Jean Denis-Caron is a 35-year-old aggressive inline skater who produces Rollance UFS Ice Frames out of his home in Quebec City, Quebec. These frames have been quality tested on the skates of Kevin Lapierre, who has been posting incredible videos online of himself skating them. Jean produces both a traditional hockey style frame and and freestyle frame that allows you to do grinds when attached to aggressive inline skating boots.
What made you want to start producing UFS ice frames for aggressive inline skates?
Mostly it was to scratch my own itch. About ten or fifteen years ago, I lost track of when the project really started, there weren’t any products that would let you convert UFS inline skates into ice skates.
I live in Quebec and a good 3-4 months of the year is winter. My friends and I wanted to skate so bad during this time of the year but we had no indoor skate parks to go to. This is what led me to start thinking about how hard it would be to make an ice frame for a UFS skate boot.
How did you go about making the first frames? Did you know how to make molds and work with those materials when you started?
To be honest, I didn’t have any idea where to begin. I took a 3-year course in computers that covered programming, design and 3D imaging. This allowed me to play with 3D software and create a model of what I thought may become a good frame design. However, since I had no prior experience in making skating hardware, I still had many questions that remained unanswered.
The concept of creating the actual hardware came when a friend of mine suggested I craft a frame out of a piece of wood. It was actually a very good concept, because wood is solid enough to give you an excellent feel yet it is also easy to work with. I completed one frame and tried it out on the ice.
I couldn’t believe how good it felt and from that moment I knew I needed to push this project further. After that day, anytime I would encounter an issue, I would find a way to solve it. I learned to ask the right questions, which led me to where we are today.
Demonstrating the Wooden UFS Frame back in 2010
What kind of wood was it made from? And how heavy was it?
I went to my local hardware store and picked out a piece of Oak hardwood. Before I went to the store, I had not researched what the best kind of wood would be for this project. But I knew it wouldn’t matter, because wood was not going the be the material my final frames were going to be made of.
The wooden frame was surprisingly lightweight. In fact it was almost as light as the hard plastic urethane frames I produce now. Wood is a very light and strong material; it’s mostly carbon when you think about it.
When did you start working with plastics and making molds?
Once I became more confident in the development process of this product, I knew it would be something people would be interested in. I decided I needed help to figure out how to actually get these frames produced. So I met with one of my mechanical engineering professors and told them what I wanted to create. I was able to pick my teachers brain and left the meeting with lots of great insight.
Nowadays with the Internet, if you are a geek like me, you can dive quite deep into a subject without having to move your body much. So I read a lot and watched a lot of videos about mold making. Even with that I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the task and still didn’t know where to begin.
I didn’t wanted to pay to have a full injection mold produced without knowing if the model I designed was going to be perfect.
I don’t recall exactly when, but at one point my good friend Pascal Morasse, who now works for the Fise in China referred me to one of his friends in town who knew about mold making. I met his friend and we clicked very well. He was very helpful and answered all of my questions. I ended up paying him $1,500 to produce a mold and he also said he would teach me how to mold the parts from the mold he made.
It turned out that the first mold had major issues but I managed to produce a few imperfect frames. I had planned to make the original frames using carbon fiber with epoxy but that didn’t work out very well. Another issue was that by time I was able to start making these frames, the winter season was ending and there would be nowhere to go test them.
Although this dream of mine was finally moving, these issues were taking a toll on my motivation. I strongly undervalued how hard the whole project would be. I began to realize that other then this whole technical aspect that I had focused so much time on, there was also the financial aspect to think about. I need to find a way, at the same time, to create a product people could afford to buy and that I could afford to produce.
How to Create Urethane Plastic Objects from 3D Printed References
How many prototypes did you make before you got the frames you wanted? How much did the ice frames change from your first concept to your final product?
For the hockey model I created at least eight iterations of the frame. With each version having a new reference point and a new mold. Each version was improvement over the last and fixed whatever previous issues may have arisen. Surprisingly though, the design didn’t change much between the original wooden frame and the ones I currently make.
The hardest part came after the final version of the frame was completed. I needed to figure out production scale that would allow me to produce a frame priced well enough to make customers happy and yet still allow me to make a profit. My idea was to design whole thing so I could run the business successfully selling as few as 50 pairs of frames a year.
Kevin Lapierre Testing out the Hockey Frame in 2014
When did you start working on the aggressive frame? How many attempts did it take getting the groove right?
