Friday, February 12, 2010

New Cycling Book: Major Taylor

Front coverI'm really enjoying this new book and think you will too. It's called Major Taylor, the Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, by noted longtime cycling historian and author Andrew Ritchie. It tells the story of Marshall W. Taylor, nicknamed "Major," who became the first African-American world champion in any sport other than boxing, and even with the extreme racism then, rose to the top of the bicycle racing game, the most popular sport in the world at the time (Taylor raced from about 1896 to 1910).

There've been a few books about the Major, including his autobiography, a children's picture book, and Mr. Ritchie's earlier effort, Major Taylor, The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer, published in 1988.

I've never had a chance to read Taylor's autobiography, published in 1929, and which he peddled firsthand walking door to door in New England and New York to help make a living after retiring from racing in 1910. It's now a prized collectible and the only copy I've thumbed through was at the former Bicycle Museum of America in Chicago. Major Taylor had signed the title page and it was a privilege just holding it.

Back coverWhile I've liked all these books, Mr. Ritchie's new one is unique in that it's more of a coffee-table book measuring 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches. And, unlike his first work, which has the photos grouped midway through, this new release is lushly illustrated with photos on nearly every page, the result of new research in France where Taylor is still celebrated as one of the greatest cyclists ever.

Unfortunately, Taylor remains less known in America, so this new work is nice to see. And, it's a fascinating story of a gifted, determined and disciplined cyclist who starts as a young trick rider for an Indianapolis bicycle shop and then takes up racing and conquers the world even though his competitors put every obstacle possible in his path.

Mr. Ritchie's hope is that his "new edition of the book continues to focus attention on Major Taylor and helps to elevate him to his rightful place as one of America's greatest sports heroes." Interestingly, the book mentions that the long rumored movie about Taylor might come to pass, too, which could make all the difference.

Major Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World is available for $39.95 from Cycle Publishing. For more on Major Taylor visit the Major Taylor Society or the Major Taylor Association. You might also be interested in the Major Taylor Velodrome and the Major Taylor Statue (video below).

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