Building bicycles for the enthusiast
“These aren’t bikes for duffers,” said Gary Selner from the shop in the basement of tiny home he shares with his two dogs.
“These bikes are for the enthusiasts, people who want to be in shape. People who buy them like to ride. They like performance, at least in their bikes.”
Selner cited a study by Eastern Washington University MBA students who found the average person who buys a custom frame has seven bicycles.
An adjustable “fit stem” fastened to the handlebars of a bike allows the rider to experiment and dial in the perfect frame dimensions and angles for Selner to duplicate in a custom frame.
“The last guy rode four days before deciding on his fit. He drives a BMW. But most of my customers drive up in pickup trucks.
“It’s not unusual for a guy who drives a $2,000 car to ride a $5,000 bike.”
Background: A machinist since 1970, building bikes is Selner’s day job. His main employment is the night shift at ASC Machine Tools. He came to Spokane in 1982 after leaving his job with Boeing. “I got tired of the rain,” he explained.
He started building bicycles in 1995.
“I was riding my bike home one time – I mean from Spokane back to Wisconsin – and I had a lot of time to think in North Dakota. I looked at my bike and thought, ‘I could build one of these things.’ I thought it would be a way to mix sports with being a mechanic.
“Ha, ha. Since I started working two jobs, I’ve gained 50 pounds.
“The business is fun, though, and you can do it in your basement until the day you die. Building bikes is at least as much fun as riding them.”
Claim to fame: Rave review in Bicycling magazine.
Wow factor: Lifetime warranty. “My frames are made from steel. Springs on a car are steel. You can’t get the same strength and comfort from aluminum.
“In my custom bikes, everything is specific to the customer.”
“Most bike frames are TIG welded, but I still do things the old way. Steel is harder to work with, but with steel I can do fillet brazing for round, hand-polished joints. It takes eight hours to polish those joints to that quality.”
“In the beginning, a Harley was basically a bicycle with a small engine. A modern competition downhill bike is basically a motorcycle without an engine. We’ve come full circle.”
“Spokane is a pretty big cycling city, above average at least.”
“As components get lighter and lighter, they get more finicky. Ultra-light bikes need more tune-ups.
Inspired by no single person. “I like the Waterfords (a custom company started by Richard Schwinn after the big corporation folded in 1992). I still have a soft spot for old Schwinn cruisers.
“Most of all, I’m inspired by the way children picture a bicycle. Ask kids to draw their favorite bike and come out rounded. Really cool.”
Why “Hairy,” Gary? Selner’s first bikes followed frame-builder tradition and had a simple “Gary Selner” logo. “I asked (local artist) Hazen Audell to draw me something different, something that resembled me, like Hagar the Horrible. He came up with Hairy Gary, and the name stuck.
“Now when there’s a trade show or something, I don’t even have to wear a name tag. People come up and say, “You must be Hairy Gary.”
The rub: “I’m not an intense guy. If I were, I might be more of a businessman.”
Distractions: “When I originally came to Washington from Milwaukee, I was planning to come here and hunt and fish all the time. But then I saw Mount Rainier and thought, huh, I want to climb that. One thing led to another. I had a lot of fun climbing in the Canadian Rockies. You think I’m hairy now, back then I might go a year or more without shaving.
Deep thinking: “I’m not a critic of other bicycles. To me, all bikes are good. I go from there.”
Material matters: You can build good bikes out of all the top materials — aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and the various steel alloy tubing used in Hairy Gary bikes, Selner said.
“The yuys from Kaiser used to come in here, the metallurgists, and I listened to them talking about the pros and cons of different metals, like vibration dampening and stuff. Even the experts all have different opinions on which material is best for a bike frame. It’s nuts.”
Tools of Trade: Lathe, saws, mill drill, files, acetylene torch, jigs, fixtures, plus “files, sandpaper and abrasives like crazy and sore fingers.”
Finishing touches: Custom airbrush painting by Steve Forsness individualizes Hairy Gary bikes. One bike in Selner’s shop sported elegant guitar and musical note shapes to personalize the paint job.
Bottom line: Custom road bike frames required 20 hours of labor and run $1,750-$2,500. Fully assembled Hairy Gary bikes weigh 17-18 pounds. Mountain bike frames go $1,250-$1,750 or higher for heavy-duty downhill suspension bikes that can trick out to weigh 45 pounds.
Where: Hairy Gary Bicycles, 5606 E. Sharp, Spokane; telephone 533-2788; www.hairygary.com. Make appointment. The dogs get walked at 3 p.m., no exceptions.
Don’t come if you’re a neatness freak or you don’t like dogs.