History of The Original Iron Riders
The "Iron Riders" were a group of African American Buffalo Soldiers from the 25th Infantry division of the US Calvary. Made up of blacks from freed slaves states, they joined the army as an opportunity to advance themselves above a life of working the fields or other menial occupations given to blacks in a post - civil war era, especially in the south. Mostly illiterate and uneducated, they saw the Army as a way to earn a living, serve the nation that had freed them from bondage and perhaps gain some of the life, liberty and happiness that were supposedly the cornerstones of our nation. Although the army took some steps to educate the men, many of their stories will never be known due to the high rate of illiteracy amongst black soldiers. It is only through letters and accounts of their white officers that their impressive deeds are known. As soldiers, these men proved themselves to be very reliable, trustworthy and capable. The participated in many of the Indian conflicts throughout the west, protecting settlers in the western territories, chasing Mexican bandits, and intervening in cattle wars and labor strikes, just to name a few. Many were highly decorated and respected soldiers.
A group of these men from the 25th Infantry served in the newly formed state of Montana, stationed at Fort Missoula. In 1896 and 1897, under the command of young Lt. James Moss, a white officer who graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point, the men conducted exercises intended to prove the usefulness of the bicycle to the military as a complement or potential replacement for the horse. They made extensive trips throughout the region including one to Yellowstone Park in 1889 and an epic ride from Missoula to St. Louis, MO in 1897 - a distance of 1900 miles covered in just 39 days.
The Original CycloCross Riders
On the first day, they rode 54 miles in a rainstorm that turned the roads to mud. The second day, the rain continued but they rode more than 50 miles – often dismounting and walking. They experienced bad weather, rough roads, and mosquitos. Sometimes the soldiers tried to pedal over the railroad tracks and if the encountered a big body of water, they carried their bicycles on their shoulders. This time when they reached the Continental Divide, they faced blowing snow and freezing temperatures. Nevertheless, when they entered small, rural towns, the people were curious – some had never seen African American soldiers. They often received food, supplies, and places to stay. As they continued to travel east, the Bicycle Corps attracted larger crowds; people were interested in them and wanted to inspect their wheels. Often, they made the front page of local newspapers. Although a huge success, plans for future trips were abandoned as the US went to war with Spain. With the advent of a mechanized infantry on the horizon, the usefulness of the bicycle by the military was put into question and any future plans to test the bicycle permanently put on hold.
The Iron Riders represented an underrated and seemingly forgotten piece of American history by loyal, courageous, freedom loving individuals who, while rolling on the wheels of their mechanical steeds, were able to experience the freedom that we all see in our daily life and in our rides.
We honor their experiences and accomplishments and live by their motto...
"We Can, We Will...Together,