There’s no shortage of bike museums around the world, but there aren’t too many bikes that are displayed alongside paintings by Claude Monet and Frank Stella. But these bikes by Handsome Cycles are an exception: they are designed specifically to complement three showcase pieces in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).
There are three bikes in all. One is a silvery velocipede, designed as a bookend for the MIA’s Tatra T87 sedan. The other is a powder-coated, pastel-colored explosion of a bike to complement Claude Monet’s Grainstack, complete with fruit crate for a basket. Finally, there’s a rainbow striped bike designed to complement Frank Stella’s abstract print, Variations II.
According to Handsome Cycles co-founder Ben Morrison, the project came around when the MIA asked his company to come up with something fun to commemorate the museum’s 100th birthday. “The idea that bubbled to the surface was: What if Handsome designed a handful of one of a kind bikes that are homages to pieces in the permanent collection?” Morrison says by email. “Both Handsome and the MIA absolutely loved the idea. For us it would let us really stretch ourselves and do something completely different, and for the museum it tied in some of their most iconic pieces.”
Allowed to choose whatever pieces they wished from MIA’s permanent collection, Handsome Cycles worked with design partners Knock and Treat & Co. to discuss possible pieces they could spin unique bike designs from. “We knew going in that we didn’t want to choose pieces from the same region, time frame, or style,” Morrison says. “We wanted three radically different bikes that, as a collection, would help tell the story of the MIA.”
Each bike required its own unique design process. The Tatra bike, Morrison says, was relatively straight forward, since it took its design cues from another wheeled vehicle. “One of the main elements we wanted to take from the Tatra was the rear wheel enclosure,” he explains. “That was one of those things that all the way through fabrication we weren’t sure how the rear section of the bike was going to turn out until we got it back from the painter–then we knew we had a home run.”
But translating paintings into bikes was more difficult: bikes are 3-D, but paintings have one less dimension. Of the three bikes, the Monet proved most challenging. “We ended up coming at it from the angle of: What would a bike that would be at home in this setting/location/time look like?” Morrison says. The Stella bike was also challenging, in that Handsome Cycles wasn’t entirely sure how far to take it. “We knew going in that it would be a color explosion, but we weren’t sure how far we could take it before it became too much.” At the end, I think you’ll agree, the Stella bike is just right: it feels like you could park it right in front of Variations II and it would immediately become invisible.
If you want to see Handsome Cycle’s MIA bikes, they’ll be on display at the museum for the next year; afterward, they will find a permanent home in the lobby of the Hewing Hotel Hotel in the Northloop area of downtown Minneapolis, slated to open in July.