In my previous post, about Major Taylor’s letter to Bearings, published in 1894, I included several cartoons from that time. I’m posting those again here. But in addition, other racist images of him, and of other cycling-related cartoons, published in the United States, France and Australia during his racing career. Needless to say, the nastiness of many of these underlines the social currents of the times and the habitual willingness of the press to use such material. Some do not necessarily refer specifically to Major Taylor.

Fast Black - Cycling Life, 26 April 1894

Fast Black – Cycling Life, 26 April 1894


1st bicycle in Remusville - unknown date

1st bicycle in Remusville – unknown date –  “My King! ef dar ain’t de berry ole Satan hisself, tail an’ all, a-gwine about de kentry a-straddlin’ of a buggy-wheel.”


Ebenezer Smith, Bearings, 23 Feb, 1894

Ebenezer Smith, Bearings, 23 Feb, 1894


One of the Unattached - LAW Bulletin, 9 Aug 1895

One of the Unattached – LAW Bulletin, 9 Aug 1895


Bearings - 16 Feb. 1894

Bearings – 16 Feb. 1894

Bearings 9 Feb. 1894

Bearings 23 Feb 1894 racist caricature, cropped

Bearings, 23 Feb. 1894


SF Examiner, 8 Aug. 1897

San Francisco Examiner, 8 Aug. 1897: Kemble Illustrates the Piccaninny Club Awheel; a Brush with Brack Trash

Bearings, 1898 scrapbook - 1

Three cartoons  from Bearings, 1898

Bearings, scrapbook - 3Bearings, 1898 scrapbook - 2

France – 1901

Nose-thumbing from La Vie

La Vie au Grand Air, Paris, 1901. The caption underneath says: “Jacquelin. A souvenir from Thursday 16 May! It’s true that on the 27th the negro got his own back brilliantly in return for being defeated previously, except for the nose-thumbing. But, in fact, this thumb to the nose, wasn’t it perhaps a military salute?” [i.e., because Jacquelin was in the military]. The balloon coming out of Taylor’s mouth says – “He’s bad! He doesn’t want to wait for me.”

La Vie au grand Air,26 May 1901

La Vie au Grand Air, 26 May 1901

France – 1909

Mich 2, Le Plein Air, prob. 1909

Mich cartoon, Le Plein Air, 1909

Mich, Le Plein Air, date unknown, 1909

Mich cartoon, Le Plein Air, 1909

Australia, 1903

No. 13, Australia, small dpi - 1

“No. 13”, The Bulletin, 17 Jan. 1903

No. 13, Australia, small dpi - 2

“No. 13”, The Bulletin, 17 Jan. 1903

Blessed are the Peacemakers - detail

Blessed are the Pacemakers – The Bulletin, 17 Jan

Blessed are the Pacemakers - The Bulletin, 17 Jan 1903

Blessed are the Pacemakers – The Bulletin, 17 Jan

'Nother interview - Bulletin, 14 March 1903

‘Nother interview – Bulletin, 14 March 1903

United States

Salt Lake Telegram, 20 Aug. 1910

Salt Lake Telegram, 20 Aug. 1910


Interview with Andrew Ritchie By Lynne Tolman –

See also:

Andrew Ritchie, the author of Major Taylor: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, recently came across a letter from African-American cyclist, Major Taylor, published in Bearings magazine on Feb. 9, 1894. Bearings, based in Chicago, was one of the most important and widely circulated weekly cycling magazines in the mid-1890s period. Its full title was The Bearings – The Cycling Authority of America. A typical issue, with all of its advertisements, could run to 60 pages. We are publishing the full text of the letter here and – in an email interview with Lynne Tolman, President of the Major Taylor Association – Andrew Ritchie discusses what the letter tells him about the very early career of the future world champion. Youngest-image

The earliest image of Taylor in the press, age about 16, published in an unidentified newspaper in 1895.

Text of letter from Major Taylor

The Other Side

The Bearings is always ready to give both sides of a story and although it is against the admission of the negro to the L.A.W., yet it is willing to give the colored man a chance to air his views in its columns. The following interesting letter from a colored cyclist of Indianapolis gives a side of the question which has not been touched on before: Editor The Bearings: I am a cyclist; further, I am a negro. I have hesitated a long time, but now I think it high time for some one of my color to say a few words in regard to the great (?) question which is causing so much controversy between the different sections of the L.A.W.

Bearings 9 Feb. 1894, Major Taylor on The Negro Problem. cropped

It may be because I am illiterate that I have heard or read nothing from the negro, but to my knowledge there has been no argument between any of them and the politicians, who are using them as part of their “stock in trade,” to further their interests as great leaders or party bosses. However strong their argument may seem, I for one can only think that it’s not the “coon” they want, neither is it their dollar – but their big black vote is the coveted prize.

There is not a member of the League that desires me or any of my colored friends for a club mate, or to be one of my brothers in any fraternity, and every good sound negro who has horse sense enough to ride one of those grand machines knows that as well as I. We are gaining in numbers every year, and unless this great League looks to its affairs and leaves politics alone to a greater extent, the near future will see a colored man’s organization in the field that will bring about a heap more in the way of the good cause than the L.A.W. ever has.

