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Singlespeed & Fixed Gear "I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"-- Henri Desgrange (31 January 1865 - 16 August 1940)

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Old 05-07-06, 12:27 AM   #1
Ken Cox
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Major Taylor

I flew back to Worcester, Mass, last week.
On the way I bought the latest BICYCLING magazine at one of the connecting airports.

I read an article entitled RACE which discussed the struggles of some black bicyclists who participated in a college bicycle race called The Little 500.
The team of black bicyclists went by the name of THE MAJOR TAYLOR TEAM.

They had named themselves after a professional bicycle racer, Major Taylor, who had black skin and who competed in the late 1890's and early 1900's when bicycle racing represented the largest spectator sport in America; greater than the other big spectator sports, baseball, football, rowing, and track.
The fact that he had black skin has relevance because of the times.
White America could not, would not accept a black superstar athlete.
And so, Major Taylor dominated professional bicycle racing during a time in which the white audiences racially abused him; which, in my humble opinion, makes him all the more the hero.
He had to contend not only with the other racers but with the racists as well.

How interesting, then, to find out that Major Taylor lived and trained in Worcester, Mass.
According to the article, Major Taylor used a very steep hill called George Street as an important part of his training.
In modern times, they have a race every July on George Street, up this impossibly steep hill, of only 500 feet.

So, I spent two and a half days in Worcester.
During my visit I asked about Major Taylor and no one knew about him.
Except, the people whom I had gone to visit and work with knew of a "bicycle nut" who rode to work all the time, and they thought he might know something about this Major Taylor person.

I went into Stephen's office (the bicycle nut) and he had two beautiful Major Taylor posters on the wall of his office.
He knew all about Major Taylor, but, even though he lived and rode in Worcester, he didn't know the whereabouts of George Street.

When I got back to the hotel on my last night in Worcester, I asked the desk clerk about George Street.
The desk clerk had never heard of George Street, but he took it as a challenge, and, after more than a few minutes of research, located George Street on a map.

I drove the few blocks to George Street and found it between two large brick office buildings, both well over 100 years old.
Barely an alleyway with a street sign, George Street went only one block, almost straight up, it seemed, between a series of very old brick buildings.
Cobblestone sidewalks and granite curbs lined the one-way street.

I drove my rental car halfway up George Street, found a small level pull-off where I could park, and stepped out into the cool dark night.
Quiet except for distant yet near city sounds.
Unexpected emotions, strong, welcome, beautiful.

I walked up the street on the right side and then down the left.
I could not remember a city street this steep, although I can imagine some in San Francisco.
Details.
Questions.
What time of day would Major Taylor train, and who would have watched him from the windows?
Did he have straps on his pedals with which to pull himself up the hill, or did he do it all by standing on the pedals and mashing them?

At first I thought, "I can do this."
Then, as I walked up the street the second time, I began to wonder about it.
Did Major Taylor ride a fixed gear bike?
What did bikes look like in 1899?
Wooden rims?

Anyway, the next Major Taylor George Street Bike Challenge takes place this July 23, 2006.
It looks perfect for a fixed gear bike.

What do the present-day competitors ride?
Where could I train here in Bend (we don't have a hill that steep)?
What would I have to do to get my bike and myself to Worcester this July?

Perhaps my fellow forumites already know all about Major Taylor and this race.
If not, well, check it out.

http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/events.shtml
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Old 05-07-06, 12:42 AM   #2
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nice read
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Old 05-07-06, 01:02 AM   #3
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Ken: thanks for the write-up. I've been interested in George Street since I first read about the race after some random googling. I'll be in Narragansett for a week at the end of July; maybe I'll find a way to make it as far North as Worcester and see for myself. Until then, I can read this.

Thanks again.
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Old 05-07-06, 01:04 AM   #4
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I lived in Worcester, MA near George St. for seven years and I never heard of this. Despite what people say, Worcester is a great town and I would be happy to travel from Chicago this summer to participate.
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Old 05-07-06, 01:41 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DK
Despite what people say, Worcester is a great town...
I had a wonderful time in Worcester.
Everyone treated me so nicely, and when I would comment on the friendliness of Worcester's citizens, they would look at me like "who me? friendly?"
But, yes, very friendly.

