In the south-east corner of the Jerome’s Furniture building in SD natural light floods through an oversized skylight above Alex Webster’s work station. Here is the home of Hermes Sport.
Hermes Sport makes & sells high quality bicycle wheels. Seriously, high quality. And they are completely manufactured & assembled right here in SoCal (Learn about their product tech here). Components of the wheelsets are machined locally based on the designs of the Hermes Sport team & then assembled by Alex & a few trusted technicians. They pride themselves on making a wheel that cyclists find to be more than just light & fast. They make wheels that are meant to be durable as well.
Assembled by hand, wheelsets retail at $995 & come with either a black or colored hub. Right now you can get Jamaica Teal. In a brilliant marketing move they only make each color in a limited number & only once. So if you’re rocking them on the road you’ll likely be the only one.
When I arrive Alex meets me on the loading dock before leading me to the shop. His shop area is surrounded by miscellaneous furniture, fitness equipment & other random storage that has found its way upstairs in the building. There are boxes of wheels or wheel parts. A French bicycle poster is tacked on the wall. Each table has parts & tools organized & labeled appropriately. There is clutter only in the sense that work actually gets done here & sometimes things get messy.
Alex’s story is your traditionally untraditional path to entrepreneur. He started bike racing when he was young & read bike magazines following along as a proliferation of small high-end component companies came & went. As he put it he was “obsessed” with them. I’m not sure if he meant the small companies, the product designs or the magazines he read about them in. I’d guess all three.
He went to film school, worked in a bike shop & learned the process of putting together a wheel. He was living in LA when he started thinking specifically about making wheels, bounced that idea off a mechanical engineering friend & together they came up with a new wheel design. Since 2012 they have been working to design their current product with the goal making wheels that handle better in corners. No doubt inspired by the curvy downhills surrounding LA. He started making sales trips to San Diego & eventually decided to relocate saying that every trip felt like a vacation.
After getting to know a little bit about Alex & his path he shows me the process of assembling his wheels. The simplified version is as follows:
- Build the hub.
- Thread the spokes & tighten them with spoke nipples (Spoke NIPPLES!)
- True the wheel.
- Balance the tension
Watching him work is like watching a musician tuning an overly complicated string instrument. Constant adjustments, listening to the sound of the spoke tension, more adjustments. When he get’s to a point where the changes are minute he uses some specialized meters to measure the tension & make sure everything is just perfect. The ting-ting of metal on metal, the ratcheting of the wrench, the plucking of the spokes all create a lovely shop instrumental.
I ask Alex what sets his wheels apart from other high-end wheels on the market. His response is measured but confident.
Right out of the gate what we’ve got the strongest is handling. All the stuff we’ve developed in the internals of the hubs & with the bearings has really been tailored towards making the wheel stiffer at every stage of construction. It winds up being really nice because there are no weak links in the chain connecting the road to the frame. It’s made them really awesome if you’re descending or leaning into a corner or something like that. Just a great feeling of being really, super secure in the line you’re going.
It really emboldens you to be more aggressive when the road stops being straight than you otherwise would…
Also, the same system we came up with has really brought the rolling resistance down on the bearings so the bearings are super smooth & it (wheel) doesn’t flex under power too. So when you’re putting in a lot of effort, really cranking on the pedals it (the power) goes straight into the tires.
Basically, it’s a more badass wheel. And if you’re spending the money you want the most badass wheel. We end the tour of the shop with a handshake & coincidentally both decide to walk down the street to Monkey Paw. On the way I ask him where his shop “beer fridge” was. He responded that with Monkey Paw right down the street he’d never needed one. Cheers to that, and to one more local entrepreneur making something cool right here in SoCal.
If there is anything I’ve learned from doing these local business profiles it is that often it pays to follow that little voice in your head that tells you to follow your passions. It always seems to work out in the end.