Thursday, 22 May 2008

Major Taylor, Andrew Ritchie (1988)

John Hopkins University Press 1988
0-8018-5303-6 303 pp $15.95

An important readable biography of one of the most historically important stars of late nineteenth century US cycling

Major Taylor was one of the first black athletes to become world champion in any sport. Between 1898 and the early 1900s he was one of the biggest names in track cycling – at that time a massive spectator sport. Few names from that age are recognisable today, but Taylor’s, if any, deserves to be celebrated. He overcame massive obstacles – not least the huge institutional and unofficial bars to non-whites competing at the top level. As a result, he became an international superstar. Ritchie has done a fabulous job in both teasing his story from the fragments of evidence that remain, and bringing to life the golden age of track cycling as a spectator sport. Economic and racial history are intertwined with with sporting triumph and fascinating crumbs from cycling's past. It is peripheral to the tale, but the story of 'Mile-a-minute Murphy' has long stuck in my mind. He constructed a timber track between railway lines, so that he could draught behind a railway train and pedal his bike at the remarkable speed of 60mph.

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