Another one of those nagging memories from high school... I read it as a paperback in the 1990s or so. The protagonist is a human on a planet populated with ursine aliens. The bears are fairly primitive, no combustion engine or guns. I believe that the popular weapon among them were swords the size of our claymores. At one point, the human takes part in a contest that involves pulling a sledge full of logs across a finish line. I think he tries to use mechanical advantage (a pulley system?) to try to get an edge, but it fails close to the finish line, so he instead starts unloading the logs one by one to get them across the finish line in time. I believe he wins, and he's congratulated for his ingenuity and how he uses it to compensate for his weakness.
I want to say that the title was something like "Bearclaw", pretty sure it was a one-word title that had "Bear" in it. The cover looked like a painted illustration and had the human with one of the bears towering over him, but not in a threatening pose. I think the bear had a sword in his hand or strapped on his back.