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Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer [Paperback]

Andrew Ritchie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 May 1996

World champion at 19... One of the first black athletes to become world champion in any sport... 1-mile record holder... American sprint champion in 1898, 1899, 1900... triumphant tours of Europe and Australia... Victories against all European champions...

Until now a forgotten, shadowy figure, Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor is here revealed as one of the early sports world's most stylish, entertaining, and gentlemanly personalities. Born in 1878 in Indianapolis, the son of poor rural parents, Taylor worked in a bike shop until prominent bicycle racer "Birdie" Munger coached him for his first professional racing successes in 1896. Despite continuous bureaucratic—and, at times, physical—opposition, he won his first national championship two years later and became world champion in 1899 in Montreal. This beautifully illustrated, vividly narrated, and scrupulously researched biography recreates the life of a great international athlete at the turn of the century. Based on ten years of research—including extensive interviews with Major Taylor's 91-year old daughter—this is the dramatic story of a young black man who, against prodigious odds, rose to fame and stardom in the tempestuous world of international professional bicycle racing a century ago.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; New Ed edition (9 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801853036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801853036
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 14.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 497,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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As Andrew Ritchie's excellent biography demonstrates, [Taylor] became a cycling star not only through natural talent. He also had what one might call a force of dignity.

(Tim Hilton Times Literary Supplement)

A point made by Mr. Ritchie... in this earnest and well-researched study is that Taylor, only the second black after the boxer George Dixon to win a world championship, hardly left a trace that he had passed.

(Samuel Abt New York Times Book Review)

Member of an oppressed race, hero in a nation with limited historical memory, this man, who had been so well known and whose life was so interesting, has been virtually forgotten. Ritchie's book admirably recaptures the story for us.

(Elliott J. Gorn Journal of American History)

Revealing story of an intriguing and undeservedly forgotten professional sports star.

(Greg LeMond)

A fresh insight into the life of Major Taylor. It provides a fuller appreciation of the importance of cycling at the turn of the century when Major Taylor was literally the fastest man on earth.

(Arthur Ashe)

About the Author

Andrew Ritchie, a social and sports historian with a special interest in the early history of the bicycle and early photography, is the author of Bicyle Racing Records: A Statistical History of the Sport. A revised editon of his highly acclaimed social and technical history of cycling, The King of the Road, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
to-earth, no-nonsense men accustomed to hard physical labor.For them,bicycle racing was a way out of the drudgery of a job in a factory or a farm. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a very enjoyable book. Very well researched and documented (almost to a fault). Anyone who is serious about the history of bicycle racing in the USA must add this book to their library. After reading this book one must wonder how great Major Taylor would have been if the playing field was equal. Highly Recommended!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Major triumph 2 Sep 2012
Quite simply the story of the first black American world champion in any sport and his fight both on and of the track, this is a must for sport historians.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important History - Not Just About Bicycling 22 April 1999
By Anne O'Neill ( - Published on
This book was originally published by Bicycle Books in San Francisco. I would hope that it would still be available, even though 5 years ago hardback copies were selling at chain bookstores for as little as $4 a copy. The Ritchie book is written not just from the perspective of bicycling history (although it is well-researched from that point of view), but as an important social history. In addition, it reminds us of the history of the development of transportation and how bicycles were eventually pushed out of the public vision of having right-of-way to being relegated to the closed track of the velodrome so they wouldn't get in the way of the growing automobile culture. Major Taylor's career is important in the history of racism and attempted and often effective exclusion of Blacks not just from racing opportunities, but from the subsequent business opportunities that followed on the heels of the age of the turn-of-the-century racers. The largest reason that Major Taylor died a pauper was because he was not allowed to participate on an equal level with White businessmen in the developing automobile industry, according to Ritchie's research. Turn of the century bicycle racers, as Ritchie points out, were instrumental in contributing to the design of the shock system and the use of pneumatic tires, among other features, of the emerging American automobile. They also were some of the large investors in the industry upon their retirement from active racing status. Taylor wanted to participate in the design process and applied to a university for formal education in engineering, but was denied access, despite his hard-won efforts, previous inventions in bicycle design and testing, and celebrity status. The fact that the man died early of a stroke and alienated from his family and community in the end can only speak of a man who, after putting out his entire life, had finally been broken by the pressure of living in a racist society. Yet, writing his autobiography and selling it door to door evokes the phoenix-like quality of many members of the Black community who survive and thrive in spite of great hardship, even in our present times.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent early history of cycling and of a forgotten icon 2 Sep 2004
By GGW - Published on
As Ritchie points out himself, it is surprising that it took a white englishman to compile such a comprehensive history of an American black man who was one of, if not the first black world champion in any sport and one of cycling's orginal superstars.

While the book makes for a good short history of the early years of cycling as a sport and how it has evolved, Taylor's transcends the sport of cycling and provides a rich glimpse into early 20th century racial issues, the development of transportation in the US, the twighlight of the Guilded Age and the onset of the Great Depression. Ritchie weaves all of these together in a compelling manner.

In hindsight, while the likes of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson are often credited with being the original trailblazers for black athletes, they owe much to the brave steps taken by the now sadly little remembered Major Taylor. This book is long overdue.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Major Taylor, worlds greatest cyclist of incredible morals 14 Feb 1997
By A Customer - Published on
I found this story of a black man in this early 1900 era extremely fascinating. His beliefs in fair play, extrodinary dedication to his faith and his hobby made him a role model for any and all to follow. his persistance in perfecting his beloved sport despite all of the negativity of this era, to me was unbelieveable.

I read few books cover to cover but I have had the pleasure of reading this one 4 times. Ritchie has this book so well documented that anyone reading it would have no problem of becoming totally engrossed in it. A well done from me.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, very well documented important historical work 30 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This is a very enjoyable book. Very well researched and documented (almost to a fault). Anyone who is serious about the history of bicycle racing in the USA must add this book to their library. After reading this book one must wonder how great Major Taylor would have been if the playing field was equal. Highly Recommended!!
5.0 out of 5 stars historical book 11 Jan 2014
By helen hastings - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
made an unusual gift for a bike rider while he recovered from surgery & couldn't ride. little known but important story.
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