I started the store with a friend during the early 1970’s bike boom. We were both government bureaucrats with a shared love of bicycling. We wrote letters in Italian to Colnago and other Italian suppliers, and finally we received ten Atala Gran Prix bikes. We had bikes, a name and a Yellow Pages ad, but no store.We showed bikes by appointment only, and with the help of many friends we operated first out of my apartment on Albany’s Lancaster St., then in Alan and Lillie’s attic on Myrtle Avenue and later in a Troy barn. By the time the business was incorporated in 1972, I was the sole owner and we had a small Albany storefront at 262 Central Avenue with a cigar box cash register.
With two new partners, we moved up the street, leasing half of Moe Engleman’s sporting goods store at 268 Central. From there, we moved to 104 Central, a former car dealership, next downsizing to a small Quail St. store as I bought out my partners. One of our mechanics told us he could also silkscreen, so for a while we produced hundreds of bicycle themed t-shirts, giving one away with each bike purchase.
For each move a group of bikies would ride the built bikes to the new location. Eventually tiring of the frequent moves, I bought our current Madison Avenue location in 1980, adding an adjacent building a few years later.
Howard Westerholt, our long-time expert wheel builder and retired G.E. engineer, designed and built our unique bicycle display system. I transported the 20′ steel pieces from Albany Steel on my old Saab. There was a lot of flex and if I hit a bump too fast the steel ends would bounce against the pavement.
For a while we ran winter trainer races, updating each rider’s time as he or she improved over the winter. One year the lead alternated between our local star, Karl, and a member of America’s leading racing team with extensive Tour de France experience and now a famous bike race commentator.
For over forty years the Downtube has been the most exciting and satisfying work I’ve done. While long-term small business survival is always a miracle, I’m proudest of our staff family’s consistent caring and competence over the years, as well as their being interesting, imaginative, diverse and very special people. Our first two store managers were Lillie and Joyce. In the 80’s, our top mechanics included Carol and Danielle, and brothers Richard and Michael from Jamaica. Howard, Steve, Peter and Brad were stars. These and so many others made the Downtube a source of excellent, respectful advice and service. At least two are now physicians, several are engineers, one a chiropractor, one a maritime preservationist in San Francisco and another a minister for one of New York City’s most storied congregations. Several, including me, became lawyers along the way. In 1990, I got especially lucky, hiring Eric on Trek’s recommendation. He’s the best: patient, kind and thoughtful.
Over the years we’ve sold Peugeot, Raleigh, Fuji, Univega, Bianchi, Cannondale, Specialized, Serotta, Atala, Corso and Elvish. We were a Fuji Dealer of the Year, a Top 100 Dealer nationally, and for 5 consecutive years we sold more Cannondales than any other New York store from Westchester through Buffalo. We eventually realized focusing on Trek and our other current brands best supported our personal values and customer service goals.
I started the Downtube because I wanted to share with others the joy bicycling brought me. That’s why we offer a comfortable, welcoming environment for everyone, regardless of skill or experience, age or gender. For us, the bicycling experience is more than fun and healthy exercise, it’s a friendly, accepting and environmentally sound and practical portion of our lives – actually a culture. And we would like you to be part of it.
Robert ‘Bob’ Fullem