Jude Gerace is the owner of Sugar Wheel Works in Portland Oregon.
"We hand build bicycle wheels to the highest standards allowable."
How did you get started in the world of bicycles?
I got started in cycling because I was intrigued by getting from place to place by my own power--this was when I was 19. I loved being active. I also wanted to go on grand adventures off the beaten path--to be "in the middle of nowhere" and to get there on my own. That risk was really appealing to me. The next natural step was to learn how to work on my bike. I remember the first time a mechanic took me behind the counter to show me how my bike worked--it sparked my imagination of what I could do!
What challenges did you see when forming Epic Wheel Works?
I don't really like to talk about the Epic>Sugar transition. It really sucked. Imagine emptying all your pockets to start a small closet shop and then you learn you accidentally chose a name that is loosely affiliated with a bike. It was a really hard lesson to learn and the first time I realized that to be a business owner, wheel builder, or anything meaningful in this world that I would have to learn to be resilient. The biggest lesson I learned, however, was the responsibility that comes along with signing my name to something.
Beyond that, ignorance of how hard it would be was incredibly valuable. If I had to start it all over again at this age, I don't know that I could work 80-90 hour work weeks on end. It's exhausting--and it made me super grumpy. But I think that's true of anyone starting any shop or small business. But with wheel building, I've always known that there's a burden of education associated with it. What I mean is that if I told people I own a bike shop, people wouldn't raise their eyebrows. Nearly every week a tourist comes into the shop and asks "Can you survive doing this?" So I guess I get to question my sanity every week. But I like being a little insane--I think it makes me interesting. In high school I wasn't voted "Best athlete" or anything flattering. I was voted "Quirkiest". But I live a really interesting life and because I'm willing to work hard for what I believe in and what my highest ideals are, I get to do something I love and something that keeps me interested and present in life.
Speaking simply from your perspective what makes for a good wheel builder? Is it a skill, a personality, a mindset or perhaps its something on a different philosophical plane?
That's a great question. In my opinion, to be a good wheel builder you have to be willing to want each and every wheel to be "Perfect" every. single. time. To build a business off of wheel building you have to be willing to get curious about everything--even aspects of wheel building that aren't interesting. Then you have to find a way to relate that tech information to each rider. Then for bonus points, you have to be willing to guide the vision that someone brings you even if you wouldn't necessarily do it that way. So yeah, you have to be a perfectionist who can relate to world around you.
Who / how did you learn to be one of the foremost current generation wheel builders?
Am I? I still think of myself as hustling to make it all work and look good! I care so much about what I do--I take it personally when I've failed a customer (which doesn't happen often but it still happens). I learn from those failures so that we as a shop are better. I really love what I do and I'm still so thirsty to learn more, to innovate, and to make sustainability a foremost goal of our industry. I'm just getting started. I've only been doing this for 8 years...can you imagine what I might be able to do with 8 more years?!!
You’ve got a small staff at Sugar… what makes a good co-worker in your shop environment?
Someone who has a healthy amount of respect for what they're doing and who holds themselves to a high standard. I also appreciate someone who can, at the end of the day, leave their work at work. I carry my work with me 24/7 and I really thrive off the fresh energy that my co-workers bring to the shop. I also love that they ride.
We want to inspire people to be involved in cycling and mechanics. What words would you give someone looking from the outside in?
I don't have anything inspiring to say. I don't know how to inspire people with words. I just think you have to believe, even just a little, that you can do it. I hope that my work, my team, and the integrity of the company I've built are more inspiring than inspirational pithy sayings. I hope that when people hear the story of Sugar or come and visit my shop they leave thinking they are capable of so much more than they thought they were. And as much as I despise pithy sayings, don't think I don't have an entire catalogue of them to cheer me up on the really hard days.
Everyone has that one drawer with their special tools in it. What’s in yours?
Scribes of different sizes, a small screwdriver, a measuring tape, banjo picks (for sound amplification), rubber bands, four bottle openers, keys (to i don't know what), pens, scrap paper, and a collection of stickers. Oh I just remembered what the keys are--mail box and spare keys for the shop (which isn't helpful since they're inside the shop).
What does the word Professional mean to you?
It means showing up every day and offering consistent, high quality work that strives for being the best in one's industry. It is a belief that one (I) embody the highest standard possible. And that one is humble so as not to let their ego get in the way of doing good work and connecting people to that work.
You can checkout Sugar Wheel Works on the web, or Instagram and on Twitter @Sugarwheelworks
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