In the mid-nineties I started gaining interest in bicycles beyond mountain bikes and as more than a way to get through the city. My interest in bicycle culture grew and with it came an interest in the history of bikes, a love for utility cycling, and even something that could be described as more than a mild fascination with the recumbent bicycle…
Side story: I remember a little talk I had with a friend of mine in the late nineties. She was messengering in SF at the time for Lickety Split (an all girl courier service.) I told her that my next bike was going to be a recumbent because of the efficiency gained while riding one. I might has well have told her that I was going to get “Monkeyfucker” tattooed on my forehead… She was the first person I met that did not classify recumbents as bicycles and basically threatened to dissociate herself from me if I started riding one. It was the first time I experienced bike-on-bike hatred. Of course- she was riding a track bike, in the 90’s- back when track bikes were badass. She made it sound as though recumbents were some gross misuse of metal and rubber- like a bastardization of all things pure. Sacrilege. Blasphemy… I never got a recumbent- and though I would now prefer a penny farthing over a ‘bent- I can’t help but notice that uneducated people generally don’t ride recumbents. Physicists, engineers, scientists- people who’s IQ’s are high, and who’s appreciation for style is low. Function over form… all the way. But I digress.
With my fascination of cycling culture on the rise, the collection of books started to expand. At one time I had nearly 100 books about the bicycle… Art books, biographies, magazines, books on the social history of bicycles, the bicycle in wartime, repair manuals (if you have a first generation rock shock- I can rebuild it for you,) books on how to ride, where to ride, even books on bike culture itself (Bike Cult, by David Perry, was a huge influence on me when I picked it up in 1995- now it’s tattered, with pages torn, being well read and photocopied even more.) In recent years- my movie collection has been expanding. I like bike movies that are harder to find. Rad, which everyone has (or should have) seen by now, has not been officially released to dvd yet… I have it on vhs- and look forward to the day that it’s brought into the modern age by being remastered and made available- maybe next year? It will be it’s 25th anniversary!
I recently acquired “Tracks of Glory“-the 182 minute Aussie mini series about the time that Major Taylor spent in Australia in the early 1900’s. From 1992, it stars Phil Morris as Marshall “Major” Taylor and Cameron Daddo as Don Walker, the man that he was originally brought to Australia to race. There isn’t much info out there about Don Walker (not the frame builder)- he was never a World Champion cyclist like Major Taylor, and from what I can tell he never raced outside of Australia. What can be said about Don Walker is that he was one of the few of Major Taylor’s opponents that was friendly to him and treated him as an equal. If the series is accurate, then Major was even the best man at Walker’s wedding.
If what you are looking for is a documentary on the life and times of Major Taylor, you won’t find it in Tracks of Glory. It was a TV mini-series- the acting is mediocre and it seems to follow the Austrialian Walker, around more so than Taylor (being an Australian project, I wasn’t too surprised.) The actor that plays Major Taylor seems to do an ok job at portraying a man that is tormented by being a God-fearing World Champion that is constantly subject to the intense racism of the time. I think an actor with a darker skin complexion may have suited the part better- as Major Taylor had a very dark complexion. The filmmakers choice to have an actor with a lighter complexion may have been an attempt to keep the show more light hearded and less racially charged, which to me, was a major part of Major’s story. His wife Daisy, though more accurately cast by appearance, left much to be desired. Her acting was quite poor- not seeming to pay any mind to the fact that the time period it was supposed to be filmed in was the early 1900’s. Renee Jones (the actress that played Daisy’s part) may be better known in the USA for her TV roles on 21 Jumpstreet, Days of our lives, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Tracks of Glory also brings in Floyd MacFarland (played by Nicholas Eadie) and Ivar Lawson (Rodney Bell)- the racist pricks that personified the racism that Major Taylor was so familiar with- even inflicting physical harm in some of their attacks on the track. Major experienced much racism while racing in the USA and was banned from riding with whites in some states. Celebrated in much of Europe, his time in Australia seemed to go well until MacFarland and Lawson arrived on the scene- brought there to boost ticket sales by promoter H.D. “Huge Deal” McIntosh (played by Richard Roxburgh.) Even then- the crowd seemed to love him- though many of the men he raced (and won) against teamed against him with the color of his skin being their common enemy.
Major Taylor was the first black athlete to achieve “World Champion” status, and his story is both beautiful and tragic. He went from rags to riches and back to rags, buried in an unmarked grave after he died in Chicago at age 53, estranged by his wife and daughter. His story is one full of courage, strength and dedication, which every cyclist should learn more about.
“Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart.”
-Marshall “Major” Taylor
Books to read:
- Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, 1929 ISBN 0-8369-8910-4
- Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer by Andrew Ritchie, 1988 ISBN 0-8018-5303-6
- Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome ISBN 0-689-83159-5
- Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World’s Fastest Human Being by Todd Balf ISBN 0-3072-3658-7
We may also see a movie come out about the life and time of Major Taylor. Producers Michael Dubrow and Scott Mednick supposedly have something in the works- though the preview that was posted seems to be more of an “iPhoto” slideshow than a movie teaser.
In all of that- I would give Tracks of Glory a 2.5 out of 5 star rating.
- The costuming was decent.
- The bikes weren’t completely accurate (when will film makers realize that if they make a film about track bikes- then they shouldn’t use freewheels?)
- The acting was mediocre (Renee Jones was by far my least favorite performance)
- There was far less riding than one might expect from a cycling based show
- The focus was more on Don Walker and his relationship with Major Taylor than it was about Major Taylor himself
- It did have more information than I’ve seen before about Major’s time spent in Australia, which was pretty cool
I thought of maybe doing a screening of Tracks of Glory someplace- with a 2.5 out of 5 rating- does anybody else have any interest in watching this little gem?