Dan Polito’s pale blue eyes reveal a more obsessive side than his sockless feet would otherwise imply.
“I’m not out to make garish bikes. I strive for a quiet elegance in everything I build,” he says. “It’s easy to slap a bike frame together — anybody could. I can put one together in about a week. But I have no interest in doing that.”
Instead, the owner of Cicli Polito turns out carefully crafted handmade bicycles. His Best of Show award at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show last March has prompted people from throughout the country to seek out his work.
Bicyclists who race competitively or want to emulate Lance Armstrong will pull a $5,000 carbon fiber bicycle off the rack every so often. Those aren’t the people coming to Polito’s shop. His customer base is mostly younger people who are interested in bicycle transportation as a way of life. Hand-built bikes are becoming popular again as more people turn toward sustainable modes of transportation. Polito’s bikes certainly fit the bill.
Not necessarily inexpensive (one of Polito’s frames alone will set you back $2,000), they’re made from lightweight steel and, because they can be repaired, might be the only bike you’ll ever need to buy. After initial interviews with a customer, it takes Polito up to a month to finish a bike built to both the rider’s body and style of riding. “It’s a very personal, intimate process,” he says.
Polito started building frames about five years ago but didn’t start selling them until he took home the Best of Show prize. Since then, he has opened a new shop — a large, sun-filled room in an industrial building on Perkins Avenue. It is full of wrenches, thin frame tubes, chains and stainless steel fenders. The new shop also has the wiring necessary to power a team of hulking, vintage milling machines.
Polito is on track to sell 15 frames this year and hopes to sell 20 in 2010. So far, a dozen people are already in line to get one of his rides. That backlog of work translates to a seven-month wait for one of Polito’s bikes.
“People are getting away from the systematic life of the city,” he says of the resurgence of the bicycle as a primary means of transportation. “You become part of the landscape instead of rolling on it.”