“Been there. It’s got a lot of cool stuff. The best part is how the original owner of the shop, Oscar Juner, was a meticulous scrap book and record keeper. Bradley, the current owner of American gave me a chance to dig through those books.”
Adam S of GS Landlords
(These are just screenshots from Adam’s flickr album. Theres 130 pictures. Check it out HERE.
You only get one or two really good years in the life of a scene.
Most of what we talk about here ends in 1999 but there’s no real end to the story. I’ll give you my beginning.
I went to University of the Arts in Philadelphia for a year. I was an awful high school student and an awful art school student. I could draw- which is more than most art students so I got in with some grants and scholarships attached. I was already distracted by the hardcore scene and then a dude I knew from City Gardens put me down with graffiti.
I made an effort at school initially but it was all happening live outside the door. Who wanted to learn art history when people were making art history? Theory vs Practice. There was a lot of shows, and a lot to do, people were moving to Philly for the scene and I got kicked out of school. No one was paying for me and I had nowhere to go.
There weren’t many options for employment if you were down. You could work on South Street-in Tower Books,Tower Records, Pearl Art, or some other retail store. You could deliver pizza for Bertucci’s-on a skateboard. You could work at Kinko’s. Or you could be a bike messenger.
I knew Esher did it and I asked him what was up. He was already a G and worked at Time Cycle. I think he told me about working in winter and making $125 a day. Average rent in Philly was under $250 a month. I did that math and was like “damn I can buy a lot of records with that.” I factored in Lauren Edge hooking up the health food at Essene and all the junk food we racked from Wawa and I realized I would practically be a millionaire.
This is when I first started noticing track bikes. Esher had a real one, a Colnago. He was one of the first on the path. You’d have to ask him how he got started. Esher is one of those dudes who is real good at physical things. He can do a hand plant, he can beat you up, he can tag, and he can ride a track bike. I mean now too. Not just then.
The KHS trackbike was already being sold at a couple shops in Philly. This older guy that went to art school named Chris had one. He was a hardcore dude from Pennsylvania. He was a part time messenger for Ridgeway’s, which was an in-house service where you carried around giant blueprint rolls for architecture firms. He told me if I used him as a reference they’d probably give me a job.
I got one of those luggage store messenger bags and Sears hybrid and rode to the address he gave me. They did give me a job. I stayed there for a while. The pay was decent, there was an ill dude named Chaz that wore Armani sunglasses and a triple fat goose jacket in the summer. He stole bikes and sold them there. He liked Iron Horse mountain bikes and told me he could get me one. He never did. He stopped coming to work for a couple weeks then would come back for a day or two and then repeat.
It wasn’t a real messenger job. I wanted to get a radio and chill in the park, not sit on a bench in some building. I went to Kangaroo and worked there for a while and didn’t make any money. They were cool dudes though. I tried to be a car messenger for them for a minute. Oh my god, that was hell.
I moved over to American Expediting. They were more legit and had radios. They had a squad of squirelly dudes working for them and a cool dispatcher named Robert. I worked there for a couple months and made more than at Kangaroo, but still not as much as Ridgeway’s. I had a Nishiki single speed I spray painted.. Red frame, black fork, paint over the decals and headbadge. I bought it for $30 from Hung. I think his dad found it somewhere in Frankford. Hung had this bike called the Ill Bike. This guy Tony Pointless from Amex sold me an early 90′s Schwinn World Sport and a Schwinn LeTour.
I rode the World Sport for a while and then the derailleur got stuck into the spokes and exploded. I cut that chain and made another single speed, but it wasn’t cutting it. I needed a real track bike to be live. I did some legwork and I got a 1976 Schwinn Paramount in all Record with a unicanitor for $200 complete from a store close to the Velodrome. High Flange Hubs, 165 cranks, track pedals, everything. Old track bikes were pretty worthless at the time. I remember riding over to Ionic Street to show it off the first time my legs learning to slow it down and hop it to stop. Baby skids. I was real hype.
Finally I moved down to One Hour. That was cool. This guy Slacker worked there until he got locked up. He was their star. Old school derel messenger. After he left I got a pretty good daily run with 20 drops. I worked there through summer. I had a real bike and there was a solid team-Larry Brown, Tim Guza, Rocco, Arens and Jonah, and finally Nemel when he was 16. This new dude Chas started and I think Angel Wicked Frame next. They were rugged. Wicked Frame would take a new bike apart everyday in the back of One Hour and those guys would be like “Oh Angel what are you up to now haha?” They jocked Time Cycle and made those blue jersey’s with the little stick figure messenger on them.
Dan and Esher were putting Philly on the map for Bike Messengers. They organized races, messengered in other cities, and made connections. Without them Philadelphia wouldn’t have been part of it. San Francisco and New York were way more evolved and giant in terms of a messenger scene and racing and they were reaching out. Boston was growing at the same time. The older squad of messengers in Philly were happy in their own world.
There was maybe 20 people across the country with similar goals. Without these people I don’t think there’d be any unified “urban cycling” or “messenger culture” in the US.
Right when it all really started coming together in Philly I moved to New York for a girl. I tried a couple other jobs and bounced right back into being a messenger there. That’s when I worked at Breakaway for a couple of months. That was insanity. I wrote about it before. I knew messengers were supposed to work in different cities so it felt cool even when it sucked. That’s when I first heard people say stuff like “Italian Steel”.
It was lonely. I’m not a real outgoing person and I never reached out to anyone there. A girl I knew was going out with Ash from SF/Philly. I asked him how to deal with the New York winter and he told me to drink herbal tea. Like ok, tea huh, fresh, very SF.
A bunch of messengers, writers, and punks got a 8 bedroom house in West Philly at 45th and Walnut when I was gone. I’d come down and visit every couple weeks. They had a raging New Year’s party between 1997-1998. The party was so live that after it I wanted to move back to Philly and get a spot in there.
I broke up with the girl, started drinking and moved into a closet in the house by mid February. The hardcore scene in Philly seemed done but the messenger scene was blowing up.
End part 1.
haha that one dude runs.
“I swung by American Cyclery in San Francisco yesterday to pick up some fender hardware. This is one of my favorite shops in SF. They’ve been open for around 100 years more or less. 1930s track bikes in the rafters, some of Tom Ritchey’s first MTBs, limited Campagnolo/Shimano releases behind glass cases, and racks full of vintage jerseys. I wonder what’s in the basement.
Anyway, here are a few snapshots for your viewing/consideration.
Look at that case of downtubes. I forgot the story behind it. I think it may have belonged to a Bay Area framebuilder who amassed the tubes from decades of frame repairs. But one of the AC employees had a bike with that builder that was taking especially long to return so the case was taken hostage as some sort of collateral. I recommended it be made into a coffee table. But any cyclist would fear never being able to get off the couch from staring at it. Ciocc, Pogliaghi, De Rosa, Eisentraut, Ed Litton, Bottecchia, Chris Kvale, Concorde.. the list goes on.
There’s a green Salsa track bike up high, 52×56. Long and low. Likely made in Petaluma, CA. A purple Nobilette next to it.
The silver with red Cinelli has Antonio’s signature on the saddle. “AC for AC,” reads the note. American Cyclery for Antonio Colombo or vise versa? I forgot the story with this one as well. $4500.
The mural on the outside of the building is a nod to the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park in SF. There is a bison paddock (with actual bison grazing around) nearby the oval cycle track that surrounds the fields. And there have been races and recreational riding on that track for over 100 years.”