Major Taylor

Major Taylor - 1899 World Cycling Champion
Long before Lance Armstrong showed Texas attitude to the Tour de France (can you say 'look back'?), there was Major Taylor, larger than life, practically undefeatable, Fastest Man in the World in his time. Major Taylor excelled in a white sport during a time when being a man of color put him at a distinct disadvantage. He was attacked, abused, assaulted insulted and cheated out his honest wins many times over, and still won races and became one of the most important names in American cycling in spite of the racism that tried to exclude him.

The following is the final chapter in Major Taylor's autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.  Here Taylor gives encouragement and advice to the young black athletes who follow him.  In addition, this chapter provides an interesting glimpse of  his views on aging.

The Value of Good Habits and Clean Living

  In closing I wish to say that while I was sorely beset by a number of white riders in my racing days, I have also enjoyed the friendship of countless thousands of white men whom I class as among my closest friends. I made them in this country and all the foreign countries in which I competed. My personal observation and experiences indicate to me that while the majority of white people are considerate of my people, the minority are so bitter in their race prejudice that they actually overshadow the goodwill entertained for us by the majority.

  Now a few words of advice to boys, and especially to those of my own race, my heart goes out to them as they face life's struggles. I can hardly express in words my deep feeling and sympathy for them, knowing as I do, the many serious handicaps and obstacles that will confront them in almost every walk of life. However, I pray they will carry on in spite of that dreadful monster prejudice, and with patience, courage, fortitude and perseverance achieve success for themselves. I trust they will use that terrible prejudice as an inspiration to struggle on to the heights in their chosen vocations. There will always be that dreadful monster prejudice to do extra battle against because of their color.

  It is my thought to present the facts to the rising generation of my people without coloring or shading them in the least. In a word I do not want to make their futures appear more rosy than they will be, nor do I wish to discourage them in the slightest degree as they face life and its vicissitudes. My idea in giving this word to the boys and girls of my race is that they may be better prepared than I was to overcome these sinister conditions.

  I might go on discussing this subject at great length, but after all is said, done, and written, my own book of experiences will best show what these obstacles are, and how I managed to overcome them to some extent. I would advise all youths aspiring to athletic fame or a professional career to practice clean living, fair play and good sportsmanship. These rules may seem simple enough, but it will require great morale and physical courage to adhere to them. But if carried out in the strict sense of the word it will surely lead to a greater success than could otherwise be attained. Any boy can do so who has will power and force of character, even as I did, despite the fact that no one of my color was able to offer me advice gained through experience as I started up the ladder to success. In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail.

  I would like to cite an instance which proves the efficacy of clean living on the part of an athlete coupled with the inspiration received from a champion which go a long way to making a champion. Realizing full well that fine condition and confidence will not in themselves make a champion, it is my belief, however, that they are essential factors. Of course an athlete must have ability to reach the top, but many who have ability and who do not live clean lives never have and never will be champions for obvious reasons.

  I recall that on my first trip to Europe in 1901 I saw a French youth, whose name was Poulain, ride in an amateur event at Nantes, France. He was very awkward as he rode about the track, but something about him caught my eye, and I became interested in him at once. At the close of the race I made several suggestions to him, adjusting his pedals, and handle bars, and giving him some advice on how to train. I stressed clean living upon him, and told him in conclusion that if he trained carefully and lived a clean life, I would predict that some day he would beat all the amateurs of Europe and the professionals as well.

  When I returned to France in 1908 this same Poulain, who in the meantime had won the amateur and professional championships of France, defeated me in a special match race. Imagine my surprise at the conclusion of this event when my conqueror told me who he was. The laugh certainly was on me. I did manage to bring him into camp, however, after I reached by best form.

  I know that a good many champions have entertained the thought that the more they discourage youngsters, the longer they would reign. However, this theory never impressed me, and I always made it a point to give youths the benefit of my experience in bicycle racing. I do this for a two-fold reason. First of all it was through the kindness of Louis D. (Birdie) Munger, now of Springfield, Massachusetts, that I became inspired and rode to American and world's championships. Secondly I always felt that good sportsmanship demanded that a champion in any line of sport should always be willing to give a helping hand to all worthy boys who aspire to succeed him.

