(Photos © Elly Blue)
Jude Kirstein was bike touring with friends in the Patagonian Andes and realized after climbing all those mountains that, “there’s nothing you can’t do — so you might as well go for the gold.”
After that trip, Kirstein returned to Oregon and earned a wheelbuilding certificate from the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland. Two weeks ago she fulfilled a long-held dream by opening up shop as a custom wheelbuilder here in Portland under the name Epic Wheel Works.
Kirstein says she sees the majority of her job as “education.” She loves being able to sit down and talk with her customers about their wheels, and to get them really involved in the build and aesthetics. She wants the experience of choosing a custom wheel to be “open, free, and relaxed — not intimidating.”
Customers are already asking her for features she didn’t expect — such as a message written on the inside of a rim. She’s figured out a kind of clear coat that she thinks will work, and is excited to tackle the project.
Kirstein spent three months in college working at Maya Pedal in Guatemala. One of her goals is to grow her business enough so that she can help create opportunities for more mechanics to work at community bike projects around the world.
Kirstein will be holding an open house tomorrow, Wednesday April 1st, from 4 to 7pm. Her shop is at 833 SE Main, space #334 (right upstairs from BikePortland headquarters). She promises “wheel shaped treats” and lots of in-depth talk about travel, bikes, and the intricacies of her trade.
Update (4/23/09): After posting this story, I commissioned Jude to build me a new rear wheel. It’s on my bike as of yesterday. I took some photos at a couple points in the wheel building process — you can see them all here.