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The Bicycle Corps Cover The Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army on Wheels

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

In 1897, 22 soldiers of the 25th U.S. Infantry biked 1,900 miles from Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis to test the feasibility of using bicycles in the army.

The rugged trip took half as long as it would have on horseback and cost one-third as much. Nonetheless, the groundbreaking ride was quickly forgotten as the army embraced motorized vehicles during the ensuing decades.

Relying on archival photographs, maps, journals and other documents, The Bicycle Corps tells the story of this remarkable journey. Because a newspaper reporter rode with them and the troop was feted as it crossed the country, enough records exist to make a rich albeit dry TV documentary.

Amazingly, the soldiers, who happened to be African American, road one-speed bikes, each of which weighed about 65 pounds loaded. The journey took 41 days, but only 35 riding days, for an average of 54 miles per riding day. That was remarkable considering the terrible condition of the roads (when there were any) and the fact that only five of the 20 enlisted men were experienced bicyclists.

All but one of the soldiers finished the trip. They were excited to be riding the most popular mode of transportation during what was then a national bicycle boom.

Bikes made good military sense, too. They were faster, cheaper and quieter than horses. Many armies have employed bikes, as seen in numerous films, including Devils on the Doorstep (Japan occupying China) and Soldier of Orange (Netherlands defending itself against the Nazis). The French had a permanent bicycle corps in 1902, and the Swiss recently disbanded their bicycle corps – the last one in Europe.

Much of the credit for the idea of the ride goes to Lt. James Moss, an avid bicyclist. For the full story of this historic ride, read Iron Riders by George Sorensen.

Title: The Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army on Wheels
Year Released: 2000
Duration: 57 minutes
Language: English
Bike Content: 9/10 wheels

Posted by Greg Borzo on 09/03 at 10:17 PM