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 that 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 from Missoula, MT to St. Louis Missouri. The Iron Riders rode 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 US Army.
We salute the Fort Missoula The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps this Black History month.
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. Glad we don’t need them anymore.)
Equity and Outreach Fellow
Hamzat joined the League in September 2012 after working with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. Before working in biking, Hamzat worked with Martin Luther King Jr.’s son as a Program Associate at The King Center in Atlanta. A founder of the Red, Bike and Green chapter in Atlanta, Hamzat sees biking as a hub for change on the communal level.