Say you're looking for an everyday city bike. Most of us would simply shop and search until we found something satisfactory. But not Paul Budnitz, the founder of world-renowned 'art toy' creative engine Kidrobot. Uninspired by everything he saw, Budnitz instead built his own custom machine and then started a whole company around it to sell his vision of the perfect bicycle to others.
"I couldn't find what I wanted, which is how this usually starts with me," he told BikeRadar during a visit to his office in Boulder, Colorado. "In this case, I wanted a bike that was incredibly fun to ride, incredibly elegant and would last a really long time. That was my thing and it was either really high-end road bikes or city bikes that generally were made with lower-end components but weren't so beautiful."
Paul Budnitz Bicycles' current catalog includes two urban-flavored bikes: the No.1 with dual 700c wheels and 35mm-wide slick tires, and the No.2, a 69er (26in rear wheel, 29in front) with ultra-fat 2.35in street rubber. They share a common theme, with comfortable and curvaceous cantilever frame layouts, dual small-diameter top tubes, classic lines, internal cable routing, sliding rear dropouts and a minimalist aesthetic that's intentionally devoid of logos and flashy colors.
While pleasant to look at and comfy to ride, the No. 1 model shown here is also light at just 9.32kg (20.55lb) all in
What's also shared between both bikes is lots of titanium, which is used for not only the frame and fork but also the seatpost, stem and handlebar – nearly all of which is custom built for Budnitz by Lynskey Performance in Tennessee. Budnitz says he prefers the mystical metal not only for its light weight and durability but also its unique ride characteristics and renewable aesthetic. "If it ever scratches you can just buff it out so it'll still look new and there's an environmental component to that, too," he said.
The componentry follows that same simple-yet-durable motif with Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes, Devinci machined aluminum cranks rotating on a Token square-taper bottom bracket, Schwalbe slick tires, Paul Components brake levers, standard maintenance-free Gates belt drives, Nokon segmented aluminum housing, and custom wheels built with White Industries hubs and Velocity Blunt rims.
Budnitz says the cantilevered, twin top tube layout lends a smoother ride - not to mention a more elegant look - than conventional double-diamond configurations
The result is a fast rolling and comfortable but very lightweight – and yes, elegant looking – machine that's still well suited for the rigors of everyday use, complete with a relatively upright position ideal for navigating traffic.
Outrageously priced or good long-term value?
Budnitz's bicycles may be mechanically simple but they're not cheap at US$5,600 – and that's not including pricey options such as a Shimano Alfine 11-speed internally geared rear hub (+$750), a SRAM XX 1x10 chain-driven transmission (+$900) or a titanium Tubus rear rack (+$255-300).
He doesn't apologize for the bike's seemingly high cost, though, instead pointing to the idea that it's a bike that's not only prettier to look at than most city bikes but also one that could last the user for countless years of regular use, what with the titanium frames and array of high-quality, mostly US and European-sourced components.
Internal routing keeps the exterior surfaces clean and uncluttered. There will eventually be a more finished-looking metal cover for the unused down tube port on singlespeed models
"I'm basically saying, 'You're going to spend $5,600 on a bike and potentially that frame's going to last you forever'," he said. "Or you can spend less than that on something that's going to be creaky after a while and it's going to get rundown or it's going to chip – the whole replacement mentality."
"The funny thing is, people get it for cars," he continued. "People without a ton of money will spend a ton of money on a really beautiful, high-end car. If you've got a really beautiful bike and you can identify with it and just love it, you want to ride it all the time." Budnitz also has an interesting theft replacement policy: a 20 percent discount that – assuming a reasonable homeowner's or renter's insurance policy – should make the replacement close to free.
One would think that for that kind of money, Budnitz would offer just about any option under the sun but that just isn't the case. He offers no apologies for the surprisingly short options list. Aside from the drivetrain and rack upgrades and additions mentioned above, buyers can choose from a few Fi'zi:k and Brooks saddles, a Pitlock wheel and component lock system, some fenders, one or two bottle cages (in titanium, of course), and a brass bell – and that's it, with few exceptions.
Welded-on fittings for racks and fenders are included on the neatly constructed seat cluster
"We’re offering very few things on purpose," he said. "This bike is dialed for what it is. Things were chosen for a specific reason. From a marketing side of things, it's my belief that things have gotten really complicated. It's not clutter, it doesn't cause anxiety, everything works really well together. We're just keeping it simple. A lot of it is modeled after the way Apple sell computers – just choose a few options and you're done and you don't have to be technically oriented to buy an Apple. Do you know what goes inside your car?"
Consumer-direct – and where to go from here
After being dissatisfied with his own experience looking for the bike he wanted, Budnitz decided to offer his bicycles consumer-direct though the company website, a channel he says offers him a more direct line of communication with his customers, streamlines his business and – yes – allows him to keep prices lower than they might otherwise be.
"[When you enter a bike shop] you have these sports-oriented people [behind the counter] and you go in and they're telling you all these things you need on your bike which have nothing to do with what you're doing with the bike," he said. "And then there are the city bikes, which are generally in the dark corner in the side."
The titanium forks are finished with elegant hooded dropouts
Budnitz doesn't want to push the hardware aspect of his bicycles but rather the experience of what his bicycles could offer. Currently, the Paul Budnitz Bicycles catalog includes just two models but a third – and possibly a fourth – is on the way. Budnitz wouldn't quote exact figures but sales are apparently modest but brisk, and while the entire operation is situated within a small, rented downtown space that's eventually slated for demolition, the design icon has no intention of creating another Kidrobot.
"I want to stay a small, direct-sales company," he said. "I think we're on track here to support three or four people running the company – I think that's all we really need. We're selling all over the world. I think in September I sold a bike almost every day or every other day – it was awesome.
"When I was at Kidrobot I had around 100 employees and I miss being physically involved with what I'm doing – it's so much more fun. In this culture we glorify people who build something big, and it stays big, and it becomes this giant thing. The fact is, I looked at we could go that way but the reality is that it's 10 times more fun for me [to stay small]."
This Kidrobot 'Dunny' is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City