Maurice Burton – Britain’s first black cycling champion.

Delighted to share my review of Maurice Burton’s new book (written with Paul Jones). Copies are available from De Ver Cycles Ltd.

(Maurice also rode for the short-lived Glemp / TJ Flying Gate Cycles team in the late 70’s.)

The Maurice Burton Way – a book that challenges the senses.

Maurice Burton wrote in the fly leaf of my copy, and probably ever other pre-ordered and signed copy, of The Maurice Burton Way: Britain’s First Black Cycling Champion, “Dear Brendan, I hope you like my book”. I recognise that feeling of hoping readers would like my words. How many times have I triple looked at some blog I’ve written to see if there are more likes?

Unlike a blog, there is a sensory experience with a book. The pages, the cover, the dustjacket, the smell. The smell of this book, or of Maurice’s section of the book at least, is of second-hand smoke and shellac, oiled chains and well-oiled patrons of the six-day scene. The smell of the romance, but the smell of the underbelly as well. Yet, there is another bang off this book, and that is co-writer, Paul Jones’ sweat as a white writer attempting to impart to a mainly white audience what it must be like to have been Maurice Burton. And as a white cyclist, who fills the middle age and middle class bracket, I sweat with him.

Did I want more from Maurice about his skill, his training, his insider tricks and, me being me, each and every bike and team name he rode for. Yes I did. Yes I do. What ex-pro riders can take for granted is probably more than I can dream of, and more than they can care for. They’ve done it. I haven’t. I won’t. However, the great thing about being romantic, is that you can be hopeful, ever hopeful, and even when your love or desire is spurned, or comes up short, well, at least you are still romantic.

So when a book, such as Maurice’s, deflates the romance, and challenges you to respect the rider’s actual journey and experience, be they your hero or just heroic, you have to turn every page in recognition of what went before. There are pages in the book, that only Paul could write, which are demanding to read. Demanding, in they demand you to think about yourself and to think about others, any minority, but in this very specific case, black cyclists, of now or of yore, who are conspicuous by their absence on our scene. What, you may end up asking yourself, have I done to block, leave alone encourage, wider participation in our sport?

The craft of this volume is that it speeds through race after race, from one six day race though the night to another. From one team sponsor and team mate to another. It gives you a whiff of just what it might have been like for Maurice as the pro-rider picking up primes that pay the rent, and occasionally cars, that bring him from place to place. The glamour fades as the miles accumulate. But just like the politician who gives the same speech from many stands, it’s always new for the audience. We learn that the stage was always set, and often staged. The performers preformed, and the performers got paid.

There was an inhumanity in the scene Maurice plied. Superhuman efforts in subhuman conditions – and this books puts a particular human experience at the heart of it. Let us not for one moment take Maurice’s athletic ability away from this – that’s simply another book to be written – but his experience as an outsider getting into the inside ring is the human tale to be read here, as is our role in either challenging or perpetuating the discrimination that is always the subtext.

If Maurice Burton had had his way, this book would have been called ‘My Way’. Maurice’s amazing spirit and determination to challenge and overcome obstacles in youth, in cycling, in business, would be a source of inspiration to any individual; in cycling, business or life. I can see him on the lecture circuit, giving the same speech many times, but, personally, I hope I get to smell another book. He need not ‘hope’ that I’ll like it.

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