The Fastest Man in the World
Taylor was born in Indiana, to poor, African-American farmers on November 26, 1878. He got his start in cycling as a kind of stunt performer outside of a bicycle shop in rural Indiana and, when he was seventeen, moved to Worcester, Mass and started competing.
He was fast as hell. Within a year, he is said to have unofficially broken two world records for track bike racing – a feat which earned him banishment from the Indianapolis race track.
From that point on, his career was marked by great successes – he held seven world records by 1898 – and the great setbacks he faced because of the color of his skin. In 1897 he had had to abandon national championship aspirations because southern race promoters – as well as his home state of Indiana – refused to let him compete. The League of American Wheel men – a professional racing association – refused to admit him as a member. Major Taylor spoke of being attacked on the track, and purposefully held back by one opponent, while a teammate raced ahead.
But he was popular anyway, and his racing career made him one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the county, allowing him to retire at 32.
There have been a few, predominantly black Major Taylor bike clubs – one (now defunct) in East Palo Alto and another in Minneapolis. There’s a Major Taylor Association, a Major Taylor Society, and Indiana eventually faced up to its racism by naming its bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome.
The Major left behind an autobiography, “The Fastest Man in the World.”