That Blind Spot

August 31st, 2010

View of Bolinas


View of Bolinas


South Park in San Francisco

South Park

South Park in San Francisco

South Park

When we look in the mirror that reflects the world we live in, there’s a blind spot – we can’t see the cars.

We’ve gotten so used to cars dominating our streets and landscape that in many respects, we don’t see how much they affect our everyday experience.

Even in a ‘progressive’ place like Bolinas, CA, a beach town north of San Francisco where the locals tear down road signs that direct traffic towards their town, the main street is sadly an oversized asphalt parking lot. The width of the grey street dwarfs any other element. One must wade through (or just not see?) a mess of cars in order to experience their ‘unspoiled’ town. Cars have carved such an uncontested place in our landscape that just imagining them not there takes a real effort. In fact, the act of imagining a car free downtown Bolinas might take more energy than parking a couple blocks off the main drag. This isn’t Mideast Peace we’re talking about. The problem is the car has us all hypnotized into thinking it has to be, deserves to be, there. It doesn’t, does it?

I notice this hypnosis everyday outside our store in the progressive South Park neighborhood. Many visitors to South Park are captivated by the European charm of our neighborhood with a beautiful park nestled between vibrant eateries, residential buildings, and storefronts.

Yet an eye level survey, from almost any angle in South Park, will reveal that cars take up most of the visual space. It’s hard to even see the architecture or the people in the park. The sidewalk is pinched to a point where you can fit in one petite café table, barely. There is not enough space for legal bike racks, so there are none. None. Except the ones in our no cars allowed driveway.

We inch our way sideways between tightly fitted car bumpers when we walk into the park. I guess we can take a little comfort in the fact that we’re turning sideways to slide between Prius’s rather than SUV’s? Often we just don’t see what’s in front of our noses (or pressed against our thighs). Like many cities, San Francisco has a long way to being “progressive’ with respect to transportation and community design. But as a city we’re moving in the right direction with more parklets and efforts to redesign our streetscape, like Great Streets.

Yet despite all the smaller, progressive efforts to reclaim our public spaces, our broader public policy (also subject to a blind spot) stumbles along as if cars, asphalt, and pollution are invisible inevitabilities. Two recent examples are the Gulf oil spill and the recent Caldecott Tunnel in our East Bay. We blame and demonize BP but completely fail to see that it is we who create the demand for the product that they screwed up trying to get for us. In the case of the Caldecott Tunnel, we are spending $420 million taxpayer dollars to encourage more cars to pile into the already heavily congested East Bay and Bay Bridge traffic snarl. Effective mass transit and a higher tax on oil would get us part way to a solution.

We’re certainly not anti-car. In fact, some of us at PUBLIC own a car and ride a bicycle. But we at PUBLIC bicycle as our first transportation option in the city because it’s faster and more convenient – and more fun – than driving a car. We think the most livable cities will create the infrastructure to make bicycling the de facto, faster, convenient, and safer option for getting around. And we think the healthiest and most vibrant cities will be the ones moving away from the car-centric land-use policies of the past several decades.

Research indicates that 40% of all trips are less than two miles from home and 82% of trips, five miles or less, are made by car. Imagine if more people who are now driving to their neighborhood store, school, or to work switched over to bicycles?

What to do? Self-righteousness makes us feel a little better for a few minutes, but it gets us nowhere. If all politics are local, I guess we’ll begin in South Park. At the very least, we’ll try to get some bike racks there for starters and maybe paint them some bright colors that can be glimpsed occasionally through the cars. Ideas welcome.

50% Off End of Summer Sale

Medium Zero Messenger Bag - Donghia StripeWe’re having a one time final chance 50% off sale on a few special items while quantities last. This Donghia fabric shoulder bag is one example. The fabric was designed to withstand summer heat, but it’s also a durable winter textile. It will keep you looking colorful and protect your laptop or lunch in any season.


The Good Life: Coffee with Beer Chaser

August 24th, 2010

Copenhagen Still LifeWe were in Copenhagen recently for a big biking event and took tons of photographs of Danes and their bikes. My favorite photo, however, is bikeless – just a café table top on the main drag, right across from Tivoli Gardens. The table was occupied by an old guy who looked like he might be a WWII veteran or a character out of some post-apocalypse movie. Gaunt face, old guy ears. He even had his aluminum crutches sprawled on the sidewalk next to his table. Not wanting to invade the moment, I just snapped a quick picture of his carefully laid-out table and another from behind him.

His table styling was better than any professional could achieve because it was real. It was a still life emblematic of the Danish character, soul, and culture. Morandi could not have done better. The guy had arranged his beloved objects just so, creating a strong sense of order and control: wool hat, tobacco pouch, coffee, corncob pipe, beer, plastic lighter, ashtray. The palette was impeccable as if worked out in advance with the café owner. It was a mixture of old and new cultural artifacts, made elegant and timeless atop a classic Danish teak table surface. It was a study in materials, simplicity, practicality, and self-sufficiency. Resourcefulness and design run deep in Danish culture.

