Wild Jobs: Custom Bike Builder

Kruch Custom Bicycles

“I feel like an artist and my bicycle is the brush.”

                                                                         ~Scott Stoll

We live in a world of art. From the natural to the manmade, art is all around us. We can see it, touch it, taste, smell, hear, and even feel it. Art is a vehicle to express ideas and emotions. The medium or discipline is not as important, people can be artists in anything, but instead, the feelings that the product evokes are what’s paramount.

Corey Kruchkowski, a born and raised Calgarian, is a local welder and custom bike builder. He is also an artist. Corey (better known as ‘Kruch’ to those closest to him) was once told that, “being an artist is about, among other things, ‘seeking connection’ and ‘taking responsibility’.” Kruch is an artist and his medium is bicycles. He considers his art to be “useful, high quality, and meaningful” and I would tend to agree.

Custom Bicycles
Corey Kruchkowski of Kruch Custom Bicycles on the Copper Klunker. Photo Credit: Liam Glass

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Corey about his business, his art, and how Kruch Custom Bicycles came to be. What follows are the highlights from a poignant conversation with Kruch himself.

Let’s get started with your business. How did Kruch Custom Bicycles get started?

Somewhere around the year 2000, I was living in Grande Prairie. I had relocated there after university and I picked up a hobby of welding. I was just out of university and I didn’t really have any money and I met a bunch of guys that I thought were pretty nice people. They spent a lot of time in the backcountry and they all had really big lifted pickup trucks and Jeeps and stuff like that. I had a Jeep but I didn’t have the money to lift it like these guys, so I knew that I needed to learn how to weld if I wanted to keep up with them and do these fun things. A guy I met lent me a welder and a really cool person named Dean Kessler came and showed me how to use it. From there I just really fell in love with metal working and I built all kinds of different things. Eventually when I moved back to Calgary and I had enough money I started buying myself custom bicycles. I’m 6’6” so I don’t really fit on regular-sized bikes. Even extra-large frames are usually too small for me. So I started buying these custom bicycles and after my third one I took a good look at it and I thought, “you know, I think this is something I can do myself”. From there I kind of did some research to figure out what I would need as far as tools to get started. Shortly after, I built my first bicycle frame. When people found out that I built my own frame, it was funny how many of them wanted one of their own. I couldn’t have predicted the demand. I believe that first year I built six bikes, and by the next year it was up to twenty. Fast forward to 2023 when I built over sixty frames.

Wow! Sixty frames seems like a lot in one year. Would that be your max then?

I don’t think so. I believe I can do more. Right now I’m looking at hiring some help. I have a few guys that come and do apprentice work. It’s tough to train them though because I have decades of metalworking experience. These guys are keen but all that background learning can be tough. Once you have the right tools and a little metalworking experience, building a steel bike frame isn’t all that difficult. My goal is to do 200 units per year. I know how to get there but I am treading carefully. I know that if I was to just market it more, have the flashy website and all the rest of it I think I could get consumed by it pretty quickly. I’ve got a lot of really great content for social media but in some ways, I like to keep a little lower profile.

Custom Bicycles
Kruch hard at work in the factory. Photo Credit: Manny Reider

From start to finish, how long does it take to design and build a bicycle?

That’s a tough question because if it was a one-off custom bike probably somewhere between 16-20 hours just for the frame. But when they’re these batch builds where I’ll build a bunch all the same, different sizes but all the same model, that can be as low as 5-6 hours per frame. Right now the quickest I could get somebody a fully custom bike would be about eight months but I don’t want that to be the case. I would prefer I had a couple of guys working for me and I could get you your bike right away. So right now I’m just trying to navigate what that all looks like.

Where is Kruch located? Is headquarters still your garage?

Originally, yes I was stationed out of my garage. But then I transformed my backyard into a bike factory. My neighbourhood was re-zoned as inner city, which boosted up the allowable lot coverage to 45%, so I used every bit of it! Now I have an attached garage and a big detached shop in my backyard.

Do you build all types of bikes?

My customers define the types of bikes that I build. The short answer is mostly mountain bikes of various permutations. I was always involved in the local mountain bike community so those were the people I knew. I also used to lead these big group rides for Calgary Cycle. My rolodex when I first started this thing was filled with hundreds of email address of local mountain bikers. I did a few shows at Common Crown and I invited all of those folks that I knew. Then the orders started coming in and it was all for mountain bikes. It started out with hardtail bikes and then fat bikes. I have built a couple gravel bikes, which are pretty easy when compared to mountain bikes. I am actually working on a tandem bike project right now. It’s for a pro mountain biker who’s going to be doing a series on YouTube. He’s going to put people on the back and scare the crap out of them and record them using a GoPro. 