I started working on the frames in 2015. I apparently got the groove right the very first time around. I looked at all the frames I had laying around my work shop and drew a groove according to what I felt was visually correct to me and what would come closest to a good freestyle frame design. When I shipped the first model to Kevin Lapierre, the comment he made was that “the groove is very good.”
Did you have any problems with durability of these aggressive frames breaking at first with impact combined with the cold Canadian weather?
The very first iteration of the freestyle frame wasn’t very strong, I should have made it sturdier but for some reason I wanted it to be lightweight. You can actually see Kevin breaking the frames in his YouTube edit. That was unfortunate for the both of us, because it was the only pair of freestyle frames that I had time to produce that winter.
The latest versions are very strong. Vincent Romain used them on a rail to gap at an ice rink in Montreal. The drop off the rail was about 8 feet and he went straight to the flat bottom. I honestly was expecting the frames to break from the impact especially because it was very cold that night, -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit).
Kavin Lapierre Testing the Freestyle Frames in 2016
Who was the first person to do a grind on the freestyle frames? What is the craziest trick you have seen someone do on them?
The first person to receive the frames was Kevin Lapierre. Kevin and I have a special history together so he is the first person to get any new product I produce. I barely even had a chance to test the first freestyle frames before sending them to him. They were produced at the end of winter and I didn’t have time to make a pair for myself until the following year. In fact that next winter I made him a new pair of frames again before I made them for myself.
Last winter I also sent freestyle frames to Shredpool and Stephane Julien to try out. But as of now, very few skaters have had the opportunity to skate these frames, which means most of the crazy tricks have yet to happen.
The freestyle frames sounds very exclusive so far!
Yeah! So far the only people who have received a pair got them because they either know me personally or harassed me over Facebook. They had to do their research to track me down because I never left information regarding the product when we posted video edits.
Shredpool Skating the Freestyle Frames
How many of the hockey frames have you produced over the years?
My philosophy has been to be as minimal as possible. I want a quick turn around period for the frames, while also avoiding the cost of producing new molds.
So far I have produced over 70 hockey frames. My worst year I produced 0 frames because of an issue with mold process. Last year was my best year to date producing 20 hockey frames and 4 freestyle frames.
The process of getting to where I am today has been a long road. Some winters I had started off on a bad foot. An example being when I chose to get new reference parts from my own 3D printer. I ordered the 3D printer during the summer and it took at least 40 hours to assemble it. Then it took an additional 20 hours or more to modify it and in the end it wasn’t printing properly! I spent a lot of time troubleshooting it before getting it to work.
Although I ordered the printer during the summer, because of this I wasn’t able to print my first reference part properly until late November. It was already well into winter when I finally got my molds made, which is terrible timing for a product that should be available before the start of the season.
Once everything is lined up it doesn’t take long to actually make a pair of frames. After years of perfecting this product, I’m finally at a place where I can confidently produce a quality frame for the consumer.
Have you done anything different this winter to help make your production more efficient?
This winter I ordered one ton of stainless steel 420HC from China. Having a large supply of metal on hand will help smooth out issues I’ve had getting metal on demand.
How important is it to you to be able to quality control your own work vs. the unknown of producing in China?
Honestly, making hardware is hard! We take so many things for granted because it’s so easy to buy stuff. But with products so much is hidden to the buyer in the end. I can understand that the buyer could care less about how and where his stuff is made but it’s really something I didn’t want to compromise. The last thing I wanted in this project was another cheaply made in china product where all the problems are hidden from the buyers and myself.
That is respectable! Caring about the quality is very important.
Quality is what is really going to define this product, the company and myself. I have so much to share and a much better understanding of how things work. I often have a grand vision of project that is too big for myself and far ahead of its time. I’m dreaming of a blading community where there are more people hacking their way into the industry. It’s happening with Wizard frames, Oysi frames and Them Skates but I would love to see it on a grander scheme It’s not new or anything, it happened with Nimh, Remz, etc… But I think it could be even more organic.
So the company has been known as Roquet, but you have now rebranded it to Rollance. Why did you change the name? Is there a change of concept as well?
There’s a major reason behind the rebranding, I don’t like Roquet anymore, I mean I hate it now. All companies need a name and I wasn’t exempt from that. In the beginning I brainstormed a lot of ideas and I thought that Roquet was clever. It’s Rocket but with a French and masculine spelling (French has a genre for things).
