Indianapolis to host Major Taylor National Cycling Club Meet

More than a century ago, Indianapolis kicked its local cycling world champion out of the race. But for the past two years, the city has welcomed Marshall “Major” Taylor to great fanfare.

Prominent murals downtown and at Indianapolis International Airport. An exhibit from the Indiana State Museum. And now, this weekend of June 19, June 18-19, the first-ever gathering of Major Taylor cycling clubs from across the country.

“The city didn’t embrace it…until recently,” said Damon Richards, executive director of Bike Indianapolis. “Maybe this giant explosion is some sort of catch-up for lost time.”

Related: Indiana State Museum’s Major Taylor Exhibit Showcases Bicyclist’s Legendary Life

The weekend of rides, walking tours and exhibits includes a ride at the Major Taylor Velodrome on Friday, a reception at the State Museum and a tour of its Major Taylor exhibit on Saturday, and a group ride commemorating the Sunday of June 19 .

The festivities will be hosted by the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Central Indiana, a program of Bike Indianapolis. It will also serve as an introduction of sorts to an organization that has sprung up this year to bring together all Major Taylor cycling clubs: Major Taylor International Cycling Alliance.

“The event in Indianapolis will be kind of our coming out night,” said Bill Gaston, club captain of Major Taylor Cycling Club Chicago. “It made sense, when we do it the first time, let’s take him home.”

Taylor, a cycling prodigy, encountered suffocating racism during his early years of racing. Before he was 20, “separate but equal” became the law of the land in Plessy v. Ferguson from the Supreme Court in 1896, and the Capital City Track in Indianapolis refused to let him race. He and his cycling instructor had moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, the previous year. Excluded from the Indy racing circuit, he toured and broke world records in Europe.

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Cycling clubs named after Taylor have sprung up separately over the past 40 years, beginning with Columbus, Ohio. In 2008, the nonprofit Major Taylor formed in Worcester. The association’s goal is to educate the general public about Taylor’s importance and make him the kind of recognizable household name that Jackie Robinson, for example, is today.

“He was the Jackie Robinson of cycling,” President Lynne Tolman said. “We should say it the other way around: Jackie Robinson is baseball’s Major Taylor.”

But baseball had long since supplanted cycling as an American pastime; the velodromes, once found all over the country, have been demolished or redeveloped. Madison Square Garden, now a preeminent concert hall, was originally a velodrome.

Until this year, cycling clubs vaguely knew of the existence of other clubs by being listed on the Major Taylor Association website.

The first pandemic summer sparked renewed interest in cycling across the country. Gaston estimates he’s seen around 20 new Major Taylor cycling clubs pop up across the country and overseas – in places like Taiwan, Kenya, the UK.

“It’s something about the times we’re living in — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, COVID, — everything has kind of changed,” Gaston said.

Amid the national toll on the country’s history of systemic racism, there has also been a recognition of long-ignored black historical figures.

“I think people are eager to find stories they didn’t know before,” Tolman said.

As interest grew, Gaston decided to create a Facebook page for club leaders to connect with. From there emerged the idea of ​​having a sort of national gathering.

The hope, according to organizers, is to make this national gathering an annual event on the weekend of June 16.

“We’re going to put on an event that will set the bar for future events,” Richards said.

The 31st International Conference on Cycling History, which has been held in places like France, Portugal and Australia, is also being held this summer in Indianapolis. Later in the summer, Momentum Indy will host a Major Taylor group tour.

“Major Taylor is having a moment right now,” Tolman said.

To learn more, sign up or volunteer at Indianapolis’ Major Taylor Invite, go to bit.ly/3NmYogc.

Contact IndyStar transportation reporter Kayla Dwyer at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.

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