The Tonton, by Kruch Custom Bicycles, is the key to keeping the spark alive during the cold months. Photo Credit: The Inside Line

Why should someone consider a custom bike as opposed to one off the rack?

If you think about the scale of it, the minimum number of frames you need to order from factories overseas is 100, so with that in mind, there’s a lot of risk baked into the bikes that companies are going to offer out to the public. If they don’t sell or people aren’t into it you’re going to be stuck with a bunch of unsellable products. But when you’re a custom builder you can pivot really quickly. If I had to I could go out to my shop and knock a frame out in a day. But with the bigger bike brands, their lead time is a couple of years so they have to predict colours and styles and the rest of it, whereas I can be super agile with my approach. 

The other thing is I think people really like the story of items being manufactured locally. Made in Calgary. If you want to visit my shop, come on over, have a beer, and check out what’s up. If there’s any problem at all it’s dealt with immediately. I think people really like that local flavour and I think they like the story behind it. If you buy something from overseas that’s being sold in a store, you don’t know the story. There’s no picture of the factory or the workers that were there. If you buy a bike from me, I’ll give it to you with the hands that built it.

Custom Bicycles
One of Kruch’s custom bicycles. Photo Credit: Guy Parsons

I heard a rumour that your frames feature some aerospace design. Is that true?

Kurtis Peters, from 670 Collective in Medicine Hat, is an industrial designer. He does a ton of design work for me. Some of my bike frames are using a bit of aerospace manufacturing and that’s all Kurtis. I don’t weigh my bikes because I don’t really care, but I know they’re strong. My new steel fat bike frames are relatively light and a lot of that has to do with Kurtis. He’s designed, on contract, 3D printed stainless steel components. You can 3D print stainless steel now. Then I weld them onto the frame. Because it’s 3D printed, you couldn’t achieve the shapes we’re using any other way. They’re hollow and really strong. He can perform something called finite element analysis on the computer and stress it to see where the weak spots are before it ever gets manufactured. That’s another reason why I’m able to have a small operation and I think I do pretty great things. Any technology we can use to help us, I am all over it.

Editor’s Note: For more information about 670 Collective and the amazing work they’re doing, please see my previous post, Wild Jobs: Trail Builder.

Cam Belisle-O’Donnell putting his Tonton through its paces. Photo Credit: The Inside Line

What keeps you busy when you’re not building bikes?

Riding them! I try to ride three times per week myself. One of the favourite things is every Friday night there’s a group ride in Calgary that meets up in the evening and goes quite late. I have a new bike, a new model, that I am releasing this year that will be designed around that type of riding. Where you can just ride the bike paths, the pump tracks, the indoor bike park, and the odd trail. When people hear ‘city bike’ they think of those hybrid cruisers, but if you flip it a bit and look at the city as terrain, what’s the ultimate two-wheeled vehicle for navigating that terrain. That is the concept that’s coming out. This will also be my first foray into overseas manufacturing. I’m currently building one myself as a show bike but I have the steel counterpart being manufactured overseas. I am hoping to offer it at a lower price point to people. Outside of bikes, I am really into music and playing music. For example, I’m doing a couple of DJ sets at The Inside Line, a local mountain bike shop, in the near future. I also have an old truck that I should work on more often!

Other than the website, where can folks find Kruch bicycles?

The Inside Line is an exclusive seller of my fat bikes. Other than that I don’t do a ton of additional promotion or marketing.

Custom Bicycles
Corey in the factory working on the lathe. Photo Credit: Derek Bisbane

After speaking with Kruch, his passion for cycling and art is evident. His art is meant to be used, and enjoyed. It offers an escape. Anyone who has experienced it knows the simple pleasures riding a bicycle can bring. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Corey for his time and insight into the world of handmade bicycles. I appreciate your candid responses and openness to be featured in this ongoing series. Thank you Kruch!

To learn more about Kruch Custom Bicycles or to order your own, please visit the website. You can also stay connected by reading his blog and following him on Instagram.

For even more bike content, please enjoy these past stories including, Wild Jobs: Mountain Bike Instructor & Guide, Homegrown Business: B-LINE Indoor Bike Park, and a look at the non-defunct Plaid Goat Mountain Bike Festival.


About this column:

Wild Jobs is a running series that focuses on people in outdoor-related professions. It provides a brief snapshot of their career and the duties that it entails. Please see my previous post, Wild Jobs: Ice Fishing Guide to learn more.


About Tyler Dixon 222 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.