Black (Cycling) History Month
February is Black History Month, and that leads to thoughts of black cycling history. There are not many individuals about whom to write, but they have made tremendous contributions.
Forty-eight years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Marshall “Major” Taylor became the first black world cycling champion. He held many world records, and competed in six-day races in the US and Europe. It would be eighty-five years more before an Olympic medal would be awarded to a black cyclist.
Nelson Vails, who earned that Olympic medal, began as a bicycle messenger in New York. His speed and power led to success in local weekend races, and ultimately to the US National team.
A contemporary of Vails, Scott Berryman was also a powerful sprinter. A painful crash ended his chance for a medal at the 1986 World Cycling championships.
Rahsaan Bahati was a prominent feature in the pro peloton from 2000 on. Officially retired from professional cycling, he now devotes his time to the Bahati Foundation.
The mission of the Foundation is to support inner-city youth through outreach programs. They supply students with health and fitness gear, educational supplies, and musical instruments. The Foundation also partners with World Bicycle Relief.
Nelson Vails serves on the advisory council of I Challenge Myself, Inc. an organization which provides opportunities for high school students to strengthen themselves through endurance sports like cycling.
Major Taylor didn’t live long enough to see his legacy. Today, there are many bicycle clubs that bear his name. The Major Taylor Project is a year-round, youth development cycling program focused on introducing youth from diverse communities to the recreation of cycling and creating an inclusive culture of bicycling that will continue to future generations.