Station 210 - Atelier de roues
O&S: As someone with an education in statistics and anthropology, what gravitated you to the world of bikes and specifically, wheel building?
LR: As many, I got into the bike as a young kid. Got a bit more serious at it while working a summer job on a hydroelectric construction site in northern Quebec back in the late 80s. Gravel roads and fishing lakes was all there was to explore, so that’s what a co-worker and I did after hours and on weekend breaks. Maintaining the bikes also became a thing since I was spending 4 months a year 400km away from the closest bike shop. We set up a small workshop just to maintain and repair our bikes. That little bike got so much attention! Fast forward almost 20 years. I’m working at the Montreal Public Health Dept and needed a space to work on bikes. I’m introduced to the local community bike shop by a friend and soon start volunteering in the shop. It’s a great environment to learn about how things age and how things break. But beyond stuck bottom brackets and steel freewheels on aluminum hubs, these shops see an incredible amount of wheels in need of love: wheels with broken spokes, out of true wheels, taco'ed wheels, etc. And that’s when the real journey began. Not satisfied with the partial knowledge shared in the shop on how to get those broken wheels back to rolling, I set on a quest to find answers from science. We’ve been building wire-spoked wheels for a little more than a century, most bicycles built since the early 1900’s have 2 wheels, yet literature on the subject of wheel science is relatively scarce. I came across the seminal work of Jobst Brant, The Bicycle Wheel, then Gerd Schraner’s The Art of Wheelbuilding, vintage magazine articles, Sheldon Brown’s website, Bicycle Wheel-building Instruction issued by Raleigh Industries and a few doctoral theses and scientific articles on the subject of the prestressed bicycle wheel, spoke patterns and spoke fatigue … but I’m nerding out a bit now. With this new knowledge, I set myself to build my first bicycle wheel set. It was a long and tedious exercise punctuated with classic mistakes: wrong spoke lengths, mistakes in lacing patterns and real issues in getting the wheel true and round … and I’m not even thinking about even spoke tension at this point. I’m still riding those very wheels on one of my bikes today almost 15 years later. Every time I look at them now, I see the mistakes I made that I’m not making anymore.
O&S: Obviously wheels and bikes are very technical and data driven, but it seems that there is an art to the wheels you build, would you agree?
LR: I believe bicycle wheel-building requires technical skill and a scientific understanding on what makes the wheel stand. I use the best available tools to assist me in achieving a perfect balance of wheel trueness, roundness and equalized spoke tension. That’s the science. Is there art anywhere? Not sure. But there is patience, minutiae, respect for the workmanship behind the production of every element of the wheel : the hub, the rim, the spokes and the spoke nipples. When we set out to build a set of wheels for our clients, we are most often combining parts that have not been conceived (produced) to go with each other – they are compatible, but we make them work as a whole. We are creating something new, unique, distinctive, often a thing of beauty. Maybe that’s the art?
O&S: When did you decide it was time to start Station 210 Atelier and build custom wheels for clients?
LR: We opened Station 210 – Boutique & Caffè in 2018. The love of my life and I had bought an old fire station in an historical village in the Lower Laurentians of Quebec, about 1 hour away from Montreal. Located on Quebec’s ‘Route Verte’, a designated bicycle route across the province, we imagined from the start that the cycling community would be converging toward Station 210 as a destination or as the place to stop on their journey through Quebec. Our Station 210 Boutique offers a quality curation of objects for the self, the home, pastimes, (especially outdoor) as well as a gourmet food section. We designed a set of bulkheads between the public boutique and backstore, making sure there was room for our Ateliers. After years of building wheels for myself, friends and as a subcontractor for a few bike shops, and after having given us some time to get the hang of the boutique and coffee space, we found the right moment to launch Station 210 – Atelier de Roues more formally. The wheel business is a coherent extension of the boutique: we promise high level craftsmanship to wheels built with high quality components. We don’t see the point of putting our hands to wheels with lower quality components.
O&S: From the outside, it seems like you're living the cyclist's dream. Cafe and boutique store, custom wheel building, amazing riding out your front door, do you feel that's the case?
LR: Interesting that you talk about the cyclist’s dream. I am a cyclist, and it does inform how I relate to other cyclists that come to me for their wheel needs. Most of my clients are avid cyclists, some semi-pros, some great adventurers and bikepackers, some have cycled across the globe. They challenge me to building them wheels that will help them in achieving their specific goals. I always say that I build wheels I want riders to forget so they can concentrate on what they do best, go fast or go far. As for myself, I do appreciate this life of combining passions, meeting a lot of people, talking bike around the bike rack, riding my bike on country roads just out the door, making myself an espresso and getting behind the truing stand early in the morning when, I feel, everyone is still asleep. Most of the wheels I build I don’t get to ride, but I build every wheel as if I built them for myself, imagining the roads, obstacles and views the rider will come across.
O&S: Can you give us some advice on living an intentional life as you do?
LR: Well, that’s a good question. I’m now 56 years old and living quite a dream. I’ve been a university professor, worked in public health, worked a lot with my head, and now I get to get my hands to work. For a long time, I imagined a radical career switch to wheel-building but it was embracing the change and undertaking the Station 210 project that really opened the door. That was the trigger. It’s a bit easy now for me to say “just do it”. It could have happened sooner. Often, opportunities are there. I guess it’s important to be open to change.