I have ridden a wheel perhaps longer than many of your members and have always found plenty of enjoyment without an L.A.W. pin or a Bi. World, and have never had any more desire to become one of its members than I would to have a white man join our little church, instead of the one across the street, which is for whites only. Give us your good will and let us think of our own troubles. If our vote is worth so much, it will be given freely to any good cause, and it can grow much faster if cultivated by our own party.

Negroes who wish to mix with white men are not so plentiful as you think. This great United States government has elevated us, given us education and strength to act for ourselves – for which we are very grateful – but we are still a race as different from others as God first made us.

As cyclists we are still young, but as pleasure seekers we are old. Sociability is at least one half of a negro’s life and we know that we can not derive a portion of our existence in the social circles of the white race. We want nothing from from south, north, east, or west but that which we are entitled to, and that is certainly not membership to any white man’s league of wheelmen.

I trust that you will find space in your valuable paper for this letter, that it may be an opening shot in the way of “putting up,” instead of “down,” the “son of Ham,” as he grows interested in cycling. Hoping to hear from the colored cyclists as a body in the near future, I still remain a true lover of what is right for both, yes for all, classes.

Yours truly, Major Taylor (colored cyclist)

Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 30


First-photo Young-line-drawing











Second photo



Lynne Tolman: The letter was published under the heading “The Other Side,” [i.e.,of the question] referring to the debate over a proposed “white only” membership rule for the League of American Wheelmen, which served recreational and utilitarian cyclists, but also governed bicycle racing in the United States. In a nutshell, what were the arguments for and against, and who was making them?

Andrew Ritchie: The LAW held an annual convention at which State Delegates assembled and voted to make important decisions about membership issues, racing, the condition of the roads, and the general running of the organization, which was expanding rapidly during the ‘bicycle boom’ years of the mid-1890s. For several years prior to 1894, southern members had been pressing for a ban on black membership, part of a nation-wide movement towards de facto semi-legal segregation in a wide variety of social institutions, which became known as ‘Jim Crow’ segregation. If blacks were allowed in, it was argued, then whites would either not join or would leave. The issue was – what effect would black membership have on nationwide enrollment? At the 1894 Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the members who wanted the black ban would again determined to propose it and force a vote through. Led by a Col. Watts, of Louisville, they succeeded in carrying their motion [by 127 ‘yes’ votes to 54 ‘no’ votes, with 121 votes needed to carry the motion]. A simple rewriting of membership qualifications substituted the phrase “any wheelman….of good character” may become a member with “…any white wheelman…”. So strictly speaking, it wasn’t a black ‘exclusion’ as stated, but a white-only ‘inclusion’! [You can find a much expanded version of this story in the chapter, “Bicycle Boom and Jim Crow”, of my biography]

This membership rule stayed on the books until it was officially rescinded by the League of American Bicyclists in 1999, also at a Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, where Major Taylor was posthumously awarded a League membership. I gave an address at that Convention, and an article was published in BicycleUSA, Sept/Oct. 1999 (see below).

Bearings 23 Feb 1894 racist caricature, cropped

A graphic impression of Major Taylor’s situation, from Bearings, 23 Feb. 1894

LT: Major Taylor was just a couple of months past his 15th birthday when this letter was published in early 1894. Were you surprised to find that he joined the debate in this way?

AR: When I first read it, I was mostly annoyed with myself for having missed it, because I was familiar with Bearings and had had access to it – in fact I made a xerox copy of a page in the same issue. In pre-Internet days, you had to turn the actual paper pages of periodicals and magazines to find relevant articles – sometimes in foreign countries and foreign languages! – so actually it was easy to miss things, so I shouldn’t be hard on myself. It’s an important document, especially since Feb. 1894 was very close to the beginning of Major Taylor’s serious amateur racing career, and he was more than two years away from turning professional. And here he is – writing a meaningful letter to the press! To find a significant statement concerning race relations and current LAW politics from the only 15¼ year-old Taylor [he was born Nov. 1878] was for me pretty extraordinary!

But there was an immediate question: was the letter written by Taylor himself, or did somebody else do it for him? In the end, we have no way of knowing – we can only speculate. At the top of the letter, a Bearings editor writes: “The Bearings is always ready to give both sides of a story and although it is against the admission of the negro to the L.A.W., yet it is willing to give the colored man a chance to air his views in its columns. The following interesting letter from a colored cyclist of Indianapolis gives a side of the question which has not been touched on before”. We may well take this editorial disclaimer at its face value: Taylor wrote the letter, Bearings published it.

The idea that Bearings might have concocted the letter is an interesting one, but not one I think which holds much water. By 1894, Taylor was already known in Indianapolis and Chicago as “the negro champion of America”. What would Bearings have had to gain from ‘inventing’ such a long and articulate letter – expressing the ‘separatist’ sentiment within the black community so well: ‘We don’t want to be where we are not wanted.’ So, was he helped by someone else? Possible. I see easily enough the guiding hand of Birdie Munger, looking over Taylor’s shoulder to make a few suggestions. Don’t forget that Taylor had been very well educated in an affluent white man’s house, and he had already been working with Munger for some time, and was constantly around the political and cycling discussions of the moment. He had led an extremely precocious life for a black kid, and I’m not totally surprised to see that he had the urge to write the letter, and the ability to write that well. And he certainly had many people around him who could help him. But it could be that he was a better letter writer than Munger himself!

