The Wake Robin ATBSS: All Terrain & Luggerific
Dickson Bou builds frames under his brand Wake Robin Cycles from London, Ontario, Canada. He recently finished a stunning custom build for his friend Ben that bakes in some modern ideas into a very nostalgic yet fun looking all terrain bike. Let's go.
A friend recently introduced me to the work of Dickson Bou, an indie frame builder based in London, Ontario, Canada. Coming across new builders in Canada is one of my favorite things and I loved what Dickson was doing immediately. Dickson's business, Wake Robin Cycles, specializes in creating custom, handmade frames, stems, racks, and accessories. Dickson's ultimate goal is to be a "constructeur," crafting unique and beautiful bikes in collaboration with his clients.
Wake Robin's bicycles strike a nice balance between modernity and nostalgia, thanks in part to Dickson's unconventional entry into the world of frame building. He started by hacking old steel road frames and converting them to gravel machines, which inspired his love for classic lugged steel. His bikes are a testament to the beauty of simplicity, and it's easy to long for the bygone era of lugged steel when looking at his creations. He recently finished a build for his friend Ben that optimizes much of this feeling into a stunning machine simply called the 'Single-Speed ATB'.
How long have you been doing your thing?
I have been modifying my toys since I was young. I turned my regular Batman into Arctic Batman and poured layers of white glue over the faces of my G.I. Joes, then painted them and made masks for them. I kit-bashed model kits and built things I wanted but didn't have. In University, I studied Visual Arts, specializing in sculpture and installation, which further developed my problem-solving skills.
After Grad school, I opened a used bike shop with a friend. Unfortunately, the shop closed due to covid. That shop provided an environment and space for me to explore frame building. I started rebuilding old steel racing frames, usually of higher quality tubing like Columbus SL or Reynolds 531. I would convert the wheel size from 700c to 650b to run tires as big as 42mm wide. I dimpled the chainstays and put long-reach brakes on. I was interested in riding trails, gravel roads, and rail trails outside the city. I made them look like French Randonneur bikes equipped with fenders and racks. Eventually, I wanted to do more to the frames, build and design my racks, and add brake bosses, rack tabs, and other braze-ons, so I bought a torch off Kijiji (Craigslist of Canada). I watched videos and looked at photos on the internet, and just experimented. I had a Mariposa around the same time and made friends with them, and got to see their shop. I'd send photos to Michael Barry Jr. of my brazing, and he'd give me pointers on what I could do. It wasn't like a lesson or anything like that, just tips. Having someone to ask questions and point me in the right direction was very helpful and reassuring for me. Anyway, I eventually built a fork for an old Miyata Two-Ten, so I could fit 650x48mm tires and then a frame around that fork. I still ride that bike regularly, but it runs 26x2.0 wheels and tires now. I guess to answer your question, I feel I've been doing my thing, being a maker, for most of my life.
What were the design goals for this machine?
The geometry of this bike is specifically designed to handle the variety of roads we ride here in Southern Ontario. Most of the trails are flat and run alongside rivers, while the gravel roads are straight and open, and can get pretty windy. The front end of the bike works well in those conditions, and the overall goal was to create a lively-feeling bike that can handle any kind of road.
To build the main triangle of the frame, I used Rene Herse's extra light Kaisei tubing, Kaisei seat stays, and stiffer/thicker-walled Reynolds chainstays. This tubeset works particularly well for me since I'm on the smaller side, but Ben's feedback was invaluable in determining how the tubes would perform for larger frames. If you can get in sync with the flex that the extra light tubes provide, the ride will be lively, and your legs will feel great even after a long day in the saddle.
In this region, we generally travel on paved and gravel roads with some short trails that connect the roads. Ben prefers to bike to the trail instead of driving, so the bike had to perform well on paved roads as well. The smaller 26-inch wheels with 2.0-2.2 tires have roughly the same diameter as a 700c with 23mm tires, which allows us to keep the frame closer to road bike geometry. These wheels also give the bike more nimble handling, especially when climbing out of the saddle, which Ben does frequently since he runs only one gear!
