Review: Budnitz Bicycles No. 3 Titanium Fun Machine
A few months back we were approached by Budnitz Bicycles asking if there was interest in reviewing a bike. Being a lover of all things bicycle, an avid commuter, and having never really ridden a titanium frame, I was very curious to spend some time with their product. After a few days of working out the details, and a few weeks to build and ship the bike, I had a Budnitz No. 3 assembled in my garage awaiting its maiden voyage.
Roll on past the break for the full ride report, specs, and more…
First, lets talk more about Budnitz Bicycles the company. Paul Budnitz has been a lifelong cycling enthusiast of a different kind. He isn’t a racer, and performance isn’t always the number one factor when he chooses a bicycle. What does matter to him, and to many of us in fact, is comfort, style, ease of maintenance, and the longevity of your bike. In 2010, Mr. Budnitz decided to produce what he would consider “…the fastest, lightest, and most beautiful city bicycles in the world.”
These city bikes are designed for commuting in comfort and style. They are made from titanium or steel, and they come outfitted with a quality parts kit. There are now five models to choose from, providing a range of city bikes that should suit anyones needs.
But wait, there’s more. All Budnitz frames comply with the EU mountain bike standards. Meaning, you can throw on some knobbys and hit the trail if you dare. In fact, Budnitiz Bicycles production manager, Hunt Manley (yes that is his real name), uses his No. 3 off road on the regular I am told.
Our test model No. 3 came to us with a frame of titanium. The beefy ti fork is held on with a super blingy titanium Chris King headset for good measure. It is built up as a single speed and has a Gates Carbon Belt drive turning the rear wheel. Spinning that centertrack belt is an CNC’d aluminum crankset by daVinci Designs. Attached to the end of the crank arms are VP mountain pedals. The crank, in turn, is mounted to a Token square taper BB mounted inside a Bushnell USA Featherweight EBB. While this build is a single speed, the bikes can be built up with a Shimano Alfine 11-Speed hub for an additional $750. If you really want to go all out, a 14-Speed Rohloff Speedhub can be implemented for an additional $1600.
And if there wasn’t enough ti already, the cockpit is outfitted with house brand ti parts including a 100mm stem on our size XL frame, a zero offset ti post, and a trick (no shim needed) ti flat bar. Oury lock on rubber grips give your hands something squishy to grab. Saddle options include a Brooks Leather saddle for an $80 upcharge, but for my tush I opted for the Fizik Aliente that comes stock.
The wheelset on this bike is a handbuilt affair comprised of Velocity Blunt 29er disc specific rims, White Industries hubs, and DT Swiss spokes. A set of 35mm Schwalbe Kojak tires are wrapped around the rims, but stock, the bike is specced with 50 mm Schwalbe Big Apple tires that should roll over just about anything you want in an urban environment. Stopping is provided by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes that are actuated by Paul Components levers. Connecting the two are cables and coil housing from Yokozuna. And last but not least, fender and rack mounts are present front and rear.
For the most part, the build kit has performed quite well. I loved the Kojak tires so much I obtained a set for our Project Any Road build. The Oury grips did come installed backwards, but functionally they were fine. We flipped them for aesthetics. The only other issue is the dreaded noisy bottom bracket. It creaks and squeaks a lot, acoustically ruining what is an otherwise incredibly smooth and quiet drivetrain. Beyond that, I would much prefer to see higher quality hydraulic disc brakes on the bike, especially given the price point. If Breezer can use them on their $1569 Beltway 8, I think Budnitz can find a way to spec them, or at least offer them as an option. The BB7s work fine, but personally I really just don’t care for mechanical disc brakes.
A note from Budnitz on the Oury Grips: Hunt our builder pointed out that the Oury grips are shipped with L-R markers, and with the logo on the inside. You moved them to the outside which looks awesome! But it isn’t the way Oury marks them. We also keep them on the inside because we like to minimize visual clutter on our bikes.
The house brand ti cockpit is flexy, but in the right way. It adds comfort to the ride, and I found no issues with the components. The seatpost was quiet and really killed the jarring effect of small bumps, the bars give just enough to be comfortable but not scary, and the stem was more than adequate.
Style is of high priority when it comes to a Budnitz bicycle. The bikes appear regularly on non-cycling, fashion / culture oriented blogs. Being in the presence of one, you can really tell a lot of thought went into every little detail. This is the type of bike that appeals to the masses, not just the cycling crowd. To prove that point further, when my non-cyclist friends saw the bike for the first time, comments on how beautiful it is were prevalent. Adjectives like classy and elegant were used, and the bike was well received visually.
