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From the Archives - The Army and Navy Journal Report on the 25th Infantry Regiment’s "Bicycle Corps"

Bicycles were an innovative technology in the late nineteenth century, and a number of armies experimented with their use. The first important American experiments in the use of bikes were conducted by a detail of the 25th Infantry, one of the Army’s four “Colored” regiments.

In 1896 the regiment’s “Bicycle Corps” conducted what was the longest field test of the tactical uses of bicycles by any American troops to that time, as told in the pages of the Army and Navy Journal,

BICYCLE “CORPS,” 25TH Inf
2d Lieut. James A. Moss, U.S.A., Commanding

The Bicycle Corps of. the 25th. U.S. Inf., under the command of 2d Lieut. James. A. Moss, appears to have had a very successful, but very fatiguing, trial in their recent expedition from Fort Missoula, Mont., to test the bicycle for military purposes. . . .

The corps left Fort Missoula Aug. 15 with rations, rifles, cooking utensils, shelter tents, ammunition, extra bicycle parts, repair material, etc., etc. They reached Fort Harrison on the 17th, having covered 132 miles in 22 hours of actual travel. They got new rations at Harrison and left for Yellowstone at noon Aug. 19, reaching Mammoth Springs, Wyo., at 1:30 Aug. 23. The distance of 101 miles was made in 31 hours of actual traveling. So far they had traveled in 53 hours of actual traveling, 323 miles of the hilliest and rockiest roads in the United States, fording streams, going through sand, mud, over road ruts, etc. Every day, except only one, they had wind against them. Aug. 25 the corps left for a days’ trip through the park.

When they left Fort Missoula, their 1ightest wheel [i.e., bicycle] packed, weighed 64 pounds, the heaviest 84 pounds, an average of 77˝ pounds; the lightest wheel with rider, weighed 205 pounds, the heaviest, 272 pounds. The wheel used was the 26-pound Spalding bicycle, geared to 66˝. The weights of the members of Bicycle Corps were as follows: Lieut. Moss, 135 pounds; Corp. Williams, 153˝; Musician Brown, 145˝; Pvt. Proctor, 152; Pvt. Findley, 183˝; Pvt. Foreman, 160; Pvt. Haynes, 160; Pvt. Johnson, 151˝.

Previous to making this trip, Lieut. Moss made a preliminary excursion to Lake McDonald, leaving Fort Missoula at 6:20 A.M., Aug. 6 and reaching there on return at 1:30 P.M., Aug. 9, having ridden and walked 126 miles in 24 hours of actual traveling under most adverse circumstances. They were delayed quite a number of times in tightening nuts, adjusting handle bars, etc. The wheels were not spared in the least, and did the work extraordinarily well. On their trip the men found the roads muddy from recent rain, and were impeded by the clay-mud sticking to the tires of their bicycles. They had to dismount frequently to scale heights, and over six miles of road they dismounted twenty times on account of mud puddles and fallen trees. While crossing Finley Creek on wheels two men fell in the stream. Part of the journey was made in a driving rain, which covered the wheels with mud and filled the shoes of the riders with water, making it difficult for them to keep their feet. on the muddy pedals. [Another creek] was forded through three feet of swift water, each wheel being carried across on a pole suspended from the shoulders of two soldiers. "Had the devil himself," says Lieut. Moss, “conspired against us, we would have had little more to contend with.”

The party attracted great. attention along the way from the inhabitants, and their dogs and cattle. Dogs ran after them, cattle away from. them, and residents stopped work and stood in open-mouthed wonder as they passed. Every once in a while they would strike an Indian cabin and the dogs barking would announce their approach, while the occupants would stand in the door and gaze at them. Every other soldier carried a complete Spalding repair kit. The large tin [water] case (carrying about 11 gallons) was attached to the front of bicycles on a frame and strapped to the handle bars. The men wore the heavy marching uniform, and every other soldier was armed with a rifle and 30 rounds ammunition. The rifles were strapped horizontally on the top side of the side of the bicycles with the bolt on top. Those not so armed carried revolvers on belt with 30 cartridges.

Although arguably the experiment, and subsequent ones, were a success, Uncle Sam never got ‘round to mounting large numbers of troops on bicycles, such as was done by most European armies at various times.

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