetically) means “crash” in French, so our Quebec guys struggled with it.
You may not know this, but even our brand name had to change. After Jake Heilbron sold Rocky Mountain Cycles and went to work in California with Marin and Tom Ritchey while his two-year non-compete was in effect, he came back and, with Dan Gerhard, started up their new brand called Cascade, named after another mountain range. Sure enough there was some conflict there, and we had to change it. As Jake described it when being interviewed once, “all the good names were taken.” I guess in the end our names convey our looseness and sense of humor as a company.
The Alligator Speaks
By Jon Cariveau, Moots
The original founder of Moots [Kent Eriksen] as a child had a rubber pencil eraser in the shape of an alligator. When he was a kid he was riding the bus one day and the bullies on the bus stole the eraser from him and poked a hole in its head and gave it back to him. After that when you squeezed the head of the eraser it would create this little suction and when its mouth would pop open it would say “MOOTS.” So he decided to name the pencil eraser Mr. Moots, after the sound it made.
[Later] he started writing and drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, this was in the late ‘70s, and it was called “The Adventures of Mr. Moots,” and he would draw this character, the alligator, doing different activities like hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, whatever outdoor activity he could think of. He had this whole cartoon strip.
After that he graduated high school and toured the country on a Schwinn Varsity and ended up in Steamboat [Steamboat Springs, Colorado] and he was pretty much broke, so he started working at a bike shop that doubled as a ski shop in the wintertime. After a few seasons of that, one of his friends went to a Bruce Gordon frame building class and came back to Steamboat after that class and [Eriksen] built his first bike with the help of the guy who had been to the class. He stood there and thought, “What am I going to name this thing?” and he still had the rubber pencil eraser with him and he thought “I’m not going to name it after myself; I’ll name it a ‘Moots.’” That was 1981 and Mr. Moots has been with us ever since.
More recently we named the Baxter. And that was hard one, because we did have the “name the bike” thing going on the whiteboard, and all of them kind of fell short. So there’s a dog at Moots that comes to work pretty much every day and his name is Baxter. When I first met Baxter, years ago, I thought, “Wow, this is a super mellow, laid back dog.” He’s kind of this lovable, loopy chocolate lab. But anyway, somebody wrote that name on the whiteboard and it won out. So “Baxter” it was.
There used to be a little bit of a system but we gave up on that. Let’s have some fun. Name it after a dog.
Ever wonder who comes up with the names for bikes? We did. It turns out the process can be one of the most fun, and frustrating, jobs in the bike industry.
We asked a few friends at various bike brands to share their favorite stories.
By Mike Reimer, Salsa Cycles
Salsa typically tries to have maybe a little more entertaining type of names for some of our bike models than what some other bike companies might consider. I’d like to think that’s true at least. I think one of the best ones that we’ve ever had is Fargo. We knew what the product was: a drop bar mountain bike, Tour Divide inspired, and we were thinking, “This is a bike for going long distances and for going to out of the way places,” and that made us think of—no offense to North Dakotans—but that made us think of Fargo, being kind of out of the way, and the beauty of the name Fargo is that is says Far Go, Go Far. And to me that’s a really wonderful culmination of many things coming together and really working to solidify around that product idea. They don’t all go that well of course…
I’ll share the story of the bike that wound up being called the Cutthroat. We didn’t start with Cutthroat. We actually had to go back to the drawing board because we did our brainstorming process and actually in this case I remember even reaching out to some key influences across the country who had a lot of experience with the Tour Divide. The name that we were very close to using, but was getting a lot of “love it / hate it” was Pie Town. A very unusual name for a bike, which I kind of like, but be- cause it’s meaningful to the event, it’s meaningful therefore to that bike, because the Tour Divide route is intrinsic to the Cutthroat. [Pie Town is a popular stop along the route. With pie.] But some people really hated that name. I mean, they were remaining vocal about it. So in this case we decided, “You know what, we need to just go back to the drawing board.” Actually the name Cutthroat, which I’m pretty dang fond of, actually came from sitting in the lunchroom eating my lunch and I was reading a magazine, and there was an article that had something to do with cutthroat trout and I just thought gosh, “cutthroat,” that’s a cool word.
