We delve into the story of the little-known 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, an all-black group of badass bikers who crossed 1,900 miles of the American frontier in service to the country.
In June of 1897, the all-black company of the 25th Mobile Infantry, under command of a white lieutenant and accompanied by a medic and a journalist, embarked on a journey across America’s heartland — from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri — to “test most thoroughly the bicycle as a means of transportation for troops.”
Their trek would span 41 days and 1,900 miles and pit the men against sandhills, the Rocky Mountains, rain, snow, poison, and more. Decades before Dr. King had his famous dream, these men were sweating together, bleeding together, and biking together as a team.
Their trip proved two truths that we should hold self-evident today: 1) All men are created equal; 2) All men are nowhere near as tough as they were in 1897.
Gears Weren’t Invented Yet
Few people can grasp the physical anguish of traveling nearly 2,000 miles on a bike, save the few elite riders who train a lifetime to ride professional events like the Tour de France. The Tour did not exist in 1897 and neither did gears (the closest thing to blood doping was baking soda).
Not only were the men of the 25th infantry not elite riders, some of them had never so much as ridden a bike (not too surprising considering the bicycle chain had just been invented). Even still, each man pedaled or pushed his bike every inch of the 1,900 miles and did so without “granny gears.”
The Spalding Army Special Bicycle was Insanely Heavy
Making any 2,000-mile trip by bicycle is impressive. The feat becomes superhuman if that bike weighs 55 pounds, which is exactly what the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 25th were working with. The bike was 35 pounds of pure steel (the wheels alone were six pounds), add on the Civil War-era tents, poles, change of clothes, toiletries, cooking and eating utensils, spare parts, rifle and ammunition each man had to carry, and you’ve essentially got a rolling anvil. What’s more, the troop several times had to push these behemoths up the Continental Divide and carry them across rivers.
The Roads Were So Bad They Rode on Train Tracks
As bad as you may think the roads are today, they are an endless stretch of undisturbed memory foam compared to the ass-shattering wagon tracks that passed for interstates in 1897. The rocky, rutted mud paths were so bad, in fact, that the men often opted to brave the predictable agony of riding along the railroad tracks instead.
Even more ludicrous, many of the Burlington and Northern Pacific railways in the west were newly constructed, and oftentimes they lacked any ballast or gravel, meaning between railroad