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Nyack People & Places: Jim Skelley, Bike Shop Owner

by Mike Hays
You can call Jim Skelley, owner of Nyack Bicycle Outfitters, Mr. Longevity. His bike shop is probably the oldest Nyack business under a single continuous ownership. He created the longest running weekly bike ride in Rockland County. And he survived an illness caused by Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
His warm, friendly shop is a throwback to the time when people once sat around stoves in stores and swapped stories. Skelley has about a million stories to tell and bike riders have about a million stories to tell about him–many of which about how he helped them with a necessary bike repair to help them get home.
Hanging on Skelley’s wall, along with bike tools and bikes, is a print of a little-known Edward Hopper painting of a track cyclist, appropriate since his store, at 72 North Broadway, is right next to the Edward Hopper House.

Cycling was always a part of his life

Jim Skelley rode a bike everywhere as a kid living in New York City. It’s almost unthinkable today to imagine a 13-year old riding a coaster bike up Route 9 to Tarrytown, over to White Plains and then back to the City–but Jim did it. Skelley also has vivid memories of visiting a bike shop called The Wheel under the elevated tracks in the Bronx near the Stella D’Oro Biscuit Factory.
He bought his first road bike after his family moved to Valley Cottage in 1962. He went to a number of small bike stores in New York City, as Rockland didn’t have a shop that sold lightweight road bikes (not many people were riding any kind of bike in Rockland at that time). He walked all over Manhattan looking for a bike and found a tiny shop on East 12th Street, where the street dead-ends just before the FDR. He bought an Italian Fiorelli from the woman and her two sons who ran the store.
The family put Skelley’s bike together on the spot and showed him how to use the gear shifters. At the time, gear shifters were mounted on the front tube of the frame, not on the handlebars as they are now. No one wore helmets or spandex, and clipless pedals requiring special bike shoes were not invented yet. Jim was ready to ride with what he wore into the shop. By the time he got to 40th Street, it was raining; by 110th Street, there was thunder and lightning.
Skelley is a little more cautious riding on roads today. He thinks drivers are more distracted than ever and that roads have grown less safe.

What is the Rocket Ride and how did it get its name?

Skelley began leading Sunday morning group rides in 1972. At first, each ride had a different route. But soon, the group focused on riding the same route. Sprints were soon built in. A tradition was born.
The Rocket Ride is a challenging, 50-mile, fast-paced, A-level group ride starting in Nyack, at Nyack Bike Outfitters on Sunday morning. The number of riders varies. (As many as 50-100 cyclists rode in the 1980s.) The group picks up riders as they head to Englewood, NJ, before turning back north over a few hills through Pearl River to South Mountain Road. From South Mountain, they go back to Nyack on 9W, riding over Barmore Hill.
The ride is the oldest continuous weekly ride in Rockland and second longest north of New York City after the Gimbels ride in Westchester. True to Jim’s weltangshauung, the ride is spontaneous–-no club, no rules. In the early days, he allowed Rockland Bicycling Club to list the ride in their schedule. All their rides had names, and they gave it a name that stuck: the Rocket Ride.

Still Cycling After All These Years

The Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan for Smart Cycling Growth

Bicycling on North Broadway has a long history. The proof is right next door to Jim Skelley’s Nyack Bicycle Outfitters shop where you can see a young Edward Hopper’s bicycle displayed at the Hopper House Museum & Study Center.
Sometime in 2019, the Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge will add a Shared Use Path for pedestrians and bicyclists. If it proves to be 1/10 as popular as the Walkway Over The Hudson, a similar attraction up the river in Poughkeepsie, Nyack and Tarrytown will receive 50,000 incremental visitors a year. Some will be riding bicycles. Everyone will be walking at one time or another.
Who will be riding those bicycles? Some will be “road warrior” serious cyclists passing through. However, the majority are likely to be recreational cyclists — moms & dads with kids, young couples on hybrids, and Nyack-area neighbors connecting to local destinations. For the first time bicycle commuting will be possible to the Tarrytown Metro North station; to work in Westchester; and for those living east to ride to jobs, restaurants and shops west of the Hudson, too.
When the SUP is open and the Village of Nyack’s Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) project completes a new South Franklin Bike Path, residents will be able to ride about seven miles from downtown Nyack into Tarrytown without having to share the road with cars.
The Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan (GNBWMP), a joint effort by the three Nyack river villages and the Nyack School District, funded by the New NY Bridge Community Benefits Fund, is now underway. Transportation design consultants Fitzgerald & Halliday are inventorying current bike and pedestrian amenities, surveying residents about their concerns and current bicycle/pedestrian behaviors, and meeting with village, town and country planners to marry future bike/ped plans with existing master plans. To learn more about this project and join a mailing list to be in the loop for future meetings, visit


Jim was drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam for a year in 1968-69. He served near Tuy Hoa on the South China Sea. The decision to serve was an anguishing one for him as it was for so many young men in the late 1960s. At the end of the day, he realized, as he says, “that you can’t chose your war.” He went.
Like many veterans, Skelley returned to Vietnam forty years later, with two non-veteran friends for a six-week visit, including side trips to Angor Wat in Cambodia. They rode from Hanoi to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). For the trip, Skelley brought a Trek FX2 (Trek is the brand he sells in his store) hybrid bike customized with drop handlebars and thinner, more flat-resistant tires. He survived multiple harrowing rides on some of the narrower mountain roads.
In his return, the Vietnamese people were very kind to Skelley. Kids flocked around his bike as if it were a Porsche. The cost of the bike was equal to a worker’s average yearly salary. Skelley knew he wasn’t going to bring the bike back to the states, so he donated it to a home for street-dwelling kids in Saigon.
A few years later, the Vietnam War came to visit Jim. He developed a rare cancer caused by Agent Orange. He wasn’t given much of a chance to live. But with his competitive spirit and massive chemo, he came through.

A Brief History of the building at 70-74 North Broadway

Home base for Nyack Bicycle Outfitters is a two-story brick building that also houses Ellis Realty and an insurance agent. The building was probably built in the 1930s. A driveway that separates it from the Edward Hopper House leads back to a two-story house on the same lot that continues through to Marion Street. Early maps show a house close to Broadway similar to the frontages that still line the homes on the rest of the block. In all likelihood, the house was moved back on the lot by an enterprising owner to make room for a commercial building.
The building has been used by many businesses over time. Jim discovered dry-cleaning hangers and beauty salon matchbooks in the basement when he moved in. The matchbooks touted the “Harper Method,” an early health-conscious salon experience promoting inner beauty and reducing stress that was embraced by the social elite.
A business machine store was next door when he moved in. He bought a manual adding machine from them. Flo, who worked there, provided typing services. This business was succeeded by an antiques store (he has a desk he got from them), a glassblowing shop, an art gallery, and now Ellis Realty. A dance and exercise studio operated on the second floor for many years.
While many businesses have come and gone in the building, Jim Skelley has been the one constant for many years. He is truly Mr. Longevity.
See also from Nyack News & Views:

Photo Credits: Photos by Mike Hays

Michael Hays is a 30-year resident of the Nyacks. He grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. He is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

HRHCare Community Health logoNyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by HRHCare and  Weld Realty.


Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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