Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

13 October 2017

Escaping Another Kind Of Slavery--With Bicycles

Had bicycles been available, it's not hard to imagine that slaves would have used them to escape from their enslavers.

Perhaps Brandale Randolph had that in mind when he named his new business the "1854 Cycling Company".  In the year for which the company is named, US President Franklin Pierce began to fulfill a campaign promise that helped him win election to the office:  To enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, he pressured officials in the "free" northern states to arrest former slaves and return them to their former owners.

One such former slave, 19-year-old Anthony Burns, was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts and sent back to Virginia.  This led to a protest in nearby Framingham led by abolitionists Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau and William Lloyd Garrison.  There, Garrison held a match to a copy of the Constitution, calling it "a covenant with death, an agreement with Hell."

The 1854 Cycling Company's flagship model is called the "Garrison" in his honor.  And a pair of road bikes are named for Ellen and William Craft, who escaped slavery in 1848 to become authors and lecturers.  Knowing that, I have to wonder whether Randolph will name another model "Douglass".

Brandale Randolph shows one of his early "1854" bicycles to a Framingham resident.

And, yes, the bikes--built around classically-designed steel frames with modern touches--are being built in Framingham.  But most important of all to Randolph is the homage he is paying to the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution.

That amendment, passed after the end of the Civil War, outlawed slavery nationwide.  Many people--including yours truly--argue that the prison-industrial complex is today's version of slavery.  So, apparently, does Randolph:  He is employing recently-released prisoners and starting a training program that will help bring all of the manufacturing in-house--and teach the parolees valuable skills they can use, whether they continue to work for him or elsewhere. And he will pay them "living wages," he said.

He started making bikes only this year and is looking for financing to move his company forward.  His plans, as idealistic as they are, have basis in his knowledge and experience:  A former hedge fund manager, he graduated from the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the prestigious Thacher School (by way of A Better Chance, a program for inner-city kids) and earned a degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. (Irony of ironies:   A certain Wharton alum is now in the White House!)

His business instincts tell him that the bicycle market will grow "exponentially" in the next ten years, as more and more people, particularly in cities, give up their cars.  His vision is not to become a major manufacturer like Specialized or Giant, or one of the"niches brand, like in craft beers", that "only have to sell a couple" of their bikes every year.  He wants to fit "somewhere between the two", he explains.

That might be just the right spot for him--and those whose escape from modern slavery he is trying to aid.


  1. Aren't Novara, Mercian, and Surly all "somewhere between the two?" That's a tough, though wide, spectrum.

  2. Steve--Great point. Maybe he's giving himself "wiggle room". Plus, given everything else he's said, perhaps he knows only that he doesn't want to be one of the poles he described, but doesn't know where, exactly, he'll fit in the market.