There’s something about the statement – “I have ridden a wheel perhaps longer than many of your members and have always found plenty of enjoyment without an L.A.W. pin or a Bi. World [the other leading cycling publication, to which LAW members automatically subscribed], and have never had any more desire to become one of its members than I would to have a white man join our little church, instead of the one across the street, which is for whites only” – which rings so absolutely true. And this is cocky, almost adolescent, stuff: “There is not a member of the League that desires me or any of my colored friends for a club mate, or to be one of my brothers in any fraternity, and every good sound negro who has horse sense enough to ride one of those grand machines knows that as well as I.” And, then, his sarcasm is masterful: first – “It may be because I am illiterate that I have heard or read nothing from the negro….”, and then – “Negroes who wish to mix with white men are not so plentiful as you think.”

LT: Major Taylor’s letter, to paraphrase, says that opposition to the “whites only” measure is just pandering in order to get blacks’ votes, and that he doesn’t want to be part of a white club that doesn’t want black members. He says blacks and whites are content with separate churches, for example, and that the LAW should leave “politics” alone or black cyclists will form their own organization. Were there already separate black cycling groups? Were there any blacks in the LAW?

AR: Yes, some black members had already joined, and were joining  and also the evidence in the press was that black cyclists had been forming their own cycling clubs up to 1894, and went on forming them, and challenging for acceptance into the LAW [see: San Francisco Call, 12 July 1896 and 20 April 1897, the case of the all-black Oakland Cycling Club; and Bearings, 30 July 1896, “Organizing a Colored League” in Washington, DC]. There were various disputes about whether a black rider should be allowed to enter an ‘open’ race [see: New York Times, 24 May, 16 June and 14 July 1894]. More research needs to be done. As our digital searching capability increases, I expect that we’ll be able to pick up more traces of these black cycling clubs. The idea of a separate black governing body was in the air, and talked about, as we see here in Major Taylor’s letter, but never seems to have actually happened. There are lots of mentions of ‘colored’ bicycle clubs and races. By this date, Major Taylor had been winning enough races in and around Indianapolis and Chicago that he was already known as “the colored champion of America”.

And then there is the now well-documented case of Kittie Knox, a black cyclist from Boston who made a test case of her paid-up membership in the LAW. The 1895 LAW convention was in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Kittie insisted on integrating herself into all the facilities, social gatherings and rides – riding a man’s bicycle and bloomers! It is a fascinating story very ably told by Lorenz Finison in his book Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900 [Univ. Mass. Press, 2014]. Knox became a local legend.

LT: Plessy v. Ferguson, the court case that would bring the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, in 1896, legitimizing racially “separate but equal” public accommodations, was already in the pipeline. What was Major Taylor’s experience of racial segregation in his youth? What kinds of interactions did he have in black groups, and with white people, that might have shaped his view on the LAW proposal to draw the “color line”?

AR: Marshall Taylor’s upbringing was very unusual for a black child born into rural poverty, though perhaps not so rare as we might suppose. But the story is now well-known, and told by Taylor in his autobiography. He was raised at an impressionable age [8/9 – about 12, we don’t know for sure] as “the companion” to Dan Southard, a white child of his own age living in the affluent Indianapolis suburbs. Taylor’s father was coachman/driver for the family, and Marshall sometimes went to work with his father. Sydney Taylor Brown tells me vividly in an interview that “he was like a brother to him, they lived together, had lessons together and played together.” The Southard family provided everything for.Marshall, and he had access to everything the white boy had access to, including a bicycle. That was Taylor’s foundation in cycling, but it was also a model for his experience living on both sides of the color line in a world which was becoming increasingly more – not less – segregated. He was forcefully reminded of that when he went with Dan Southard to try to enroll in physical exercise classes at the local YMCA – membership open only to whites! In his letter he’s quite clear that he’s not in favor of blacks becoming members of ‘white’ organizations where they will never feel really welcomed, but there was no black YMCA.

Taylor’s time living with the Southards also meant that he was well educated, well informed, intelligent and articulate from a young age, and capable, I feel, of having written this letter. His living like this in the white world meant that his own family became somewhat estranged from him, and certainly they from him. Post-Southard, he appears to have moved quickly into the cycling world and was probably living with Munger by about 13 or 14. Both those exposures to the white world were certainly a good introduction to the larger sports world he would later encounter as a professional cyclist – sponsors, promoters, officials, newsmen, photographers, and his rivals on the tracks of the world, all of whom were white.

Given all the experiences Taylor would have in racing and traveling the world for nearly 20 years, he appears to have shown a high degree of sophistication in living in the two worlds, in a sense he was always something of a ‘special case’ because there were so few black athletes occupying a position of comparable international fame. But he certainly received more than his fair share of racist actions and attitudes. I think the racist cartoons we are including here are an indication of how this deeply-rooted and hateful mockery of black people was sanctioned and routinely published in the media. Which leads to the next question and answer……….

LT: In introducing Major Taylor’s letter, Bearings notes its own position “against the admission of the negro to the LAW” How did Bearings present the issue elsewhere in its pages?

