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Major Taylor Trail

Ride celebrates Black cycling champ Major Taylor, modern-day African-American bike advocacy

The Major Taylor Trail Keepers Celebration Ride was organized by MTTK Chicago, Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Major Taylor Cycling Club Chicago.

The ride leaves the Dan Ryan Woods. Photo: Cameron Bolton

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

For those unfamiliar with his story, Marshall "Major" Taylor was a Black turn-of turn-of-the-century bike racing champion whose record-breaking achievements helped pave the way for future African-American athletes. He spent the latter part of his life in Chicago.

Major Taylor. Photo via Wikipedia

In 2008, an eight-mile bicycle trail was dedicated to his memory. The Major Taylor Trail runs between Chicago's Southwest Side and the suburb of Riverdale. It connects the Dan Ryan Woods, the Little Calumet River, and Whistler Woods.

Last Saturday's Major Taylor Trail Keepers Celebration Ride was organized by Major Taylor Trail Keepers Chicago, Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Major Taylor Cycling Club Chicago. It celebrated the 124th anniversary of Major Taylor winning the world one-mile bike race championship in Montreal. Participants could do a roughly 16 miles roundtrip on the trail, or else a 30-mile roundtrip to Taylor’s grave site in south-suburban Glenwood.

"It's a traditional ride, a seasonal ride... for the last five or six years, except for the pandemic," said Ed Dixon, cofounder of Major Taylor Cycling Club Chicago (MTC3.) "We want to have a ride every year that brings together Chicago, highlights the trail, and also goes to the body in Glenwood... So this ride has a lot of sentimental value to us as a club, and to the Trail Keepers."

Participants gathered for the ride at Picnic Grove 13 in the Dan Ryan Woods, near the northern trailhead at 87th Street and Damen Avenue. Appropriately, the ride started with a tribute to Major Taylor.

"He discovered his calling for riding bicycles and love for riding bicycles," said Peter Taylor, vice president of Major Taylor Trail Keepers. (No relation to the racing champ.) "He tried to develop himself as a racer, but the political and social environment in Indiana did not allow him to race in the status series there. So he ended up having to go to Massachusetts to start out and ended up doing a lot of racing in Europe."

Peter Taylor, vice president of Major Taylor Trail Keepers, speaks at the beginning of the ride. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Taylor said European cyclists probably know Taylor better than American ones do. "Every day, I tell somebody who Major Taylor is. And he was absolutely a social activist, but he was a superstar cyclist of America. He's an American hero, not yet fully recognized. And this is what we do today, is to recognize him."

There was also a Community Award presentation. The first award went Keith Holt. Back when the trail was "fresh pavement" in the mid-2000s, Holt was working for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance) as a liaison to African-American communities and South Side neighborhoods. That had him working with Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-alderperson Carrie Austin (34th) to talk about the trail, future rides, and cleanup events. Later, Holt was cofounder of MTC3.

Keith Holt accepts his award. Photo: Cameron Bolton

However, when invited to speak, Holt wanted to make it clear that the cycling club wasn't just his idea – it was a group effort. "There was some pushback, let's be real," he said. "There was some pushback because some folks felt like having a predominantly Black club on the Southeast Side... we're encouraging segregation." He said the idea of being connected to Major Taylor honored the first club named after him in Columbus, Ohio. "We all came together with the vision of actually having a large [cycling group], and I'm so proud that it's the largest club in the Chicagoland area."

The second award went to Southside Critical Mass. The monthly Critical Mass bicycle parades/protests, which leave from Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., on the last Friday of every month, are more likely to end on the North Side than the South Side, and rarely visit the Far South Side. Therefore, Southside Critical Mass, a less politically-charged cruise, was an effort to showcase South Side communities. It happens on the first Friday of the month, usually leaving from Nichols Park, 1355 E. 53rd St. in Hyde Park.

Danielle McKinney accepts the award for Southside Critical Mass. Photo: Cameron Bolton

SSCM participant Danielle McKinnie accepted the award for the leaderless ride. "Next year, we are going to celebrate ten years," she said. "We've been in so many various bike groups, and it was like a meeting of minds. So it was just the perfect thing to make. And we get to show the hidden gems on the South Side."

A 15-mile bike route along the Major Taylor Trail to Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens South, where Taylor is buried. Image: Google Maps

And then the two rides took off. Tim Rooney pedaled the entire 30 miles to and from the grave site. "It was a great ride with wonderful guides," he said. "The ride celebrates the life and legacy of a champion, and introduces riders to someone the world needs to remember."

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