Bill Cunningham: A Famous Biker You Probably Don’t Know

April 26th, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York Trailer from Gavin McWait on Vimeo.

One of the most visionary “cyclists” in the world has been brought to the spotlight by a terrific new documentary film just released titled, Bill Cunningham New York. Cunningham has been photographing street fashion in New York since the 1960’s, from an authentic non-commercial manner. The film depicts his singular personality, and it is one of the most sensitive, optimistic, and entertaining films I have seen. Cunningham sets a world record as an urban biker; in his over fifty-year career of riding around Manhattan and taking countless photos of style on the streets, he’s had over 28 bikes stolen.

I was introduced to the director of the documentary, Richard Press, earlier this year. He was kind enough to do an interview with us. The interview sheds lights on the unprecedented experience of working so closely with the genuine Bill Cunningham. You can see where the movie is playing around the country.

Bill Cunningham New York

ROB FORBES: What was the initial inspiration for the film? Was it Bill himself, his connection to the NYC fashion world, or something else?

RICHARD PRESS: My fascination with Bill has always gone beyond the work he actually does. While I think he has created a significant body of work – who he is as a person, how he’s chosen to live his life and his almost religious dedication to his work, was the initial inspiration for the film.

ROB: Did you learn anything critical along the way that altered the creative direction?

RICHARD: The most critical challenge was: how do you make a film about a man who is so private that even the people who have known him for years don’t know anything about him personally? Bill’s reticence to be filmed set the practical terms for how the documentary could be made. The spectacle of a camera crew, sound recorder, and boom operator would be impossible. I had to capture him the way he claims to capture his own subjects: “discreetly, quietly, and invisibly.”

As a result, the movie was made with no crew, relying only on small, handheld consumer cameras so Bill wouldn’t feel intruded upon. It had to be a kind of family affair with people he trusted—myself; Philip Gefter, the producer; and Tony Cenicola, a New York Times staff photographer whom Bill knew and liked and who was the other cinematographer.

ROB: How long did it take to complete it?

RICHARD: I joke that the movie took ten years to make, eight years to persuade Bill to be filmed and two to shoot and edit – but it’s true – and had it been any different, Bill wouldn’t have been true to who he is or nearly as interesting a subject to film.

ROB: What was the most enjoyable part of the process in making the film?

RICHARD: Aside from being invited into Bill’s life, which is so singular – making the movie in such a guerrilla a way was really enjoyable. It was very freeing.

ROB: And the least enjoyable?

RICHARD: Making the movie in such a guerrilla a way was also really scary. I had never been a cinematographer for my own films or ever done my own sound. So I was concerned that technically and aesthetically the movie would be right.

ROB: What don’t we see about the process from watching the documentary?

RICHARD: Actually you see most of the process. During filming it began to dawn on me that the process of making the movie paralleled the slow revealing of the man himself and that his relationship with us, the filmmakers, should be a part of telling the story. In looking for a way to do this, I thought of the early Andy Warhol/Edie Sedgwick movies with Chuck Wein as an off-screen presence — a voice never seen but prodding and provoking — just as we were doing with Bill. So I turned the filmmakers into a single palpable character.

ROB: Are there any other documentaries that were influential to you in preparation for this?

RICHARD: I thought of the movie less like a documentary and more like a narrative with a strong protagonist, surrounded by a menagerie of characters (kind of early “Altmanesque” and seemingly loosely structured), but with narrative threads that slowly build, so that when taken together—a portrait emerges and comes into focus. Like one of Bill’s pages — a collage, adding up to something larger than its parts.

The facts of Bill’s life were important to me only to the extent that they reveal the contours of his life. But it’s not what he’s about, even to himself. I wasn’t interested in making a documentary bio-pic. Rather, I wanted to capture something more intangible —though no less powerful, which is the essence of him – that joy – his way of being. Bill has dedicated his life to documenting what is unique and individual and I wanted the movie not only to be a portrait of him and by extension New York, the city he loves, but a celebration of self expression and self invention.

Photo Credits: Left, Alison Maclean, Right, Scott Schuman

Interesting Earth Day Facts About Bicycles

April 21st, 2011

Earth Day Bikes

Are you taking a moment to celebrate Earth Day this week? Earth Day is this Friday, April 22.

In the same way we here at PUBLIC celebrate love for bicycles, good design, and livable communities, we celebrate Earth all the time when we bicycle to work and around lovely San Francisco. The moments that we take to appreciate Earth are infinite, especially when we’re feeling the sun or breeze while riding our PUBLIC bikes.

PUBLIC celebrates design and strives to make cities livable by getting bikes into public spaces. There are a million different reasons to get out there and live your life on a beautiful (PUBLIC) bike, chief among them the myriad eco-benefits bicyclists experience.

