The USA lost one of its chief proponents of bicycling with the passing earlier this year of Mel Pinto (1924-2021). Pinto was a Sephardic Jew whose family lived in North Africa and who spoke many different languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and English. During an encounter with American troops in Morocco during WWII while he was fleeing Nazi invaders, Pinto’s polyglot tendencies became very useful to the U.S. Army, and he ended up working for them. Later, upon emigrating to the United States after the war, he settled in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia and opened up a bicycle shop in the 1960s.
Pinto became the first importer of Gitane bicycles to the U.S., and along with them he introduced a lot of new European and Asian brands (including Shimano Dura-Ace) to the U.S. market during the “bike boom” years of the early 1970s. He was also a longtime supporter of the National Capital Velo Club and its flagship race event, the National Capital Open.
But it was the more obscure French and Italian brands such as CLB, Spidel, Stronglight, TA, Vitus and Alan that Pinto became closely associated with. He found an Italian clothing manufacturer whose goods he imported to the U.S. and sold under the brand name Cortina. Among the first importers of Alan aluminum frames to the U.S.,he sold many with his name decaled on the anodized aluminum tubes.
Upon his retirement in 2009, Pinto sold his import business, Mel Pinto Imports, to his longtime friend Wayne Bingham. Bingham continued to sell many of Pinto’s brands, and he eventually opened a shop specializing in classic and vintage bicycles called Velo Classique in the western Washington D.C. suburb of Purcellville, Virginia.
As a tribute to his recently passed friend, Bingham built a bike sourced from brands Pinto used to import that perfectly captures the many European and global influences that Mel Pinto’s colorful character brought to the world of cycling and to U.S.culture in general.
Frame and Fork: Alan (Mel Pinto Special)
Crankset: Stronglight Speedlight
Shifters: Simplex retrofriction
Freewheel: Sedis 6-speed
Hubs: Mavic RD500 series
Rims: Ambrosio Evolution clincher 32h
Tires: Clement Strada LGG 700x25c
Stem: Cortina (TTT)
Toe clips and straps: ALE
Saddle: Selle Italia Turbo perforated