Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Robert's Mini Bike Book Review- Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, adn the FIght to be the World's Fastest Human Being

By Todd Balt

Review by Robert Leone

It's summer in San Diego. While waiting for Tuesday and Friday nights, as well as the occasional Saturday, and the racing at the San Diego Velodrome, fans of brakeless bikes on the track can read about the early days of racing on ovals. It's not only a recounting of great racers and the steel steeds they created and rode, but also a profound meditation on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century emergence of professional sports in the United States and the world. It's also an exploration of the debilitating effects of commonplace racism: Marshall “Major” Taylor wrote that he couldn't compete in some towns because he wasn't, or wouldn't, be allowed to get a good meal there! He and his wife were on board a steamship for an ultimately well-received and successful tour of Australia when the question of that country's own draconian racial entry rules came up. No, not entry into racing venues: Entry into the country!

The author, Todd Balt, does a magnificent job delineating and describing the conditions of bike racing, social mores and prejudices, and even bike design. He notes Taylor's first manager, retired racer Louis “Birdie” Munger, went bust several times in the pursuit of perfection (exemplified by a surviving “Birdie Special,” a startlingly light drop frame bike, suitable for the then-scarce feminine “scorcher”), before his quest for safer motor-pacing through better tires came to the notice of the infant automobile industry. He notes the background of Taylor's nemesis, California-bred Floyd MacFarland, was almost as unlikely in a country still dominated by the settlements of the East Coast and Midwest. He also notes how acute the training wisdom of that long-ago day was in getting peak performance out of endurance athletes, including Taylor's using of an “unclimbable” hill in his adopted home of Worcester, MA for hill repeats. If you're not riding a bike, reading Major is almost as much fun.

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