Every year, Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) holds a Major Taylor Ride, a day for food and riding and celebrating our young cyclists’ achievements. On November 30, this year’s riders — featuring an energetic gathering of kids bundled in hats and gloves and adult cyclists in slick winter gear — rode in 40-degree weather through the streets of Philadelphia and into Fairmount Park.

Marshall “Major” Taylor crossed the color line to become the first African American to hold a world championship title in any sport. He did it in cycling. The year was 1899, and African Americans struggled to even be able to compete on many racetracks. Taylor persevered, breaking speed records almost every time he was allowed on a racetrack.

The goal of Neighborhood Bike Works is to inspire kids in underserved neighborhoods; we use bikes to get kids active, build confidence, and prepare them with skills for a successful future. The Major Taylor Ride offers a time to acknowledge our youth participants for the inspiration they provide to all of us!

This year, close to 50 participants rode out to enjoy a wintry picnic in the park. Members of the Bikin’ Blazers Bike Club and volunteers and riders from NBW’s Ride of Dreams rode with us. We shared a meal, played games, and gave out youth awards to those teens that have shown exemplary commitment and promise this past year.

Receiving awards this year were Raqiyyah Bind Idris and Ryan Breslin (Rising Star Awards), and Traquan Dorsey and Stephen Long (Achievement Awards). The Major Taylor Award itself, for “extraordinary commitment and leadership” went to 16-year old Robert Taylor, from Southwest Philadelphia. Robert Taylor (no relation, as far as we know, to Major Taylor himself) has spent the last four years cycling and gaining skills in racing, mechanics, and teaching. He has ridden in three Ride of Dreams’, traveling by bike to Washington DC, the Poconos, and the Delaware Water Gap. Last summer he was an Assistant Instructor in Neighborhood Bike Works’ Summer Cycling Day Camp, where he taught younger kids bike mechanics and led them on rides through the city.

Major Taylor shocked the world by rising to the top despite strong odds. Philly’s young cyclists have shown they can do the same. Keep your eye out on Philly’s bike lanes for the next Major Taylor. He could be a kid from the neighborhoods who happens upon a bike and gets inspired. Maybe next year we’ll be honoring him at a picnic in Fairmount Park.