A Look at Black History in Cycling

January 25, 2022 • Transportation

In honor of Black History Month, we’re bringing you advocates, movements, and moments that changed cycling for Black people across the U.S. Although we, as a culture, have made strides to improve diversity and inclusion in the wide world of cycling, it’s critical to remember that we still have many miles to pedal before achieving true equality.

African American Cycling History - A Timeline

1896: The 25th Infantry Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers were one of four regiments of Black soldiers enacted by Congress in 1866 and led by white officers. And members of the 25th were the first to try bicycles in the context of military operations.

In the summer of 1896, a small group rode bikes loaded with gear on a 126-mile round-trip. That initial trip was followed by a 23-day, 800-mile bicycle ride from Fort Missoula to Yellowstone National Park and back. The year after, the 25th makes an impressive trek from Missoula to St. Louis, about 1,900 miles.

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1894: The League of American Wheelmen (the prototypical League of American Bicyclists) barred African Americans from membership. The move effectively prohibited Blacks from participating in most bicycle races in the United States.

BIKING’S PROBLEMATIC BEGINNINGS

1895: Katherine “Kittie” Knox challenged the League’s ban on Black members by refusing to renounce her membership.

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1899: Major Taylor, a record-breaking world champion cyclist, won the 1-mile sprint event at the world track championships, becoming the first African American “cycling world champion” and the second Black athlete to win a world championship in any sport (following Canadian boxer George Dixon in1890).

WATCH THE MAJOR TAYLOR STORY

1899: Jerry M. Certain invented panniers!

CHECK IT OUT

1928: Inspired by their “love of the great outdoors,” five black women embarked on an incredible adventure from New York to D.C. on their bikes.

HERE’S THE FULL STORY

1970s: Two Black cycling groups – the Red Caps and L&M – formed in NYC in the mid- to late- 1970s. This was the first time that predominantly Black cycling groups rode regularly.

1984: Nelson Vails became the first African American cyclist to win an Olympic medal.

1999: More than 100 years later, The League of American Bicyclists (formerly the League of American Wheelman) officially repealed the ban on African American membership. The legacy of Kittie Knox and many other activists was finally realized.

READ THE FULL RESOLUTION

2007: An Oakland-based collective of Black urban cyclists formed Ride, Bike, And Green Community Collective to focus on health, economics, and the environment.

2012: Binky Brown founded Hard Knox Bike Shop, in Oakland, CA, specializing in serving people of color and other marginalized communities.

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2013: Founded by Monica Garrison, Black Girls Do Bike caters to a global community of women and girls of color who share a passion for cycling.

2016: Courtney Williams founded bicycle advocacy firm Brown Bike Girl to encourage Black and Brown folks to ride bikes and educate the community on what it means to have true equality. Williams also leads workshops for white cyclists striving to be better allies to BIPOC riders and communities.

2018: Justin Williams dominated the world of sprint cycling and co-founded the Legion of Los Angeles bike team, a pro cycling team dedicated to increasing diversity, encouraging inclusion, and giving supporters access to their favorite athletes.

2018: Ayesha Mcgowan becomes the first-ever African American woman to be a professional cyclist.

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2020:

2021: Brothers Justin and Corey Williams founded L39ION (pronounced “legion”), a professional cycling team that “doesn’t force riders to conform to white norms.”

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We encourage staying curious beyond Black History Month. This is not a complete list of all the Black cyclist contributions or injustices faced by African American cyclists throughout the history of our country. Please email us at SRPGObikes@Stanford.edu with anything relevant you uncover that honors Black History in cycling.


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