And then I went back after lunch to my desk and looked on Wikipedia or whatever, and started reading and saw the list of states that cutthroat was the state fish for, or a variation of cutthroat because there’s different ones. All the U.S. states that the Tour Divide touches, the cutthroat trout is the state fish, and so then I thought, “Wow that’s kind of magical, what are the odds?” and so we checked into that one and wound up using that. So it kind of can come from anywhere.
I feel like our names, especially of bikes, should have some personality and maybe then that helps people relate to them or, frankly, even enjoy them more. Maybe you just enjoy them more when it seems a little more like a living creature or something.
By Eric Sovern, Surly Bikes
The Surly brand came about in ‘98. There were a bunch of people at Quality Bicycle Products who rode singlespeeds and got weird. There wasn’t a lot of singlespeed stuff out there. People had to weld in track dropouts and do all sorts of other cobbly sorts of things. And so the Singleator was our first product, something to turn a regular frame into a singlespeed, and it was in that environment and with that in mind that we added products: hubs, the Singleator and eventually the 1×1 frame. Somebody finally just said, “What if we just put this all under one [brand],” and the joke is that there was kind of a cheesy contest at Q and Matt Moore— also known as the Cross Wizard—lore has it that [Surly] was his idea, and he won 25 bucks or something. Or a bag of donuts. Who knows?
Then there would be times when we’d change the color name but the color would stay the same. Just to mess with people, really. I mean, just because it’s fun. And it doesn’t really hurt anybody. There’s a couple good stories there actually. There was a sort of metallic brown Karate Monkey that we did, and the color name on the palette we picked it from was called Pearl Coffee so we called it Pearl Coffee at first, then we just changed the name of the color in the catalog for no other reason than to amuse ourselves to Skid Mark Brown, and then it became a thing and we changed it to Chocolate Squirrel.
Our Cross Check, at one point the color was Beef Gravy Brown, because it looked like beef gravy. You know some of those things are just obvious. We actually got a stern letter once from a vegan who said they weren’t going to buy that bike for that reason, and I had to remind them that there was not any actual beef in the color. Nor was that color name printed anywhere other than a catalog. It’s not like it’s on the bike. But we got a good kick out of that. And then we actually did start putting meat into the paint after that.
People get weird about it. You know, all of our black colors are the same gloss black. That started early on, and that was one of my favorite things. People would call and ask for the RAL color code for that, and I mean, it’s gloss black. A Sharpie will touch it up as good as anything. But yeah, people would be like, “I don’t have Stretch Pants Black; I have Cash Black.” Or Darque Black with a d-a-r-q-u-e.
The Karate Monkey actually comes directly from a quote from “News-Radio,” remember that TV show? It’s from an episode where Jimmy James, who was the rich owner of the radio station, wrote a business book, and then he was going to do a reading at a book shop, and he read the copy that had been translated into Japanese and then back into English. And it was this weird translation that made no sense, and one of the things he said was: “So I got in my karate monkey death car.” That was just one of those things that we said to each other for a couple years, and so Karate Monkey Death Car was going to be full name, but it wasn’t, for the sake of brevity or maybe it wouldn’t fit in the Excel spreadsheet or whatever …
We stopped trying to make everybody happy with colors and names and things like that a long time ago. There have been some colors picked really out of spite. But it’s a fun part of the job. We’ve made mistakes naming things too. We had a Steamroller that was Meth Teeth Green, and a guy sent an email that said: “You know, that’s kind of making fun of addiction.” So we changed that one because that was a guy that had a point.
There was a pretty big argument over Ice Cream Truck. People digging in their heels on both sides. And one of the nice things about working at Surly is that we sort of pride ourselves on being able to call bullshit on each other. “That’s a terrible idea and I’ll tell you why,” but we’re still able to high five and drink beers together later.
It really is the part that’s fun, and you get to show your true colors and our true colors. It’s just a bunch of goofball idiots trying to make it fun, for us. And will it sell, I guess we have to have that too.
