MAJOR TAYLOR: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer by Andrew Ritchie

MAJOR TAYLOR: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A competent biography of one of the first great black athletes to dominate a previously all-white sport--early 20th-century bicycle racing--by Ritchie, author of King of the Road. Ritchie's work is the saga of an almost-forgotten era, when bicycle racers flourished as the nations sports heroes long before the emergence of team sports as national pastimes. Of all racers from the early decades of this century, Marshall W. (Major) Taylor, born poor on the outskirts of Indianapolis, dominated like no one else riding at the time. But this tale is given poignancy by the extra barrier of race that Taylor had to overcome in order to lead his field. Through a providential circumstance, Taylor was rendered well-equipped to mingle in a white world. As a young boy, his father had become a coachman to a wealthy white family, parents to an only child, who took Major under their wing in order to provide a playmate for that child. From this, Taylor gained great self-confidence and aplomb in the company of white folks. Taylor's ""break"" came when, in a shop to have his bike fixed, he was observed doing some fancy bike tricks that he had taught himself. He was immediately offered a job and a new bike by the owner of the store, thereby beginning his ascension into the world of bicycles and racing that would lead ultimately to national and international championships--despite early problems with dirty tricks aimed at putting the black upstart in his place. Unlike Peter Nye's recent Hearts of Lions (p. 521), a more general look at bike racing that told Taylor's story only as a piece of the whole, Ritchie takes us into Taylor's retirement, his disappointment at not being accepted into white colleges, his innovative inventions of new tires for the fledgling auto industry, and the Ultimate and mysterious failure of the Major Taylor Manufacturing Company. The final years left to him (he died at 53) were a blend of bad debts, a dissolving marriage, and painful bouts of coronary and renal problems that finally killed him. Taylor's nonbiking years are hard to document, and Ritchie depends heavily on newspaper accounts of the era and Taylor's own autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider In the World. Despite this, Ritchie does an admirable job of bringing to life this forgotten hero.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1988
ISBN: 0801853036
Publisher: Bicycle Books--dist. by Kampmann (9 East 40 St., New York, NY 10016)