An updated edition of “Major Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World” by Andrew Ritchie may start a discussion of who is America's greatest cyclist.
Although this summer's book by John Wilcockson calls Lance Armstrong “The World's Greatest Champion,” you can make the argument that Marshall “Major” Taylor should hold that title, at least during his time.
Armstrong survived cancer to go on to win 7 Tours de France, but Taylor also became a champion in spite of huge obstacles.
As an African-American setting records in cycling at the turn of the century, Major Taylor faced incredible discrimination and hardships. He rose above that to become world renown in one of the bigggest sports on Earth at the time.
Ritchie's book, updated from a book he authored in 1995, takes its name from Taylor's own autobiography. In spite of his achievements on the bike track, he died in a Chicago welfare hospital at age 53 in 1932. He was in Chicago to sell copies of his 1928 autobiography.
Born in 1878 and raised in Indianapolis, Taylor learned to perform bike tricks at an early age while wearing an Army uniform, earning the nickname Major. He took to bike racing, and before he was 20, he had broken two world track records for paced and unpaced one-mile rides. His reward –he was banned from ever racing again at Indianapolis' Capital City track.
Taylor next went to New York where he finished eighth in his first pro event, the 6-day endurance bike race at Madison Square Garden. Within two years (1898), he held 7 world records. In 1900 he was finally allowed to compete in the national championship series and earned the American sprint title.
He continued on to race throughout Europe, Australia and North America, retiring at age 32. Deeply religious, he missed out on many prize-money opportunities because he declined to race his bike on Sundays.
While Taylor slipped from the public consciousness for many decades, there's been a resurgence in interest.
In 2008, Worcester, Massachusetts, unveiled a statue in his adopted hometown commemorating Taylor due to the efforts of the Major Taylor Association. There's also a Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, a Major Taylor Cycling Team in Palo Alto, California, a Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, the Major Taylor Cycling Club of NY/NJ, the Chicago Major Taylor Bike Society, and a Team Major Taylor that competes in Little 500 at Indiana University.
More information and pictures are available at the Major Taylor Society website.
This newly published edition includes numerous updates and high-quality illustrations. Author Ritchie also has written other historical tomes on bicycling. You can read more about the book at Cycle Publishing.