I was online recently sending information about the Pedal for Project Impact bicycle rides being held June 16 in Willmar.
I’m on the event’s planning committee and my job was to send information about the ride to as many cycling clubs and websites that have cycling event calendars as possible.
One of the clubs I found was the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.
The website describes the group as “the premier African-American bicycling club in the state of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.”
There are Major Taylor cycling clubs all over the country. They’re all named for the cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, known in the early years of the 20th century as the fastest man alive.
I read the book “Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World’s Fastest Human Being” written by Todd Balf while I was riding the Habitat 500 last summer.
Besides being among the greatest athletes ever, Major Taylor’s life was an example of grace under the fire of the unending indignities of racism.
While he was an international sports hero, his achievements were tainted in his own country by the fact that many of his fellow citizens considered him a second-class human being because of the color of his skin.
Taylor had to make special arrangements when traveling to races because many hotels would refuse to rent him a room. And that was true throughout the U.S., not just in the South.
Race is an issue that this country has wrestled with since before its founding. As the furor that has resulted from the killing of Trayvon Martin shows, we will continue to deal with for years to come.
The book “Major” also explains the impact cycle racing had on professional sports and the country overall.
Cycle racing was the dominant sport in the late 19th and early 20th century. People who promoted bike racing learned to turn them into the first sports spectaculars – skills that were later applied to other racing sports, boxing, baseball and football.
Regular people, even those not interested in racing, became interested in cycling as recreation and an inexpensive form of transportation. They became some of the first advocates for better streets and roads.
Some of the first inflatable tires were used on an ancestor of the modern motorcycle that was used in indoor cycling tracks or velodromes. Those motorized bikes were used to “draft” – protect cyclists from the wind – as they attempted to set new speed records.
Motorcycles eventually supplanted bicycles on race tracks throughout the country. They, in turn, were replaced on the tracks by various types of automobiles.
And many sports fans turned their attention to baseball and football.
But during cycling’s brief moment in the nation consciousness, it set the stage for sports spectaculars and superstars.
It pointed the way for developments in transportation and, in the case of a kid from Indianapolis known as Major, it showed that at least one person from an abused minority could be admired as a person.
Looking at some photos of last year’s Pedal for Project Impact, I realized that in the few dozen riders who showed up, at least three countries were represented.
Those of us on the planning committee for this year’s event are hoping for a larger turnout. By adding a 40- and 60-mile SAG tour to the family ride that was offered last year, we hope to attract many more cyclists.
I hope that with more riders there will be greater diversity.
And if in that diverse group there some riders from a cycling club named in honor of the fastest man alive that would be even better.