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Riding the Color Line: A Century of Race and Cycling

Major Taylor in France in 1908 (image wikipedia via  Bibliotheque Nationale de France).

Major Taylor in France in 1908 (image wikipedia via Bibliotheque Nationale de France).

Last week The Grio examined the impact of the color line on contemporary cycling, a discussion that reaches back to cycling’s primal 19th-century moments.  On the one hand, there is an enormous amount of evidence confirming that American cyclists have always included people of color, and a 2013 study on cycling and diversity confirms that cycling’s demographics reach well beyond the caricature of lycra-clad White bourgeois.  The Grio’s article covered familiar ground, and it could well describe nearly any collective of riders attracted to cycling for its health effects, competition, and sociality.

On the other hand, though, myriad cycling clubs, national advocacy groups, and the elite levels of American cycling underscore the way the color line persistently shapes the mundane realities of bike riding.  The discussion of race and cycling reveals deep-seated anxieties about diversity in cycling circles, and it reaches from the elite levels of the sport to grassroots recreational riders.  The discourse on color and cycling is not at all unique; instead, it is symptomatic of everyday racial divides reaching from sport to houses of worship that Americans have historically ignored or avoided. Read the rest of this entry