Cycloculture continues our series on Minneapolis-based bicycle people with an interview of Handsome Cycle Company owners Ben Morrison and Jesse Erickson. Their "Handsome Devil" offers real-world cyclists a well-designed, versatile frame and fork for less than $400. They are also planning to expand the line of Handsome Bicycles. Given their emphases on practicality, beauty and fun, I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next.
Q: Please tell us the story of Handsome Cycles.
A: We come from a small bicycle shop background. Working with the customer to find their ideal bicycle can be a difficult task. Especially when the customer has a very good idea of what they want. Many of the bikes we look at are close but lack the versatility the customer needs in one area or another. The answer is a custom build with a very versatile frameset. In comes the price tag monster. Handsome Cycles started a few years ago when we set out to tackle both of those issues. We have developed in our first offering, The Devil, a very versatile, very affordable frameset that will allow a customer to build their dream bicycle while staying in their budget. We wanted to build a bicycle that could grow with them, year after year, as they tried out a single speed, commuted to work every day, took a ride around the lakes with their children, or ran to the store to pick up a loaf of bread.
We love the classic look. We are suckers for mustaches, old-timey dress, chivalry, and clean living. We incorporated those feelings into the look of our company. That clean look is important for us in our product as well. People we talk to always want to customize their bicycles and find the pre-existing decals under the clear coat inhibiting. From the beginning, we wanted to design a frameset that was versitile to the very end. We started with the idea of delivering the product to the customer without our logo on it. We provide with our frameset a decal sheet with 4 different downtube stickers, 4 different headbadges, and The Devil logo in two different colors. Run a theme, mix and match, or leave your bicycle naked, it's up to you. We like the way our bicycle looks no matter how you decorate it. As our company motto states, "People are handsome. We make their bicycles."
Q: According to your website, you are inspired by Bridgestone Bicycles. Please elaborate on that. What specific design attributes found in Bridgestone bicycles do you find particularly inspiring? Is your appreciation based solely on product design, or were there other aspects of the company that you admired?
A: Jesse's dad started The Alt Bike and Board in 1974. Both of us work there today. When Bridgestone was still producing for the U.S., The Alt was a huge dealer. One year the shop sold over 500 Bridgestone completes. The biggest reason they were so successful is because they just simply built the most well thought out bikes available. Another reason was that Gene Oberpriller, who ran The Alt in the 90's, was one of their pro riders. Gene now owns his own bicycle shop/coffee shop called One On One Studio in downtown Minneapolis. He is one of the people in the cycling scene here that we look up to very much. To this day everyone that either works at The Alt, or has worked there, has a true affinity for Bridgestone bicycles. The model that has really stood out for us is the XO-1. We started our design of The Devil with the XO as a template. We admire Bridgestone for making a very versatile bicycle in the XO line. The ability to morph into a city bicycle, a touring bicycle and a mountain bicycle in the same frame is what we wanted and felt that our customers would as well. We then took that template and adjusted it. We changed it to 700c wheels instead of the 26 inch that the XO-1 came with. We felt that 700c wheels are a more efficient way to go, and now a days you can get a 700c wheel that is just as strong as a 26 inch. We also changed the geometry to make it a great city commuter, touring bicycle, cyclocross bicycle, or single speed winter bicycle.
Q: Do you sell complete bicycles or just frames and forks (or some other combination of products)? Do you have any plans to expand your product line?
A: Our first offering, The Devil is simply a frameset. The '09 Devil comes in one color, Shaving Cream. The '10 Devil will come in two color options, Shaving Cream and another classically sexy color we will announce on our website, www.handsomecycles.com, sometime this summer. Our thought process for products is see a need, fill a need. That being said we plan to get into the much neglected female market and make the Devil as a mixte frameset called the She Devil, which currently is looking like a 2011 launch. We are currently working on our second frameset, set to launch in April of '10. Sorry we cannot elaborate on that right now. There are other products in the works right now as well. We are collaborating with an excellent local product engineer on a hub and a shifter. We are always looking at the bicycle scene around us, in other markets and throughout the world for inspiration and plan to continue making handsome solutions to the problems the average cyclist faces from day to day.
Q: What frame material(s) do you use?
A: For our fames we are using 4130 double butted. It is extremely durable fairly light-weight and keeps our frameset affordable.
Q: What sets your frames apart from other steel frames available today?
A: Versatility, affordability, quality and attention to detail. We made sure that however the customer built up our bicycle, the correct cable routing was there, the dropout was the correct width (132.5), and the frame was built strong enough to handle the every day rigors of commuting and play.
Q: Where are your bicycles made? Any plans to change manufacturing locations or add additional ones?
A: We are working with an excellent frame builder in Taiwan. They have shown us that we can produce a quality product while keeping the end price affordable for our customers. While we plan to have a long and happy relationship with our current manufacturer in Taiwan, we are looking to stateside manufacturers for the parts and accessories we are planning for the near future.
Q: How much do a "Handsome Devil" frame and fork cost? Do you see this price staying stable, or do you predict pricing fluxuations in the near future?
A: For 2009, the Handsome Devil frameset retails for $379. We plan to keep it at that price as long as humanly possible. We originally had the price set at $359. We had to change it because of escalating production and shipping costs. We are not alone. If you look at the bicycle market, just about every bicycle is going up in price at least $50 this year. So us keeping at that price as long as possible might only be for a year or two. I would say however that it will never get too much higher than where it is at, because that would defeat one of the main purposes for this frameset, which is to make it affordable.
Q: The largest frame you make is 58cm. Do you have any plans to make larger frames in the future?
A: Yes we will eventually make it in both bigger and smaller sizes. As a small start up we needed to keep our costs reasonable, and with manufacturers minimum order requirements, it was just out of the question to do a size run of 8 or 9 different sizes. We are looking at adding a size or two for 2010, then looking at restructuring our size run for 2011 to offer 7 or 8 sizes running every 2cm.
Q: Tell us a bit about the cycling scene in the Minneapolis area, please.
A: Those who read cycling magazines, watch blogs, and talk to other cyclists in the know, have seen the Minneapolis bike scene blow up in the last few years. We have gotten a lot of press and for good reason. There are many great cycling events in Minneapolis, the city has worked hard to provide newer safer dedicated bike paths, and new companies have sprouted up offering innovative products. Although competition between shops and companies exists here, everyone is very supportive of each other. We love biking. Everyone knows how to put any competitive issues aside when it is time to ride. We are proud to be a part of this culture. We are a product of this culture.
Q: What else would you like to say?
A: The Devil frameset is slated to be available mid-April. We are currently working with shops in Minneapolis and other major cities to carry our frames. If your favorite shop does not have our stuff, feel free to encourage them to become a dealer. That being said, we are also selling them directly through our website. We can work with you to build the bike of your dreams or let you work that out on your own.
Q: What do you like for breakfast?
- I rarely have time to eat breakfast in the morning. When I do I usually slide through CRC and get a Hot 'n Ready from Hurl. -Ben
-I hardly ever eat breakfast. Does jalapeno cheeseburgers from White Castle at 3AM count? –Jesse