  When I was enjoying my heyday on the track I received hundreds of letters from youths asking for suggestions as to how to become a bicycle champion. As far as was practical I answered them personally, but as I was campaigning at the time it was physically impossible for me to pen notes to all of them. Naturally this procedure took considerable of my spare time, but I willingly did it as I realized and appreciated the kindness extended to me by Mr. Munger and many other good friends, which made it possible for me to lay the foundation for my remarkable career covering sixteen years on the track.

  Modesty should be typical of the success of a champion. It always seemed to me that a real champion while possessing self-confidence on the eve of a race never became conceited. On the other hand I have seen mediocre riders who fairly breathed conceit in advance of the race in which they were entered. I have also noticed that when a rider who had confidence in his ability was defeated, after doing his level best to win, always received an ovation from the gathering. The reverse was true in regard to the conceited rider, regardless of how hard he tried in a race. The public has long since drawn a fine line between self-confidence and conceit. Sport lovers know that when they see a real champion he is going about his work in a businesslike manner. He does not have time nor the inclination to scorn his competitors, but rides against everyone of them as though he were his superior, with the result that the public is sure to witness a fine performance every time he starts.

  Countless athletes have written articles relative to physical training which they deem essential to championship form. Many of them have dealt with the subject in a scientific manner, some foisted pet theories on their readers, while others advocated practical methods. I do not believe there is any royal road to success as an athlete any more than there is to others in everyday life. It is my thought that clean living and a strict observance of the golden rule of true sportsmanship are foundation stones without which a championship structure cannot be built. In a word I believe physical fitness the keynote of success in all athletic undertakings. Fair play comes second only to that factor, and I believe it should be impressed upon all boys from their marble-playing days.

  Last, but not least, I would urge all boys aspiring to an athletic career to strictly observe the rules of the game, to practice good sportsmanship and fair-play, and also to be able to abide by an unfavorable decision with the same grace that they accept a victory. To these ideals which were instilled in me when I was a youth, I attribute in a large degree the success that was mine on the bicycle tracks of the world.

  The moral turpitude of the boys of today appears to center in their failure to concentrate on any particular objective long enough to obtain their maximum results.

  Clean living is the cardinal principle in the lives of the world's greatest athletes, as the phenomenal performances of these outstanding characters will obviously show.

  In marathon running the marvelous Clarence Demar is a model in this respect. As a jockey the famous Earl Sande is another, in tennis the redoubtable William ("Bill") Tilden and the brilliant Helen Wills excel; while in golf Bobby Jones, the greatest golfer of all time, and the invincible Glenna Collette, the peer of women golfers, are exemplary; in wrestling the mighty Zybesco, Joe Stecher, and Ed. Lewis, the present champion, rule.

  In baseball the late Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Tyrus Cobb, and the "King of Swat" Babe Ruth, are splendid examples, and in prize fighting the late champion "Tiger" Flowers, Benny Leonard, the erstwhile champion Jack Dempsey, and the present champion Gene Tunney are exponents. In bicycle racing the former champion Frank Kramer, and Willie Spencer, the present title holder, lead all others. As an aviator the celebrated Col. Charles Lindberg is the shining example.

  As a reward of their clean living and good habits these great stars have been able to withstand the rigorous test of stamina and physical exertion and have thus successfully extended their most remarkable careers over a period of many strenuous years.

  Notwithstanding these facts, however, they must some day fade out of the picture altogether, even as I. They must some day bow to that perennial old champion, Father Time, even as I, for Time eventually wins.
Major Taylor's 12 Don'ts

Nearly everyone, upon reading the 12 Don'ts, wonders what a Pie Biter is. The website posits the following:

In the track races of Major Taylor's era, teaming and cooperation between  riders to physically block or "pocket" a strong rider was forbidden.  Major Taylor was often a victim of these corrupt practices.  The term "pie biter" probably refers to a rider who agrees to block a stronger rider in exchange for a share of the purse.