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Guns & Bicycles

On one Freewheeling ride some time back I was positioned in my usual spot – right off the back – and Hindoo had eased up to see if I was still there. We were chatting about jersey designs (it was that time of year) when an old pickup whose rusty bodywork seemed to be held together by NRA stickers blared past the group on the left. The truck’s occupants made derisive hand signs at us, and we, being old farts on bicycles, made impolite gestures back and verbally punctuated our contempt with various Anglo-Saxon anatomical, reproductive, and digestive terms.

This non-incident shifted the topic of our conversation a little, and Dave told me that he had always thought we needed to include the sublimated image of a holstered pistol emerging from one of the jersey pockets in our club design, less as a provocation than as a symbol of camaraderie with our fellow rural and suburban road users. That wasn’t exactly how he put it, but that was the gist. One or two riders overheard and piped up with suggestions for designs that included shoulder-holsters and bandoleros. Then the discussion petered out, and everybody got back to the business of dropping me as soon as possible.

But the whole sequence had me thinking, so I googled “guns and bicycles” when I got home, and little did I anticipate the education that was in store for me . . .

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The first true “boom” in bicycle manufacture (no pun intended) hit Europe and North America in the 1880s and '90s, when companies adept at machining and assembling precision interchangeable parts sought to expand their product lines from sewing machines, clocks, and firearms to include the latest consumer fad – bicycles. Firms such as Enfield, Iver Johnson, and BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) began cranking out “safety” bicycles in large numbers.

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But the relationship between firearms and bicycles wasn’t simply an accident of machine tooling. Once the ad men had had time to noodle on things, the natural affinity between one testosterone-fueled pastime and the other struck them like an epiphany. Certainly the need for pedal-powered speed on the one hand and the convenience of deadly force at one’s fingertips on the other represented, to some extent, separate markets, but the really clever Madison Avenue boys and their Euro counterparts quickly perceived that sweet spot of Venn-diagram overlap: in their minds, there just had to be a not inconsequential number of cyclists who wanted to pack heat. Thus were developed specialty arms for the cycling public.

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These weapons were recommended for the cycling enthusiast’s protection against dogs, the homeless, gypsies – really, any undesirable situation in which a loaded firearm represented an expeditious solution.

Once this bicycle/ballistics marriage was consummated, that other bastion of big ideas – the military – did what the military is frequently inclined to do: they thought backwards. Rather than supply cyclists with convenient weapons, military idea men around the world determined to supply their men-at-arms with wheels. Bicycle brigades became the tactical innovation of choice at the turn of the 20th century.

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You might be tempted to think that the idea of bicycle warfare was short-lived, but as cyclists, we of all people recognize the tenacity of a good (?) idea.

During WWII, Soviet cycle troops were issued dogs as well as bikes in an ingenious attempt to combat their pedaling German counterparts.

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Chinese units in the 1960s drilled in special ride-by rifle tactics. Note the extremely effective camouflage. And the flowers are a nice touch, no?

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And the Viet Cong were particularly skilled at modifying their ‘porteur’ machines to maximize their materiel-carrying capacity.

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Even our troops in Afghanistan saddle up when necessary, and you can buy one of their folding rigs online.

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And Swiss security efforts to keep everything on a gender-neutral track extend even to the order of bicycle battle – reservists on a weekend training ride:

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Rock your allegiance! . . . or not.

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The Violet Crown Sports Association
P. O. Box 6815
Austin, TX 78762