Interactions between adhesion molecules on two different cells differ from interactions between receptors and soluble ligands in that the adhesion molecule interaction (bond) is often subjected to force. It is widely assumed by cell biologists that the 'strength' of a bond is a simple function of the affinity of one adhesion molecule for the other, whereas biophysicists suggest that bonds have 'mechanical properties' that affect their strength. Mechanical properties are a function of the shape of the energy landscape related to bond formation and dissociation, whereas affinity is related only to the net energy change. Mechanical properties determine the amount by which the kinetics and affinity of bonds are altered by applied force. To date there has been no experimental manipulation of an adhesion molecule that has been shown to affect mechanical properties. L-selectin is an adhesion molecule that mediates lymphocyte binding to, and rolling on, high endothelial venules; these are prerequisites for the emigration of lymphocytes from the bloodstream into lymph nodes. Here we report a selective and reversible chemical modification of a mucin-like ligand that alters the mechanical properties of its bond with L-selectin. The effect of force on the rate of bond dissociation, that is, on a mechanical property, is altered, whereas there is little or no effect of the modification on the rate of bond dissociation in the absence of force. Moreover, the puzzling requirement for hydrodynamic shear flow above a threshold level for L-selectin interactions is dramatically altered.