Gears Bike Shop was founded in 1988 by eighteen year-old Kevin Wallace. Kevin’s dad passed away suddenly when he was nine, one year later his brother Jim was in a serious car accident, leaving him permanently brain damaged. At the age of ten, Kevin was told he was the man of the house.
The Wallace family suffered another heartache when Kevin was fourteen years old, his mother Betty Wallace was diagnosed with breast cancer. This series of events provided the scenario for Kevin to search for deeper meaning and practical solutions in life, the traditional academic environment was not a place Kevin wanted to be.
After a heartfelt discussion with his mother, Kevin decided to take a week off of school to see if he could create an income by fixing bikes. Having only a week to prove himself, Kevin spent the next day creating the very first Gears flyer. He intended to circulate this flyer in the neighborhood where he had canvassed for school donations, sold chocolate bars, trick-or-treated and delivered newspapers in his younger years. Instead of just dropping the flyers off in mailboxes, Kevin was sure that all of his neighbors at least had one bike in their garage and if he rang the doorbell and spoke to people personally he could convince them to let him care for their bikes. Within the week Kevin had filled up his garage with 50 bicycles, this was enough of a foundation to inspire the beginning of Gears.
Kevin quickly outgrew his garage workshop and decided to open a storefront location on the Lakeshore train line, at the historic Clarkson Weigh Station. Gears established its first 400 sq. ft. storefront location in 1988 and remained there until 1996.
The next big development for Gears was when Ira Kargel, who first met Kevin in grade 10 homeroom, started dating Kevin in 1990. Ira was attending the University of Western for a degree in Microbiology and would work with Kevin during the summer months helping with sales and shop operations while Kevin continued to focus on mastering his love of fixing bikes. Ira eventually took over all the operations from Kevin’s mother Betty when her breast cancer metastasized to brain cancer. Happily, Kevin and Ira have since both married customers, but remain business partners, friends and closer than most family.
This was the year Kevin’s mother Betty succumbed to her cancer. Ira promised Betty that she would stick with Kevin and help run the business, at this point she was finishing up her teaching degree at Queens University.
After extending the initial Gears location to 1200 sq. ft. with a few “midnight extensions”, Kevin and Ira decided it was finally time to move to a more significant location. They didn’t want to do it alone, feeling there was strength in numbers, they convinced The Cyclepath franchise to let them open up in the neighborhood they knew. While there was a risk to move to a larger location, it proved to be an immediate success, connecting to all kinds of new people in the community. The relationship with The Cyclepath franchise was short-lived as the parent company dissolved a year after they joined. The Gears name was happily resurrected.
Gears had always had Golden Retrievers as part of their Mississauga store and immediately after they were threatened with eviction from their new leased space for bringing their dogs to work, they decided to put everything they had earned in the first ten years of business, and buy the building (current location) across the road. Kevin sold his house and moved into the building. He lived there for a year while they inspired the bank to provide them with a loan for desperately needed renovations.
Renovations began and Gears was built to the beautiful condition it is in today. The new building also provided a permanent home for the Gears Spinning program, which started in the previous location with 10 bikes growing to the current 36-bike studio. Spinning has been a mainstay at Gears since 1997. 2000 was also the year that Gears Founder, Kevin participated in Team Sunlight, at the 2000 Eco-Challenge in the jungles of Borneo Malaysia. They were the only rookie team to cross the finish line. This was the beginning of some long and inspirational journeys for both Kevin and Gears.
2000 – 2007
The Gears Spinning program, which started in 1997, quickly grew. The community came together and participated in the annual Gears produced, Gears 24 Hour Spin, raising over $4 million dollars for Trillium Health Partners, building a Women’s Health Centre named after Kevin’s mom, “The Betty Wallace Women’s Health Centre”. The Gears 24 Hour Spin lasted 8 great years.
2004 and 2006
After crossing the United States on bicycle in 1993, with friend Jeff Rushton, to raise funds for those with cancer, the duo competed in, winning and establishing a World Record for the 2-man Division in The Race Across America. Kevin used this venue to finalize a dream of racing solo, and in 2006 competed in and came 5th in the Solo Division of the Race Across America, with a finishing time of 10 Days, 3 Hours and 57 Minutes. This race allowed Kevin to raise an additional $250,000.00 for The Trillium Health Partners.
It was time to grow again. Similar to how Gears felt previously, they once again engaged other people to participate in the growth, and once again realized they could do a better job alone. Growth happened at a lightening pace and immediately Gears went from a single 10,000 sq. ft. location employing 12 people, to three locations with 35,000 sq. ft. employing 40 people. Each Gears team is unique, but there is no question we are one big family sharing the values of Happy, Healthy and Respectful! These were exciting times, the cycling industry was still riding the Lance Armstrong wave and people were simply mesmerized as cycling was coined “The New Golf”.
Today, Gears enjoys the biggest footprint of any independent retailer with stores in Toronto, Mississauga and Oakville. We have come a long way from “The Shack”. The team today is stronger than ever and is passionate about bikes for different reasons. We have shared mostly great times with each other and our customers.