Black (Bike) History Month: An Army of Bikes
In 1896, the US military gathered a small group of soldiers to test a new military mode of transportation — the bicycle.
With a claim that “unlike a horse, a bike did not need to be fed and watered and rested, and would be less likely to collapse,” — they clearly never met my bike — the army selected a regiment to test the utility of the bicycle in service. Their choice for the job? The 25th Infantry Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo Soldiers were African American soldiers who fought in segregated units after the Civil War. The newly formed bicycle unit consisted of eight enlisted men and their white commander, Lieutenant James A. Moss. The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps at Fort Missoula, Mont. — or “Iron Riders” as they were known — rode 1,900 miles to St. Louis on brand new Spalding single gear bicycles, attracting great attention where ever they stopped and even their own riding press detail. After the test trip, Lt. Moss noted that, while the bike mounted soldiers may not replace the mounted cavalry, the bicycle corps would best serve as adjuncts to both cavalry and infantry.
While the Iron Riders were disbanded shortly after returning to Missoula, they continue to be a great symbol for the utility of the bicycle on almost any terrain and the innovation and bravery of Black Soldiers in the U.S. Army.
On this first day of Black History Month, we salute the Fort Missoula 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. Want to find out more about the Iron Riders? Click here.
And take a gander at this PBS documentary on their epic 1,900 mile journey. (Bonus: There’s even a mention of some cycling organization called the League of American Wheelmen working to make roads better for cycling.)