This is Part 1 of an article that was originally published in Bicycle Times 45. We’ll be publishing Part 2 on the web tomorrow. Stay tuned!
We all know bicycles are a great way to explore. From the other side of town to the other side of the world, they can take you places you never dreamed of. But not every journey needs to include sleeping on the ground and eating dehydrated food. Each bicycle ride is a chance for exploration through the wider world and within yourself. In this issue we celebrate some of the world’s best destinations for cycling, both very near and very far.
Since the United States began to relax the hurdles a traveler was required to clear before visiting Cuba, cyclists have been flocking to the Caribbean island in search of new frontiers. For contributor Colt Fetters it was a chance to explore the bond between himself and his partner as well as the hills and valleys of a new place.
If you’re interested in visiting Cuba yourself you’re going to want to read the piece by Ashley Lance and Daniel Carter that walks you through the process of visiting this summer’s hottest destination.
Cuba isn’t the only spot south of the border that is attracting waves of bicycle travelers. Nearly 100 of them gathered for the first group start along the new Baja Divide route along the Baja California peninsula. Meandering 1,700 miles southward along dirt roads and taco stops, it is captured beautifully by the photographs of Gabriel Amadeus Tiller.
Bicycle tourism isn’t just for the folks on the road, it can have a significant impact on the communities they visit. Unlike a driver who zips through town, a cyclist is far more likely to stop and spend money, especially on food! See some examples of towns that are thriving by welcoming bike travelers.
In our product reviews section we rounded up some of the best gear for hauling yourself and your gear on journeys short and long. Find some cool bikes designed for travel as well as some of the latest racks and bags.
I hope this issue inspires you to explore a little more yourself. It doesn’t have to be an exotic destination halfway around the globe, just a different part of town or maybe aboard a different kind of bike. Cruise through the docks down by the waterfront. See how high you can ride on that nearby mountain. Bring your bike with you on vacation. You might discover something totally new or you might discover something in yourself that’s been there all along.
Finally, I must announce the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. As you read this, I have moved on to a new job and must deliver the sad news that this will be the final print issue of Bicycle Times for a while. But the spirit of the community that has coalesced around it is going strong, and Bicycle Times will continue both online and in our hearts.
I hope you keep reading and keep enjoying your Bicycle Times.
-Adam Newman, Editor-in-Chief
You can buy this issue and more in our online store.Tweet Print
There’s a certain infamous former pro cyclist from Texas who is known for (among other things) writing a book entitled “It’s Not About the Bike.” But like so many other things this yellow-wearing racer has said over the years, it simply isn’t true. Sometimes it very much IS all about the bike. Plus the wheels, and the tires, and the apparel and the brakes and everything else that goes with cycling.
Cycling means a lot of different things to a lot of different people—exercise, adventure, freedom, transportation—but it can also be a great excuse to drool over the latest gadgets, gizmos, widgets and wonders.
In this issue we’re covering the gear that gets us there, focusing on brands, products and people behind the latest goodies on the bike shop shelves. We started with six drivetrains you didn’t know existed, unpack the details of how bottom brackets work and hear the behind-the-scenes stories of how bike models get their names.
Along the way we stopped in Colorado, where we visited the shop of Bedrock Bikepacking Bags, a tiny, homegrown brand that is threading its own path through the increasingly crowded cottage industry of rackless bags.
Then we visited Arkansas, where some longtime bike industry innovators are bringing high-end bicycle manufacturing back to the United States. Their aim is to offer competitive pricing, original product design and world-beating performance. Get the scoop on the new brand, HIA Velo.
In Portland, Oregon, the wooden bikes built by Renovo might seem Old-World, but they are as high-tech as anything coming out a modern factory. After all, company founder Ken Wheeler got his start in wood composite engineering while designing airplanes. Our photographer takes you there in our latest installment of the Made series.
We also expanded our product reviews in this issue with a full 17 pages of the latest and greatest, as tested in the real world by the editors of Bicycle Times. Be sure you take a look before you buy.
