Events and Activities

July 22, 2004
Worcester Magazine
Your Turn
Saluting the Major
Cycling event honors Worcester's world champion
By Mathieu A. Coe
Man, all kinds of people show up to the George Street Bike Challenge near the Verizon building off Main Street - Spandex-clad weekend warriors; jerks in dress slacks; old men with cigarettes trying to make some kind of point; some goony kid with a skateboard and plaid shirt borrowing a friend's bike for the climb; and police officers who, judging by their times, must be getting paid hourly. A real motley crew compared to your run-of-the-mill race; which, if you're at all familiar with the broader race scene, is just a lot of Spandex.

To call this race a quad-buster, as the flier does, is a euphemism. It is a vomit-inducing spirit-crusher which leaves you panting and unable to explain to the folks sitting on their porch near the top - or curious passersby - why you've just tried it four times in the last 20 minutes. For a certain type of Worcester cyclist, maybe the shabbier group for whom there is neither a huge difference between training and riding, or Spandex and slacks, it has served as an intergenerational yard stick to measure yourself against. Riding up George Street on a fixed-gear bike similar to Major Taylor's, the mind begs to know Taylor's own personal best time - of course, he wouldn't have had a computer zip tied to his bike.

Last year, a fellow cyclist, upon learning that I was planning on climbing George Street as my maiden race, pointed out that it was a great way to get your feet wet - it's short, local and easy to train for. He was right; the race was far less intimidating than time trials I had heard of farther away in some other town, and the training was easy - I just rode up it about three times a day on lunch breaks from the art museum. In fact, last year I can think of at least four other riders for whom this was there first race.

The downtown location lends itself to a much more festive atmosphere than if it were on some small back road, helping to draw bigger crowds than most time trials I've been to - this is the only race I've attended where friends showed up to watch. That, and being a charity race, all help to account for the less conventional rider turnout.

That Major Taylor trained on George Street was a well known fact - to an extremely small minority of fanatics. But it wasn't until Pete Howard, of Barney's Bicycle, got together with the Major Taylor Association (which was looking to organize events both to raise awareness about Worcester's world champion cyclist and to raise money for a statue in front of the library commemorating his accomplishments) and the Seven Hills Wheelmen that plans got under way. In July, 2002, 55 poor souls tried their luck. The number grew in 2003 and is expected to continue to grow, while race times shrink, through this year.

The George Street Challenge is technically an uphill time trial, five hundred feet long and with an average grade of 18% (for a real technical uphill time trial, look to yesterday's Tour de France scaling of Alpe d'Huez - interestingly almost a third as steep a grade); steep enough that there are stairs for pedestrians. Interestingly, when Major Taylor trained twice a day on this hill, Harvard Street was actually higher, making for a steeper grade (for an overall average of 21.5%) right where it would hurt most - at the end.

The 2004 George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor will take place Sunday, July 25, at 10 a.m. sharp at the corner of Main and George streets, across the street from The Palladium. Registration is from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m.; the race is open to everyone age 12 and older who shows up with a helmet, as the race is not USCF sanctioned. Proceeds from the $15 entry fee go to fund the Major Taylor Memorial Statue. Medals will be awarded in several age and gender categories and Barney's Bicycles will be raffling off a bike. For more information contact the Major Taylor Association ( or Barney's Bicycles (508-799-BIKE).

Mathieu Coe is an amateur bike racer and bon vivant. Comments? E-mail

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