Saluting the man who launched Rockland’s bicycling craze
By Robert Brum
Long before Nyack became a mecca for cyclists from across the region, there was Nyack Bicycle Outfitters. Jim Skelley started the small shop on North Broadway in 1973 and rode it through nearly a half-century of ups and downs before closing the doors earlier this year.
The storefront space became a local institution almost as renowned as Edward Hopper’s boyhood home just a block away. Visitors were just as likely to get the scoop on what was happening in the riverside community during a visit to the shop, as they were down the street at Village Hall.
The legendary 50-mile, aptly named Rocket Ride Skelley founded in 1972 is still a draw for serious cyclists.
The vibe at Nyack Bicycle Outfitters was what the local barber shop was like in the old days. Skelley was a true raconteur, trading stories with regulars and NYC day-trippers as he fixed their flats and repaired their derailleurs.
Skelley’s store at 72 North Broadway was Nyack’s second-oldest business after Squash Blossom jewelry on Burd Street. In June, a new bookstore, Ketonet Passim, is set to open in the space left vacant by the bicycle outfitter’s departure.
Saturday, April 24, was Jim Skelley Day in Nyack, so proclaimed by Mayor Don Hammond. Skelley also was honored with a resolution by State Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick — who rode to the brief ceremony on a bike he bought from Skelley’s shop last summer.
Reichlin-Melnick called Skelley “a pioneer” who had brought the joy of riding a bicycle into the lives of thousands of families.
“It’s a remarkable story,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Coming here after the Vietnam War, starting this small business, bringing cycling to Rockland County and putting Rockland County on the map as a place people could come and people could learn to ride their bikes, could start this incredible Rocket Ride, and challenge the people in so many ways.”
The senator added: “Your friends here in the cycling community certainly recognize that, I certainly recognize that and your community does as well.”
Skelley said he was enjoying his retirement and spending more time on his bike after a grueling year of pandemic-induced craziness at the shop. The lanky Tomkins Cove resident got a bit choked up during his brief remarks to the crowd of some 50 people.
“Over the years I’ve seen Nyack change in many ways, but there’s always been a strong sense of community,” he said. “I can’t think of a job where I would meet people as interesting and diverse as I have here in Nyack. For many years I knew this was the best part of the bike store.”
Bigger, fancier bike shops have popped up across the area over the years. But with the closing of Nyack Bicycle Outfitters, the village’s downtown has lost one of its pioneering businesses.
Robert Brum is a veteran journalist writing about life in the Hudson Valley. Subscribe for free to Shifting Gears, his blog covering bicycling, hiking, history and culture.