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Biker Profile: John “the Cat” Campo

John has been an institution in the world of cycling here in NYC for decades. He is currently the director of the Kissena velodrome out in Queens. He has been a prolific force in keeping NYC’s only cycle track open and running, offering track racing experience to the young and old. He has been a key figure behind the Velocity race series which gives messengers and other city riders a chance to win tickets to the latest cycle messenger world championships…held all over the world. He is also an accomplished musician and now author. It was a real honor for me that he agreed to do one of my Q and A profiles.

Please welcome, John Campo.

Name, Age and Where you reside?

John Campo aka Campocat
I’m old enough to know better.
Born Dec. 1, 1946 in Greenwich village. At 56 Leroy Street.
I live in a rental car most of the year, but my home is The Bowery, the worlds quintessence of skid row.

What bikes do you own?

I race a Griffen Vulcan that was made for me, and I love it.
I train on a Leader and i love it too only it is slightly heavier than the Griffen but I’ve won a couple of races on it this year. My road bikes are a Litespeed Ultimate 1997 model
and a Vitus 1987 model. I have raced both for many years. My street bike is a classic steel Bottecchia – red white and black model.

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What got you started in Track riding

It started I guess with my Father mostly talking about it, the allure, tales of Madison Square Garden. I was a good racer anyway and maybe wanted my Father to see me follow in his footsteps.
I had no idea it would lead to this…

What have been the biggest obstacles of maintaining and fixing up the track at Kissena?

Defusing miss information is top, trying to get people involved, stopping the vandal’s, getting funding for junior programs, keeping all volunteers going in the same direction by giving correct information as to how to deal with daily problems.

Some memorable stories of conditions on the track? Storms, sweeping up during snow storms? etc?

There are at least twenty every day. People stealing, someone put a
very strong nylon black string across the track at neck level. People coming
on the track when racing in going on. Keeping the storm drains clear so the
water doesn’t buckle the track any more then it is. The toy plane and car people.
The day riders. People wanting to use the track for non cycling events.
The conditions are what they are out there fixing surface conditions made
by nature and by humans is all the same. It takes time and a lot of effort not
to mention money.

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What do you think of all these kids doing tricks on track bikes?

I think I’ve had something to do with that, and I very proud of it. The campagians done by Puma and others to make the messenger look popular is something I supported. I raced for Puma to bring the velocity tour about. I was a win – win situation. I got riders to come to the track and they sold clothes. What ever program you are trying to make grow you start with making it cool to the public. If you get 1000 participants you wind up with 50 willing to race. It is a numbers game. I couldn’t be happier the track bike is becoming the bike to ride. Even Lance Armstrong is doing it.

Talk about the challenges of getting messengers on the track?

Getting messengers on the track was easy. There has
been tremendous support from the messenger community
around the world for me and I am so so grateful. It is where I
came from and where my dad came from and where my daughter
came from.

What got you involved in Velocity?

Kevin Bolger aka Squid; got me involved in Velocity. Our relationship and team Puma and all the events that have happened since have not only increased my ridership but has increased the ridership of all the velodrome in this country and probably the world. It is one event that always puts a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart.
Believe me the directors in other velo’s see what we have done and want to get involved.
A 110 riders last weekend at Kissena opening day???? Who wouldn’t want that at there track.

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What has been the evolution of skills you’ve seen on riders coming from the messenger world and urban riding to riding competitively on the track?

The evolution I’ve seen is that messenger and urban riders is the same
basically, these riders are learning quickly and making a change.
Last night in the 123 field or the best field we have, some very good road riders
showed up who basically are clueless but fast. I causes many troubles when
riders don’t know the difference between road racing and track racing.
Most track riders are more willing to learn and learn be example.
They are willing to take pulls on the front when it is their turn
to chase down or stay off the front. Sandbagging should be left to Donald Trump.
It isn’t a quality you want on the track. It certainly won’t make you too many friends.
On the road you don’t see it because it is done way before the finish line.
On the track you can’t avoid seeing it. It comes down to putting in the time.
Riders must come to training sessions, and not just show up for races. We have national
champions that have never been to a track training session?? Beats me what goes on in there
heads…

Who are some of the urban riders/messengers you have seen really come a long way?

Alex, Todd, most notably and close to me have made
the most from where they started – Jared, LA Jack,
there are so many now it is hard to name them all.

What kind of programs do you offer for kids? How do you get young people on the track?

We have an after school program with Parks for kids 5 to 14, run by Diedre Murphy – and
DelRoy Walters. And I run the junior program 15 to 18. I get them any way possible.

How can people get involved in track riding?

People if they want can come to the track or
go on line to bikereg.com and register for
our classes. The childrens program is StarTracks@parks.
Juniors can contact me directly at 212-431-9732
Or through cyclehawk.com or kissena.info.

How was opening weekend this year?

Opening weekend was fantastic like I said 110 rider signed up.
Amazing! I did well which is always a good thing.
It was mainly local tri-state riders. We were hoping for more big names,
but it didn’t happen. A funny thing happens on the track which
is – it doesn’t matter who you are or how fast you are.
The crowd gets involved…Hell I’m a grand dad and people root for
me like crazy in my races.

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What are you future cycling goals?

Dude if I win a national championship I will be done.
But mostly it is the give back. We have to give back to the youth of America our knowledge
of the sport we love and make it flourish. You just can’t take and take and expect someone
else to build track and run programs and just sit around and wait for it to happen.
I want to better the only facility I had available to me. You have no Idea how mad
I was to find out Kissena velodrome even existed in 1984 and no on brought
me here as a 12 year old. Lucca, Kai, Stephanie, Cosme, Khary,
Gabby… These kids keep me young and all I want is for them to reach as high as they
can while they are young and healthy. I even turned a 65 year old Mom into a national
champion last year.

Goals for the Track and for track riding in the NYC area?

The goals are obvious but the cycling community has got to get on the same page.
We need a year round facility that is covered and is a regulation 250m track. But most
of all we need to use Kissena as the model of how a velodrome is run. Junior and children’s
programs, good racing of all types, great officials and promoters and coaches but we
need it to be year round. Then we need track racing to be an event like TTown ‘ on a Friday night.
A place where Celebe’s would want to come and watch the excitement. TV coverage.

Goals for Velocity?

Velocity has become what we want out of track racing in general.
An organic event structure that in building a grass roots following build on track racing
for the masses. Local sponsors local riders local tracks local spectators.
How about teams like Godspeed and Puma traveling a circurit like in the old days.

Link to John’s Book- Ghost-Dancer
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2 comments to Biker Profile: John “the Cat” Campo

  • Nice Q&A. Funny how some of the same problems plague all the tracks in the country… the misinformation…. fighting the same fight — year in year out.

    the social aspect counts for a lot on the track and the ease to come to one place and get 3/4 races (finishes) per meet beats the road scene hands down in my book. something for everyone.

    and who wouldn’t like to go fast?

    “madison clinic” videos are up on youtube. Watch them in order to get ideas that build upon each other as you progress.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Campo for the first time in person @ T-town last weekend. He has such a wonderful enthusiasm for the sport of cycling!