AR: The fact that Bearings was prepared to publish racist cartoons, and took this stand in 1894 on the proposed ‘negro bar’ in its columns, has to be pointed out and acknowledged. Another Chicago cycling paper, The Referee – The Cycle Trade Journal, on 30 June 1893 editorialized with the headline “The Negro Must Go”. ‘Well-wishers of the negro’ agreed without exception that – “The negro is all right in his place. For the most part he is our servant, far below us in intelligence; and his habits and standing prevent our meeting with him in a social or fraternal way.” Gov. Henry, of Virginia, told the Referee reporter – “The negro we look upon as a faithful house-dog. We like him. He is a part of our institution, but he is far below us in intelligence, in morals and in ability. Every ‘nigger’ God ever made will steal.” This comment was published in its editorial columns. But a classier newspaper like Bearings did not want to alienate its readers, and on the subject of the ‘black exclusion’ from the LAW, they seem mostly to have preferred good reporting, and following the story, which they certainly did. They had little reason to take a stand on an issue that wasn’t their fight.

Later, Bearings published many objective news accounts of Major Taylor’s activities. In 1897, they said – “The position of the negro [i.e., MT specifically] is a trying one, for every rider is anxious to top him, owing to his color, and the battle to beat him is waged fiercely day by day.” [Bearings, Sept. 16, 1897]. The situation in 1897, MT’s first complete season as a pro, when he was contesting the national championships, was full of complications, as Bearings at that moment reports in a long article: “The white men claim that it is not fear of Taylor’s prowess and ability that brings about the present opposition, but a doubt exists if the white men are wholely honest in this. Taylor is a great rider, of that there cannot be the slightest doubt. He is also a daring rider and the first of his class to ever show championship form in the present day fast company, and there is a fear that his presence in the races may excite other colored riders to such admiration that more of his race will want to compete. One thing is certain, the meet promoters will regret his going, for he proves an excellent drawing card and his entry is eagerly sought.” [Bearings, 14 Oct. 1897]

What a gift to the historian to have commentary of such expressive style and detail! The editors of Bearings were influential professional journalists who were playing on the national level of cycling power politics, so they were very much in the public eye. For a number of years, Bearings had been the official organ of the LAW; every member received a copy in the mail which gave Bearings a circulation of at least 40,000 copies a week in 1894.

LT: The LAW did pass the “white only” clause in 1894. Yet Major Taylor got a professional LAW racing license at the age of 18, in 1896. Was he just an exception? How did the LAW ban on blacks affect his career?

AR: The answer to this is actually fairly simple. The 1894 ruling applied to full membership in the LAW and the ‘white only’ ban would be most likely to be used as a criterion of entry into amateur races in Mid-western and southern states. In 1893, the Associated Cycling Clubs of Chicago barred black riders from entering the Pullman Road Race, one of the most prestigious national road races, which Taylor would certainly have been eligible to enter. In more liberal states, such as New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Philadelphia, black riders were not likely to be rejected, one of the principal reasons that Major Taylor moved east. But, anyway, the ruling didn’t apply to professionals, many of whom were highly suspicious of LAW control of racing anyway, and much more oriented towards their business and industry sponsors. So, supported by Birdie Munger and others who recognized his incredible talent, Taylor didn’t have any trouble getting his pro. licence in 1896. All his troubles came later, with the physical and sometimes very aggressive reactions from the white riders to his actual presence on the tracks, and especially to his effrontery directed at the white race in actually winning races! Can you imagine…..!

LT: So as an adult, Major Taylor challenged the white establishment of his sport and gained entry. Do you see that as a contradiction or reversal of his “separatist” view at age 15, or an evolution?

AR: Well, yes, Taylor certainly challenged the entire international establishment of the sport, and did gain entry everywhere. He couldn’t be kept out as long as promoters were willing to accept his entries, and he could be sponsored by makers as a professional without being a full LAW member – he just needed his license. At first, it was perhaps easy for him to imagine that the LAW didn’t matter much, that the black cyclists could and would just form their own organization. But there was no ‘separatist’ League he could compete in, there was no upper level ‘black’ racing scene which he could gained entry to – he had no black rivals at his level. It was obvious from his first professional race [the New York Six Day] that he was a world-class athlete – Munger knew that.

But his career was dogged by bureaucratic nastiness, for example in 1898, as the various professional riders’ committees deviously looked for ways to make trouble for Taylor, and make life as unpleasant as possible for him – in fact, to drive him from the sport, which in effect after 1901, as he found he could earn his living in Europe and Australia, they did succeed in doing.

The tragedy of Major Taylor’s career was that he had to struggle so hard to survive in the States, but he never really gained acceptance within the American sport. After 1892-1900 [he turned pro. 1896; visited France first in 1901], he traveled the world and avoided regular competition in the States. Every time returned, there was some new round of bureaucratic nastiness – but little recognition.

LT: Your biography of Major Taylor has many references to Bearings from this period, but this letter escaped your notice during your original research for the book. How did it come to your attention now?

AR: Actually, it was mentioned in an article by another cycling historian – Gary Sanderson. Thank you, Gary! As I said above, Bearings was a very important cycling journal, containing so much information – so it’s easy to miss things.

LT: Since the Major Taylor biography, your research has broadened and deepened to the history of bicycle racing in general, presented in your 2011 book Quest for Speed. Did that project refine your assessment of Major Taylor’s place in history?

AR: Well, no, because the Major Taylor project really was my entrance-door into the wider history of 19th century cycling in the United States. I didn’t really know very much about the 1890s American scene until I started to try to make sense of the Major Taylor scrapbooks! But discovering those huge stacks of American periodicals in the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian was pretty amazing; it’s extraordinary how much social history is contained in those cycling magazines. I am going back, now, to try to expand and deepen my knowledge of Major Taylor’s career, because we now have new opportunities to explore the newspapers and periodicals digitally, and we’re finding new things. This letter of Taylor’s is one example.

