Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 5 mins
Clearly, I’m not the only to name their bike. For some, this act is a considerable sign of affection. For others it’s a fun and casual way to give their pedal machine a bit of personality. For me and my bike, I approached the naming process from a number of different angles … one of which was to share a lesser known, but wildly bad ass cycling story.
I snagged my Jamis Renegade in the spring of 2020 to expand my riding options beyond the smooth surfaces of typical tarmac. The “gravel” bike craze sunk its vicious teeth in me like countless other roadies around the world. The excitement of exploring new doubletrack, Forest Service roads, and chunky rural gravel got me hot and bothered. Slapping some bikepacking bags on the more robust frame allowed me to explore various surfaces and go on different romantic getaways with my new love.
According to Jamis Bikes, the paint scheme for my bike is listed as “Desert Storm” but it’s obvious that, although out of order, those are clearly meant to be Rasta stripes. Everyone's favorite reggae star, Bob Marley naturally came to mind and with it, his globally popular song, Buffalo Soldier. I shortened the name to "BuSo", this beautiful piece of ridable art officially had an identity.
As you can see from the pics, BuSo and I are still in the honeymoon phase of our 2-year relationship, but this article isn’t about our dreamy riding escapades. This article is about the deeper and more impactful story behind the Buffalo Solider name. This article aims to shed additional light on a group of truly inspiring African Americans and their role within American History. More specifically, this article is about a bad ass bikepacking trip before “bikepacking” even became a thing that inspires me each and every time I ride.
Immediately after the Civil War, the US Congress established the “Buffalo Soldiers” in 1866 as the first all-black regiments of the US Army which included the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiment and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiment. These regiments were massively important in US Military History and participated in the Indian Wars, the Johnson County War, the Spanish-American War and other military formations and campaigns with countless honors and distinctions.
It was also throughout the late 1880’s and early 1890’s that militaries around the world started testing bicycle corps as a more efficient form of transportation over horses. The arguments were plentifully … They do not require as much equipment, prep, care, or food. They are easily hidden from sight and sound by the enemy. It is impossible to tell the direction of travel from the tracks amongst many other reasons.
America, following suit of its European military counterparts, would begin testing this pedal powered concept as well. After a few test rides, 2nd Lt. James Moss was charged with leading the US Army’s 25th Infantry Regiment on an audacious military experiment/adventure that still blows my mind today. This group was tasked with testing the viability of military travel across significant distance and intentionally over a wide spectrum of diverse terrain.
On June 14, 1897, 20 brave and rugged African American men from the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corp mounted their loaded down bikes at Fort Missoula, Montana and pointed their heavy front wheels towards St. Louis, Missouri, 1900 miles to their East. Their bikes featured beefy 19th century technology like solid steel frames and reinforced forks, likely a single gear and a robust weight of 32lbs.
Toss in their government issued rifle, tent, sleeping roll, knapsack, cooking utensils and food rations for an all-day ride and there is 0% chance each rider wasn’t charged with pedaling an additional 55+ pounds halfway across the country. These original bikepackers battled unrelenting topography with snow drifts up to 8 feet high as they climbed up and over the Rocky Mountain range, blistering heat in excess of 110 degrees as they crawled across the exposed sandy plains of the Midwest. I don't need to remind you that there were no convenient stores sprinkled along their route to gulp down a quick Gatorade or cliff bar.
I can’t imagine physical and mental hardships that this group endured over the 40 grueling days of that experimental ride. The challenges that these unbelievably courageous black men endured beyond the ride itself is something that I can’t even fathom. This is the deeper and true reason for naming my bike BuSo. I want to embrace and connect with their story. I want to share and expose the impact they had on American History. I want to celebrate this amazing human powered effort.
We are fortunate to have modern day technology like carbon fiber frames, smooth shifting group sets, ultra-light gear, and easily accessible conveniences. I am blessed to have the freedom to take BuSo for a ride any day of the week.
I do not take either of these for granted and I make it a point to appreciate the opportunity on each and every ride. I think back to these brave men often. When I feel myself getting tired on a long ride, I keep my first-world problems in perspective. I, as a white man, will never truly understand what my black brothers endured in those days and beyond, but I want to educate myself to broaden my understanding and help share their heroic stories.
Whatever your reason for naming your bike (or your kayak, your skis, your surfboard, or whatever), have some fun with it and add some good to the world.
Use it for your human powered movement.
Use it for a human inspiring movement.
Want to learn more about the 1900-mile ride?
Journal - The Real Story Behind My Bike's Name
Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
Guest Contributors are more compelling in written word and life in general.