A Visit to Drust Cycles: Handarbeit aus Berlin
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We recently stopped into the Drust Cycles workshop in Berlin to meet builder Konstantin Drust and learn more about the distinctive and occasionally outlandish bikepacking-ready frames he’s been fabricating during his first year in business. Find our interview and a look inside his space here…
Berlin, Germany, is home to a vibrant community of bicycle frame builders, bag makers, and other brands that make it a hub of bikepacking culture in Europe. One of the newest builders to open up shop is Konstantin Drust, who recently celebrated the first anniversary of Drust Cycles. Even before he started building under his own name, his distinctive steel frames caught my attention rolling around the city’s streets and trails.
Contrary to many other locals builders, whose work veers more toward ultra-clean lines and traditional styling, most of Drust’s bikes look more like apocalypse-proof creations that are ready to carry riders to hell and back. His extensive travels by bike—around the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, to name a few—have informed his design decisions and the kind of bikes he’s primarily interested in creating. Most of the rigs that came out of his shop during its first year were purpose-built bikepacking machines, designed for long days in the saddle on rough terrain.
Kicking off my series of visits to framebuilders around the city (and hopefully throughout Europe once COVID-19 lockdown is behind us), I stopped into the Drust Cycles workshop to spend an afternoon with Konstantin, watching him work and chatting candidly about a range of topics, from how bicycles became central to his life, to cycling and mental health, to his plans and hopes for the future. Find our conversation and a look inside his workspace below.
To start, tell us a little about how first you got into riding and the role bicycles have played in your life since then.
As it should be, my cycling passion started in my early teenage years with a fixed gear conversion of an 80s road bike. I just got this old Albuch Kotter road bike and wanted to refurbish and use it as my new commuter. A friend who was visiting at the time told me about this fixed gear stuff and how cool it was. As a teenager, it was difficult to resist the possibility to boost my coolness, and soon I was hooked.
Just a few years later, I faced the situation of having to choose between being a punk or being a handball player. Back then, I was playing handball for about 10 years and I was part of the Berlin youth team. The intense amount of training required went against my juvenile need for self-destruction and I decided to quit. The sudden lack of movement in my life drove me to cycling as a sport. Since then, cycling has been a huge and important part of my life. Being troubled with quite severe depression, one could say it has stayed the only constant joy in my life for many years. The fact that you can just jump on and ride away from everything for a brief moment, empty your head, and use up all your energy has saved me more times than I can count.
I ended up doing ultra-distance endurance rides and sporty traveling with several hundred kilometers per day. Finding myself far away from everything, alone and in some beautiful setting, with no other problems than, “Where will I sleep and eat?” is a state of mind I’m constantly craving. After I damaged the nerves in both my wrists permanently in an accident I lost the possibility to use drop bars for longer rides, so I turned to mountain bikes, off-road traveling, and bikepacking.
When did you make the leap to building bikes, rather than just riding them?
The first time I thought seriously about building bikes was back when I was around 17. Naturally, at the time I wasn’t quite ready to commit to such a profession, and I also didn’t have the resources to get started. I spent some time in the fine arts, did some work as a blacksmith, and also studied mechanical engineering. Parallel to that, I was working freelance as a bicycle courier. When I was riding from Hanoi to Bangkok some years ago, I had the sudden realization that I wanted to get out of the freelance lifestyle and search for more reliable employment.
Back in Berlin, I saw that Big Forest Frameworks was looking for an employee. I applied and got the job. Robert, the owner, was a very generous employer. He let me try out all kinds of things and was open to my input in the designs of the bikes we built. Our main business was framebuilding classes, and after some time I found myself teaching the students. I guess I learned the most from watching people making mistakes over and over, and of course making them myself. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had for a very concentrated learning experience there.
What made you decide to launch your own brand instead of working alongside someone else?
As I said, Robert at Big Forest was always giving me the freedom to have my own projects going on. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I would like to have my own workshop for hobby purposes. So, bit by bit, I started buying tools and machines and stored them in the cellar of my apartment building. I got a small mill delivered to my doorstep, took it completely apart on the sidewalk, and stored it in the basement. I guess any of my friends reading this will remember this time… with a bit of back pain and some hatred for me.
My main intention back then was to not overuse the generosity of my employer and to be able to work on personal projects in my own space. At some point, I found a workshop community and got my own space there. Again, I consider myself very lucky here. Having a community of other makers around as I got my workshop set up was a huge help. With the workshop set up, I made the decision to launch my own brand. I found half-time employment as a mechanic in a bike shop and I figured I can use the other half of the week to continue building bicycle frames. At this point, it’s surely more like a job and a half in total, but I take quite good care of not crushing myself under too much pressure and workload.
There are a number of established framebuilders here in Berlin. How do you think the community has influenced or helped your work as a newer builder?
The framebuilding scene here is quite supportive. I knew several of them before I started building myself since I’ve been the proud owner of several custom bicycles in my life. One of them was made by Tom of Meerglas, who still worked in Berlin back then. When I’m missing some tooling for a job, I generally feel comfortable asking for help. David of Hinoki Cycle recently let me use his workshop to build a fork because of some construction in mine.
