Biking in Bosnia
From Baden-Powell, What Scouts Can Do: More Yarns, 1921.

There is a motto which says, "Be good and you will be happy" — my version of it is, "Be good-humored and you’ll be happy." And I want every Scout to be happy, and one of the best ways I know of being happy is to go for a good bike ride. Let me tell you about my biking experiences in Bosnia.


As you know, Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia. It was here that the Great War originated, because the Crown Prince of Austria was assassinated in the city, and the Austrian Government accused the Serbs of having planned and carried out the murder; and thus the row began.

Now, perhaps you have forgotten where Bosnia is. It is the bit of country lying south-west of Serbia on the east coast of the Adriatic, adjoining Herzegovina. It is a beautiful, mountainous country with a remarkable history and a quaint mixture of people inhabiting it. They include almost every religion under the sun —Moslem and Greek, Catholic and Jew, etc.


Well, I was in Sarajevo a very long time ago—so long that when I rode there on my bike it was the first that had been seen in those parts with pneumatic tires.

There had been a boneshaker or two before, but never a fat, rubber-tired one, so I was a bit of a hero before I got there.

I had gone by steamer to Metkovitch, an old pirate lair among considerable marshes on the coast. Then I rode by the mountain gorges up to Mostar. This was a quaint little town on either side of a river rushing through a deep ravine, the bridge across which had been actually built and used by the Romans, and it still continues to carry the traffic of the town over its quaint old humped back.

When I visited it the country was ruled by the Austrians so that the main roads which they had made for moving their troops about were excellent for biking upon, and the post offices, inns etc., were largely run by German-speaking people. So altogether it was not so difficult a country to travel in as one might have expected. But it was very primitive.


For instance, all the boats on the rivers were mere dug-outs hollowed out of the trunks of trees. Then the people had a simple way of running their water-mills, and this was by anchoring a barge out in the middle of the stream with a water-wheel attached to it which ground the corn in the hold of the vessel.

The country people were a wild, picturesque lot; and they interested me greatly, but not nearly so much as my bike and I interested them.

I remember coasting down a hill on one occasion just after sunset, and as I whizzed past an old Lady on the road she gave a shriek and hurled herself down the bank, thinking she had seen some form of a devil flying by.

On another occasion, riding along the face of a mountain, I met a wagon-load of farmers going to the fair. The horses, having never seen a bike before, at once made up their minds to go home, and swung round with the intention of doing so, which would have capsized the wagon and its contents over the cliff. Fortunately I jumped off and hid my bike, while the terrified men got their horses’ heads turned the right way again and dragged them past the dreaded monster that I had been riding.


It was a most enjoyable and novel journey altogether. I cannot here go into all the little adventures that I met with in that country, but I must confess that in the end I was beaten by my own machine.

In those days a puncture was a disaster. Patching material, etc., was very primitive, and I got a bad puncture towards the end of my journey. Fortunately I was near the railway and able to finish my trip by train till I got to Agram, the capital of Croatia, where I put the machine into the hands of an old cycle dealer, and it took him the whole day to effect the repair.

In the meantime a deputation of the Agram Shooting Club paid me a visit and offered me a formal welcome after my "wonderful journey," and invited me to a banquet and reception, which decided me to leave the place the very next morning.

It is amusing to look back now and think that half the population of that country are probably riding to and from their work on wheels and to feel that one was once a hero for doing it.

But on the whole, in spite of motors and airplanes, a bicycle is one of the best means of getting about that exists, and every Scout ought to make it his aim to save up his money and be the possessor of a bicycle, so that he can move about where he wants to go with ease and comfort, and also, as a Scout, he can thus be of service to his country for dispatch-riding when necessary.

It has been pointed out that while B-P credits the Mostar Bridge to the Romans, the stone bridge was actually built in much later times by the Turks.

"Mostar is a town Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is in the mountains along the Neretva River. Mostar was a Turkish garrison in the 16th century. In 1566 the Turks replaced the town’s wooden suspension bridge over the Neretva with a stone arch one, hence the name Mostar (Serbo-Croatian: Stari Most, "Old Bridge"). This stone bridge had a single arch 90 feet wide and was a masterpiece of Ottoman engineering. In November 1993, during the Bosnian civil war, the bridge was destroyed by artillery fire from Bosnian Croat forces." (adapted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 1996)

Edin Kapic commented (in March, 2001):

There are records and remains of Roman settlements and villas near Mostar. Within 10-15 km there was a fort (castrum romanum). The whole area belonged to the Roman province of Illyricum. The most probably is that Neretva river was bridged, not by stone but by chain suspended bridge. Nevertheless, the nearby river of Buna was bridged by a Roman stone bridge, the remains of which can be seen today.

Mostar was indeed founded in the mid-1400’s, by the medieval Bosnians, but it was soon conquered by the Turks (around 1470-80). Firstly, there was a wooden bridge, replaced by the stone one in 1566.

Baden-Powell, Baden-Powell: What Scouts Can Do–More Yarns, 1921

From Chapter VII: "Stalking and the Scout’s Staff"
From Chapter VII: "The Swastika"
From Chapter VIII: "Biking in Bosnia"
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Last Modified: 10:30 PM on June 30, 1997