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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.

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "Bearclaw" or "Bearclaw". – Mr Lister Oct 20 '15 at 13:10
  • I knew which book you were talking about just from reading the question title. I always liked those books. – Donald.McLean Oct 20 '15 at 13:29
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When Mr. Lister asked me about the title above, it reminded me of exactly what I was thinking of. Spacepaw by Gordon R. Dickson.

Bill Waltham has a sneaking suspicion that a few important details were purposely withheld from him when he receives his assignment to the planet Dilbia. At first, the project - to teach the planet's bearlike inhabitants the basic agricultural skills - seems a straightforward, though boring, undertaking for a young engineer on the rise.

But Bill immediately senses a very keen hostility from the Dilbians toward interfering humans. And in trying to solve a major crisis on the planet, he finds himself involved in a knock-down, drag-out brawl that has all the undertones of a David-and-Goliath battle revisited.

And it looks like I was wrong about the bear being non-threatening...
enter image description here

Unless I was thinking of this one...
enter image description here

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    And apparently this is part of a series, occasionally collected as The Right to Arm Bears. I'll have to look those up. – FuzzyBoots Oct 20 '15 at 13:20
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    ...yet another thing I didn't know how badly I needed in my life. – MikeTheLiar Oct 20 '15 at 16:56
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    @SeanDuggan Why do I have a feeling the entire series is an excuse to make that pun? That's something a sci-fi writer would do. – corsiKa Oct 20 '15 at 19:04
  • McCaffery did a similar joke in The City Who Fought, I remember, with an offhand line about the Ursinoids and how they believed it was their right to arm bears. – FuzzyBoots Oct 20 '15 at 19:51

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