On a warm and sunny spring afternoon, this fair-weather cyclist heads for the nearest bike shop for a ritual common among sun-worshippers in this northern city: I ogle the selection of fashionable two-wheelers.
That's when I spot her: the "She Devil." Despite the imposing name, she's an unobtrusive Vermeer-like beauty. She's got classic curves, a creamy paint job. Best of all, she isn't blemished with ugly brand names rendered in scratchy typefaces.
Oblivious to her rising local celebrity, I ask a salesman about the mysterious city bike. Turns out, she's the progeny of Minneapolis entrepreneurs Jesse Erickson, Ben Morrison and their fast-growing business, Handsome Cycle Co.
Erickson and Morrison are both longtime employees of the Alternative Bike and Board shop (aka the Alt) in south Minneapolis. A warm and friendly fellow, 32-year-old Erickson is son of the shop's owner and now works as a store manager. Morrison started working at the Alt when he was 16, though his pearl-snap shirt and boyish good looks don't lie -- the 25-year-old has landed a job at a hip advertising agency.
Founded in 2008, Handsome is their attempt to fill a gap in the marketplace. "So many bikes are ugly, just hideous looking," spits Morrison. Handsome bicycles look more elegant, with their old-fashioned contours and vintage colorways.
To be clear, the bikes are more than a pretty package -- they're sturdy, strong and versatile. Local singer-songwriter Brianna Lane says she once rode her hearty She Devil all the way to Boston. ("It got me over the mountains of Vermont," she says.) But while they're designed and marketed by Erickson and Morrison, Handsome bikes are not hand-wrought in somebody's basement workshop. "They're manufactured in Taiwan," admits Morrison.
For the time being, Handsome doesn't even sell complete bikes. Their product line consists of four steel framesets. The covetable She Devil frame sells for $409.95 and requires another $500 of parts to make her whole. The same goes for the She Devil's manly counterpart, known simply as the Devil. A tribute to the venerated 1993 XO-1 by Bridgestone, the bright orange Handsome XOXO frame is spendier at $639.95.
Here's the good thing about framesets: They can be customized. A cyclist can add or subtract gears, fenders and racks. She can opt for fancy accessories like drop handlebars or a leather saddle. She might wallpaper the frame with Handsome decals, provided separately, or simply toss them in the trash. "Most people ride 'em blank," says Erickson.
Buoyed by promising sales numbers in Minneapolis and other cities (especially San Francisco and Austin, Texas), Erickson and Morrison have big plans to expand for 2012. They're developing new accessories -- an innovative hub, a series of stems and framesets handmade in Minneapolis. Cerebral cyclists can see where this is headed, right? Handsome will also unveil a line of complete bikes.
As for the optional logo-free look, "Our bikes won't be completely decal-free forever," says an apologetic Erickson. But for now, the classy, clean look is something special. "It makes it easier to recognize our bikes. Because every other company plasters their logos all over the place."