Vintage Bicycles: 1975 Ritchey Track Bike

John and Tasshi from The Vintage MTB Workshop once again team up to deliver a Vintage Bicycles article. This time, featuring a 1975 Ritchey track bike. Read on for John’s photos accompanying Tasshi’s words…

What makes a bike aesthetically pleasing?

Why does the visual appearance of some bikes grab us more than others?

Is it the shape, the proportions, the color? Is it the craftsmanship? Is it the condition?

Is it all these things combined, and maybe more?

1990 Lemond TVT

On Simplicity

For years, I have pondered these questions. Such thoughts started with road bikes because they tend to have a high level of finishing and tend to be more ornate and flashier. During the Greg Lemond era, Campagnolo C-Record parts—more aerodynamic than their predecessors—seemed to be designed in a form that went well beyond the required function. Never mind that these parts were heavier than their predecessors. However, with all the cables and controls of a road bike, even with aero brake levers, they tended to look cluttered.

About 20 years ago I started monitoring the bikes that were submitted by readers to Fixed Gear Gallery, with the goal of identifying the one bike that was the most aesthetically pleasing. What seemed to be apparent from looking over hundreds and hundreds of bikes was: the simpler the bike the better. Clutter was visually distracting to the form. No brakes, no derailleurs, no fenders, no accessories.

Ibis Scorcher, photo Shawn Wilkerson

This was the purist form of the bicycle, even if that meant compromising on functionality, like the ability to climb steep hills or simply stop. There were some surprising candidates that caught my eye, including a cheap step-through “swan” city bike that had gracefully flowing frame tubes. The Ibis Scorchers also stood out, mostly because of their pleasantly down-swept handlebars and custom riser stems.

2022 Philly Bike Expo Bishop Track Bike

Amongst the fixed gears, track bikes were categorically distinct because they were both simple in form and designed for the sole purpose of going as fast as possible in circles. Forget about cruising bike paths or tree-lined neighborhoods on a bike decked with lights, fenders, and coffee cup holders.

Hope Technologies and Lotus Engineering’s HB.T Track Bike

Modern track bikes are perhaps too simple and featureless when rendered in monocoque carbon. They are sleek, but nothing visually grabs your eye, and perhaps that’s where the aesthetic of lugs on steel bicycles comes into play.


Schwinn with Nervex lugs (left – photo Tim Potter), Hetchins (center), and Dinucci (right)

On Construction

Lugs come in many forms, from the most basic, which look like pipe fittings, to the most ornate as found on a Hetchins or custom carved by Mark DiNucci. Just focusing on the points of a lug, one sees significant variation, from those that are so short that they hardly seem like a feature, to those that are extra-long and perhaps trying hard to get noticed.

Salsa founder Ross Shafer ‘Bikini Lugs’ photo by Ross Shafer

Maybe somewhere in the middle qualifies as “just right” and the perfect balance of elegance. Some lugs hardly have points at all, like the minimalist “bikini” style which became popular in the late 70s with their pleasing swoopy shapes. How lugs are finished can also matter a lot to their visual appearance. Some are left with very distinct edges that look like the flattop mesas of Canyonlands National Park.

For a while it became common to round off or blunt the edges of lugs, like the short and pointy ones found on a 1970s Schwinn Paramount. Around that same time a number of US builders started spending extra time to gradually taper lugs down to almost nothing while defining the most delicate of edges.  If the paint was too thick, this work could be washed out. Many of these builders would also do lug filling, using silver or brass to ease the transition from one tube direction to another with a small or shallow fillet.

Chris Bishop, lug shaping, 2022

In the 1970s, builders like Tom Ritchey and Peter Johnson were purveyors of this art, while today, it can be seen in the exquisite work of Chris Bishop (above). The 1975 Ritchey track bike presented here is lasting evidence that Tom was able to integrate all the aspects of lug shaping, thinning, and filling into one bike with the right proportions.

Why do the visuals of this bike, in particular, grab so many people? The chrome finish certainly catches the eye. Some years back, Bianchi offered its Pista fixie/track bike with a chrome finish, and from a distance, it demands attention. However, up close you realize that the TIG-welded construction, while nicely done, isn’t anything worth dwelling on. Maybe that is a clue, this contrast of two scales.

1975 Ritchey Track Bike

If you see the Ritchey track bike from afar, you will notice the overall form, beginning with the proportions. There is the size of the frame, the slender tubing, the competitive gear ratio, and just the right amount of seat post and stem extension. There is, of course, the chrome finish, which unfortunately has suffered in spots over its nearly 50-year life, but this isn’t so apparent from a distance. Up close, one immediately starts to pick up on the frame details including the refined lug work, the made-from-scratch fork crown with tight clearance, the fastback seat binder, and “park bench” chainstay brace.

After that, one might notice the component selection and modifications, including the drilled chainring and crank and the lack of dust covers on the hubs. Only the lightest oil before each race is used, not sticky grease. There is the minimalist Unicanitor saddle with no padding and the down-sloping chrome Cinelli Pista stem and steel bars with minimalist tape.

The Campagnolo Pista pedals have leather pads on the toe clips. Beyond that, one realizes that a bike as simple as a track model only has so much to look at.

Aesthetic Quest

Do you agree with this assessment, or just see another old bike with chrome? With that in mind, it’s worth asking whether this whole discussion is about something objective or subjective, or some combination. We’re not all going to agree. That’s why each of us has favorite builders, brands, components, and paint colors. We might shake our heads at the bikes other people are passionate about, but that’s what keeps it all so interesting. But this aesthetic quest certainly keeps me searching for the perfect bike.

The hope is always there that maybe the next bike a builder creates, or the next bike seen locked to a public rack, will raise the bar higher, yet only in a relative sense. For me, the quest to define aesthetic perfection will never end, because it is by nature unbounded. This eternal process is what is to be cherished.

Ritchey Track + I.M. Pei. Photo Tasshi Dennis

Build Spec:

  • Year: 1975
  • Serial Number: None
  • Frame: Ritchey Lugged Track
  • Fork: Ritchey Bi-plane Track
  • Stem: Cinelli Pista Steel
  • Headset: Specialites T.A.
  • Bottom Bracket: Campagnolo Pista
  • Handlebar: Cinelli Pista Steel
  • Crankset: Campagnolo Pista
  • Chainrings: Drillium 50T
  • Pedals: Campagnolo Pista w/ Binda Straps
  • Hubs: Campagnolo Pista
  • Rims: Nisi M20 Pista Speciale
  • Tires: Clement Criterium Seta Extra or Continental Grand Prix 4000
  • Seatpost: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
  • Saddle: Unicanitor
  • Bar Tape: Velox Cloth
  • Cog: Track 15T
  • Chain: 1/8 inch Regina 80