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Major Taylor

"The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World"
Andrew Ritchie

Format: 8½ x 11 inch hardcover
Description: 208 pages with 100 duotone photographs
ISBN: 978-1-892495-65-5
Price: US$39.95
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The life story of America's first black star athlete

About the Book

Major Taylor: The first African-American world champion in any sport other than boxing, he catapulted to international fame at a time when bicycle track racing was the most popular sport in America and beyond.

Major Taylor: "The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World" is the true story of a fascinating African-American pioneering athlete, who overcame all odds—from sneaking racism to outright hostility—to succeed in his chosen field. It is also the story of a prophet honored more elsewhere than in his own country: Even today, a century after he retired from the sport, Major Taylor's name is better known in France than it is in the United States.

This book sets the record straight. It is the fullest account of Taylor's life and achievements, both as an athlete and as a human being, of one of the sport's most intriguing personalities.

This new edition contains numerous updates updates and additional high-quality illustrations. The subtitle of this new edition refers back to Taylor's own autobiography, which was entitled The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.

About the Author

Andrew Ritchie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and studied Art and History at Cambridge University before embarking on a varied career in history and photo-journalism. In 1974 he published King of the Road, the first thoroughly researched modern history of the bicycle and its social as well as technical significance.

When doing research for King of the Road, he met Major Taylor's only daughter, Sydney Taylor Brown, then living in Pittsburgh, PA, who granted him extensive interviews and gave him access to her father's scrapbooks and other family mementoes.

He soon became convinced that this was a story worth telling, providing it was well-researched, and so he set about on a quest that included libraries and other archives in France, America, Germany, and Australia.

What the Critics Say

Ritchie presents a moving biography of Marshall W. "Major" Taylor (1878–1932), a now nearly forgotten bicycle racer who was one of the world's premier athletes.

Lionized in Europe and Australia, where he defeated the reigning national champions, Taylor was the victim of racism at home in the U.S. He struggled throughout his 16-year racing career to earn a living in the sport. A quiet, deeply religious man—he lost income by refusing to race on Sundays—he was popular with the public but shunned by most of his white counterparts.

Taylor's success on the racetrack, we're shown, was as much a tribute to his courage as to his enormous skill. After his athletic career ended, his life was plagued by a series of personal and business setbacks; he died in a Chicago welfare hospital at age 53.

Ritchie's sympathetic portrait should appeal to a broader audience than cycling enthusiasts. It is the story of a genuine American hero.

Publisher's Weekly, reviewing the first edition of Major Taylor



A long-overdue and much-needed biography of a forgotten and neglected black American sports hero—Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878-1932) a world-champion cyclist and two-time American sprint champion as well as the most internationally celebrated American athlete of his day.


During his remarkable 14-year career as a professional racer he established numerous world records, made a small fortune in prizes and revenues from commercial endorsements, raced as a member of an integrated professional team, and was the first black ath­lete to complete regularly in open, integrated competition for an annual American championship. Ritchie’s description of this pre-automobile craze for speed is ex­citingly and effectively presented, and his research has been thorough, including such significant documents and resources as Taylor’s papers, correspondence, and autobiography, plus interviews with his daughter.


Ritchie writes perceptively and understandingly about the black American experience, and as a published histori­an of the bicycle and cycling (King of the Road, CH, Sep 1976), he captures the sport in all its demanding physical challenges and skills. Of immense interest to those interested in cycling history and the personal history of black athletic champions, this work will undoubtedly stand as the definitive biography of Major Taylor.

Library Journal, reviewing the first edition of Major Taylor

Table of Contents

Prologue: Major Taylor's Time

11. Comeback and Decline
2. Early Guidance and Inspiration 12. Difficult Adjustment
3. Bicycle Boom and Jim Crow 13. Autobiography and Illness
4. Precocious Teenager, Colored Champion of America 14. Chicago Tragedy
5. Rising Star   Author's Postscript
6. New Horizons, New Opposition   About the Photographs
7. The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World   Chapter Notes and
8. Champion of America at Last   Glossary of Terms
9. Major Taylor, Superstar   Annotated Bibliography
10. World Traveler and International Celebrity   Index

From the contents

Probably the first photograph of an integrated sports team in America: The Boston pursuit race team with Major Taylor.

Major Taylor with wife Daisy and daughter Sydney, photographed in Paris around 1907.

The memorial to Major Taylor in Worcester, MA, Taylor's adopted home town. The monument was unveiled in 2008 in the presence of several prominent black athletes and Taylor's surviving relatives.