40 years ago, I was in the early stages of becoming a strong adult cyclist. My son Mike and I had entry-level ten-speed Raleighs and were reading about bikes, doing vigorous training rides, and beginning to think about tours like Ohio’s Tour of the Scioto River Valley.
We had already subscribed to Gene Portuesi’s mail order catalog, Cyclo-Pedia which had started publication in 1937, and were learning about exotic components that were no where to be seen in bike shops in Indianapolis where we lived. Portuesi’s catalog included strong advice about touring and many aspects of serious club cycling.
At this point, Arni Nashbar in Youngstown, Ohio, started his own mail order business by publishing a catalog entitled bike warehouse. Early in its run, we put our names on the mailing list, and it’s been coming to my mailbox ever since. About ten years later, the name changed to bike nashbar, the mailing address has changed to Crab Orchard, West Virginia.
Another young entrepreneur, Chuck Sink of Marion, Indiana, started another mail order business from his home north of Indianapolis. We received his catalog during the short period of time that Chuck stayed in the business.
Mike and I visited the small show room in his home, and that’s where I first saw a Mercian frameset, a bright red work of art. A year or two later, I bought a blue Mercian with beautiful lugwork at Action Sports, a bike shop in Beaverton, an upscale suburb of Portland, my home town.
Catalogs in the early days differed greatly from the garish, glossy publications that come through the mail now. As the 40th anniversary issue of bike nashbar explains, “the original issues had pages full of line-drawings, product listings, and the occasional photograph of models in shorty-shorts and jersey graphics best lost in time.”
My list has three items that depict the changes in catalog design and character.
- In contrast to the full color productions now published, the early catalogs were printed in black and white on off-white paper. Illustrations were largely line drawings or sketches.
- The early catalogs tried to tell readers all that they would need to know about the items described. Since the internet was not yet a part of ordinary life, additional information could be obtained only through long-distance phone calls.
- Most of the catalog was devoted to accessories and equipment, with only a few pages describing the short list of jerseys and chamois-lined wool shorts.
I don’t know why bike nashbar still comes to my house since I rarely buy anything from the catalog. Bike shops abound in Portland, and I can usually find exactly what I want, with the benefit of advice from knowledgeable personnel. Buying from bike shops costs more most of the time, but I get personal treatment, some of it gratis because I’m a regular. Bike shops have sales, too, so careful shopping keeps costs reasonable.
I’m glad to get bike nashbar every now and then. It gives me a sense of what’s happening in the bike market. Even though much has changed in these 40 years, the anniversary issue of the catalog says, “Arni’s desire to provide value cycling goods never wavered.”
My congratulations to a long-lived publication in the American bike world. As long as bike nashbar keep coming, I’ll keeping reading it. And maybe even buy something now and then.