Rex Gephart's 1960-61 Masi Special Pista.

1960-61 Masi Special Pista.
Photo courtesy of
What is the Old Skool?

It's the riders who've been on track bikes for decades. Maybe they were racers, messengers or friends of. Maybe they grew up in the Caribbean, rode fixes there as a kid and brought their skills to the U.S. Old Skool riders rode Atala and Bottechia and Benotto and Cinelli and Colnago and and De Rosa and Eddie Merckx and Pinarello and Tommasini.
And Frejus. In fact, there are still fond memories for Tommy Avenia and his shop in Spanish Harlem's 131 East 119th Street. In the 1960's and 70's, Tommy was perhaps the major U.S. importer of Frejus bikes. Although Tommy sold geared bikes, he preferred fewer gears. He loved track bikes, and at the drop of a hat he'd recommend them to shoppers. Sadly, Tommy passed away. He's still well respected in the racing community and is considered a major old skool influence. All of my NYC old skool friends have met Tommy or know of him.
The Old Skool's Gift

It's the old skool that makes a lot of today's street riding possible. Learning from them is why I haven't busted my ass yet. These track bike riders handed down their hard-earned knowledge, mixing it up with cars, busses, potholes, pedestrians, curbs, stairs, and the law. For decades! I'm kind of a youngster in this, and I've been riding track bikes on NYC streets for about 13 years.
The old skool taught us the routes, the maneuvers, the emergency moves. They taught us how to ride brakeless down huge hills - in traffic. They taught us not so much to stop for cars, but to slow down and find a hole. They taught us how to skip, skid, jump, vault, and trackstand. They taught us the urban traffic patterns, how to talk to the cars, how to signal, when to slow, and when to hit it to make it across the street. They taught us that safety is more important than traffic laws, that they don't always work together for a cyclist.
The Ideal Old Skool Bike

The old skool riders taught us the equipment, the frames and names, the parts, the desiderata of the great track ride. It's not only about the ride and the feel, but also the look, the thoroughbred track aesthetic. Of course the classic vintage track bikes set an aesthetic standard. So today's old skool tastes still run to that style.
It's never stated this way, but the old skool idea is to use a pure 70's-looking velodrome bike, but ride it anywhere in the greater metro area. It's also a generational thing, a nostalgia thing, a preference for the same kind of bike that was out there when they were coming up. You see lots of variations on the street, but the look is this - a steep-angled, upright thin-tubed steel frame - indeed, one of my old skool acquaintances even greets other riders with "Steel is real!" It will have a threaded headset, drop stem and track handlebars by Cinelli or Nitto. Never road bars, but deep track drops. Bullhorns are acceptable for all-day rides. Components by Campagnolo - even their high-flange hubs, which some people fear are breakage-prone. A departure from the purity of velodrome specs is the lower gear ratio, mid high 60's to high 70's. All the better for the steep descents with cars and stop signs at the bottom.
Pedal overlap is fine, it makes for a tighter frame. Tight is when the front tire comes very close to the down tube, and the rear tire almost buzzes the seat tube. The modern cycling innovations haven't really caught on. Aluminum, carbon, titanium or compact frames, integrated headsets, and deep-v aero rims. On the street, about the only modernizations catching on are clincher tires and clipless pedals.
And then of course, no brakes. And no brake holes. (For more on the no-brakes issue, read "Why No Brakes?") The old skool thinking is passionate on this, it's that purity thing.

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