All Budnitz Bicycles use what they refer to as a cantilever frame. Our No. 3 tester features a straight downtube and seattube, as well as a lovely radiused split toptube that continues on to become the seat stays. The chain (belt?) stays have a slight curve to them as well, and the drive side stay is shortened to include a bracket that is welded in directly behind the crank for clearance. Speaking of welds, while not to the caliber of a Moots frame, they exhibit quality workmanship. The majority of the bikes are welded up in Taiwan, by a boutique manufacturer that only works with titanium. Paul’s quality requirements are very high, and this factory is the only one they have found that can get the tube radius’s just right every time on a mass production level.
To keep a clean look, internal cable routing is used for rear shifting and braking. The front brake cable is routed down the back side of the fork leg. Any where exposed cables are visible, they are wrapped in a classy looking coil housing that goes well with the look and feel of the bike.
Small touches like a titanium head badge and chainstay plate add to the elegance and simplicity of the bike. A very obvious attention to detail is present on this bike. So much so that it ships with a well laid out instruction / safety manual, as well as a titanium head badge with your name and bicycle information (serial and model number) of the bike on it. Also included is a nice Park Tools folding hex wrench tool, and even a green scuff pad to keep the frame looking new.
OK already, enough about all the fancy parts the bike is built with, and how pretty it is. What you really want to know is if the bike is any good or not. For me, this has been a vey hard question to answer. Yes, the bike is good. In fact, it’s a great, well made bike that does the job it is intended to do very well. While personally I do wish I had an internally geared hub on mine, the frame rides really well. Our editors Tyler and Mitch, along with Mitch’s roommates, and a couple of my friends have all ridden the bike. The general consensus is that it’s a comfortable ride, fun to be on, and great for commutes, both long and short.
The first day the bike showed up, I unboxed it and immediately took it over to our other Portland editor Mitch. He, his roommates, and myself proceeded to ogle the bike, and then shenanigans ensued. Stoppies, wheelies, bunny hops were all performed. Artsy photos were taken. And Miller High Life was consumed. A general good time was had. I then took the bike back home and proceeded to use it for my daily commute, runs to the coffee shop, and even a few trips to the bar.
I had been commuting on a carbon 2009 Specialized Roubaix, and most recently on our Project Any Road All-City Mr. PInk. Both bikes are stiff, fast, and a lot of fun to ride. Commuting on the Budnitiz however, is an entirely different experience. Being a single speed bike it’s not as fast. Being designed with compliance in mind, it’s not anywhere near as stiff. And being more upright, it has a much more relaxed riding position. All of this took a few rides to get used to, but once I was acclimated, I found myself enjoying the rides a bit more than normal. I gave myself a few extra minutes each morning to get to work. I didn’t have to ride as hard, I coasted down the hills, and I had a smile on my face the entire way.
However, the downside is cost. The titanium framed No. 3 starts at
$4800 $3900. The near $5K price tag places this single speed at more than 5 times as expensive as a solid daily commuter form Specialized (Globe Work 3), and three times as much as a high end commuter from Breezer (Beltway 8 at $1569). In fact, for the same money, you could purchase a Co-Motion City View with a belt driven Shimano Alfine 11-speed drivetrain, custom geometry, and custom paint. Heck, $4800 is more than I paid for my car. Now the steel version, with a non-titanium Chris King headset, Thompson X4 stem, and FSA or Sugino crankset starts at $2600. This is a much more reasonable price, until you realize again, any color option other than black costs $300 to $400, and gearing is extra as well.
A note from Budnitz on the powder coating: Spectrum Powder Works in Colorado charges us as much as $300 for a powder coat paint job. They’re arguably the best bicycle painters in the US, and they’re the only company that we work with. Our painted frames have automobile-quality paint jobs that don’t chip. Great paint is not inexpensive!!
Update: After speaking with Budnitz about the cost of a complete ti singlespeed, they have agreed that the cost of entry was high. They are now offering the ti complete for $3900. From Paul himself,
“We can achieve this without any performance downgrades at all. We’re making the Titanium Chris King headset, Titanium stem, daVinci cranks, and Fizik saddle optional. We’ll replace these parts with a standard CK headset, Thompson stem, FSA cranks, and Velo saddle. Aesthetically the base model will look amazing. Customers will have the option to upgrade to the full titanium build, upgraded saddle, etc.”
In the end we are left with a bike that is highly focused on style and comfort, rides like a magic carpet, and oozes quality. It’s a conversation starter and an attention grabber. I have enjoyed having it in my stable for the past few months. Unfortunately, the cost puts it out of reach for the majority of would be owners. For those with the means, this is a bike that should not to be overlooked. But for the average Joe, it’s a very difficult purchase to recommend.
Photographs by Mitch Lomacz