The two new biographies of Taylor – the Kerbers and Balf – don’t add very much from a historical perspective to the essential shape of the chronological biography which I laid out in my book. I have issues with both of these books, mostly because of their tendency to over-fictionalize Taylor’s life, by which I mean they introduce too much speculation, and have Taylor engaging in conversations and thoughts for which there is no evidence. The story of Major Taylor’s life and career is going to be further refined and expanded by more detailed research, understanding the micro-history of his financial and contractual dealings within the sport, and exploring this delicate social-political, racialized, balancing trick that was going on all the time in Major Taylor’s dealings with the white power structures and with his white opponents. Inventing details of his life doesn’t help.

Bearings - 16 Feb. 1894

Bearings – 16 Feb. 1894

Text of Ephraham Jones’ Prediction cartoon

Dar’s a powerful agitation in the culled cycle club,
Yo’ ken heah de trouble brewin’ f’m NewAwlns [New Orleans?] to de Hub;
Dar’s a tempest comin’, honey, an’ as sho’ as yo’s a coon,
Dar’s gwine to be some carvin’ done an’t can’t be done too soon.
De white trash tinks dey run the league but, say, yo’ heah me shout?
Dars gwine to be some carvin’
Ef Dey Don’t Look Out!

Dar wuz a gen’l meetin’ at de club house Sat’day night,
An res’lutions passed de board ‘bout ‘scludin’ dat word ‘white’,
De ‘nanimous declaration ‘gin de ‘mendment wuz so strong
Dat dey had to frow de winders up fo’ we could git along.
Dars trouble comin’ an’ I knows jes’ what I’m talkin’ ‘bout;
Fur dar’s gwine to be some carvin’
Ef Dey Don’t Look Out!

De culled population ain’t a talkin’ wif it’s mouf,
Wen ‘t says ‘twont stan’ no foolin’ f’m de gem’men in de Souf;
Dar is heaps ob ‘spect’ble pussons buyin’ razahs ebery day,
An wat’s a gwine to happen – well I can’t persuckly say;
But I tells yo’, honey, yo’ be kind of ‘tickle [???] wats you ‘bout,
Cose dars gwine to be some carvin’
Ef Dey Don’t Look Out!

Bearings 9 Feb. 1894

Bearings 9 Feb. 1894

Bearings, 1898 scrapbook - 2 Bearings, scrapbook - 3 Bearings, 1898 scrapbook - 1Cartoons from Bearings, published later, in 1898


For further reading on the subject, see:

– Andrew Ritchie, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer [Johns Hopkins U.P., 1988].

– Andrew Ritchie, “The League of American Wheelmen, Major Taylor and the ‘Color Question’ in the United States in the 1890s”, in J.A. Mangan & Andrew Ritchie, Ethnicity, Sport, Identity – Struggles for Status [Sport in the Global Society series, Frank Cass, 2004].

– Andrew Ritchie, “Major Taylor and the League of American Wheelmen’s ‘Color Barrier’, Bicycle USA, Sept/Oct. 1999 – full text of Resolution.

The Bearings – The Cycling Authority of America, 1894: various issues report the debate around the Louisville LAW Convention: 9 Feb., 23 Feb., 9 March, 30 March, 6 April 1894. There is an online version of Bearings at:

– Lorenz Finison, Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900 [Univ. Mass. Press, 2014].  

Quest for Speed illustrations

These are some of the illustrations contained in Quest for Speed – and all have informative captions

High-wheel bicycle racing in Winona, Minnesota in the late 1880s

Richard Howell, 1887

Varieties of early bicycle/velocipede racing and riding

The Origins of Bicycle Racing in England

Athletics in Derby, 1869, showing the context for the earliest bicycle racing

French velocipede rider - 1869

Velocipede riders in San Francisco - 1869

James Moore, with the bicycle on which he won the Paris-Rouen race in Nov. 1869

Design changes in a 5-year period (1869-1874) from the velocipede to the early high-wheel bicycle

Transitional English high-wheeler - early 1870s

Posted by: andrewritchie | April 18, 2012

Olympic Games, cycling, London, 1948, Souvenir Issue

1948 Olympic Games, London, Cycling

Blast from the past

Pages from a souvenir booklet called “Olympic Cycling”, by Bill Mills, the Authorized Olympic Publication of the National Cyclists’ Union. With a Forword by E.J. Southcott, President of the NCU and a message from H.S. Anderson, Chairman – Olympic Organizing Committee, NCU.  [further research in progress]

Posted by: andrewritchie | July 28, 2011

Andrew Oxley Bromptoning across Poland

My friend Andrew Oxley makes it from Berlin to Kaliningrad, across Poland in July 2011

Beginning of trip

Greetings, A

I’m back from my trip but keen to be off again. The Brompton performed well: no punctures. However, while the front tyre is in good condition, the back one – newer and a Schwalbe – has lost its tread & I suppose needs replacing: is that normal?  I spent 7 days on the bike.

