Major Taylor Cycling Club: Cycle enthusiasts expand health, fitness awareness

The Major Taylor Cycling club in the Twin Cities may solve some health problems experienced by African Americans, says Seitu Jones spokesperson for the three-year-old recreational club. The Major Taylor Cycling club in the Twin Cities may solve some health problems experienced by African Americans, says Seitu Jones spokesperson for the three-year-old recreational club.

"We are about, pride, health and good community life," he told Insight News shortly after an appearance on the Conversations with Al McFarlane – The Public Policy Forum at Lucille’s Kitchen. "We ride for the health of our people, it keeps us fit," he added.

The Major Taylor Cycling Club of Minnesota was established in 2000 by a group of former racers, bike enthusiasts, and recreational riders to provide organized bicycling events and to improve the health of the African American community in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The Club is named in honor of Major Taylor who became the first African American world cycling champion in 1899. In its infancy, the Club has already established itself as a group with a concern about the lack of diversity in cycling.

The Club prides itself in creating camaraderie and community for its members and is recognized by distinctive screaming yellow and black cycling jerseys that the bikers wear.

Recreational riders in the club cover 20 miles on up through 100 miles at times but an average ride may be about 40 miles.

So, who is the man the club honors?

Marshall Walter Taylor was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 21, 1878. He received his first bicycle from the wealthy White family that employed his father. He earned the nickname of "Major" because of the soldier’s uniform he wore while performing cycling stunts for a bike shop in Indianapolis.

While working in the bicycle factory of a White former cyclist, Taylor won his first amateur race at the age of 13. "It wasn’t long before he was competing in international races. He became the American sprint champion at age 18 in 1898," club historians report.

Taylor went on to repeat that victory two more times. In 1899, he reached the top of the cycling world by winning the world title in the one-mile sprint to become the first African American world champion in cycling and only the second African American world champion in any sport.

"What made his accomplishments even more impressive was the fact that he was a Black man who overcame open racism and overt threats of violence by those who did not want to see him succeed because track cycling at that time was dominated by the Europeans," said the biking club representative.

Taylor established several world records during his 16 years of competition. In the 168 races in which he competed, he finished first in 117 and finished second in 32. In 1910, he retired from racing at age 32.

His cycling fortune was drained quickly by failed business ventures and illness. Major Taylor moved to Chicago in 1930 and tried selling his autobiography, "The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World" He died penniless on June 21, 1932 at the age of 53 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Years later in 1948, Frank Schwinn donated money to have his remains moved to a more prominent area of Mount Glenwood cemetery.

To celebrate his achievements, the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, one of the world’s most renowned cycling venues, was named in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989. And in 1996, USA Cycling awarded Taylor the Korbel Lifetime Achievement Award.

Physical Activity and African Americans

Latest U.S. Census figures indicate that African Americans are the largest racial or ethnic group in Minnesota and this group also has the largest amount of health disparities. African Americans comprise some 3.5 percent of the total population in the North Star State.

This group makes up nine percent (total 99,943) o

August 18, 2003
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