Mel Pinto Imports is a Washington, DC area-based importer of many French brands that you’ve likely heard of if you’ve been around cycling for a couple of decades or more, but which may have faded from your memory.
Mel Pinto is the retired namesake of the import business. He immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco during World War II, and with his fluency in French became an importer and retailer of Gitane bicycles in the Washington D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Virginia. Along with the Gitane business came a host of other French brands like Specialties T.A., Simplex and Stronglight that Pinto began to distribute in the U.S.
Pinto retired in 2009 and sold his business to vintage bicycle enthusiast Wayne Bingham, who now runs MPI and his vintage bike shop, Velo Classique, in the western DC suburb of Purcellville, Virginia. One of the French brands that Pinto originally brought to the U.S., and which has seen a renaissance of sorts recently, is VAR tools.
VAR is a design and manufacturing company in France that has been manufacturing top professional bicycle tools for over 70 years. Recognized the world over for their quality and longevity, VAR tools have been the choice of the best shops and teams since 1945. In the words of Yannick Jorudren, VAR’s president, “You have to be rich to afford cheap tools”.
VAR manufacture a whole host of tools for consumers, teams and shops, from multitools and bottle cages to repair stands and seat tube reamers. Many tools that VAR make are in demand from frame shops, most of whom perform full bike builds.
The frame builder market goes a long way to explaining MPI’s presence at the Philly Bike Expo, where 41 frame builders thus far are signed up, and whose contingent includes members from Japan and Europe.