A brief history of Gary Hale Bicycles

My first unusual bike was built in 1975. I was 17 years old and working at a wonderful old Schwinn bike shop named Zeller's Cyclery in Santa Ana California. I thought it would be fun to build a "racing trike". I bought a differential unit for an adult Schwinn trike and attached it to a lightweight Raleigh International frame. I rode this around for a couple of weeks. It was kinda fun in a weird way, but not for going really fast. Anyway I learned a lot about brazing and frame construction, and how unstable a trike with two rear wheels and a high seat can be when going fast. At that time in my life, I was doing 100 mile rides every weekend, just for fun.

Zeller's Cyclery had been in the same location since 1922. During its existence the shop had accumulated some very beautiful bike parts from the early part of the century, and I gained an appreciation for fine workmanship.

By this time, it was clear to me that bikes would be my life.

In 1976 I rode across the United States on the Bikecentennial route with a friend from grade school. I flew from Southern California to Eugene Oregon and rode to the coast and got my wheels wet. I was not in a hurry, spending 90 days riding about 4800 miles. I was riding a custom-built Schwinn Paramount touring bike. All along the ride, I was thinking about bicycling and how the experience could be better. At breaks and at night I would scribble ideas in my little diary.

In 1977 Ross Shafer who later founded Salsa Cycles was living at my house in California. Ross had a welding torch and had built a couple of bike frames and was planning to show me how to build them. I already had some tubing, and since I now had access to a torch I built a new frame for myself. I built a few frames for friends, anybody who had $75 for a set of tubes, just for the experience.

In the summer of 1977 we loaded up Ross' VW bus and headed for Colorado, looking for a nicer place to live. The bus broke down in Santa Fe New Mexico, and we rented a U-Haul truck and a tow-bar and proceeded to Denver, and bought a rebuilt engine. We spent about a month riding bikes around the mountains of Colorado, looking for a place to live. We next decided to drive to Eugene Oregon and arrived on July 3, 1977. We did a quick tour of the bike scene in Eugene and discovered quite a few builders in the area. I decided to stay in the Eugene area, and Ross decided to "drive on down to Santa Cruz".

I started building custom racing and touring bikes for sale. In all, I built about 300 racing and touring bikes and become well known in the area.

In 1979 the owner of the bike shop I worked at asked if I could build him a new bike trailer since he had just sold his old plywood box with wheels. I built a wooden tube bender and he soon had the first Blue Sky Cycle Cart. He decided he wanted to go into the bike trailer business. I built the first 100 frames and set up a production shop in Eugene. A couple of years later he sold the business.

In 1980 my wife Jan and I were expecting our first child. We didn't want our baby's first breaths to be filled with the grass field burning smoke so prevalent at the time in the Willamette Valley where Eugene is located, so we moved to the coast range to the west of Eugene. My son was born at home with the help of a midwife.

In 1980 I built my first trike with 2 wheels in front. This design was much more stable in turns and braking. The trike had 24" front wheels and a 26" rear wheel, and a lever drive system. At the time I was living about 25 miles from Eugene without a car and building bikes in my garage/shop.

I bought an old hand powered drill press from a friend for $15. I was very impressed with how efficiently the machine could remove metal. I needed a way to cut the miters in tubing for bikes. Making bikes with pedal power somehow seemed like the essence of appropriate technology, so I made a ten speed horizontal boring mill with pedals. I sold about ten of these to other frame builders. When the power went out in my shop, I just kept working! This machine was written up in Mother Earth News in the early 80's. Later I converted a few other devices to human power, including making a generator stand for electricity and a 5-gallon ice cream maker.

So my family was living 25 miles from the nearest city and I would ride my trike into Eugene and go shopping and ride home with a bale of hay and cat food and dog food and people food and bike parts and so on in a trailer behind the trike. I spent a lot of time on these long commutes thinking about how to make bikes more useful. I had a serious case of the bike design itch.

A small group of people in Eugene was experimenting with an arm and leg powered front wheel drive bike design called the Manuped. I built a couple of frames for them. They taught me an appreciation for the application of the whole body to the problem of self-propulsion. On the Manuped the leg crank axle goes through the front hub. The theory with the Manuped was that you could go in a straight line by balancing the leg push with the arm pull by placing the handles farther out than the pedals. Well, at least that was one theory. Personally, it seemed to me that a lot of energy was being used to maintain this balance. I experimented with a similar design I called the LightSpeed in which I placed the leg crank in front of the front wheel. It was a little easier to learn to ride, and in my opinion more efficient. The limitation was the 20" front wheel, and the forward center of mass of the rider. There are still a few of these LightSpeeds around, and the owners love them.

I realized that it would be possible to build a trike with leaning steering, by allowing the chain to twist. In 1982 I built the first QuadraPed trike. This trike made it possible for a person with any number of limbs to ride efficiently. I sold one to a triple amputee. That trike was set up so it could be powered, steered and the gears shifted with one hand. He bought one for his wife, and they go on rides together. These trikes are very stable and natural to ride, with the rider leaning into the turn while steering. One of these trikes was sold to Richard Rau in Corvallis, and he made a few. A few were made by Co-Motion Cycles and AngleTech is currently producing a similar design. These trikes have changed the lives of many people with various disabilities, making it possible for them to have more fun and do more for themselves. The trikes are very good for heavy hauling as well, with the arms and legs together providing significantly more power than the legs alone.

In 1985 I helped design and build the first HandBike, an arm only powered bike with spring loaded fold down landing gear. About this time I worked on various hand power attachments for wheelchairs, built a racing wheelchair, parts for kaleidoscopes, child seats, garden carts, a blimp gondola, and designed and produced some parts and tooling for Burley bike trailers, among many other projects.

Also in 1985, I developed a simple above seat steered long wheelbase recumbent with two 27" wheels, called the Runner. Co-Motion Cycles built a few of these, and a similar design is currently produced by Human Powered Machines in Eugene as the Roadster. The Runner was the first recumbent bicycle in my experience built with quality bicycle tubing, namely Reynolds 531. I built a couple of double tandems and a triple tandem Runner as well for the family.

I estimate that I built about 60 unique designs of wheeled human transport over the years. I don't have pictures of many of them. I used to build things just for fun, as an experiment. One day I woke up and decided I wanted to build a trike with two small wheels on the left and one big wheel on the right. By the end of the day, I was riding it. The big wheel was powered by arm power. A rod linked the small wheels so that when the front one steered left, the rear one steered right. This caused the trike to steer about the intersections of the axles. I had seen an old picture with something similar, and I wanted to see if it could be adapted to arm only power. It worked well. Moving the hand cranks forward to turn left, backward to turn right steered the machine. 2 days later I cut the trike apart, because I didn't have room to store it, and I needed the parts for something else. I once built a side by side recumbent bicycle. Those were fun times. So many ideas, so little time.

As many of you know, it is not easy to make a living doing this kind of work. I was selling about $40,000 worth of bikes and other work a year, and my family was living on $10,000. Not enough to buy a house. I had been doing some design and fabrication work on metal parts for store fixtures, and this work paid much better. In 1986 I stopped building bikes and about 1988 I sold the shop to some friends who were starting up Co-Motion Cycles. I worked until 1999 designing, engineering and building store fixturing. Along the way I held positions in project management, information services management and engineering management. The company went from 7 employees when I was hired to more than 500 employees 5 years later. This was a very good experience for me, teaching me all aspects of running a business.

For the last few years I have been doing free-lance design, engineering and CAD work, network setup and custom database and graphics programming, and I have developed a new recumbent two-wheeler with an unusual drive system, which I have just brought to market called the Glider.