Shop our semi-custom Sugar wheelsets HERE!
Introducing Sugar Wheel Works: Q&A with Founder and Wheelbuilder Jude Gerace
What inspired you to start Sugar Wheel Works?
There were really a few things that led me to start Sugar. The first is that when I, as a mechanic, was looking to build my own bike from the frame up, I noticed that the only options that were being discussed broadly were wheel systems. Having been a mechanic, I had the opportunity to see what happens when these systems fail. I also noted that all parts of the wheel were disposable. So, I started looking into hand-built wheels assuming that I would be giving up performance for sustainability. With the guidance of industry friends, I built my first wheel set for my bike. It was shocking how well they performed! It really blew my mind. So, I started borrowing wheels from other people to begin testing the impact wheels had on a bike. That's how it all started in a nutshell. The longer version also includes when I built up my first adventure bike and left to ride the gravel roads of Patagonia for 3+ months. It was then that I knew that coming back, I would create a business around this far flung idea--in fact, all around Patagonia I started introducing myself as a wheel builder. And thus, Sugar was born from this desire to tailor wheels to how people would want to use them--be it adventure, high performance, or a durable commuter set. The notion that wheels could elevate the quality of the ride and be sustainable were the ideals in which Sugar was founded.
What keeps you feeling engaged in your work and excited about wheel building?
There are a few things that keep me really excited about the work we do at Sugar. The first is the rider--at the onset I thought that I/Sugar would be inspiring others to ride but the truth is that our customers really inspire me. From learning about remote gravel trails to slapping a high five after a customer has just set a PR on their circuit, I'm really impressed, inspired, and stoked that there is so much love for riding and exploring. This naturally keeps me motivated to have good relationships with our venders who are constantly innovating. So, I'm in a consistent state of curiosity and learning. And lastly, when I'm building, I really do find it to be a blissful experience--hand tuning each wheel for our riders is a responsibility we don't take lightly but really enjoy. Did I also mention I work with some really great people--we have a workshop of awesome builders!
Tell us a bit about Sugar's semi-custom and custom builds. What are some of the most popular wheelsets (or type of wheels) you've received requests for?
Wheel shopping can sometimes be confusing--especially with all the choices available just in the hand-built market. There are endless combinations. For those customers who want to design their own wheels, we can go full custom--we're here to answer questions, but allow the rider to lead the design and offer insight along the way. While we can do almost anything custom, we also wanted to offer some of our greatest hits to the rider in an easier to shop format. Many of the wheels in our collection are aimed to provide a sense of reasonable durability while still being light weight and easy to maintain--from road, commuting, adventure and mountain biking. The wheels in the semi-custom collection generally offer higher engagement hubs and lighter alloy rims. They're intended to be wheels that are responsive and lively for most riding conditions. Customization in color, spoke count, and type of spoke/nipple are offered to dial in that last 20% of the wheel. We're always happy to help walk someone through the options--it's what we do best!
Hand-built wheels can be expensive. Are they just for serious riders?
Hand-built wheels are for all riders that are looking for better performance, durability, and sustainability. We build wheels for commuters, adventurers, all the way through to podium riders. Though hand-built wheels may cost a bit more at the onset, the quality of components and build means fewer to no maintenance issues over the life of the wheel set. Sustainability refers to the fact that the hub can be used in multiple iterations of the wheel(s). The hub tends to be the most expensive part of the wheel (nearly 50% of the cost) and can be reused, serviced, and maintained.
You do your own quality control as well as building. What does that process look like?
We take great pride in our laboratory set up! Quality control (QC) has so many aspects. The first is general shop maintenance--we make sure our tools are calibrated, clean, and up to the task. Likewise, each builder goes through a training process bringing their builds up to the high standard we set at the shop. Each wheel goes through two QC processes, so we catch possible human error. The first QC is performed by the builder who documents the final results of the build before handing the wheel off to our official QC department. In QC, the person audits the work of the builder, checking everything from aesthetics like logo alignment and true, all the way through to spoke length used. We stand behind our wheels and we've found a two-stage QC department means that wheels leave the studio with confidence and pride. Lastly, our riders receive a certificate of build with the highlights of the build such as the spoke length, component specs, and the signature of the builder.
What wheels do you ride, or what's your favorite wheelset you've ever had come out of the shop?
Haha! I don't ride just one wheel set. It feels as though I'm always testing different wheel sets and building up different combinations to try out. I'm also looking at different tires and tire pressures to see how that impacts the build. However, if you're going to make me choose, I think that the HED Belgium Plus and Boyd Altamont Lite rims have changed the market for alloy performance road and gravel riding. I get really excited when someone wants wheels built around these rims!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Have more fun! I take the work we do incredibly seriously and I always put work before play. As I get older, I realize that play is really important to keeping work interesting and fresh. So, I make a lot of time to get out and adventure. And, I would also tell my younger self to get a dog much earlier. My pup, Ozzie, is a huge motivation to stay in shape and play!
Shop our collection of Sugar wheels HERE!