Abandoned aircraft hanger houses 6-hours of bike junkie bliss


Okay guys and girls, it's another spring. Time to get out all those sew ups you patched over the winter, clean off the rims and glue "em on. Break out the wool jersey and knickers, the wool cap and ankle-high wool lined Rivat shoes. Install a set of new Binda toe straps and add a second layer of padded bar tape to soften the road shock and go RIDE YOUR BIKE!

In the last issue of cycling utah for 1997, we at "Classic Corner" gave our impressions of the big Interbike show and all the cool new stuff. Well, to kick off our third year of living in cycling's past, we're going to revisit another huge gathering of bicycle culture - the annual Velo Swap in Denver, Colorado, an unimaginable one-day bike swap sponsored by Velo News to benefit local causes.

The 1997 Velo Swap was held November 1, in an abandoned hanger at the now out-of-service Stapleton airport in Denver. This has been my annual pilgrimage for many years. For the past two years I've been joined by Editor Bob and our British friend Simon Pipe. Actually, I think our spouses require that we chaperon each other in hopes that our collective common sense and feelings of responsibility will prevent us spending the next three months' rent on thirty-year-old Italian bicycles. It's a noble plan.

The Velo Swap is always held on the first Saturday of November from 9 am until 3 pm, six hours of bike junkie bliss. This time we made the road trip over the Friday before (Halloween), got a good night's sleep and a terrible breakfast, and cruised on over to the airport. Signs directed us to the proper location - after Security directed us to the signs. We arrived about an hour early to find about 200 folks lined from the door in 35 degree weather. We thought that was a great idea, I guess, because we did it too - 203 people freezing in the wind. By the time the doors opened at 9:00, we were actually well in the front half of a line that had grown across the taxi-way outside the hanger.

Once inside, there was a feeding frenzy as table after table containing everything from Sturmey Archer three speed hubs to Intense downhill racing frames filled the huge building. Editor Bob took off as though shot from a cannon - there goes the collective common sense theory. I was waiting for him to climb onto a ladder and shout an offer to buy the whole place. I won't go into prices, but there were great deals left and right, as well as "what kinda sucker do I look like?" deals left and right. You can find enough bent derailleurs, incomplete brakesets, rusty stems and gouged bottom brackets to choke a mule, so always shop carefully.

Ah, but then a seasoned Velo Swapper will occasionally find the gems of Velo Vendors just looking to pay their booth rental, clear out the garage, see old racing buddies and maybe get some beer money to boot. "Dude, you can have that whole box of Nuovo and Super Record stuff for like, uh, twenty five bucks? Of course, you know the shifters don't click." To this, there is but one response. "Thank you very much. Is there any more behind the table?" This is happening less and less every year though. Most of these deals are bought by guys who do this for a living, so they hammer the price even lower, then take the stuff over to their booth and mark it up to a sort of retail price. Capitalism rules.

Along with the average Joes there selling off their used goods, were several distributors in the bike industry selling their overstock and old product. Among them were William Lewis Imports, distributor of Tommasini and Quattro Assi frames, Pearl Izumi occupied a large corner space to sell clothing, mail order giant Colorado Cyclist cleaned out its warehouse and many bike shops in the region brought along their stuff. (The Velo Swap has some strange effect on people that causes them to buy things that they wouldn't think of purchasing back at the bike shop.) In addition to these were the many, many sales reps and racers selling off "97 product, much of it new, to make room for their "98 gear. The best ones here are the racers who have been dropped from their team or are changing teams, or better yet, retiring. These are the ones who would much rather you find a place at your house to put the stuff than them.

There were definitely some memorable finds this year for the classic bike lover, like a beautiful DeRosa time trial bike (the only one I've seen), or a pristine Paramount track bike from the 70's. A terrific Denti frame with Super Record pantagraphed group, along with a beautiful Gios frame from the late 70's that somehow found its way to my house.

Editor Bob had a big toothy grin planted on his face after finding a particular Team Z LeMond frame that was atop his wish list for a long time. This one happened to be signed by Mr. LeMond with photos of authenticity. Plus it was made in Italy. Good score Bob!

Not to be out done, our compatriot Simon found a new pair of Mavic OR 7 rims (very rare) for less than the $3 admission price, and was promptly offered a handsome profit by one of the aforementioned "professional" classic bike swappers, but capitalism means nothing to Simon, OR 7 rims do. He kept the hoops.

Other items of interest were complete, new-in-the-box, groups from Universal, Gipiemme and Ofmega offered by a local bike shop owner, several Alan road and cyclo-cross bikes, more tubular wheelsets than Bob and I have combined (that's a lot), titanium bottom brackets and stems made by Pino Moroni (the cycling legend, not the LDS one), more Mavic parts than in years past (although no ZAP systems this year) and approximately half the Serotta and Merlin frames ever made. Oh, and among the many pro racers selling their old stuff was Bob Roll selling his stuff, his book, and you know, just being Bob.

There were some guys we didn't recognize selling a whole booth full of Motorola team gear. They had clothing new and used, shoes, Shimano parts, team frames including a sloping top tube Merckx time trial frame, and super cool engraved Cinelli stems, all used by America's best pro team. Editor Bob spent a bit of quiet time with the time trial frame, but decided to pass.

Some of the things on our want lists were conspicuous by their absence. There were hardly any Eddy Merckx, Bianchi or Colnago bikes. Also not found were mountain bike components by Campagnolo and Mavic, in fact, I didn't see any of these parts at all. I know this stuff is rare, but if it were available, this would be the place to find it. Maybe next year.

On Sunday we made the return trip to Utah with van full and wallets empty. In other words, a successful Velo Swap was had by all. There was, as usual, "the one that got away" from each of us though.

Editor Bob daydreams at traffic lights about a beautiful Colnago Arabesque - white with shaped tubing, chrome, ornate lugs and Campy SR group in pristine condition, very expensive and worth it.

Simon passed on a Campy tool kit for alloy freewheels in a nice wooden box. But don't worry man, there'll be plenty more of those to be had. Yeah, right.

For me there were two. A ridden hard and put away wet Zullo that for some reason shook my tree and a way-cool Gitane tandem equipped with Campy and T.A., fillet brazed Reynolds 531 tubing seemingly custom made for Mrs. O and me.

But, you know, I see those all the time, a dime a dozen kind of thing. Oh well, there's always next year. See you there!