Black People in Bicycling
We’re thankful for the contributions of Black bicyclists that make bicycling a better activity for all.
It’s February. It’s Black History Month. And it’s the perfect time to share some little-known facts about African American contributions to bicycling.
If you have ever ridden or purchased a folding bike, you can thank Isaac R. Johnson for the ability to fold it. He is the first African American to invent and patent the bicycle frame. The frame he invented was able to be taken apart for storage in a small space or for travel. Johnson’s model is very similar to the frame we use today.
If you shop via bike or carry things to work in a saddle bag or pannier, you can thank African American Jerry Certain. In 1899, he created the first bicycle parcel carriers, designed to carry items via bike. Today we call these parcel carriers or panniers, and they are designed in a variety of styles and sizes for the various needs of people riding bikes.
No doubt you have heard (and bobbed your head to) Bob Marley’s song Buffalo Soldier and sung the “ Yoy Yoy Yoy” part even though you don’t know the rest of the words. However, this is more than just a great reggae song. It tells the story of the 25th infantry United States Army Bicycle Corps after the Civil War. The Comanche named them Buffalo soldiers after the animal they revered so much because they were impressed with their toughness in battle. These soldiers helped capture cattle thieves, protected mail, and built roads all while enduring discrimination and having inadequate supplies.
The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked with testing if bicycles could replace horses in the military—which would represent huge cost savings since bicycles didn’t need to be fed like horses. Their biggest challenge on their bicycles was to ride from Ft. Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. Many of the men didn’t know how to ride a bike, the bikes didn’t have gears (they hadn’t been invented yet), and their bicycles weighed 59 pounds without gear! Despite these challenges they rode the 1900-mile trip across uneven terrain in 41 days. Next time you think about how difficult your commute is, remember the Buffalo Soldiers and their 1900-mile trek across hilly, dangerous terrain on their heavy, single gear bicycles.
Make Your Mark
We’re thankful for all their contributions that make bicycling a better activity for all.
Make your own contribution to bicycling locally by volunteering with BikeArlington. Volunteers serve as ride marshals, conduct outreach, and spread the bike joy everywhere they go!