Compared to last summer’s ride from Rotterdam to Berlin(730 km in 7 days) I covered less (585 km). But last year I had almost continuous heavy rain and I thought the best use of the time then was to keep pounding away and at least get some distance done, while apart from a couple of hours one day when I had to put rain gear on, this time I had dry, sunny weather and an inclination to do some sightseeing – and sometimes take a lengthy lunch break. I made it to Russia! At least I reached the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and its capital, confusingly also named Kaliningrad, enclosed by Poland, Lithuania  and the Baltic Sea. It’s still all but 1000 km to St Petersburg.

I shall allow myself one rant – to do with transporting the bike.

I booked an Easy Jet return flight from Gatwick  to Berlin, planning to return to Berlin by bus or train after finishing the ride. The airline imposes an extra charge of £25 each way for the bike: fair enough. It also says the bike has to be bagged up – so in it goes into the Brompton Bag. But what to do with the damned bulky bag at the other end? I can’t take it with me. In the absence of a friend living conveniently near the airport, I had researched the left-luggage situation. There were lockers at the airport – in a multi-storey carpark outside the terminal – and at Berlin railway station. Since I only later discovered the station lockers allowed you to leave things for a mere 72 hours, it was fortunate I decided to use an airport locker on arrival – you could leave your stuff there for a month. The locker costs 4 euros for 24 hours: for the 11-day trip (I broke the journey back toBerlinwith a stop inGdanskto meet Sonia and Rob on holiday there) this would mean 44 euros – nearly 40 quid – rather pricey, but unavoidable. I carefully saved up the required coins during the time I was inGermany- the lockers took nothing else. Imagine my horror on arriving back at the airport after a long and poorly connected train journey from Gdansk [and time to the flight running short] to discover the infernal machine demanding not 44 but 56 euros (around 50 quid) – more than I had in cash, with no person on hand to query the amount, and with no means of obtaining coins near the lockers. So I hared back to the terminal (the bike serving me well), begged to change notes for further coins from an unwilling grump of a money-changer (nothing in it for him), and sped back finally to release the bag. I made the flight. But I can do without extortionate monopolists hiding facelessly behind mere automatons, saying in effect “take it or leave it”. I had little option but to take it.Enough rant.

This was a splendid excursion. I had to keep reminding myself that the whole journey through Poland and into the Russian enclave was through what had for centuries been either the eastern part of Prussia or heavily populated by Teutons, because once over the post-war imposed former GDR-Polish border on the River Oder, all signs of a former German past have been almost completely obliterated – not just because of the war but later deliberately – as a warm-up before I left England I watched Polanski’s The Pianist.

Geo-political landmarks were a significant feature of this trip. But the landscape was pleasant – almost wholly flat, but with many lakes and woods. And no dead dogs. Accommodation was easy. There were hotels in all the towns through Poland. I paid an average of about £25 a room a night My one night in Kaliningrad cost £50, but that’s reasonable compared to St Petersburg and Moscow. Meals and beer are cheap. The lock for the bike was detected in my hand luggage in the airport scan on the way back, but as I never use it – I never leave the bike anywhere outside – and it’s a hefty part of the weight in my luggage, I shan’t take it next time. In the event I could have managed without the pump as well (it is of course only light-weight) but tweaked the tyres a couple of times for appearance’s sake.

Day 1. Tues 5th July:Berlin to Seelow.

I overnight off the Kurfuerstendamm in the former West Berlin and cycle across the city centre, over the Potsdamer Platz’s markers showing where the Wall used to be, to my starting point, the Brandenburg Gate. There are lots of cyclists – helmet-less – and a fair number of marked cycleways – otherwise it’s road or pavement. I ride out through Unter den Linden, heading east and for the road out to where I want to cross into Poland. I miss my way for a while in the suburbs and lose a bit of time.

As squeaking noises emanate from I know not what part of the bike, I stop at a bike shop and buy a small can of grease. I’m told I should wipe the grease off after applying it. I can’t see the point and don’t. At the first small town outside Berlin, Muencheberg, I stop at a cafe for an icecream and coffee and a chat with the proprietor. She rewards me with the gift of a map of the local area. I now learn it’s known as Maerkische Schweiz, or “March (i.e. borderland) Switzerland”, optimistically, as there are no mountains, merely low hills, though there are lakes with bathing beaches, and forests. On to Seelow, the last town in the former GDR – hence its Soviet-era monumentalist war memorial half way down the town’s hill – (and so disrupting my long downhill. TheBattle for the Seelow Heights was the Germans’ last major stand before Berlin. 30,000 Soviets died in 4 days.

Most of the route today was on a dedicated cycle track along the main road, but at a couple of points this alarmingly disappeared and there was no alternative but to take the plunge for a couple of miles along the road – narrow, hard-shoulderless, barriered, and with speeding traffic. There were also long stretches of cobblestones. I walked. 72 km for the day (plus meanderings).

Day 2. Wed. 6th July: Seelow to Strzelce Krajenskie – 95 km.