This bike makes me pine for the old days and the simplicity of what bikes used to be.
I personally enjoy the appearance and sensation of a high-quality vintage frame. Good is simple, and simplicity lasts longer. I prefer items that are easy to fix. I just want to have things that I would still want to own ten or twenty years down the road. These things usually end up being simple, nice-looking, well-made, and well-designed.
Lugs not drugs?
Bicycles don't need lugs, it's more work to build with lugs and you are restricted to a handful of angles available, mainly road geometry angles. However, I personally use lugs because I appreciate the appearance, the process, and the opportunity it provides me to be more innovative with the aesthetics of the joint. My goal is to construct bikes that glide over rough terrain and yet ride like a road or rando bike, therefore I adhere closely to road geometry and lugs. Lugs were common back in the day, but now they feel special, and I like to build bikes that are special to me and to the owner. I have no interest in building a bike that is like one that you can get from a production frame company.
|Bottom Bracket:||BSC square taper|
|Tire Clearance:||Ultradynamco Mars 26x2.2|
|Price:||Frame/fork $3000 CAD (+$200 for lightweight tubing), Custom WR stem +$400, custom WR front rack +$400 (chromed)|
That fork crown is something else. What can you tell us about it?
It's a Pacenti MTB fork crown, designed by Kirk Pacenti. It's beautiful, has good clearance, and is light in weight for what it is. It's special and I like special.
How long did this build take? What was the process?
I think this build took a little over a month, maybe two. I work part-time at the University student art gallery and spend a few days each week at my parent's restaurant. Since Ben's build, I've also started working at the professional gallery on campus. As a result, it takes longer now to produce new builds. At one point, I was aiming to build one frame a month, but I eventually decided to focus on the frame at hand and make it really good, without getting too caught up in the number of frames I'm producing per year. I'm more interested in building for many years than in the quantity of Wake Robins I can release into the world. I think I can achieve that by building slowly, at a pace that I'm comfortable with. It's also important to me that I build the bikes I want to build. As long as I'm consistently building frames and learning, I'm happy. Having income from elsewhere allows me to focus on frame-building and worry less about bills.
I knew Ben before building this bike, so it was easy to understand his wants and demands for the bike. We still talked a lot before and during the process, and I showed him what I was doing along the way to see his thoughts. Doing that gave me a better idea of his vision, and it helped me create something that was both ours. I don't have a fixed process, and I've never made art following any predetermined instructions too closely. It's not that I don't have a plan, but I like taking steps because each step affects the next. For example, Ben wanted the stem to be paint-matched to the frame from the start, but it wasn't something I was into, so I gently tried to convince him to leave it chrome-plated. After talking more with Ben, I realized he was referencing old mountain bikes that had painted stems. From that point on, I looked at it differently, and now it's one of my favorite parts of his bike. I try to keep an open mind and listen as much as I can to understand the person I'm building for.
Is there any meaning to 'Wake Robin'?
Ontario's provincial flower is the trillium, which can be seen in white patches throughout the forest in early spring. The rarer dark red variety, known as "wakerobin", tends to grow alone and is larger. I decided to use this as the name for my brand because I didn't want to use my own name, and I thought it would be cool to have a made-up, gender-neutral name. I like that wakerobins have ties to Ontario, where I live and ride my bike. I split the name to make it look like a builder's name on the downtube: "WAKE ROBIN". Beyond those reasons, I simply like the way it looks and sounds. Sometimes I even receive emails that start with "Hello Wake, ...".
Any other interesting projects in Wake Robin's future?
I am collecting parts for a frame that I am building for myself. It will have 26-inch wheels, extra-light tubes, 3 Rensho lugs, a Crust fork crown, and I am planning to use the new Rene Herse Nivex rear derailleur. I plan to have two sets of wheels: one with slicks and one with knobbies. The slick set will have custom 26-inch Velocity Quill rims in 28-hole anodized gray. I got them from Jonny of Jonny Cycles, who requested a custom run of 26-inch Quills from Velocity. It will be pretty special.