Here it was, 11AM, and this man was alternating sips of beer and coffee, preparing for the day. There was such a sense of pleasure in the little things in life — the ones that we can take control of and author for ourselves. This guy was doing his part. It was a study in dignity, tradition and comfort — a reminder that these little things are a huge part of our lives.

What does this have to do with bikes? Everything. This is a study in the pleasure of independence and self-sufficiency — the qualities that first drew us to bikes when we were kids, and that still attract us as adults. We don’t need much to be happy.

If this guy were riding a bike today he would probably be on a single speed because of its simplicity and Copenhagen’s flat terrain.

Our Single Speeds Are On Sale

Danny on our Classic D1
Doubling up with the Dahon on a Vespa

We sell two basic modern lightweight single speeds: our classic D1 and a foldable Dahon Mu Uno. Why choose one of these over our geared bikes? Lots of reasons. First, they are easy to ride and will take you almost everywhere. For almost 70 years (from 1880 to 1950) most bikes had only one gear. In fact in the early Tour de France competitions, racers would have to change wheels to climb the mountains. There are different reasons today. They encourage us to ride more slowly and to look around more carefully. Stress levels are reduced when you are not concerned with speed. You do not race — you cruise. Think of our D1 as a modern cruiser.

The Dahon is less a cruiser than an ultimate utility bike. You’ll find numerous uses for it depending on your habits and needs. For example, I strapped it to my Vespa (with our Swiss bungee cord) when I dropped the scooter off for a tune up and needed a ride home. It’s perfect for short trips around the city. It fits almost anywhere: a car trunk, closets, narrow elevators, on public transportation and takes only 10 seconds to fold up. Works if you are 4‘6” or 6’4” and anywhere in between, so it is a great guest and family bike.

Ian showing off his own double-upSally on our D1Test riding a Dahon

PUBLIC’s in the Public

August 16th, 2010

In front of Anish Kapoor sculpture in Chicago

Anish Kapoor sculpture by Ron Wu

Under Brazilian dancers

Under Brazilian dancers

In bike parking lots in Denmark


In front of politician’s podiums

In front of politician’s podiums

Next to Frank Gehry in New York

New York

In meadows in the Rockies


At the beach

At the beach

Our bikes are showing in up all kinds of places. We feel very fortunate to have them sprinkled all around the US after only a few months of opening shop. This is a thank you to our fans, a gallery of nationwide photos of our bikes and clients, and an invitation to our South Park party this Saturday in San Francisco. Here’s partial list of where PUBLIC bikes have been spotted:

  • In bike parking lots in Denmark
  • At numerous Farmers Markets
  • In lingerie stores
  • Next to Frank Gehry in New York
  • Under politicians rear ends
  • In meadows in the Rockies
  • At the beach
  • In magazine store windows
  • In artist studios in Brooklyn
  • In SOHO shoe stores
  • Chopped into rickshaws
  • In boutique hotels
  • At ballparks
  • Hung on gallery walls
  • At Design Within Reach
  • In O Magazine and Martha Stewart Living
  • In J Crew catalogs
  • In blogs like Treehugger
  • In numerous other media
  • On the streets in 40 states

At some of the best bike stores and retailers in the US:

More Photos…

We have an ulterior motive in displaying these photos . . . We’d like more. We plan to display them in our store and on our blog. Photos are only one way for us to share our story and the fun. We’ll be taking photos at our party this weekend and we welcome shots, videos even more so, from around the country. You can even upload photos to our Flickr pool and Facebook.

Our Rear Basket on Sale

PUBLIC BasketWe designed this simple, lightweight rear basket with a spring-loaded quick release, so you can easily attach and remove it from your rack. By removing it from the bike in just a few seconds, it transitions into a shopping basket equipped with a handle. It fits on most standard racks, and that’s one of the many reasons it’s been so popular.

PUBLIC Supports Papergirl SF

August 12th, 2010

PUBLIC loves art. We especially love art that creates community, fun, and connects to our mission about getting more people on bicycles.

That’s why we’re happy to support our friends at Papergirl SF. What’s Papergirl?

“Papergirl is, in essence, a mail-art and delivery systems art project that is participatory, analogue, non-commercial, and impulsive. Submitted artwork is distributed like a newspaper but not edited or printed like it, the artwork is rolled up into bundles of 5 pieces or more and thrown to passers-by from bicycles.”

PUBLIC’s office at 123 South Park is serving as a drop-off location for art submissions. Submission deadline is Sept. 18.

We’re definitely going to help with art distribution on our PUBLIC bikes. Our baskets and panniers will come in handy to carry rolled up art.

And we’ve got several members of our PUBLIC team who studied or dabble in art so we also plan to submit our own art. Our founder Rob was a ceramics artist with a MFA to boot. Sally got her BFA in painting and drawing. Hannah is a filmmaker and photographer. And all of us are proficient at doodling during staff meetings. Some are better than others.

How can you not get excited about this project? Especially since almost anyone can participate. Submit some art. Help roll them up. And see you on the streets to help make a random person’s day that much cooler and happier.

