Track bikes at CMC 1993
31.05.07 by Buffalo Bill
Washington D.C.‘s Steve Harvel had the track bike of the Cycle Messenger Championship [held in Berlin in 1993]. We talked about the ultimate courier steed and the origins of the fixed-wheel myth…
Track bikes are fabled throughout the english-speaking messenger world. There’s one guy in London, called Dick Luck, who has four or five different track bikes and other London cycle couriers would kill for a Bob Jackson six-day frame. On the North American East Coast, in the cities of D.C., N.Y.C. and Boston, track bikes are a way of life, full-stop.
The track bike fetish started in N.Y.C. where cycle couriers found that they could pick up track frames for very little money. The fixed-wheel was perceived as impractical for city riding; most track frames do not have drillings for brakes, there is almost never a gear-hanger (Andy Capp’s despatch special is a notable exception) and these factors combined with the cross-over at the front between pedal and wheel meant that track frames were seen as an obstacle to safe and comfortable road-riding
A daring threat
Until, that is, cycle couriers got hold of them. Couriers divined that all they had to do was stick in two wheels, a saddle and bars and they had a money-spinning machine. With one or less cables and few parts to wear out, the bikes were also low-maintenance.
‘As people got into it’, Steve picks up, ‘it became like a drug – you on your bike, the simplest piece of machinery there is and the only thing that can keep you from getting hurt is yourself. So then the track bike became a passion, a daring threat on the streets.’
The press started to talk about these killer track bikes and an encounter between a N.Y.C. councillor and bike led to the infamous Mid-Town Bike Ban of 1987. ‘So then they said you guys, you gotta have brakes. But they couldn’t control it; it became the rage.’
The invention of the skip-stop
‘We developed our own ways of braking such that even people on the velodrome were amazed by the things that we could do. You distribute your weight towards the front of the bars and leaning off the back wheel, you lift it off the road. This gives enough torque on your legs so that you can block the cranks and when the wheel comes back down, you cushion your hips and let the tyre do the braking.’
And so the skip-stop was invented, and a legend was spawned: fixed-wheel, no brakes.
‘There’s other techniques: coming down the side of the car or van you post your hand out and that (the hand on the car) slows you down.’
And for those oh, so common brown-trouser situations?
‘You can grab the front wheel with your hand, which acts like a caliper or plunger brake.’
At this point, I feel I should point out that Steve seemed sane enough to me (if any courier is truly sane) and that I saw a lot of the Yanks at the CMC making the same moves quite casually.
This an excerpt from an article that first appeared in the November 1993 edition of Cycling Plus