From Seelow, it’s 20 km to the Polish border. As I approach it, a sign informs cyclists they are now on the R1 (also know as the E1) – an “official” route picked out from Calais all the way to St Petersburg. From now on, I am to be on this route for part of the way, but won’t stick to it as it zigzags about too much. The border, at the divided town of Kuestrin/ Kostrzyn, marked by an island in the middle of the River Oder, is now a tame affair with no controls and derelict checkpoints. Up until 1991, it was manned by Soviet soldiers and locals were scared to go anywhere near it – even though it separated two friendly countries. Just inside Poland– there were adverts local “night clubs”. Similar hoardings for local brothels are, I recall, the first sight to greet the walker from Germany into the Czech Republic at As. Further on I see the first of several storks’ nests. They’re on telegraph poles and the roofs of houses in the middle of villages. Soon the very antithesis of the Soviet glorification of the(ir own) dead encountered only a few miles back inside  Germany. A sign in an overgrown park marking, in Polish and (adding insult?) misspelled German, the “site of the former German cemetery”. In the post-war fury, they even took out the graves. Towards the end of the day I am excited to see the first sign to Grzechotki – the Polish side of the border with Russia: only 394 km to go!

Day 3. Thur 7th July: Strzelce Krajenskie to Walcz – 78 km.

All the way to the Russian border, I shall be on the same main road – the most direct route – pedalling along the usually narrow hard shoulder which sometimes disappears, but vehicles overwhelmingly keep their distance. I stupidly carry on riding when I can see a pothole-filling lorry a couple of hundred yards in front of me. I then have to stop and brush off the gravel encrusting the tyres – no lasting damage. I pass through the village  ofSzczuczarz.

Day 4 Fri 8th July: Walcz to Chojnice – 91 km.

For the first and only time I don my waterproof jacket for the afternoon.

Day 5 Sat 9th July: Chojnice to Malbork – 113 km.

Long day today, to leave time free next morning to gape at the massive Gothic brick castle of Malbork – the biggest in Europe. But convenient stops for lunch at Czersk and cake and coffee at Starogard Gdanski. I am now within a short day’s ride ofGdanskif I was going there. An hour before Malbork I pass over another landmark, the River Vistula. Into Malbork over the River Nogat, the castle russet in the evening sunshine. At the practically deserted modern hotel in Malbork, the informative waiter speaks some English and says he is also a student at the police college. He says I should be very careful around the Russian border as there are problems with smugglers. Quite how this might affect me he can’t explain.

Day 6. Sun 10th July: Malbork to Braniewo – 73 km.

Malbork Castle duly viewed – from outside – in amazement, and a gentle afternoon ride in prospect along the quiet partly sea-side route to the last town inPoland. A violent low thunderstorm intervenes at about 2 pm. But I’ve just arrived in the centre of the sizeable town of Elblag and sit it out over a large lunch. On then along a quiet road to my first sight of the sea – the Baltic – since the  English channel. A Xenophon moment: “thalassa”. This happens just before I stumble on the town ofFrombork. I hadn’t done much homework. It’s where Copernicus lived and worked and there’s a tall statue of him in front of a vast cathedral – yet another huge building in these parts, such as you view with wonder in, say, Bruges or Ghent.

I overnight in Braniewo relishing the prospect of crossing the Russian border in the morning.

Day 7 Mon 11th July: Braniewo to the city of Kaliningrad- 63 km.

It’s a brisk 7 km ride to the Russian border and there’s a series of checkpoints before I’m free to roam in Russia. As I wait at a level crossing, I’m joined by 2 other cyclists – from Sweden andNorway- who are riding from Gdansk to Riga. They are in their thirties with families, but have snatched a few days off. They have applied for 72-hour visas, which are supposed to be waiting for them at the border, but they are not sure. We ride on together. They have rucksacks, not panniers. They say they can ride faster. We jump the short queue of cars – what a satisfying feeling – to get to the first Polish barrier, and on showing our passports are waved straight on. At the next point they take more time and ask what we’re carrying. Then another first: a ride through no man’s land in a peloton. At the first of three Russian checkpoints, we have to fill in forms before going on to the next point. The officials are affable and helpful, and joke that they want their pen back. The lads’ visas are waiting as promised. We ride on to the next point, where we are greeted by a snarling Alsatian – chained to its kennel. Our documents are taken into a hutch and we wait, perhaps 15 minutes. As we sit in the sun a uniformed lady approaches with a spaniel and asks with a laugh if we have any drugs: the dog doesn’t think so.

Suddenly we’re free to go. The third point is a wave round a barrier to waiting cars bound for Poland. Not a smuggler in sight. Clear of the border we take pictures, at a sign showing 1001 km to St Petersburg, and 1200 odd toMoscow.

Our destination for the day, and my final stop – the city of Kaliningrad- is 49 km away, along an almost traffic-free road offering glimpses to the left of the Baltic and, out to sea, a parallel spit of land emanating east of Gdansk. But I want to stop at the first village, Mamonovo, to buy roubles and fruit juice and they want to press on – and anyway they’ll probably want to go a little faster than me – so we part company.

A startling sight on the way out from the village  – a long bright green yellow-headed snake serpentining its way into bushes. I fluff getting the camera out in time, but no kidding: it was several feet long. Still no smugglers.

The road from the suburbs into the centre of the city is pretty uncycleable – heavy belching traffic (Soviet-era pollution, here we come) on cobblestones, and cracked pavements – but I reach the biggest hotel – the Hotel Kaliningrad – towering at the top of the main drag at 5 pm. In the large, swanky lobby, my by now filthy folded bike attracts admiring attention. No sign of the notorious Kaliningrad mafia. They do have a room for me.

