Telegram & Gazette
With an average grade of 18 percent, and 24 percent at its steepest part, the Worcester roadway is an uphill grind. Daunting, to say the least, even in the lowest gear.
After Marshall W. “Major” Taylor moved to the area in 1895, he heard that any elite bicyclist should be able to ascend the steep hill. Taylor, who would become a world champion in 1899, welcomed the opportunity. In his 1929 autobiography, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” Taylor talked about his initial climb.
“There was a saying at the time that any bicyclist who could climb George Street hill, one of the steepest inclines in Worcester, had the makings of a high-grade bicycle racer. Appraised of that tradition I decided to try my skill on the hill. There was a big crowd on hand to see me make my initial attempt. It was a tough assignment that I had wished on myself, but I made it on the first attempt and within fifteen minutes I repeated the stunt, riding down on both occasions. This was the first time a bicycle rider ever turned this trick and very few have accomplished it in the intervening thirty-two years,” Taylor wrote in the chapter, “A Cordial Welcome.”
Taylor, believed to have made George Street part of his training ground, made a strong statement about his leg strength when he bounded up the hill twice in 15 minutes on a single-speed bike.
“Remember, it was cobblestones or dirt back then, and bikes were heavier and only had one gear. We don’t know what gear Major Taylor used,” said Lynne Tolman, a member of Seven Hills Wheelmen and the Major Taylor Association, “and descending that hill is downright treacherous.”
Now paved and smooth, George Street is still as steep, and the opportunity to tackle the hill is more enticing with the George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor, an uphill time trial presented by Barney’s Bicycle and the Seven Hills Wheelmen.
The sixth annual George Street Bike Challenge for Major Taylor will be held at 10 a.m. July 29 at George and Main streets, in downtown Worcester near the courthouse.
Riders begin on Main Street from a standing start on level ground then immediately hit the George Street hill. One bicyclist at a time will ride against the clock in the 500-foot event.
Unlike in the day when the Worcester Whirlwind tackled the hill, there are many gearing opportunities with double and triple cranksets. The key may be strength and a smooth cadence.
“Push the hardest gear you can manage, as long as you can keep turning the pedals over smoothly,” Tolman said. “The hill is less steep at the beginning, but it’s too risky to shift gears under that kind of load, so you’ll spin fast at the start then your cadence will slow down.”
Last year, downhill mountain bike pro Dave Flynn of Shrewsbury shunned his heavy gravity bike for a borrowed road bike and went on to win the overall event and set a course record of 23.13 seconds.
The two-block time trial has grown from 55 riders in 2002 to 107 last year.
The uphill climb is open to bicyclists age 12 and up. The entry fee is $15. Proceeds benefit the Major Taylor Association. Organizers will be raffling a Giant OCR3 road bike from Barney’s Bicycle, and there will be other prizes.
For more information on the event, visit www.majortaylorassociation.org.