Historical Badasses

I love this feature by Brook Sutton at Adventure Journal (www.adventure-journal.com). Here are two stories about Historical badass cyclists:

First up, is Marshall “Major” Taylor:

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The 1890s kicked off the first “golden age” of cycling. A biking craze was sweeping the globe, with high wheelers being replaced by the latest technology of the “safety” bike. The safety design, which essentially was just two similarly-sized wheels, provided unheralded access to a smooth, comfortable ride.

Pneumatic tires, an improved chain drive, and mass production made bikes more comfortable, easier to steer, and readily available – at least for the well-to-do. The safety bikes were even considered suitable for women, a development that sounds ridiculous now, but that was heralded as one of the most powerful steps toward liberation by activists of the day.

It also was just over a decade after the Civil War and long before the civil rights movement had any traction. While bikes may have served as a source of daily independence for women, the same could not be said for African-Americans. Even if they could afford a bike, they still had an uphill battle for the same basic rights and liberties. Marshall Taylor’s story is that of a champion athlete, but it is both tragic and triumphant that his story cannot be told without attention to the color of skin.

Taylor (1878-1932) was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to a family of eight kids. When he was eight years old, his parents allowed him to move in with a wealthy family for whom his father worked. He lived happily with the surrogate family for four years and received a good education and a loving upbringing. And when the family moved out of town, they gave young Taylor a bicycle as a parting gift. At 12, he was now on his own, with only his clothes and a bike.

Read the whole article here.

Next up, the great Fausto Coppi:

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He is one of the most decorated cyclists of all time. He is the only Tour de France rider to have won the first Tour he entered, as well as the last. He won the Giro d’Italia five times, was the 1953 world champion, and he held the hour record for 14 years. His list of cycling accomplishments reads more like the pie-in-the-sky dreams of an ambitious child than the real life of a butcher shop boy from Castellania, Italy.

He is Fausto Coppi, and the “best cyclist of all time” doesn’t sound like hyperbole when it follows his name.

No one’s life story is as tidy as the numbers that validate our accomplishments. Coppi’s was no different. Amidst social scandals, World War II, performance enhancing drugs, and an Ali/Frazier level of rivalry with Gino Bartali, Coppi’s genius on a bike managed to transcend the frequently dirty business of living in the public spotlight.

Born in 1919 in the Piedmont region of Italy, Coppi took to cycling in his early teens. He was a scrawny and quiet kid, more apt to spend time alone than to socialize with friends. Long days on the bike in the shadows of the Dolomites would serve him and his legacy well. The Italian could spin, climb, sprint, and time trial with equal panache.

Read the rest here and be sure to check out Sutton’s Weekend Cabin feature while you’re there.

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