Retracing the Buffalo Soldiers’ Legendary Cycle Across America

Erick Cedeno — known to Instagram as the Bicycle Nomad — is an impressive multi-hyphenate. Not only is he an actor, model, and public speaker, but he’s also a committed and distinguished long-distance adventure cyclist. In July 2022, Cedeno completed a 1,180km ride from Fort Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri, following a route an all-Black unit of American soldiers took in 1897.

The Buffalo Soldiers, as the unit was called, are most famous as a segregated unit of cavalry soldiers in the years following the American Civil War. But at the turn of the century, the U.S. Army was interested in finding out if bicycles were a more cost-efficient way to move soldiers around. The Army tapped the Buffalo Soldiers for the mission, and the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps was born.

Over 125 years later, Cedeno traced the route as closely as he could. And although he’s not the first to do so, his wide social media following helped bring renewed interest to the Buffalo Soldiers in general and their 1897 ride in particular.

 

Unfairly tarnished

“It’s so epic, what they did,” Cedeno told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shortly after completing his ride on July 24. “I’m so emotional, because it was such a hard trip. It’s almost superhuman, what those guys accomplished.”

No kidding. While Cedeno rode mostly on pavement and had the benefit of a modern bicycle (including, you know, gears), the Buffalo Soldiers made do with single speeds over rutted wagon paths — on a good day. On a bad day, it was dirt trails, mud, or no trail at all. Despite that, the Iron Riders — as the press at the time dubbed them — regularly covered 80km a day. No small feat, as anyone who’s ever bikepacked over rugged terrain knows all too well.

The feat proved that a group of soldiers on bicycles could indeed move more efficiently than calvary in certain conditions. The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps went on to serve with distinction at the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. But the advent of the automobile and the onset of World War I stymied the U.S. Army’s plans for more bicycle units. After that, an incident in Texas led to the unit’s unfair tarnishing after Army officials and President Theodore Roosevelt wrongfully accused its soldiers in the death of a white soldier in 1906.

VICE News has a fantastic video featuring Cedeno unpacking this complex history as he follows the soldiers’ path. Check it out.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).