Wheels of Freedom

Robert Isenberg
11 min readFeb 12, 2022

On cycling pioneer Kittie Knox — and the movie that someone should make about her

I’m picturing a movie.

In the opening scene, Kittie Knox is threading a needle. She sits at a workbench in a cramped little shop. Fabrics are draped all around her, and headless mannequins wear half-made dresses. Kittie licks the thread, but she’s having trouble pushing it through the needle’s eye. As she concentrates, something flashes past the window.

Kittie looks up. Did she see something go by? Or was it a trick of the light? She shakes it off and goes back to her work.

A second later, the same flash. A circular blur.

“Kittie!” calls another seamstress. “Come over!”

Kittie scampers across the shop and leans out the door. There is a hubbub outside; onlookers line the sidewalk. Morning light bathes the cobblestone. And there, silhouetted against the golden sun, a man straddles a penny-farthing. The enormous front wheel rolls beneath his polished shoes. He rides in circles, smiling brightly. Spectators point and murmur. He doffs his pork pie hat, and people in the crowd clap excitedly.

“What is it?” someone cries.

The man laughs. “Why this here,” he calls back, “is what they call a bicycle.”

Kittie watches the man.

“A bicycle,” she whispers.

“Just look at that there contraption!” exclaims her fellow seamstress. “Looks like somebody broke a buggy in half. Can you imagine riding one of them things? Somebody’d have to be crazy!”

But Kittie keeps watching. Because she’s enchanted. One way or another, she’s going to find a bicycle, and she’s going to ride it.

And yet — the audience wonders how this could possibly happen. From their costumes, this scene clearly takes place in the late 19th century. Kittie is a woman. Actually, she’s a girl, probably 12 or 13 years old. That alone would make her journey seem unlikely. But there’s something else, something we notice the moment Kittie appears onscreen. Kittie isn’t just a Victorian female. She’s also black.

It should be obvious why I want this movie to exist. Katherine Knox was one of the…

Robert Isenberg

Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer and multimedia producer based in Rhode Island. Feel free to visit him at robertisenberg.net