Most people would agree that a bike should be lightweight, aerodynamic, and easy to control. So, suggesting a wooden bike frame sounds laughable. Wouldn’t it be heavy and clunky? And almost as bad, it must look ridiculous.
Not so, and one couple started their own bike company to prove us all wrong. This unusual business also has an unintuitive name: Normal Bicycles. They’re sweeping the nation, and it all started with passion and a dream.
They’re A Dynamic Duo.
Chris Kudla had worked for Rochester Institute of Technology and several Fortune 500 companies, but now, he works in a few hundred square feet of workshop space in a co-op. It has been a crazy journey, but he says none of this would have been possible without his other half.
In 2017, Kudla quit his day job as a project manager and engineer and start his own bicycle-building studio. Despite his strong passion for cycling, he told WGRZ, “I can honestly say I don’t think I would have jumped into it without the support of my wife. It’s such a simple thing, but it is really scary to just go for it like that.”
Why the name Normal Bicycles? “The simple answer is that when I first started, it was out of the basement and dining room of our house on Normal Avenue, over on the West Side of Buffalo. [It was] for lack of a better name, I guess.” Kudla told WGRZ. But there’s more to the story, too.
“[When my wife and I] started talking about using that as the name, it really fit because everything about the design of the bike is geared toward making it just like a normal bike. So, you can just take it to a bike shop to have it worked on, and you can ride it in the rain. The use of it is just like a normal bike.”
However, any bike enthusiast who takes a closer look can see why his wife, Jess, was so excited about his new project — Kudla’s engineering prowess and attention to detail are far from normal. So are the bike’s eco-friendly materials and unexpected beauty.
The Wooden Ride Glides.
Crafted with maple wood, Normal Bicycles’ wooden bike frame is highly durable. Kudla says, “The wood absorbs shock more efficiently and distributes impact throughout the frame better than metal.”
And plenty of industry experts agree! With a price tag of $4,995 for an entry-level Urban Scout model and a custom Normal Bicycle taking over 3–4 weeks to complete, these bikes are meant for serious bicycle enthusiasts. And they wouldn’t be willing to pay if they didn’t like the final result.
Many bikers have specific bikes for specific uses. So, why do so many avid cyclists buy one with a wooden bike frame? “Usually, it’s a commuter bike to ride around town.” Since the bike is hollow — intricately assembled by cut sections — its achievement is mainly in its precise engineering rather than woodworking.
Kudla’s extensive experience designing products for large corporations pays off with his new shop. Since he uses a think-tank design workflow, many checks and balances are required to finish a seemingly simple part. But they ensure every wooden bike frame is pristine.
“It’s a known thing, the design process, and then you’re comfortable with it when it goes to production,” Kudla said. “You feel good about it because you’ve gone through all these different checks along the way.” But Kudla is the only person crafting the bikes, so the quality assurance process is painstaking and challenging. “When you’re the only one looking at every step of the design, then it’s a lot more nerve-wracking.”
With all materials sourced from North America, Normal Bicycles has undoubtedly pushed the “norm” with its unique designs. We look forward to seeing their continued success — and watching these works of art pedaled through our neighborhoods.