By Norris Chambers

             For quite a while Clifton and I had talked about putting a sail on a bicycle and riding with the wind. This would be an easy way to go but we had not given any thought to coming back. I guess we had forgotten that the wind is always blowing against the bicycle rider.

            We found some half inch pipe and fastened two cross pieces on a mast about six feet long. We mounted this to the two frame bars between the seat and the handle bars and tied a canvas sail from an old wagon sheet from one bar to the other. The sail bike was ready for a test.

            It was a half mile from the north side of the field to the house and there was a nice breeze blowing from the north. This would be the ideal test place. We would take the bike to the north fence and ride it a half mile to the house. We soon found that we could not push the sail against the wind and were forced to remove it until we got ready for the test run.

            After struggling against the wind we eventually arrived and installed our sail for the big test. After some discussion we decided to flip a coin for the chance to take the first ride. Neither of us had a coin so we flipped a knife with a damaged handle on one side for the golden opportunity. Clifton won the toss with the bad handle and we prepared for the experiment.

            It wasn’t very easy to get the sail upright in the stiff breeze, but we managed to turn the bicycle with the edge of the sail facing north and got it in position. Clifton mounted the bicycle and prepared to head south with the wind behind him.

            “I see one thing we have to do,” he explained before starting. “We have to fix the sail so we can lower it, raise it or turn it out of the wind.” That seemed reasonable so I agreed with him and he began his test.

            “The road’s pretty smooth all the way to the house,” I told him. “But be careful at that ditch down at the levee.” I thought that was good advice because there was a ditch about a foot deep where the water from the levee crossed the road. With each rain the ditch got a little deeper and we had to keep filling it in to get plows and the wagon across it.

            “I’ll keep it slow when I get down there,” he assured me. We carefully turned the bike around. Clifton was holding the brake with his foot. I released my grip and he took the pressure off the brake. The bicycle immediately took off without any pedaling.

            “Free power!” Clifton yelled as the vehicle quickly picked up speed. I started running behind but I soon found it difficult to maintain the required pace.

            “Slow down!” I yelled. “I can’t keep up.”  I could see that he was trying to slow down because the back wheel was sliding as he pressed the brake. The sliding wheel didn’t seem to slow the bike. The sail was applying too much power. As the distance between us became greater I thought I heard him saying the brake didn’t work.      

            I was probably a hundred feet behind when the bike came to the ditch. When the front wheel of the bicycle fell into the ditch I saw Clifton and the sail go forward and the rear wheel rise from the road and follow them to the other side of the ditch. It was a very graceful somersault!

            When I arrived at the scene of the mishap Clifton was crawling out of the mess and looking it over.

            “What happened?” I asked. That was a foolish question because it was obvious what had occurred.

            “I couldn’t slow it down. The wind was too strong.”  He wasn’t injured but the sail bike didn’t fare quite as well. The pipe mast that we had welded to the bars was badly bent and one of the arms that held the sail was also out of shape. The bicycle frame and wheels seemed to be all right. No serious damage was observed.

            “It needs a lot of changing,” Clifton continued. “We need some way to control the sail so we can change the speed.” I agreed and suggested that we drag it to the shop and do a little serious thinking.

            By the time we were ready for serious thinking we had decided on another project and the wind powered bicycle was just another of our experiments that didn’t quite meet our expectations.

            But we did have some FUN – actually, I had more fun than Clifton did.