'Racism was systematic and mainstream - but determination paid off': 9 life lessons from Britain’s first Black cycling champion

Maurice Burton has earned his place as a change-maker and pioneer in British sporting history, but it took a lot of hard graft, writes Paul Jones

Image of Maurice Burton
(Image credit: Phil O'Connor)

In 1974 Maurice Burton won the national 20km title, becoming Britain’s first ever Black cycling champion. Yet, as the 18-year-old stepped onto the podium, the crowd booed – a response that typified the racism he experienced throughout his career. After being overlooked for Olympic selection, despite having beaten those selected, he moved to Belgium to race professionally on the six-day circuit, becoming the first Black six-day rider for over 75 years. 

In his recently published biography, co-written with me, Burton set out to assert his place as a change-maker and pioneer in British sporting history. In writing the book together, Burton and I met many times over the course of a year, in pubs, at his bike shop De Ver Cycles, and on bike rides. This feature, drawing on our conversations, lays out Burton’s nine key life lessons from his rich and varied experience as the first Black British cycling champion, six-day star and later as a successful business owner and community leader in South London.

  • 1955 Born in South London
  • 1972 Wins Junior Devil national title
  • 1973 Wins Junior Sprint
  • 1974 Selected for Commonwealth Games, New Zealand
  • 1974 Wins White Hope Sprint and three-mile race at the Good Friday Meeting
  • 1974 Wins 20km scratch National title at Leicester
  • 1975 Races in Ghent for the first time
  • 1975 Beats world champions Daniel Morelon and Nels Fredborg at Trinidad Invitational
  • 1975 Wins Golden Wheel and scratch at the Good Friday Meeting
  • 1975 Wins National title in team pursuit, silver in the Madison
  • 1976 Second at Ghent Amateur 6, wins Silber Adler in Cologne
  • 1977 Turns professional, wins Ghent omnium with Paul Medhurst against Gerrie Knetemann, Rik Van Linden
  • 1977-1983 Competes in 56 six-day races, including 16 during the 1980- 81 season alone
  • 1984 Sustains career-ending injury at the Buenos Aires six-day
  • 1987 Becomes owner of De Ver Cycles in Norbury, London
  • 2020 CS7 renamed ‘The Maurice Burton Way’
  • 2023 Inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame

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Paul Jones is the co-author of The Maurice Burton Way (Bloomsbury).