June 2, 2022
The Iron Riders
June means Juneteenth. And here’s our fact finder to help celebrate.
What were the Iron Riders?
A. People who rode early, heavy-as-iron bikes made out of solid iron rod (instead of wood) because steel tubing hadn’t been invented yet.
B. An early fad involving taking extra iron pills in pre-war Europe.
C. A US Army experiment involving bicycles.
D. That French guy who ground down an entire bicycle and ate it (true story), launching yet ANOTHER Iron Fad in pre-war Europe.
Read on for the answer…
June 2022 is the 125th anniversary of the Iron Riders (with props to Adventure Cycling for the reminder), and Bike New York’s Education Director and history aficionado, Rich Conroy, has you covered!
The Iron Riders were the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, a group of African American Army soldiers who, in 1897, rode basic and VERY HEAVY single-speed bicycles, with their military equipment, from Ft. Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri — a trip of over 1,600 miles! The ride happened during the rise of Jim Crow segregation laws, outlawing African-American participation in basic American life on equal citizenship terms. The territories they crossed were all new states, mostly without any roads: Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska…lots and lots of Nebraska…Kansas and Missouri. It was cross-country cycling before there was cross-country cycling and gravel riding when there were no gravel roads! It was a huge feat of human endurance and ingenuity, and over 1,000 bicyclists paraded with them on their entry to St. Louis. At the time, the US Army regarded the test as highly successful. The unit crossed the territory far faster than a horse cavalry unit would have, at far less cost and delay.
Where can you find more information about their amazing feat? At our Virtual Bicycle Education Hub, where you can dig into amazing Niels Sorensen history for riveting reading, or the Montana Public Television documentary celebrating their feat.