The Original BikePeopleDem. A History of Cycling While Black from the 1800s Until Today.

There is an incredibly rich and fascinating history of black people and the sport of cycling in the Americas. When cycling emerged as a new form of exercise and recreation in the mid to late 1800s, it offered a new type of freedom and accessibility to transportation that didn't need to be fed and watered. (no horse required) 

In those early days, overt and systemic racism discouraged and prevented black people from riding, competing and in some cases even owning a bicycle.  Cycling was reserved exclusively for the white, the rich and the privileged. However, there were some trail blazers who were enamored with bikes and the sport of cycling. They fought and proved themselves worthy of the sport.

They fought for inclusion and won! These were the original BikePeopleDem. Here are a few of their stories.

  • 1894 - The League of American Wheelmen

    In 1894 The League of American Wheelmen barred African Americans from membership. The move effectively prohibited Blacks from participating in most bicycle races in the United States.  Ironically the League represented a community of cyclists advocating for safer roads, stronger communities and a Bicycle Friendly America - But not for African Americans. This regulation was officially revoked about a hundred years later in June of 1999 by Earl F. Jones - a former League president, African American attorney and bicycle advocate.

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  • 1893 - Katherine T. (Kittie) Knox

    Katherine T. Knox established the Riverside Cycling Club as the first black cycling group.  She also pushed the boundaries of women’s dress winning a July 4th costume contest at the Waltham Cycle Park in Boston — clad in a grey knickerbocker suit - ideally suited for cycling. Knickerbockers were typical men’s and boy’s baggy trousers. This was quite astounding, and a testament to her seamstress skills, given the hostility in some quarters against women of the time wearing anything but skirts – and long skirts at that. In 1895 Kittie a 21 year old bi-racial seamstress became a card carrying member of the League of American Wheelmen and sparked newspaper headlines from coast to coast when she dared to challenge the new “colour bar” instituted by the League one year earlier at their annual meeting. She was a major force in civil rights, women’s rights, women’s fashion and the women’s suffrage movement in America.

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  • 1897 - 25th Infantry Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers

    An all-black group of riders crossed 1,900 miles over 41 days starting in June 1897 from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis Missouri ! This included going up and over the Rocky Mountains. The were the first to try bicycles in the context of military operations and were tasked, “ to test most thoroughly the bicycle as means of transportation for troops.”

    This expedition proved the following:

    1. All men are created equal;
    2. All men are nowhere near as tough as they were in 1897

    Gears ?  What Gears ? They weren’t invented yet.  The bicycle chain was only recently patented in 1880. Carbon fiber wasn’t even imagined, the Spalding Army 

    Special Bicycle they rode weighed 35 pounds of pure steel and each of the Buffalo Soldiers also had to strap on Civil War-era tents, poles, change of clothes, toiletries, cooking and eating utensils, spare parts, rifle and ammunition. These bikes had to be pedaled, pushed and carried over rivers for every inch of the 1,900 miles. Mercifully, the army arranged supply points at 100-mile intervals as the men only had the capacity to carry 2 days worth of rations.

    When they had roads to travel on, they were often so bad that some opted to ride along railroad tracks.

    It rained 10 days in the first two weeks and snowed in June. The men rode for 10 or more hours a day at an average speed of 6.5 mph or 10.5 km/h.

    These athletes had only two days rest in six weeks and 9 months after they went to war in 1898 when the U.S. declared war against Spain over the mysterious sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. The next time you tell you feel that the ride is too long or the hill is too steep to climb, remember the Buffalo soldiers in 1897 and don’t give up the fight !

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  • 1899 - Isaac R. Johnson

    Isaac R. Johnson was born in New York sometime during 1812. While he was not the first person to invent the bicycle frame,he was the first African American to invent and patent the bicycle frame, especially a frame which could be folded or taken apart for easy storage.

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  • 1899 - Marshall “Major” Taylor

    To see Marshall “Major” Taylor, thousands of fans packed indoor sports arenas called velodromes to watch his high-speed races. Taylor won thousands of dollars as a bicycle racer and became the most famous African-American in the United States. He was a record-breaking world champion cyclist in 1898, and 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 Dison in 1890). For you Zwifters out there, in 1899, Major Taylor rode one mile on a trainer in 43 seconds, at a speed of roughly 82 miles per hour !


    • Born in Indianapolis in 1878
    • At 13, wins first road race
    • At 16, wins a road race in Indianapolis in horrible weather conditions, is the only rider to finish
    • At 17, breaks current world mile record by over eight seconds
    • At 18 (1896) begins his professional career at a six-day race at Madison Square Garden in New York and finishes in the top 10
    • In 1898, sets the fastest mile world record, beating an international champion and skyrockets to fame
    • In 1899, Major Taylor rides one mile on a trainer in 43 seconds, at a speed of roughly 82 miles per hour
    • In 1901, he travels to race in France and finds success among the best of the best in Europe, winning 18 of his 24 races, including a world championship sprint title
    • Retires from professional racing in 1932

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  • 1899 - Jerry M. Certain

    Jerry M. Certain, an African American invented and filed a patent in 1899 for panniers.

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  • 1928 - 3 Days, 5 Black Women, 250 Miles on Bicycles

    Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White biked from New York City to Washington D.C in 1928. The biked 110 miles on the first day to Philadelphia. The second day, 40 miles to Wilmington, Delaware and the third and final day they biked more than 100 miles to Washington D.C. When asked why they did it, they said they were motivated by their  “love for the great-out-of-doors”that each of them cherished.  They also challenged other young women, 21 years old and older, to replicate their trip in less time.

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  • 1980 & 1984 - James Joseph

    James Joseph, a Guyanese cyclist who competed at the 1980 and 1984 Summer Olympics and set the 200m Flying Start world record at the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Masters Championship in 2017.

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  • 1984 - Nelson "Cheetah" Vails

    1984 - Nelson “Cheetah” Vails became the first African American cyclist to win an Olympic medal. (Silver)

    Nelson Beasley Vails (born October 13, 1960) is a retired road and track cyclist from the United States. He rode as a professional from 1988 to 1995 representing the USA at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, where he won the silver medal in the sprint. He was inducted to the US Bicycle Hall of Fame in 2009.

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  • 1999 - Earl F. Jones

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

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  • 2011 - Yohanne Gene

    For the first time in its 108 year history, in 2011, the Tour de France had its first black rider, Yohanne Gene a Guadeloupe native.  He was 31 years of age and had been training and riding in minor tours for 14 years.  He then rode the Tour de France from 2011-2017, with his best finish being 128th place in 2014.

  • 2018 Justin Williams and Cory Williams

    Brothers Justin Williams and Cory Williams dominated the world of sprint cycling and founded the L39ION of Los Angeles bike team, a pro cycling team dedicated to increasing diversity, encouraging inclusion, and giving supporters access to their favorite athletes.

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  • 2018 Ayesha McGowan

    Ayesha Mcgowan became the first-ever African American woman to be a professional cyclist. She started her journey several years ago with the goal of becoming the United States’ first Black professional woman cyclist. After years of moving steadily up in the cycling rankings, in 2021, she officially joined LIV Cycling’s WorldTour team as a satellite rider. Most recently, she headed to her first European stage race, the seven-day Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche, where she took a seventh place finish on stage 6.

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  • 2020 - BikePeopleDem

    The BikePeopleDem brand emerged during the summer of 2020 in the early days of COVID-19 Pandemic and lockdowns in and around Toronto, Canada.

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