Tom from Meerglass, Flo of Fern, Alex from Portus, and many others have always been open to answering some quick questions and offering opinions on things. I really appreciate that. I guess most of us builders are a bit weird in our own way, and it’s not always easy to get along, but I enjoy my contact with all of them and respect their work. Besides the local colleagues, I also have friendly contact with builders around Europe. For example, Jacek Orlowski from Poland or Lester from Lester Cycles in Amsterdam. I talk quite a lot about processes with them. Jacek is doing some CNC work for me when needed, and Lester is always a great source for memes.
What are you doing differently than other builders in the city?
I guess every builder here found their own niche, and I’m working to establish mine. As I imagine is the case with most other builders, my frame designs are mainly based on my own experiences of cycling and traveling. After every big journey, I always come back home with ideas about what kinds of changes to my bike would have made for a better trip.
For example, one of my bikes that was recently shared here as a Reader’s Rig is one I would consider to have my signature style, and I don’t think it’s the kind of bike anyone else around here is currently making. I love the concept and I especially love how it rides. Generally speaking, I’m open to weird or freaky builds. Nothing is too strange to at least have a conversation about. I guess I’m not too rigid or stubborn about how a bike with my name on it looks as long as it rides well and the owner enjoys it.
What kind of customer builds have you been working on lately?
I’ve had some really nice and interesting builds as of late. I’m excited that most of the bikes I’ve been asked to build recently are bikes I know I would love riding myself. I just finished a tiny and shreddy 650B+ mountain bike with great bikepacking potential. Before that, it was a few big-tired gravel bikes. My next project is quite a special one and I’m looking forward to getting to work on it in the coming days. I’m also in the early stages of planning a longtail cargo mountain bike build, which will be a fun one.
How do you hope your customers will use your bikes?
So far, all the frames I’ve built for other people were made for the same purpose I want my bikes for: Traveling through nature, long days in the saddle, and with the ability to carry enough equipment for days or months. I hope my customers find the same peace and calmness on their rides as I do. I hope they get to push their bikes to the maximum of what they were designed to do, taking every path they want. No doubt, I take great joy in seeing people being proud of owning a bike I built and treating my frames like little treasures, but in the end, this should not affect the quality or quantity of riding. I don’t want them to be afraid of crashing or damaging the frames as if they’re precious. Instead, I hope they’ll ride hard and have the time of their lives.
How would you describe your design philosophy and the Drust Cycles aesthetic?
There are actually two distinct ways of building bicycle frames that I enjoy. One is to stay on the rational side, not turning the frame into a piece of art, just letting it be a bicycle. The other is to give it a look that makes you want to ride it through a dystopian atomic desert. If one would give me all the freedom of designing their bike, it would rather drift toward the second. My favorite frame request was something like, “I would like a bike to drop a tab of acid and pedal off into the woods.” That’s something I can work with.
Comparing myself to others, I surely follow a bit more of a rough look on all my bikes. My work kind of ends with the frame for me. How my customers want the final look is completely up to them. I like seeing the frames raw and rusty, as most of them are, but a nice paint job still attracts my eyes as well.
Are you currently building anything interesting for yourself?
Always. I also like to try out stuff before I sell it to others. At the moment, I’m working on the Tandemic, an off-road travel tandem. I had to get some tooling custom made for my frame jigs and still need to modify them a little bit before building it. The main factor stopping me at this moment is finishing up customer builds, which are obviously more important in these uncertain times, but I’m hoping for a quiet moment this year when I can get it finished.
Once it’s safe to do so, what’s the first place you’re heading with your bike?
I have the rough idea to deliver the two mountain bikes I’ll soon be building on my cargo bike. Both are going to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I have some dear friends. There are other friends living along the 1,000-kilometre route who I’d happily visit for a coffee and piece of cake too. I’ve made several attempts to cross Poland but always had to give up at some point, mostly due to weather conditions. So, I still have some unfinished business with the route.
The Tandemic was meant to go from Berlin to Athens in 2020 but obviously this didn’t work out and I hope I can do it at some point before too long. Returning to the Scottish Highlands with a mountain bike is also taking a position with quite a high priority. The first trip I took there was one of the most beautiful ones together with the person who means the most to me.
Lastly, anything else readers should know about Drust Cycles?
This question leads me to a “now or never” answer. From the start, it’s important to me that Drust Cycles is recognized as inclusive. On the big websites, I mostly see white dudes in their late 30s or early 40s, probably with good jobs and too many framebags for a 100km microadventure. I’m not judging, but cycling culture is much more than that to me. I’m surely not a perfect person but I try to support diversity in all its forms and reflect on my social position granted through birth. In this sense, I try to learn and grow. So, if you’re comfortable with your hatred for people because of the colour of their skin, social status, sex, gender, or body and you make it part of your personality, please seek a custom frame elsewhere.
You can find more from Konstantin on Instagram @drustcycles, where he regularly shares previews of customer builds and insights into his process. If you missed it, take a closer look at Toby’s Drust All-Roader that we recently shared as a Reader’s Rig.