On February 10, 2002, the first St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation Bike Swap Meet kicked off in a warehouse belonging to The Touring Cyclist in Bridgeton, Mo. During the lull between the holidays and the start of warmer weather, the space was uncluttered of bikes, allowing a good amount of room for tables and booths. The Touring Cyclist had a small display to show off its new models and clear out older bikes and accessories, but otherwise the space belonged to the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation, which managed the event.

And that day was cold. The temperature was below freezing, and the warehouse didn’t have much in the way of heat — or light or “atmosphere.” Nevertheless, some 300 people and a couple dozen bike shops and not-for-profits banded together, made deals and got stoked about the upcoming riding season. At the end of the afternoon, everyone there agreed they should do it again.

For the next 16 winters, give or take a year off, they did just that. The venue changed and grew, moving to a cavernous warehouse in Chesterfield Valley and then a vacant department store in Maplewood. Each had its own challenges and “opportunities.” No bathrooms or plumbing or heating — and only a few electrical outlets. But with hundreds of bikes in a space the size of several football fields, the demo conditions were ideal.

Another tradition began in those early years: that of limping, bruised volunteers. With vendors allowed to set up the day before, Bike Swap Meet eve became an occasion all its own. Whether slaloming around columns, towing people in shopping carts behind bikes, or using loading docks and pallets as makeshift mountain biking “features,” liberties were taken and legends were born. (It’s possible an indoor speed record was set using a racing tricycle on linoleum floor.)

The Bike Swap Meet continued to increase in size to approximately 1,000 people, and it was obvious the event had momentum for years to come. In 2007, the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation expanded the program to include education and moved it to the Gateway Center in Collinsville, Ill., where it remains today.

Not too much has changed, really. Trailnet took over the show, then called the Midwest Bicycle Expo & Swap Meet, when it merged with St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation in 2011. Five years later, St. Louis BWorks and Terrain Magazine acquired the show and rebranded it as the Mississippi Valley Bike + Outdoor Expo, adding products and services for other activities such as running, hiking, climbing, camping, paddling and snow sports.

The show may be bigger now — it attracts upwards of 2,000 attendees and 160 exhibit booths — but the ethos is the same. It’s a gathering of the tribe, where people can talk cycling and the outdoors, scope out new gear, make deals, and try their hand at attractions like the mobile rock wall and virtual bike races.

Today, proceeds from ticket sales go to support BWorks’ Earn-A-Bike Program. And, perhaps best of all for those recalling the early days, the expo now has reliable heat, electricity and indoor plumbing! Find out more about the 2018 event on Sunday, January 14 at bikeandoutdoorexpo.com.

By Carrie Zukoski and Bob Foster