Jude Gerace: Sugar Wheel Works
Interview with Jude Gerace by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
Photography by Chantal Andersen for Levi's Commuter
When did you start Sugar Wheel Works and who do you build wheels for?
We started Sugar (then Epic) in 2009. April 1, 2009 to be exact. We build wheels for Vanilla Bicycles, Breadwinner and Sweetpea but that's only a small fraction of our business--we really enjoy working with every day riders, racers, and adventurers!
Are handbuilt wheels just for racing or touring?
Na. HB wheels are for all bikes and I can't think of an application that wouldn't benefit from a HB wheel. The reason being is that HB wheels let you pick more durable components which have a longer life and can be re used. Another benefit is that they are built with precision so that the life had on the wheels is noticeably more enjoyable.
I saw that Sugar Wheel Works has a wheel 'tasting' program. Is its that easy to feel the difference in wheels?
Well it's like learning to taste wine--pretty quickly you can decipher the bad ones from the good ones and like in wine tasting, a lot choices are subjective. The tasting room aims to answer the questions of which wheels are best for you, your bike and your riding style.
What types of riders benefit the most from having hand built wheels?
The people that most benefit from HB wheels are going to be people who spent between $400-3K on a bike. The wheels and tires are the things that get skimped on and spending between $500-$1200 on wheels makes the bike ride dramatically different. All bikes can benefit from customizing performance but the bikes in those categories get the biggest benefit.
I've noticed a lot of wheel building classes. Should folks be riding around on the first set of wheels they build?
Ha! Great question. Everyone who builds wheels has their wheels checked over by a Sugar Builder. The tolerances aren't as tight as when we build them but they're still tighter than what a machine built wheel. We also offer 6 month check-ins so people have the confidence to ride them.
There's a big jump from repairing a spoke, to building a wheel set. What should people be looking for in a wheel builder?
I love this question.
1. Someone who takes the time to understand your riding style and performance concerns removing their own personal bias as much as possible.
2. Someone who doesn't guffaw when you want red hubs and green nipples
3. Someone who won't compromise on your build
4. Someone who keeps records of your build noting any anomalies in components--some rims, for example may have a weak point which is still great to ride but we want to make note of this incase there are issues.
5. Someone who has tried a lot of different wheels and can help you understand the differences in components.
What personally drew you to wheel building?
Well I wanted to stay in this industry and I wanted a technical challenge. Wheel building and running a business have kept me more than busy--so much curiosity about both.
I'd love to know a little more about your favorite rides (local or international!) and what wheel/bike combos you like to explore on.
I love riding but lately it's become even more necessary as a way to detox, stay current, and enjoy life. I honestly don't have one wheel set I ride or a "Favorite" as they say. I ride things from the demo room with regularity and try to pair them with rides that I think would best exploit the technical advantages. For example, if I'm going long and flat I'm going to ride some type of carbon that will give me an edge. If I'm going to do a lot of climbing I'm going to choose a hub with good engagement and a rim with low rolling weight. I use Grand Prix 4000sII tires on all rides just to keep things neutral but I have been known to explore with different tire options too. I love the idea of adventuring by bike and gravel riding and those are the areas I hope to really explore in the coming year.
If theres something you'd like to add, lets put it in here!
I feel genuinely lucky to have made a career from something I love so much but it hasn't come without a host of people supporting me and they so patiently let me stand in the spotlight but they deserve a standing ovation. I work long hours and I wish I were a peach all the time but so often I'm haggard, focused, and not as present as I'd like to be and these people have been an amazing support network. It takes a village to raise a wheel builder.
1. My co-worker, Jason--best wheel builder and friend. I'm fantastic at higher level thinking and Jason is an amazing detail oriented person.
2. Husband, Alex, who demands I come home if I'm working past midnight
3. Mentor: David Browning who owns an engineering firm and has given me the technical prowess to design great wheels. Seriously, There was a time when I was meeting with him every week to work through engineering concepts
4. Mentor: Dan Morgan, who has breakfast with me quarterly to make sure that I'm not going insane.
5. Riding partner Diana Rempe, who at 49 kicks my butt but has made me into the best rider I think I could ever be and has also saved me so much in therapy bills.