The Great Bicycle Experiment: The Army’s Historic Black Bicycle Corps, 1896–97, by Kay Moore, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Mont., 2012, $12
Bicycles have long appealed to American children, but not so much to American soldiers. The late 19th-century U.S. Army experiment detailed (enough to hold the interest of most bicycle-loving kids, anyway) in this 86-page juvenile nonfiction book was technically never realized. We never did see Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill on two-wheelers during the Spanish-American War. And in World War I none of the early all-terrain fighting vehicles were armored bikes.
But the concept was certainly no joke. Lieutenant James Moss, stationed at Fort Missoula, had the idea to utilize bicycles instead of horses to transport soldiers overland—not for peddle-and-shoot attacks on the enemy. Unlike horses, bikes did not need food, water or rest and did not get spooked and run away. The story of the arguably great experiment has natural appeal to children (particularly any young Lance Armstrongs out there), as it features a “Tour de Frontier” peddling trek by buffalo soldiers from Fort Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis. Author Moore relates the story in an easy-to-read style with plenty of exceptional historic photographs. The story should also appeal to parents and teachers, since it is legitimate American frontier history that is fairly gripping even though nobody gets shot or massacred. Heck, it’s even appealing to aging magazine editors and hopefully to readers of Wild West, seeing as an article on the same subject graces this issue. Read the article and then buy the book for the youngsters in your life—or for yourself. We won’t tell.