Black and white photograph of a person on a bike

Bicycle Culture Rising #4: How Kittie Knox Made Bicycling for Everyone

by Joe Biel Author

In the 1890s, bicycling was a cultural activity for the wealthy elite, with a bicycle costing about twenty weeks of a laborer's pay. And even if you were to somehow acquire one, you were most likely going to land face-first on the gravel roadway. There were strict cultural norms and bicyclists were painted as scofflaws in the media. Kittie Knox, a teenage Black girl, began making headlines in her hometown of Boston,  showing up in homemade tailored suits while most participants had expensive, specialized clothing. Knox soon took home a first prize and was bolstered to attend the League of American Wheelmen's national event in Asbury Park, NJ. The only problem, of course, is that Kittie was absolutely not welcome. The League had recently passed the color bar, saying that only white people could join the organization. But Kittie showed up anyway, turned heads, made her mark, and changed bicycling forever. In this excellent, deep-research piece full of cultural analysis, you can see how Knox's actions continue to affect cycling today.