“Anything can be submitted: prints, photos, drawings, paintings, zines, writings, textiles, etc. The only requirement is that the art be flexible enough to be rolled up, we won’t be throwing any stretched canvases around. The art pieces aren’t selected for Papergirl, we use everything that is submitted, so the artists decide what to show and have given away in distribution. The art rolls cannot be sold and are not delivered to subscribers, anyone who catches a roll is lucky, and money can’t buy luck! Throwing the work from a moving bike means there is no time for any stereotypes when choosing recipients of the art rolls, as distributors often have to react fast and spontaneously.”

Black Large PUBLIC C3 for $700

August 12th, 2010

This Large PUBLIC C3 in Black is one of a handful of sample Black bikes PUBLIC produced recently. In mid-November, we’ll introduce a limited production of Small and Medium Black PUBLIC D8s, which can be ordered and reserved now.

We have one Large Black PUBLIC C3 for sale for $700 before sales tax.

If you can’t pick up the bike in San Francisco, we’ll need to charge you an additional $125 to ship the bike “Ready to Ride.”

To purchase the bike, please send inquiry to

Black Standard PUBLIC V7 for $600

August 12th, 2010

This Standard PUBLIC V7 in Black is one of a handful of sample Black bikes PUBLIC produced recently. In mid-November, we’ll introduce a limited production of Small and Medium Black PUBLIC D8s, which can be ordered and reserved now.

We have two Standard Black PUBLIC V7s for sale for $600 before sales tax.

If you can’t pick up the bike in San Francisco, we’ll need to charge you an additional $125 to ship the bike “Ready to Ride.”

To purchase the bike, please send inquiry to

Black Standard PUBLIC C7 for $600

August 12th, 2010

This Standard PUBLIC C7 in Black is one of a handful of sample Black bikes PUBLIC produced recently. In mid-November, we’ll introduce a limited production of Small and Medium Black PUBLIC D8s, which can be ordered and reserved now.

We have one Standard Black PUBLIC C7s for sale for $600 before sales tax.

If you can’t pick up the bike in San Francisco, we’ll need to charge you an additional $125 to ship the bike “Ready to Ride.”

To purchase the bike, please send inquiry to

Copenhagen: Where the Mayor does not wear a bike helmet

August 10th, 2010

Mayors and HelmetsCopenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen (right)

Mayors and HelmetsDanish “World Cup” helmets

Mayors and HelmetsMayors and HelmetsMayors and helmets

Denmark has a long tradition of helmets and head protection used for battling wartime opponents and confronting freezing winters. So they must know their stuff about protecting noggins. When we visited Copenhagen last month we took note that only a minority of the cyclists wore bike helmets in the city. We saw Nutcase helmets on kids, racing helmets on bike messengers, and some chic hats on women’s heads. But scarves were more common than helmets. The Mayor himself, the figurehead for the biking conference we attended, chose not to wear a helmet in the 2000 person bike parade we all took through the city.

Was he making a statement? Of course, he is a politician after all and very conscious of his public image and opinions. I did not interview him, but I can wager his rationale. He has reviewed the data over the last ten years in Copenhagen enough to know that bike safety is first and foremost a function of the number of people riding bikes and protected streets. He was campaigning to reduce the fear element associated with cycling. Many people think that cycling is unsafe and helmets often confirm this assumption. He was communicating what recent urban bike studies have shown — there is safety in numbers.

Serious injuries have declined by 20% in Denmark in the last decade as cycling has increased 20%. The same trends are seen in other cities. Take New York for a local example. Cycling is up 66% from 2007 -2009 and injuries are down 50%.

The key to safe riding is related to a range of factors: the number of riders overall, driver awareness, separate lanes, safe streets, and intelligent riding. At PUBLIC we are advocates for the concept of urban cycling as fast walking. The most entertaining dissertation I have read on helmet usage may be in David Byrne’s book and come from his personal efforts to cope with this issue.

Back to Mayors. Would Mayor Gavin Newsom ride a bike without a helmet? Probably not. Why? In the U.S., the infrastructure and culture for bicycling is far behind places like Copenhagen, so helmet use is generally encouraged.  Also driver awareness and respect here in the U.S. are much lower.  But Mayor Newsom was front and center today right in our SOMA neighborhood for a bike lane painting ceremony to mark the end of the painful injunction that has kept us in the dark ages.  Check him out painting the new bike lane. Now San Francisco can roll with the rest of the U.S. 
We love to see our Mayors taking action around the country on behalf of alternative transit. Mayor Bloomberg of New York, with Janette Sadik- Kahn, has been the poster child in recent years. But Mayor Daley of Chicago recently implemented the B-Cycle bike share program, throwing down the gauntlet: 

“My goal is to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States.”

We welcome the competitive spirit almost as much as new bike lanes.

– Rob Forbes



We sell helmets at PUBLIC, and we love them. And we encourage people to wear protection if they are riding fast, in dangerous areas, or where cars propose a threat. That Danish Mayor probably straps on a helmet when he is late for a meeting across town and biking over icy pavement. But we will also continue to lobby for safe streets, slow riding, driver education, and more Mayors on bikes.