At work with Memento Cycles

Three entrepreneurs use their knowledge and experience to produce handmade high-quality bicycles.

Ronny Perez Jaramillo, Mathieu P. Hamel and Étienne Trudeau are the three proud owners of Memento Cycles. They design and manufacture high-quality bicycles in their workshop located in Rosemont, Montreal. 

For many years, the three of them worked together as bike couriers and messengers. Their experience in the field, and the knowledge that comes with it, have given them a better understanding of the cycling industry and its needs. 

The cycling industry, like most industries, is dominated by mass production in low-income countries. It focuses on low-cost and low-time production bicycles. Memento Cycles differentiates itself from the bunch by choosing quality over quantity.

The Rosemont-based artisans weld and assemble the bikes themselves. Every bicycle frame they make is customized for every client so that the bike perfectly fits the person’s body. They design and make their products for cyclists who want to ride a bicycle that feels like an extension of their own body, and offer a solution to those who want to ask for more from their bike.

Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

Both Trudeau and Perez Jaramillo are engineering graduates. They took to the field so that they could earn high salaries and work in very safe, stable jobs like they thought they were supposed to. Instead, they decided to make the daring decision to choose passion over money and boldness over safety.

Perez Jaramillo believes that Memento Cycles is about more than making a living by selling bicycles.

“It’s about learning and growing,” he explained, referring to both being an entrepreneur and a human being.

Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

The Work Market is Changing

The pandemic has redefined the way Canadians think about their work. For many, it’s opened up options beyond working for someone else. Employees and employers now have to deal with the new rules of the labour market. 

The human resources firm LifeWorks uses the Mental Health Index (MHI) to measure Canadians’ level of happiness and satisfaction at the workplace. The firm has conducted surveys every month since 2017, and their data can be used to understand the evolution of Canadian workers’ views and feelings about their job. 

Their study on the MHI found that the Canadian workers who feel a sense of belonging and acceptance at work have among the highest mental health scores. Lower mental health scores can cause lower productivity while higher mental health scores result in higher productivity. They also found that more than one-third of employed Canadians are either thinking about leaving their job, or are unsure because their current job does not satisfy them.

Additionally, Statistics Canada publishes estimates of business openings and closures every month. Their latest comprehensive report released in July 2020 compares the first few months of the pandemic to the same months during the preceding year. It states that the number of new businesses has risen by eight per cent from March to July 2019.

We will have to wait for more recent data to make conclusions about the long-term effects of the pandemic, but the first five months’ statistics suggest that the pandemic has encouraged Canadians to start their own businesses.

Memento’s history

Perez Jaramillo and Trudeau graduated in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Fresh out of completing their degrees in engineering, both believed that an office job would not satisfy them.

They felt the need to work on their own terms toward an objective of their own. They both appreciate the ability to work when they choose, and to take a day off when they feel like it.

“It all started when I was taking entrepreneurship classes during my last semester at university,” said Perez Jaramillo with a smile.

“I was really looking for a project to start my business. At first, it was not about the bikes; it was more about being an entrepreneur.”

“At first, it was Étienne and me,” Perez Jaramillo remembered. They asked Hamel to join because they thought that his experience in the cycling industry and his knowledge of bike mechanics would be beneficial. 

“I think that three is the perfect number for our business. Everyone brings something different to the table. We had to buy a lot of tools and machines to produce bike frames. It was good that we could split the expenses in three.”

Trudeau is the one who had the idea of producing cargo bikes. “All the cargo bikes we have here are imported from the Netherlands and are very hard to get. It costs about $10,000 to buy and ship the bike to Montreal. It should actually only cost you $5,000. Étienne thought there was a market there. This was all we needed.”

Trudeau explained that cargo bikes are the fastest way to deliver goods in the city. They have a very small front wheel with a wide platform attached to the fork which makes it easy to carry great loads. There already are a few companies in Montreal that use those bikes to make deliveries. The three entrepreneurs hope to convince those companies to stop importing expensive bikes from Europe, and instead, use their locally made bicycles.

“At first we only wanted to make cargo-type bikes,” Trudeau remembered. But they quickly realized that it was quite complicated to start with such a complex product. They decided to start making regular bicycle frames. The trio quickly found out that this was still hard. This is why they decided to start by making bike racks and small accessories.

Étienne attaches a bike rack to the front of a bike. They shared that the fitting is one of the most important part of the process. Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

Similar to the two other partners, Trudeau still works a part-time job. He is a bicycle messenger for a company that uses cargo bikes to deliver goods on the Island of Montreal. He is very used to riding those unique bikes, and hopes to be able to produce and sell the first cargo bikes made in Montreal.

Why are Memento’s bikes unique?

The three Memento owners were cyclists years before starting their company. Their background and experience allow them to better understand the demands of bicycle lovers. Perez Jaramillo believes that “cyclists are the best persons to create cycling products.”

“People do not want to buy something they could have done themselves,” he said. “They want to buy something special, clean, and unique.” 

Manufacturing bikes on a smaller scale than most bike brands allows memento Cycles to create a relationship with the customers. Perez Jaramillo thinks this is central to their work.

“I loved the idea of working with my hands,” Perez Jaramillo explained. He always was more cerebral than manual but he “was very attracted by the idea of learning to weld and work the metal.”

Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

The road to success was a bumpy one, but Perez Jaramillo tries to find something positive in everything. 

“We made a few mistakes,” he said, “but I think that we learned from every one of them. As long as your mistake does not destroy your company or kill anyone, I am sure you can draw something positive from it.”

Trudeau believes that one of the biggest challenges is to manage to reach out to as many people as possible. “In order to do that,” he said, “we need to have a diversified range of products.”

There are 600,000 bikes sold a year in Quebec. The three Memento members hope that they will be able to sell at least 20 bikes a month. That would allow them to leave their respective part-time jobs and focus on the company.

Looking Ahead

“When I come here, I don’t have the feeling that I am working,” Trudeau shared happily. “If I was not in a love relationship, I would spend all my time here without feeling like I am spending all my time at work.”

Being an entrepreneur can be very challenging at times, requiring a great amount of motivation to keep going even when the pay is not as good as one would hope or everything seems to want to fall apart.

Perez Jaramillo finds his motivation by comparing his life to those of his fellow classmates. “I have friends who graduated from the same program I graduated from who have a nine-to-five type of job, a good salary, and a nice office to work in. But they all tell me the same thing: this is not enough. They feel like they are missing something. This is why I tell myself that even if I had a full wallet, I would not necessarily be happier.”

Trudeau explained that his bachelor’s in civil engineering and Perez Jaramillo’s bachelor’s in mechanical engineering are relevant to their work. They use a lot of the knowledge learned in their studies, especially when it comes to materials and their particularities. Harmel completes the trio well with his knowledge and experience in bike mechanics.

“There are too many generations who convinced us to study a lot, find a decent job, and get settled,” Trudeau said. “I see too many people who are unhappy with that type of life.”

Perez Jaramillo believes that “entrepreneurs are people willing to dedicate their heart and their soul to their projects. I don’t mean to become crazy — but it’s almost that.”

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