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Attend Bike Summit 23 For They Were Seeds: The Buried Legacy of Black Wheelwomen
From groundbreaking women in the sport like Kittie Knox, who paved the way for Black women cyclists, and Ayesha McGowan, who is the first Black female professional bike racer, to today’s Sheroes, who continue to create more spaces for Black women and girls to experience the joy of riding bikes: Black women have a long, rich history in American cycling worth recognizing and celebrating.
Keshia Roberson founded Major Knox Adventures (MKA), which provides affordable bike trip experiences, to honor the legacy of such pioneers and offer other women of color the chance to experience radical joy in the outdoors – a space where Black cyclists, especially Black women cyclists, are historically underrepresented.
MKA’s 1928 Legacy Tour challenges participants to embrace riding the great outdoors with 50-,100- or 130-mile bike rides spanning Baltimore to New York. The challenge follows the pedal strokes of five Black women: Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White, who in 1928 rode their bicycles from Harlem, New York, to Washington, DC, in three days.
We are excited to have Keshia join us for the 2023 National Bike Summit, where she will host They Were Seeds: The Buried Legacy of Black Wheelwomen. The presentation will explore the legacy of Black women cyclists and how their roots have inspired future generations of diverse riders. Bike advocates who attend the Summit in person in DC can be part of the conversation on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, from 9:30 am to 11:30 am.
We chatted with Keshia to learn a little more about MKA, the impact of the 1928 Legacy tour, and the motivation behind the upcoming Summit session.
Tell us more about when and where you got the idea to start Major Knox Adventures.
Despite Major Knox Adventures (MKA) promoting radical joy, it came from a place of frustration. Multiple factors inspired me to move forward with creating outdoor experiences that are affordable, inclusive, and honor history, empowering historically underrepresented communities to (re)claim our legacy in the outdoors.
When I first became interested in bikepacking and endurance cycling, I was a bit off-put that I could hardly find any people that looked like me, especially not anyone that could relate to my concerns as a Black woman. As a person passionate about Black history, I knew there had to be someone out there I could relate to. I started digging, and in my deep dive, I stumbled upon a blog post by Dr. Marya McQuirter for the National Museum of African American History and Culture about five women who completed an epic three-day 250-mile bike ride in 1928 – simply for pleasure. Knowing what I know about the conditions of that time, several barriers could have prevented this trip, but they did it anyway. I figured if they could do it, then I could too! I wasn’t going to let a lack of representation or potential threats stand in the way of fun possibilities.
At the same time, learning there was a legacy of Black women in cycling experiencing adventures did raise questions for me. Why don’t we know this legacy? Why doesn’t bicycling history acknowledge any early Black pioneers beyond Major Taylor and Kittie Knox? Why, in recent years, does the industry make it seem like it has decided to create space for Black riders when there’s a legacy that proves we’ve always been here?
The ideas for the 1928 Legacy Tour, and thus Major Knox Adventures, were born shortly after.
Is there any one story from a Legacy Tour participant that inspires you to continue encouraging more people to bike tour?
I have so many! Here’s how our tour participants describe what honoring the legacy of WOC on bicycles has meant to them:
“Being surrounded by a group of women of color accomplishing a physical feat most will never do was amazing. Learning about those who have paved the way and telling others about them is something I will continue to do” – Alissa, a 2021 Legacy Tour finisher
“MKA was exactly what I needed while navigating the pandemic & searching for a community. To be a part of a group of women – women of color beasting it on two wheels – was one of the best experiences I’ve had. To have overcome all the obstacles & challenges that were presented, and to not just finish, but finish gloriously. It was only the way women of color can do anything.” – Courtney, a 2021 Legacy Tour finisher
“The 1928 Legacy Tour was a dream. A year before I participated in the 2022 tour, I had gotten on a road bike for the first time and, due to a bad experience, declared, ‘I will never attempt this again.’ So to have participated in this beautiful expedition, filled with laughter, discipline, and camaraderie…it was but a dream.” – Mili, a 2022 Legacy Tour finisher and 2023 Legacy Tour rider
Great work has been done to pave the way for a more inclusive, safer bicycling community. In your opinion, what barriers persist?
Two of the most significant barriers to a more inclusive, safer bicycling community are related to safety and accessibility.
Every year far too many people are injured, or worse, riding their bikes due to poor bicycle infrastructure, an “us versus them” mentality from motorists and flimsy laws to protect cyclists. It can be intimidating riding in many areas because these concerns can turn what was intended to be a joy ride or commute into a tragic, life-altering experience. In some cities, bike lanes are being added to poorly conditioned roadways, forcing many of us to decide if it’s better to ride in poorly designed designated spaces or move to the roadway where motorists are upset that we are not using the designated spaces. I have also found that many motorists are clueless regarding local bicycle laws, which I have seen create major issues for riders. If people don’t feel comfortable knowing they can be safe engaging in an activity, especially one unfamiliar to them, they won’t engage.
Poor bicycle infrastructure is not only a safety concern but an accessibility issue. Data has shown there is often a disparity between neighborhoods, revealing infrastructure conditions in Black neighborhoods tend to be poorer than in white neighborhoods. On the other hand, residents feel suspicious when infrastructure is improved because, far too often, these improvements have appeared less like a consideration for the local community and more like a sign that an unwelcome shift is looming.
What can in-person attendees look forward to learning during They Were Seeds: The Buried Legacy of Black Wheelwomen?
History is the lens that shows where we’ve been while revealing where we are and expanding our view of where we can be. They Were Seeds: The Buried Legacy of Black Wheelwomen shares the long rich history that has paved the way for cyclists today. The session will introduce attendees to new early Black wheelwomen to celebrate, offer a look into factors that have contributed to this buried legacy, and how the stories of our early pioneers will continue to diversify the future of bicycle riding. It’s easier to know what you can be once you know where we’ve been. It’s an ode to the Black bike pioneers we know and those we have yet to meet.