Bicycle wars - the newest arms race

An Associated Press story reports that Swiss soldiers are to be supplied with new bicycles by the year 2000 to replace the 80,000 ancient models still in use, dating back to a prototype from 1905. Hugo Wermelinger, a spokesman for the Armament Services Group of the Swiss Defense Ministry, explained that it has become difficult and expensive to obtain spare parts for the older machines. A HIGH Pentagon source, known only as ``Deep Spokes,'' has leaked a memo from the deputy to the assistant of Caspar Weinberger himself, dealing with what has become classified under the top-secret code name ``Pedal Wars.'' To: General Dynamics

From: The Office of the Secretary of Defense

Re: Introductory scenario to ``Pedal Wars''

Counterintelligence has uncovered a secret plan by the Swiss to dominate the bicycle-armaments race in the 21st century. From the White House down, we are agreed that we must close the window of vulnerability to bicycles - as to any other threat - no matter what the cost. The Defense Department is prepared to go before the Armed Services Committee and make a request - in the most urgent terms its Secretary can state - for an emergency budget increase for fiscal 1987 to cover this new contingency. But first we must have rough specifications for a vehicle to counter Switzerland's act of aggression.

With this in view, we are submitting to you, as a potential contractor, the following guideline questions:

1.What kind of weaponry - presumably but not necessarily non-nuclear - is a state-of-the-art bicycle capable of carrying and firing?

2.Would we need to develop several prototypes - for example, one for reconnaisance duties and one to serve in a search-and-destroy bicycle strike force?

3.How should we figure the trade-off between speed and stability, keeping in mind the ``humiliation factor'' for a male adult in uniform, falling off a bicycle? Would the stabilizing addition of an auxiliary third wheel, with its implication of a tricycle, only add to that humiliation factor?

4.What size tires would strike a reasonable all-terrain compromise?

5.By the same token, do we go for more than 15 speeds in the gearbox? In view of the present threat, should the machine have Alps-capability?

6.In order to compete against a powerful and ruthlessly resolved enemy, do we need running lights? Carrier cases? Canteen holders on the handlebars? Fine-tuning questions, but the sort that make or break a weapons system.

7.Allowing for the long hours a soldier must put on duty, can we come up with some comfort options in the refinement of saddles? Possibly a sheepskin cover? Or is there a ``water saddle'' corresponding to the water mattress, already a popular concept with most soldiers?

8.Since it is easier to sell a defensive system than an offensive system, is there any way - perhaps through lasers - that we can promote our bicycle as a ``shield on wheels''?

As you consider these strategic questions, please keep in mind that we will be working to establish the Bicycle Corps as one of the elite divisions of the Armed Forces.

To this end, the prototype machine must have panache. Would it be feasible for a bicycle to perform wheelies without impairing its military efficiency? Do not rule out gold striping. If we can give the Bicycle Corps a certain flair and dash, we see no reason why we can't recruit an officer cadre from among the yuppies, who, our research indicates, make up the preferred market among civilian cyclists.

Our target date for parity with the Swiss is 1995. Let's be ahead of time! Do we have to remind ourselves that we have suffered one defeat already from enemy bicyclists? - the caravan of two-wheelers on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

And do we have to remind you again, after all these years, that when national security is at stake, money is no object?

Pentagon Purchasing,

Bicycle Division

A Wednesday and Friday column

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