Even if you have no plans to do any shopping in 2017, you can still enjoy our stories of the human input that turns ideas into item. So don’t be a dope. Enjoy our Gear Issue. Grab a copy now from our online store, or better yet, order a subscription and you’ll never miss an issue.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #33, published in February 2015. Words and illustrations by Ken and Roberta Avidor.
The road trip is an American tradition, but does it always have to be by automobile?
My wife Roberta and I have been car-free for years, but until recently, we were more inclined to travel out of town in fossil fuel-gulping, CO2-gassing jet planes and rented cars. Then we sold our three-story house in Minneapolis and moved to a loft in the Union Depot, a newly-renovated train station in downtown Saint Paul’s Lowertown district. Moving to a transit hub with easy access to local and long-distance buses and trains opened up a new world of travel options for us. We planned to travel by bus throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals.
We’re fortunate to have a regional bus company, Jefferson Lines, with regular service to the Union Depot. Like Amtrak, Jefferson requires full-sized bicycles to be boxed up. However, they treat folding bicycles as regular luggage as long as they weigh less than fifty pounds.
Brompton to the Rescue!
We purchased Brompton folding bikes, which are lightweight and sturdy. Brompton also has a good selection of bags and accessories; we packed our bikes into Brompton B-bags. We packed our clothes in garment bags that Roberta made and draped them over the bikes inside the B-bag. This helped protect the bike. We packed our art supplies into our Brompton S-bags, which attached to the front of the bike frame.
Traveling by train, bus and bike has facilitated sketching, our favorite pastime. When train and bus service returned to the Union Depot, Roberta and I decided to travel throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals and on our blog.
Bound for Duluth
Our first bus/bike/sketching excursion in Minnesota was to Duluth from the Union Depot via Jefferson Lines’ “Rocket Rider” bus. Jefferson Lines buses are a great way to travel without a car, clean and comfortable with plenty of legroom. We biked and sketched along the Lakewalk, a paved trail with lots of great scenery. Along the Lakewalk, we stopped to sketch at Leif Erikson Park, Congdon Park and Lester Park. We sketched a thick fog rolling in on the deck of Fitgers Restaurant. We also found a lot to sketch in Canal Park—the famous lift bridge from the deck of Grandma’s restaurant and the fishing boat turned-snack shack called Crabby Ol’ Bills. The Duluth Depot has many historical items to sketch, and there were many attractions in Duluth we did not have time to sketch.
On to Pipestone!
We chose Pipestone for our next Minnesota sketching excursion. It was our first trip to the little city, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it had many visual attractions as well as some unique architecture to sketch. The city gets its name from the red quartzite Native Americans have quarried and carved into ceremonial peace pipes (calumet) for hundreds of years. There are several fine old buildings in Pipestone built with the distinctly ruddy stone. We sketched the sights around town and in the nearby Pipestone National Monument. We also sketched the activities staged for Pipestone’s “Paranormal Weekend.”
We stayed at the Calumet Inn, a nice landmark hotel with a lot of character. It is rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Charlie who once worked as a handyman in the Calumet Inn until a fire on Valentine’s Day 1944 transported him between the worlds of the living and the dead.
We biked several blocks north of the hotel to the Pipestone National Monument. The monument is a treasure trove for artists with a waterfall tumbling over towering pillars of red quartzite and vistas of restored prairie. In the visitor center, craftsmen carve pipes and other items out of quartzite.
Pipestone is also a great place to bike even if you don’t bring your own. Rental bicycles are available for $5 a day at the Ewart Community Center. The Casey Jones State Trail begins on the edge of town near the big grain elevator and runs straight and level through the cornfields. In the distance, bicyclists can see the towering wind turbines of Buffalo Ridge.
We look forward to traveling by Jefferson Lines to other destinations throughout Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest.Tweet Print
Words: Richard Belson, Instructor at the United Bicycle Institute
1.) A couple years back, my son brought a Mylar Spiderman balloon home from a birthday. Eventually, it got droopy, so I finished the job and stuck a folded up Spidey into the seat bag of my commuter. A month later, I slashed my tire on the way to work—I used the balloon as a tire boot by folding it back on itself and placing it between the cut casing and the new tube. Two years later, when replacing the worn out tread, I realized that Peter Parker had been accompanying me through over 500 days of riding to work.