Andrew Oxley

Posted by: andrewritchie | July 11, 2011

Quest for Speed now reduced to $35.00 – Nov. 2011

Quest for Speed now reduced in price to $35.00

Quest for Speed

Quest for Speed – A History of Early Bicycle Racing – by Andrew Ritchie

Quest for Speed, by Andrew Ritchie, provides, for the first time, a comprehensive social and technological history of the development of bicycle racing and bicycle technology between 1867 and 1903, in Britain, France and the United States. It follows the earliest “velocipedes” into the period of the classic high-wheel bicycle, and then into the “boom” era of the safety bicycle and the pneumatic tire of the mid-1890s and the rise of modern road and track racing. It also explores cycling as recreational riding. It argues that there was a symbiotic relationship between the growth of the sport and the growth of the industry – each needed the other.

Crammed full of documents, technical information, details of the formation of clubs and national and international governing bodies, the origins of national and world championships, insights into the role of the press, and biographies of bicycle racers and the most significant personalities from the sport, industry and press, Quest for Speed is essential reading for anyone  who seeks to understand the foundations of modern cycling in the late 19th century, and the development of the sport.

Quest for Speed is almost 500 pages long, and contains nearly 200 photographs and illustrations illuminating the social history of the period. It has many detailed source Notes, a Bibliography and an Index. It is a worthy successor to Ritchie’s previous book – King of the Road.

[For more information about the book, please see my post here entitled “Quest for Speed – Abstract – Table of Contents]

Ordering information

Quest for Speed is $35.00 + $4.95 shipping = $39.95 in the USA.  Please post a query here on the blog, or email me at I will accept checks, and you can also send me money by Paypal.

In the U.K. it is £30 + £6.00 = £36.00, available from the Veteran-Cycle Club Sales Officer: Bibi Bugg.  Email: Please contact her for more information.

In the rest of Europe, and elsewhere, please contact me for shipping/mailing costs.

Special offer: if you order both Quest for Speed and Major Taylor [see below], the price is reduced to $75.00 and the shipping is free within the USA.  For shipping both books elsewhere, please send a query about shipping/mailing costs.

Also available:

Major Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the


by Andrew Ritchie

Major Taylor -The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World is published by Van der Plas Publications. It is a new, updated and expanded edition of Andrew Ritchie’s biography, first published in 1988. It is recognized as the definitive historical account of this outstanding pioneer African-American athlete.

Major Taylor is the revealing story of an until recently neglected national and world champion cycling star. It brings to life the dramatic story of Major Taylor’s struggle to overcome racism in the United States and his extraordinary rise to global stardom in Europe and Australia. In 1899, he was world sprint champion in Montreal, Canada. For several seasons in France, Major Taylor earned honors, riches and fame as one of cycling’s most recognizable personalities.

The new Major Taylor is published in a large format edition [8½ x 11] and contains 112 photographs.

Ordering information:

Major Taylor is $39.95 + $5.00 shipping = $44.95 in the USA.  Please post a query here on the blog, or email me at  I will accept checks, and you can also send me money by Paypal.  For orders in the U.K., Europe or elsewhere, please send me a query about shipping/mailing costs.

Special offer: if you order both Quest for Speed and Major Taylor, the price is reduced to $75.00 and the shipping is free within the USA.  For shipping both books elsewhere, please send a query about shipping/mailing costs.

These photos of Major Taylor were taken in the later part of his racing career, in 1908 or 1909. I don’t know the photographer, but it might be Jules Beau. The glass plate slides are marked as having belonged to the Rol Agency, however, which may mean that Rol was the photographer.

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 26, 2010

Proletarian cyclists of the world

Proletarian cyclists of the world, unite!

Email other photos to me, and I will post them if they meet the necessary criteria for the rider to be considered a proletarian cyclist [my criteria, of course!]

I’m especially interested in creative re-use. No equipment freaks may apply. No carbon fibre, please. No recognizable Italian or Japanese components. Nothing that looks as if it just came from a shop.

Preferably, it’s a well-loved bicycle, like the one below, which has been a good tool, and probably a good friend, too.

Contribution #1 is exactly the kind of image I’m looking for. Thank you, Lena!

Lena's happy Russian cyclist


Geoff Apps - UK mountain bike pioneer: thanks Chris


Martin's New Guinea proletarian


Time trial techno geek U.K. #1 - 1930s

Time trial techno geek U.K. #2 - 1930s

Dick Swan 1/2/3

Dick Swann, WWII, #1

Dick Swann, WWII, #2

Dick Swann, WWII, #3

Brompton in the English snow

This Brompton in the recent English snow hints at a prol. cyclist nearby!

Chinese tricyclist

Tanzanian cyclist

Hauling firewood

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 25, 2010

Cycling oddities

San Jose State University warning ticket

Quit Asphalt Suffocation

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 23, 2010

Motor-pacing archive

Jimmy Michael, Welsh pace-follower, prob. 1903/4, Paris

Tommy Hall, English, holder of world record for 1-hour: more than 54 miles!!! Paris, 1904

Jeack, Swiss "stayer", date early 1900s

Bobby Walthour, with pacer Hoffman, about 1903-04

The thrill of motor-pacing - Vel d'Hiver, Paris

Bartlett, U.K., behind his pacer, Passerieu, about 1910?

Leon Vanderstuyft breaking the 2 mile pro. motor-paced cinder track record; Manchester Wheelers sports, Fallowfield, date unknown.

Jose Meiffret, paced by Geoff Duke, in an exhibition race at the Grand Prix at Silverstone, 1952

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