Nice restaurants, interesting architecture, NO street signs (initially hard to get around town with so few street signs).
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Old 05-07-06, 02:45 AM   #6
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Worcester

right sure

Listen kids, its funny that you americans are all GA GA over major taylor..years later now that he is dead.

The cold reality is, and perhaps this is left out of your american history books (along with other things your goverment doesnt want you knowing about) He was not allowed to race in the united states.

So he ended up over here in canada. I think racing at maple leaf gardens here in toronto and other places. And europe. He's kind of an important figure here, well because we accepted him.
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Old 05-07-06, 04:56 AM   #7
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Canada...

pfft.
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Old 05-07-06, 06:35 AM   #8
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maybe I should hop on that commuter line some day and check it out. any bostonians game?
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Old 05-07-06, 07:31 AM   #9
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I read at least part of that article, didn't have to time to finish it. It's an interesting and important part of cycling history.
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Old 05-07-06, 07:33 AM   #10
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I read at least part of that article, didn't have to time to finish it. It's an interesting and important part of cycling history.
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Old 05-07-06, 08:25 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul
Listen kids, its funny that you americans are all GA GA over major taylor..years later now that he is dead.

The cold reality is, and perhaps this is left out of your american history books (along with other things your goverment doesnt want you knowing about) He was not allowed to race in the united states.
"Kids"?
"...things your goverment doesnt want you knowing about..."?

Paul doesn't seem to have a very high opinion of America or Americans.
Too bad.

I find some reassurance and confirmation of my American identity in the observation that we Americans can examine ourselves and our history, perhaps more rigorously, critically and honestly than one might expect of kids.
I guess we could have swept Major Taylor under the rug, or rewritten his/our history to make America sound, smell and look better than the reality of it; but, in that case, we wouldn't have the opportunity to grow and learn from the experience.

Has Paul read the RACE article in BICYCLING?
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Old 05-07-06, 08:46 AM   #12
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The George St. Race is supposed to be a lot of fun, but I always seem to be busy when it comes along.
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Old 05-07-06, 08:59 AM   #13
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maybe I should hop on that commuter line some day and check it out. any bostonians game?
According to what I can figure out on gmap pedometer using the elevation function, George St. is about 80ft of climb in .10 miles. A steep hill, no question, but still very climbable. Parker Hill Ave up to the bend in Mission Hill is over 100ft in .16 miles, but if you climb after the bend as well, to the peak of the hill, it's 170ft in .35 miles.

For any reason other than nostalgia, that little climb isn't worth the commuter train fare.

There are people that hit that hill on a fixed gear for that race they do, although I've never seen any of them do very well......
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Old 05-07-06, 09:01 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paul_in_toronto
Listen kids, its funny that you americans are all GA GA over major taylor..years later now that he is dead.
You're right, Paul. I sincerely regret my lack of support for major Taylor during his career. I could have done much more to help fight the good fight to get him admitted to the best velodromes in the United States, despite the fact that I was born 36 years after his death.

Quote:
He's kind of an important figure here, well because we accepted him.
I see, you accepted him. Tell me, how many times did you see him race when he was competing in Canada?
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Old 05-07-06, 09:08 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paul_in_toronto
Listen kids, its funny that you americans are all GA GA over major taylor..years later now that he is dead.

The cold reality is...He was not allowed to race in the united states.
Only because he beat every one and the race promoters were incahoots with the then sanctioning bodies.

Not because his skin was brown.

Very nice writing Ken! Posts like yours are always a welcome read for me here at BF.

Paul- posts like yours make me sad. No flame intended. Why does skin color STILL figure so prominently in our lives?

~jg
in Alabama
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Old 05-07-06, 09:11 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jacobs
For any reason other than nostalgia, that little climb isn't worth the commuter train fare.
The hill seemed very steep to me, and yet I submitted in my original that I could imagine steeper hills in San Francisco.