2.) The only way your chain will stay clean is if you never ride your bike. If you ride your bike, you need to clean your chain.
3.) If you want your bike to feel like new again, replace the cables & housing—even if you think it’s in good shape. It wears so gradually, it’s hard to tell that it’s causing any problems. As soon as you shift and brake with the new stuff, you’ll wonder why it took so long.
4.) Don’t underestimate the refreshing feeling of brand new bar tape or grips.
5.) Dunk-degreasing your chain removes more than just the dirty, unwanted exterior gunk off—it also removes the irreplaceable factory grease from its inner mechanisms. We prefer over-lubing a chain with your preferred lube, then wipe off the excess with a clean, dry rag. The extra liquid will wash away the majority of the accumulated dirt and spent lube from the chain’s exterior, while allowing the chain to retain its inner stock lubrication.
6.) Isopropyl Alcohol (91%)—available from most pharmacies and grocery stores—makes a great, affordable degreaser. Also, it leaves no film behind, so it’s great for suspension service, and it won’t harm sensitive parts, finishes or seals. If, after you’ve tried alcohol, you need more muscle, then move to biodegradable or chemical degreasers. But read labels carefully—many degreasers will etch polished or anodized surfaces, or dry out rubber seals.
7.) Learn which derailleur hanger your bike requires, buy an extra, and put it on your keychain. You’ll head Murphy off, and will have it on hand if you ever need it.
8.) Keep a couple different sized master links in your seat bag—if you bail a buddy out of a jam while out on a ride, you may get free beer, coffee, or dinner!
9.) Support your local bike shop whenever possible—you’ll be bummed when they’re gone.
10.) Get and use a Park CC-3.2 and thank me later!
In this day of Tweetbook and Facetube, we don’t get a lot of letters to the editor, or even emails to the editor. It’s often frustrating for our team to work so hard on the magazine and not receive much in the way of feedback, good or bad. But we know you must have opinions, so let’s hear ’em! You can always reach us at [email protected]. Here’s one we received recently:
First I really enjoy your magazine. The columns are insightful, informative and encouraging. I must however, take exception with your book review (Issue #40, p. 8) entitled “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” I am open to new and different ideas. I agree that we must protect our environment in a positive and lawful manner.
By publishing the review your writer and magazine appear to support radical environmentalists who break into construction sites, destroy others property, bulldozers, rip up and destroy power and rail lines. This behavior is never acceptable. It harms others and is cowardly. It accomplishes nothing to protect our environment. Without law and respect for others and their opinions and property we have anarchy. “The end doesn’t justify the means.” These actions are crimes and those who conduct them need to be punished.
Providing other publications in Mr. Abbey’s review for your readers which supports and encourages these repugnant actions is unacceptable and morally wrong. By publishing the review Bicycle Times appears to be endorsing and promoting these crimes to your readers of ALL ages, young and old.
Please stick to what you do best; continue to promote the great sport of cycling for all family members responsibly across all generations, and interests and abilities. Keep politics out of your fine publication. Why promote anything that harms others?
Encourage people to do the right thing. Doing otherwise only alienates and pushes away some of your readers and subscribers. We get too much politics and divisive rhetoric on TV everyday. Protect us from that and give us more on the sport we all love. I eagerly await your next issue.
I hope I’ve somehow helped BT be an even better publication with another viewpoint.
What did you think of our book review in BT Issue #40? Let us know in the comments below. Not getting the magazine? Purchase the issue or subscribe, today.
Illustration by Stephen Haynes
I’m interested in cargo bikes. I’ve been riding for a while, and more of my trips are taken on my bike. But some pretty normal tasks needed for daily life re- quire more cargo space than my rack and panniers can handle. I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the price of a cargo bike versus how much time I’ll actually ride it. What’s your take on cargo bikes?
