Mel Pinto Imports/VAR Tools: French Connection

Mel Pinto Imports is a Virginia-based importer and retail business that specializes in French brands. The business is named after its now-retired founder, Mel Pinto (born 1923), a polyglot Moroccan who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army during and after the North African campaign in World War 2, and emigrated to the U.S. shortly thereafter. During the 1960s, he opened his import and retail business, becoming the first American importer of Gitane Bicycles, and later, Shimano Dura-Ace components. With the Gitane connection, MPI also started importing a lot of French component brands, some of which are now obscure, but will be familiar to a lot of cyclists of a certain age. Among them are Specialties T.A., Stronglight, Simplex, CLB, and VAR tools.

Bicycle collector and businessman Wayne Bingham bought the business in 2009, and moved it from its original Falls Church, Virginia home 40 miles west to the town of Purcellville, where he also runs vintage bike specialty shop Velo Classique. Among the relationships that Bingham maintained was one with French tool manufacturer VAR, which has been in business for 72 years.

VAR makes tools for both shops and consumers, running the full gamut from workshop benches, repair stands and stools to rim tape and water bottle cages. VAR also makes a lot of tools that framebuilders use, and that bike shops employ a lot more frequently than consumers, such as headset bearing presses. This is a critical reason that MPI comes to the Philly Bike Expo, with its large contingent of custom framebuilders and bike shops.

MPI will be displaying many VAR tools at its booth, and will be demonstrating VAR’s new professional quality hub bearing press tool, the RP-43700. This shop-quality tool allows one to accurately align and press bearings into the hub shell or freewheel body with or without a hub axle. Other features are:

• compatibility with bearing sizes 12x21x5, 12x24x6, 12x28x8, 15x24x5, 15x28x7,
  17x26x5, 17x30x7, 20x32x7, 25x37x7
• also fits bearings deeply seated into the hub or freewheel body
• thrust bearing ensures smooth rotation by preventing any friction between tool
  and bearings to be pressed
• hardened steel parts and machined anodized aluminum bushings
• ergonomic handle and magnetized back plate for easy and comfortable use

Come by to learn more about this tool, and all the other behind-the-scenes but essential tools that VAR makes for your framebuilder, your shop, and for yourself to keep you and your bike on the road.