I ended up choosing Roquet as a reference to our famous French Canadian hockey player legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard. It was also a word I was used to since I played a game a lot that has a rocket launcher, Team Fortress 2. I even made a competitive matchmaking system for that game! I was very attached to it and branded the beginning of the project and company as Roquet.
But as the years went by I started hating it because it’s a weak brand name since it’s a common word in the French vocabulary. Having it spelled differently isn’t as clever as I thought back then and it took me a while to realize it. I would rather have to company called Frameblade than Roquet nowadays.
So far Roquet itself had not marketed much and I always kept the promo videos brand less and kept the promotion of the brand and selling to a minimum. But pressure to change the brand had grown over time and rebranding it needed to be done. The name of the company is Rollance.
The concept stays the same, the logo doesn’t change, which I still like. It’s very subtle but it still has a link to rocket into the name Originally it was meant to be Rolance but Rolance.com was taken. Ro (-cket) Lance(-ur). So one of my friends asked me, “Did you try rollance.com?” Rolling is spelled with two ll’s so it worked out perfectly and it still mostly relates to rockets.
So I heard you were on the French Canadian version of Shark Tank (Dans l’oeil du Dragon) trying to promote your product. Is this true?
Yes, Kevin Lapierre and I were on Shark Tank to show our product. It was mostly a stunt to hijack a high rating TV show and showcase some good clips of Kevin’s skating on mainstream TV. It aired with nearly a million viewers. It was one of the most popular shows of that night. There was a good 20-30 seconds of him skating on the episode. You can read an article in Jean’s local newspaper about it here (in French).
What are your long-term goals with Rollance?
My long-term goal for Rollance is to keep pushing the original idea, creating a novel product for those who live in the North and have wintertime. It’s something I realized quite late in my life as a skater that the whole industry is mostly based in the South and the people who push the ideas and products don’t really live in the same world we live in. So it’s up to people who live in the North to take care of what our neighbors in the South won’t ever take care of.
I really want to create products that will give us more choices of what we can skate on during the wintertime. I have a few ideas of the next products I want do work on and they are also quite novel but for now I will keep working on stabilizing the production of the two products I already have. I don’t want to burn myself like I did in the past with the freestyle frame, which was to start pushing a new product while there were still some issues to fix with the previous one.
Focus is key until something is near perfect and spreading too thin is an easy mistake to make for somebody like me who has a lot of ideas. Over the next 2-3 years I could easily tackle easy problems like having a mount for freeride skates and also having a larger blade for people who have bigger feet. Those ideas have been suggested to me a lot.
Long term I want to work on a novel blade that mixes carbon fiber and very strong steel and also works on a novel open shell UFS boot and modular skate. It’s a long roadmap ahead and a couple of clever ideas might change that roadmap. If I can just build an amazing sporting goods company that makes the world a better place, then I will be proud of that kind of long-term goal.
How do you feel about so many other brands releasing ice blades this winter?
It feels strange. Part of me is happy of course, since it is good news for the sport offering more choices, and more overall support. And of course part of my ego is bummed by the competition. It’s something I expected would happen as soon as it was just an idea in my head, but I didn’t realize that the competition would get on the market faster than me. I loved the idea of providing a product that nobody could get anywhere else, it was fun for me finding something to create that people wanted but nobody was willing to make.
What are you sales projections going into the future?
My sales projections are low, I expect to sell around under a hundred pairs a year. This season I only have had a few sales of the regular blades. I assume this article will help with sales but I try to be as realistic as possible regarding sales numbers. That’s why I worked so hard this year to get ready just in time for the manufacturing process. It means that I can continue this business without spending a lot of upfront capital into it.
What do you call skating on UFS Ice Frames?
So far people has been calling it ice blading. When Kevin Lapierre did his first edit he called it Ice-Blading. Sure people can call it whatever they want, it’s actually ice skating when you look at it. I’m pretty sure you would confuse a regular person if you say you are ice blading at the ice rink. But I guess if you start doing tricks it’s kind of blading on ice. So far people tag themselves #iceblading on the social network and it’s perfect in my opinion; it’s a novel word with a clear meaning in the end. Who knows what’s going to happen next!
What is your current skate setup?
Xsjado Farewell with Oysi frames, Seba luminous wheels 72mm outer wheels and 61mm inner, slight rocker setup and TWINCAM crown spacer bearings.