Cargo Curious in Lower Yardis, Nebraska
In my younger days there were few things my trusty messenger bag and I couldn’t carry by bike: cases of beers and live animals and small children and radiator fan shrouds for a 1985 VW Sirocco and other bicycles. It’s amazing what a strong back and a bad attitude can manage to haul around. Not all of those things at once, mind you, but you get the idea.
But some loads where just not fun, so at the time when cargo bikes were still uncommon here in the United States, I happily loaded up both one- and two-wheeled trailers with even more food and beer and laundry and children and brakes and rotors for a 1992 Mazda 626 and trail building tools and multiple bikes. Again, not all at once, but still, lots more stuff.
It wasn’t until I started riding a cargo bike that I really started to unlock my potential as a beast of burden. Enough beer for a huge party and gaggles of small children and and reluctant parents of the gaggle of children and ladders and doors for a 1996 Ford F-150 and bags of cement and lumber and even more bikes. And sometimes combinations of these things at once. Combinations like a case of beer and new toilet from Home Depot, or two children, an extra large pizza, imported cheeses, a dog and two growlers of beer.
You didn’t really talk about what you wanted to carry, but as an everyday replacement for a car, cargo bikes are hard to beat. They have some drawbacks: initial expense, storage issues and issues with hilly terrain and loads. I can’t help you with storage issues, but find it perfectly acceptable to strap one of these modern e-bike motors to a cargo bike. In fact, I highly recommend it, as you’ll ride it more. Price? Sure, we are talking real money, and some people loooove to talk about all the motorcycles and used cars you can buy for the price of a new cargo bike. But that’s just short-sighted crap.
Take a typical $7,500 car. Now go on the internet and use one of the many cost of ownership calculators to see what it would cost to drive, insure and maintain your personal automobile
for five years. Try something around $30,000. Even with a new drivetrain and tires every year, the cargo bike has a tiny cost to operate. And if you charge an e-bike from empty every single day of the year, it runs less than $100 annually.
My point? Cargo bikes are sweet. Random passersby love them. I love them. You might love them. They are cheaper to operate than any car, used or new. So get one. Ride it. Bring your crap with you. Be happy. Or at least happier than you were, as some folks start out a lot higher on the happy meter than others.
This Q&A originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine and order a subscription today. Beardo is counting on you.
By Damian Antonio. Illustration by Jeffery Alan Love.
Last year we commemorated one hundred years since the start of World War I. While the legends of the Western Front and German U-boats are firmly cemented in history, less recognized are the contributions of the humble bicycle to this epic conflict. ￼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. More than 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, more than 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 realized 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 traveling 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.
The bikes, fitted with front and rear carriers, rifle clips and other attachments were cumbersome, inefficient and ill-suited for the rough terrain by today’s standards. 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 dispatches 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 ardor 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.
Editor’s note: If you own a Trek, Gary Fisher or LeMond bicycle, chances are a former motorcycle racer and tuner from Santa Cruz, California had design input on the tires and components on that bike. Not only is Keith Bontrager a whiz with engineering, he’s also an expert on mushroom hunting. We asked him for some advice on proper foraging tips to find tasty fungus for the kitchen.
By Keith Bontrager
I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of good reasons to ride your bicycle: transportation, sport, fitness, head clearing, looking stylish, an adrenalin fix, pub crawls, whatever. They’re all good. One of my favorites is finding dinner.
The thought that comes immediately to most people when I mention wild mushrooms is “you’re insane” (and that’s certainly true in some respects) – there is some edge to this sort of thing. But with a little care you never need to put yourself in jeopardy. Here are some solid rules:Tweet Print
Words and photo by Kevin Murphy
Through the 1980s and ‘90s, Ross Shafer and Salsa Cycles were a force to be reckoned with. Salsa became one of the most sought-after boutique brands, which made stems, handlebars, quick releases, production and custom frames. But it wasn’t all just great product.
Shafer and his Petaluma, Calif. crew instilled a joyful soul into the brand and everything it touched. Annual festivals, fun apparel, and an ethos they lived and breathed. It was full-on fun, and moto. The incredible popularity and cult status among Salsa bicycle owners would be reason enough to tell the story of Shafer and Salsa. But there’s a hidden track on this LP.Tweet Print