A person would attend this race or climb this hill for personal or historical reasons, and not because of its steepness.
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Old 05-07-06, 09:21 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paul_in_toronto
Worcester

right sure

Listen kids, its funny that you americans are all GA GA over major taylor..years later now that he is dead.

The cold reality is, and perhaps this is left out of your american history books (along with other things your goverment doesnt want you knowing about) He was not allowed to race in the united states.

So he ended up over here in canada. I think racing at maple leaf gardens here in toronto and other places. And europe. He's kind of an important figure here, well because we accepted him.
What a laugh. Yeah, he faced incredible racism - but he raced in the US all the time, at least according to one American history book - his autobiography. Then he ended up in France. I'm sure he was in Canada too, and I'm sure he received much better treatment there. But he raced and rose to prominence in the US.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tmax1
Only because he beat every one and the race promoters were incahoots with the then sanctioning bodies.

Not because his skin was brown.
If you honestly believe this, you're a racist and an idiot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tmax1
in Alabama
ahh. maybe that explains it.
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Old 05-07-06, 10:03 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Cox
after more than a few minutes of research, located George Street on a map.
is this it?
http://maps.google.com/maps?q=George...13561&t=h&om=1

Last edited by zip22; 05-07-06 at 11:38 AM.
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Old 05-07-06, 10:54 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZachS
What a laugh. Yeah, he faced incredible racism But he raced and rose to prominence in the US.



If you honestly believe this, you're a racist and an idiot.



ahh. maybe that explains it.
You may be right concerning Major Taylor and his facing racism.

But you my friend either speak before you should or are just, simply, a small minded person if you refer to me as a racist.

Let's look at your past posts on all the threads and we'll see your track record.

~jg
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Old 05-07-06, 10:57 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Cox
I
At first I thought, "I can do this."
Then, as I walked up the street the second time, I began to wonder about it.
Did Major Taylor ride a fixed gear bike?
What did bikes look like in 1899?
Wooden rims?

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Old 05-07-06, 11:27 AM   #21
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That hill doesn't really look that steep.
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Old 05-07-06, 11:35 AM   #22
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Great article. Yes, he faced racism. Yes, it still affects us today. Many in the Bicycle/Motorcycle world (and elsewhere) are affected by it, but yet no "one" is a racist?? Major Taylor and the current Supercross champion James "Bubba" Stewart*have much in common. They both excelled in spite of racism, not because they were a darker shade of pale.

No need to wallow in guilt and/or denial, we just need to do things differently than they have been done the past 400 or so years....




*still booed at the podium
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Old 05-07-06, 12:44 PM   #23
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I rode at Indiana during the peak of Team Major Taylor. I would hardly call the problems that they went through "struggles" based on racism alone. The problem with Team Major Taylor was their coach. The guy (also an African American) promised numerous cyclists scholarships which never amounted to anything... The race card just distracts people from his misdoings.
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Old 05-07-06, 12:56 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zurich
I rode at Indiana during the peak of Team Major Taylor. I would hardly call the problems that they went through "struggles" based on racism alone. The problem with Team Major Taylor was their coach. The guy (also an African American) promised numerous cyclists scholarships which never amounted to anything... The race card just distracts people from his misdoings.
yea i read that article too.. it was hard to tell if it was racism, or the coach was just a difficult guy
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Old 05-07-06, 01:03 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tmax1
You may be right concerning Major Taylor and his facing racism.

But you my friend either speak before you should or are just, simply, a small minded person if you refer to me as a racist.

Let's look at your past posts on all the threads and we'll see your track record.

~jg
still in Alabama

my words may have been a bit too harsh, but I really question your motives in asserting that he didn't have any problems because of the color of his skin.

it is an undeniable historical fact that marshall taylor's life - like that of most african-americans in the late 19th and early 20th centry - was negatively affected by racist whites from the day he was born until the day he died. regardless of what you think about the current state of race relations in this country (which I suspect we would disagree on too).

~zs
in racist south carolina for only another 10 days, thank God
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