Named for Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor, the country’s first Black cycling champion, and the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, an all-Black unit known as the ‘Iron Riders,’ the Major Taylor Iron Riders club of New York City is comprised largely of Black, Latino, and Asian-American riders. These riders have informed perspectives on what it means to be a person of color in the U.S. cycling scene. We are honored to share their thoughts in a regular column series on velonews.com in the coming months.
I felt like a champion, standing on L’Alpe d’Huez, and I knew my father felt the same way. Why? Because I saw him practicing his “victory” run along the steep mountain road.
It was the summer of 2018 and we had traveled to the Tour de France to cheer on Nairo Quintana and the other Colombian riders. Shouts of “Vamos Colombia!” erupted every time a different group of Colombian spectators walked by. As the peloton approached, my father did wind sprints up the road while carrying a large Colombian flag, to prepare for the upcoming moment. The flag was yellow for gold, blue for two oceans that hug the coast, and red for the blood shed for Colombian independence.
My dad’s plan was to run alongside Quintana, who was his favorite cyclist. And once my dad spotted Nairo, he became overwhelmed with joy, and he sprinted behind him yelling words of motivation, pride, and joy.
Throughout our trip we followed the race on the mountain stages, and on the rest days we joined follow Colombian fans waiting outside the Movistar team bus. On those days we blasted music, cheered Nairo’s name, and played instruments as loud as we could. On one day, Nairo came to greet us, and we erupted into a frenzy of snapping pictures and chants; hands extended to get a handshake or any gesture to get Nairo to come closer.
After all, we hadn’t just come to the Tour de France for cycling — we had come to represent our country, and to cheer for our champions.
In 2018 I took a video of Nairo Quintana greeting Colombian fans outside the Movistar bus at the Tour de France.
As it turns out, this week's Major Taylor columnist Steven Jimenez and his entire family were front and center in the group!
Small world: pic.twitter.com/WhYmHEEFCX
— Frederick Dreier (@freddreier) April 8, 2021
My name is Steven Jimenez, and I am a 30-year-old cyclist for Queens, New York. I have multiple allegiances, like the one I have to the Major Taylor Iron Riders club and to the CIS Training System team. I also have an allegiance to the people of Colombia, and to Colombian cycling. This allegiance has shaped my national and cultural identity. It’s why I am one of the thousands of Colombian cycling fans who attends the Tour de France to cheer on my countrymen. The power of my Colombian heritage and attachment to Colombian cycling stretches back generations.
My father grew up on a farm in Boyaca, Colombia, and as a boy made treks to gather water, tended to livestock, and took care of crops. You may have heard a story like this before — Nairo Quintana grew up in Boyaca and lived on a farm in poverty. He rode a heavy bike to school, which is a story you hear again and again. Country people are hard workers, have grit, and have the mental fortitude to get any job done. So, you can already guess the type of rider my father is. He always has fuel in the tank, is physically strong, and he doesn’t give up. Like Nairo, he is always aggressive when he sees a climb.
Now you can see why I feel as though I carry on a tradition when I ride a bicycle. My dad had two uncles who were competitive cyclists, and both of them raced in the Vuelta a Colombia. One uncle, Carlos Hernando García, requested to be excused from the army so he could train and compete in the race. My other uncle, Danilo, rode the Vuelta in 1957.
I got into cycling at 22 years old when I joined my dad’s Saturday ride as a way to spend more time with him. Little did I know that cycling would become my way of life, and not just a Saturday hobby. My first cycling family was my dad, our cousin Roger García, and a peloton of Colombians who ride the Triangle Ride on Long Island. When I didn’t have a bike, Roger would lend me one. The group was always competitive and determined. And these rides taught me how to survive a peloton and not get dropped.
Now, in addition to my identity as a Colombian, I also identify as Latino American, and this identity is highly influenced by how society sees and treats me. For example, I was required to take English as a Second Language in fourth grade — even though my English was perfect — because I spoke Spanish at home. Today, when I ride my bike to work, security guards will still assume I’m a delivery rider, and tell me I need an escort to enter the building.
This second identity, and the experiences that came with it, led me to seek out what became my second cycling family, the Major Taylor Iron Riders. I will always be a Colombian cyclist at heart, but what attracted me to the Iron Riders was that I connected with the members on a cultural and professional level, and through our similar interests.
The first ride I ever went on with the Iron Riders was the famous Father’s Day ride in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in 2019. It’s a 30-plus lap ride around Prospect Park, with the goal of completing 100 miles. I arrived early and ran into Mel Corbett, a.k.a the “Starchild,” and Petar Jevremov. These veteran riders told me the history of the club, and how inclusive and diverse the membership is, and how to become a member. Their orientation, and the club’s support, is what kept me coming back.
I met another Iron Riders member named Andrew Harris a while later while waiting for the group to roll out on the Long Island ride. Harris told me he was a proud Puerto Rican. He’s also a designer who can throw down on a Latin dance floor. I was familiar with the Latin dance scene in New York City, and we hit it off. Today, on rides, we often share our ideas of entrepreneurship and for creating spaces for Black and brown riders. Andrew reminds me that cycling isn’t always about dropping the others; it can be about meeting to grab a breakfast sandwich before work and to lift up one another.
I also have a passion for giving back to the community, and that led me to Aliya Barnwell, your Kit Critic columnist. With her help I volunteered for the iChallengeMyself non-profit, where I rode with kids from Brooklyn who were preparing for the NYC Pride Ride. Aliya also started her own non-profit called Ride Up Grades, which gives road cycling access and commuting support to NYC youth and families. Aliya embodies the importance of giving back to underrepresented youth.
I also met my coach, David Lipscomb, who’s CiS Training Systems changed the way I ride my bike. Through his help I gained confidence and learned how the bike can be an extension of my body.
My identities have led me to two great cycling communities. You can’t accomplish your goals without support. I wouldn’t be the rider I am if it wasn’t for my cycling family. Seeing my dad on l’Alpe d’Huez was a beautiful moment that I will forever cherish and be grateful for. And whenever I suit up to ride with the Major Taylor Iron Riders, I know I ride in sibling-hood.