Builder Profile: Normal Bicycles
Meet Chris Kudla, the frame builder and co-owner of Normal Bicycles in Buffalo, New York. Full disclosure, Chris is my husband and we run Normal Bicycles together. We are also behind starting up Wood Bike Supply. Since it's a bit awkward to interview myself, I've interviewed Chris for this article.
Chris began building wood bicycles in 2017 after an idea sparked to combine his passions for woodworking and cycling with his professional experience. Chris' professional experience was all focused on designing products (think parts of cars, helicopters, and industrial machines) to reduce shock and vibration. He was inspired to test the theory that the damping properties of wood could make for a an amazing ride experience.
"I love to create and build things and am conscious of the environmental impact that this can have, so building with wood is one way to do this responsibly." Chris Kudla
Chris describes how wood as a material has structural damping properties that are highly sought after in the aerospace, industrial, and automotive industries and when applied to a bicycle frame they result in a ride quality that is both stiff and comfortable.
Chris is now excited to be starting Wood Bike Supply to empower other builders, professional and hobbyists, to make wood frames more prolific.
"Building wood bikes has been a profession for me for the last two years. I’ve been working full time developing a frame platform which supports low-mid volume production, and it also lends itself well as a project for DIY enthusiasts."
Read on to learn more about Normal Bicycles and Chris Kudla.
WBS: What type of bikes do you build?
Chris: Our business operates with the support of numerous outside professionals and manufacturers in the Buffalo area, but at the core it’s just my wife Jessica and I. We personally do most of our riding either around the city or on gravel / touring type adventures and trips, so at Normal Bicycles our bikes reflect our personal style. We have a commuter model named the Urban Scout, an allroad touring bike named the Allroad Scout, and a gravel / adventure bike that we call the No.124, named after the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. (Book No.124 is the Super Bike that can fly.) It’s important to us that our bikes can work well in as many riding scenarios as possible, so our frames are designed to fit a wide range of wheel, tire, drivetrain, and brake configurations.
WBS: Do you typically build bikes to order? Do you offer custom builds?
Chris: We build bikes to order and our lead time is typically about a month. Most of our customers choose a complete bike built to one of our existing models, with upgrades like brakes or drivetrain. We also do custom builds and sell the framesets on their own.
WBS: What types of wood do you typically use?
Chris: The most common wood has been hard maple since it’s what we’ve had certified to the ISO-4210 strength and durability standard, but we’ve recently been experimenting with black walnut and birch.
WBS: What do you love most about building wood bicycles?
Chris: My favorite part about building a wood frame is wiping the first coat of finish onto the bare wood. As a builder you put time and effort into the construction, but it’s not until you wipe the finishing coating on it that the natural details of the wood bring it all together.
WBS: What has been the biggest challenge / obstacle to success?
Chris: There are tons of resources and component suppliers out there for steel, aluminum, and titanium frame builders, but some of the parts needed to build a wood bike are hard to find or don’t exist. For most of the frame building components on our bikes we’ve had to design and build our own, which can be time consuming and expensive. Since we use a unique construction method we can build the bikes fairly quickly, but it also meant that we had to have everything tested and certified before we were comfortable selling anything.
WBS: What do you wish people knew about wood bicycles?
Chris: My biggest wish is that wooden bikes become mainstream enough that they are considered as a normal choice alongside aluminum, steel, carbon, or titanium frames when deciding what to purchase.
WBS: Where can people learn more about your work?
Chris: I hope that through Wood Bike Supply we can collectively help, share, and challenge each other with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of wood bikes on the road.