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
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.
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?
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.