In this modern world obsessed with efficiency, production and profit, automotive factories are designed to produce hundreds if not thousands of cars or motorcycles in just a day’s work.
People like Brian Kundratic would rather do it the old-fashioned way.
“People are asking you to work on their bikes for them and so you start doing it,” said Brian Kundratic, owner of Kundratic Kustom Motorcyles. “It was more of a hobby and then it turned into a business.”
He founded his business in 1994 with a focus on “ground-up” custom motorcycle building and also offers motorcycle rebuilding/refurbishing services and general motorcycle servicing. The custom builds are what commands the majority of Kundratic’s time . Parts that can’t be ordered to fit, or simply don’t exist, are fabricated in the shop under the supervision of a human, not a computer. Even though this process is long and sometimes expensive, it is often necessary.
Kundratic’s wait for manufactured parts can sometimes be as long as a year. Yet, the wait for parts aren’t the only hurdle on the track to a finished two-wheel masterpiece. Parts that Kundratic needs to order are oftentimes expensive which has led Kundratic to find innovative ways to supply the parts he needs without paying the premium catalog price.
“You kind of just do with what you have,” Kundratic said. “That’s pretty much how we started. We didn’t have much machinery, it was just beating on stuff and making it work.”
Brian moved his shop to its current location on Holabird Avenue in North Dundalk from its original location in Greektown six years ago. Hailing from Dundalk, Kundratic has been in the Baltimore area his whole life, but he admits that bikes haven’t always been the object of his affection.
“I was more into car stuff than motorcycle stuff,” Kundratic said. “One day, a cousin of mine had a bike for sale, a Harley [Davidson]. I bought it and that was pretty much the end of that and the start of all of this.”
Kundratic’s shop can complete an average of five custom builds a year. The amount of builds they start and finish during any given year depends on numerous factors, chief of which being cost and time.
“It’s changed a lot, with the economy,” said Chris Kundratic, Brian’s wife and head of the Kundratic Kustom Motorcycle’s front office. “People are not building bikes from the ground up like before. It was a little crazy in the early 2000’s when everything first started hitting but its definitely changed a lot. People are kind of just modifying what they have.”
What many new customers don’t initially understand is the amount of time it takes to create custom builds. It varies depending on project, with some bikes being completed in less than a month, while others could take six to eight months to complete.
“When you see it on TV, it’s two episodes and it’s done,” Brian said. “But it’s the time between those episodes that you don’t see.”
While Kundratic Kustom Motorcycles is usually working on multiple bikes at one time, the biking culture on the East Coast is very different from biking cultures in other places such as California, Texas or Florida. One local biking regulator that isn’t found in places like California, Texas, or Florida is the weather.
“With the warm weekend we just had, people are starting to call and we’re definitely gearing up for spring,” Chris said. “You can pretty much ride year-round out West, and here, there are a few hardcore customers that have heated suits and they will ride all year as long as it’s not snowing or raining, but they’re few and far between.”
Since Brian and his team remain self-sufficient with no official corporate sponsors, obstacles like weather and tough roads in the Baltimore area make their customer base small. Running Kundratic Kustoms is a 24-hour job and The Kundratics don’t have much time to travel cross-country to all of the conventions or even ride their own bikes.
“Doing this for a living, you don’t get to go out and ride like the normal people do,” Brian said. “Last time we rode was in September.”
Brian and Chris fully understand that the time and devotion that Kundratic Kustom Motorcycles demands is necessary for the business they’ve chosen. Yet, even with all of the awards, accolades and publicity, it will always be about the bikes for Brian. The publicity is only a byproduct of his work but Chris makes sure the shop has continual buzz in the biking community.
“It wasn’t that kind of thing for me,” Brian said. “It wasn’t something I went after, you know, trying to get into magazines and do all that stuff. She does all that now.”
Kundratic Kustoms’ lobby is draped wall to wall with any and everything related to classic, American-made motorcycles. More than a dozen catalogs for parts are open and available for customer’s to peruse, trophies and framed magazine spreads surround you, and one of Brian’s favorite bikes sits in the shop as an example of Brian’s unique work. This is a place that loves what they sell and takes pride in their products.
Wherever the industry goes, Brian, Chris and the whole team at Kundratic Kustoms will still be available to build dream bikes, refurbish old, ailing ones, or just change the oil on your 1951 Panhead before the Spring riding season begins.
“If things free up in the next five years, we’ll probably be around and I’ll be doing this until I’m 80,” Brian said. “I’ll still be here, standing behind this counter.”