We are in Poblenou (Barcelona), at Davide’s place, where he welcomes us with a huge smile into a living-room full of wheels and boxes. We turn around and head to his workshop. It consists of a little room with everything necessary to turn some metal rods, a ring and a hub into the perfect wheel. The place might be tiny, but everything is tidy and every tool has a use, all are essential and necessary. We sit down, and he starts to work.
Davide Frassine (aka Lerri) is one of the few wheel builders there are: founder, owner, and employee of Frasen Wheel Works. As in the case of frame builders, his work consists of creating unique pieces that adapt to the clients’ needs. Every detail matters, from the selection of the components (rim, spokes, nipples, and hub), their geometry and material, to the spoke tension and the lacing. The most important to him is to offer a long-lasting product that fulfills the client and its use. Large commercial brands (Zipp, Enve, Mavic…) might also hand-build their wheels, but he offers a product customized to the millimeter. From approximately 250 wheels he built last year, only three pairs were identical.
Frasen is not a random name, but Davide’s last name in his motherland dialect in Brescia (Italy), where he was born and grew up. Later, he came to Barcelona when he was 18, captivated by the skateboarding scene. At that time, skating was his world and he was even sponsored by several brands. Eventually, he started studying environmental science back in Padua but, as soon as he could, he came back to skate in Barcelona through an Erasmus program, where he also ended up doing a master’s. Since then, he settled down permanently.
In spite of being skateboarding Davide’s greatest hobby, he also used a fixed gear bike as a way to move around the city from spot to spot. It was in a moment of need when everything started revolving around the two wheels. In My Beautiful Parking he found a job as a bike mechanic and he could not have imagined at that time where that would take him. He had no previous experience and he spent a whole month volunteering in order to learn. Back there is where he first saw someone building wheels, Camilo. He also met Martin from London (Arkane Wheel Works) who only built wheels, and who now is part of a very small collective of wheel builders who exchange information and knowledge. At the beginning that task seemed boring, even useless. But he started asking, inquiring and learning, to find out a whole world behind that process. He discovered the beauty in the details, the reason for every nipple turn, the mystery of every spoke and being able to distinguish good from bad material. Some years later he started working in Espai Bici, where he extended his knowledge and had the chance to practice more. And, in all of this, how did Frasen pop up? It was something progressive. Colleagues of him asked for wheel builds and repairs. In order to do that he gradually bought some tools and created, what it is now, his workshop.
People who go to Frasen know how to distinguish and appreciate the quality in the materials, components and finishing touches of a pair of wheels, whether they are for road, gravel, cyclocross, MTB or track. Besides building wheels for individuals, he also provides specific wheels and repairs for shops, he will very soon start with the technical service of Enve Spain, and he collaborates with framebuilders such as Legor Cicli, with whom they offer the definite custom bike. Moreover, since he is a craftsman, he also provides wheel maintenance such as spoke replacement, wheel truing, or bearings adjustment. However, as he mentioned, if you initially choose good material, such as Chris King hubs, every part can be taken care off and you will end up saving. And what is more, his experience and knowledge are such that even the most experienced bike mechanics go to him to learn. As he claims: ‘a good mechanic should know how to build a wheel’.
When starting a new project, communication with the client is the most important aspect for Davide. At that moment, he starts investigating in order to choose those materials that adapt best to the client’s needs. It is more important to choose the right materials than the building process. This is why he will only build wheels in which the components make sense. Once these are selected, the building starts.
The building job is laborious, thorough and precise, but that is what he loves about it. Everything starts with the spread of material on the bench: the aligned spokes with the tips in oil, the nipples in a box, and the hub and rim in the jig. He places the first spoke and the building is on. He has his own ritual, by placing each nipple manually and lacing the spokes (radial, two or three crossings). Once the wheel is laced, it is time to adjust it.
Tensioning and truing can take you more or less time, but it is the years of experience, learning, and preparation that give you the ease and security of a craftsman. He holds the wheels as it was a harp, caressing every spoke and counting the turns of every nipple. Besides correcting the lateral and radial deviations he adjusts the tension of every spoke to compensate for the radial, lateral and torsion efforts. For that, he uses a tensiometer but, to our surprise, he also strokes every spoke with a guitar pick to hear the relative tension. Suddenly, the workshop is a music studio. He also counts with the best tools, such truing stand from P&K Lie that comprises micro-metric gauges to measure minimal deviations.
Once done, it’s time to write the date and reference on the rim and place the rim tape. In spite of that, the work is not finished yet. Every wheel is special and, as a tire is placed and inflated, the spokes compress. This is why he places a tire, applies some stresses to the wheel and lets it rest for 24 h. After that, it is time to see that everything is still right and readjust to reach perfection. Then, the wheel is ready to go and cover miles and miles.
The good equipment stands out for the subtlety of details, their quality and the precision of their assembling. To Davide, wheel building is a handmade process that goes beyond lacing some spokes and turning some nipples. The right components adequately built can end up being a weapon to battle the first places on a race or a great companion for a long trip.
In his tiny yet tidy workshop, we have been able to experience first hand all the building steps. We have also been able to realize the passion and caring with which Davide builds each and every wheel he creates. Without any doubt, getting closer to this peculiar job has been a great experience, a highly respectable job which only a few can perform with such skill.
Photos by: Brazo de Hierro