Here are some fun eco-facts to dazzle the mind and inspire the soul:

Production: The average bike is made of 15 lbs of steel. Compare that to an average 1,800 lbs of steel to make a car! A bike requires less than 1% steel material to manufacture than a car does. The average bike commuter has an estimated 122 sq/m ecological footprint, while a car driver’s ecological footprint rings in at 1,442 sq/m. All the land and resources needed to produce a bike come to .085% the land and resources needed to produce a car. Credit: Treehugger

Energy: According to WorldWatch, bicycles use only 35 calories of energy per passenger mile! Compare with cars (which use 1860 calories), buses (920), rail travel (885) and even walking (100), to see that biking really is the ultimate energy-efficient transportation. Credit: WorldWatch

Space: 6 to 20 bikes can park in a single car parking space in a paved lot. WorldWatch also measures space efficiency: Cars in mixed traffic can accommodate 170 people per hour per one meter-width-equivalent right-of-way, while bikes can accommodate 1500 people. Credit: Planet Green

We bicycle because it gives us a sense of freedom and joy and makes us feel healthier. But it’s nice to know that we’re also leaving a smaller environmental impact whenever we pedal around town. So what are you waiting for?

Hotel San Jose in Austin: A Modern Sense of Place

April 18th, 2011

Making bikes available for guests has become a smart modern amenity, more so than a doorman. You’ll find PUBLIC bikes at an increasing number of cool hotels around the country including the following: Ames Hotel, Boston, Hudson, NYC, James Hotel, NYC, Delano, Miami, Mondrian, South Beach, Shore Club, South Beach, El Cosmico, Marfa, Hotel San Jose, Austin, Verde Camp, Austin, W Hotel, Austin, h2hotel, Healdsburg, and Clift Hotel, San Francisco.

We just stayed at one of “our” hotels last month in Austin Texas, the Hotel San Jose. It stands out in uniqueness and authenticity. With the HSJ it is the sense of place that makes it special and appropriately modern. The very nature of the hotel itself serves as a concierge and ambassador for Austin. A stay here teaches you about the city’s culture. The hotel could not really exist anywhere else, and few modern designer hotels attempt to be so brave.

Hotel San Jose was a 60’s motor court in a dilapidated state when hotel entrepreneur Liz Lambert transformed it into a bohemian chic and Zen Texan oasis.  There are dirt paths, courtyards covered for outdoor dining, and an abundance of trees and shrubs that range from cactus to bamboo.  You hear birds singing throughout the day and forget the fact that you are on Congress avenue, a busy four lane thoroughfare that takes you to central downtown Austin.

Any hotel can have name brand designer furnishings, but not many can have unique furnishings that connect you to the local environment and culture.  The designer elements here are an eclectic mixture of rustic wood, iron, leather and cotton, put together with craftsmen’s touch to create a Spartan casual manner. This might seem self-conscious or out of place nostalgic in a slick city like Dallas or San Francisco. But Austin is quirky, so this it works. It’s a little like being in a ranch bunkhouse, except bunkhouses do not usually offer superb modern bath products – Malin and Goetz soaps and shampoos. There is nothing falsely nostalgic or romantic here.

The hotel guests and visitors include a lot of local and youthful characters that reflect the culture of Austin. The street location is about as friendly as any that exists.  The nearby corner is a local hangout with a Joe’s coffee that serves the highest quality coffee drinks and local fare, like breakfast tacos.  A dozen other shops are within two blocks.  Musicians play and people dance right outside.  The street energy encourages you to stay outside. Austin is one of the many cities recently embracing commuter bicycling. At Hotel San Jose guests are provided with PUBLIC bikes so they can further explore the area.

The Hotel San Jose is a 5 star experience for me because it preserved an authentic character and a sense of place.  Our bikes are very happy there. Go check them out.  Our bikes are also very happy at Mellow Johnny’s, perhaps the most exiting bike store in the country, just down the road from HSJ and another reason to visit Austin.

Which of your favorites hotels do you think should offer PUBLIC bikes to their guests? Feel free to recommend a few in the comments sections below.

Hotels with PUBLIC Bikes

April 16th, 2011

We recommend staying at any of these amazing lifestyle hotels that provide PUBLIC bikes for their guests to explore their surroundings.

Clift Hotel in San Francisco, CA: Clift Hotel, a luxury establishment located in downtown San Francisco, envelopes its guests in smoky elegance and velvet charm. A stone’s throw from North Beach, Fishermans’ Wharf and the Presidio, Clift Hotel guests can enjoy leisurely biking in PUBLIC’s beloved hometown – they can even ride down and visit us at PUBLIC’s headquarters in South Park.

h2hotel in Healdsburg, CA: “Follow your bliss,” h2hotel tells us, and when we do, our feet lead us to this luxurious LEED-certified hotel located in the heart of Northern Sonoma Wine Country. h2hotel proudly offers PUBLIC bikes as a way to navigate Healdsburg and surrounding vineyards, and has four separate bike trail loops for adventurous and wine-minded guests to tour the countryside.

Delano in South Beach, FL: Famous for its five star service, pool side parties, and exceptional bar, Delano is literally on South Beach and affords guests a difficult choice – to lounge by the shore, or to avail yourself of the beach bike trail and coast your way Downtown? Soak in the sun and ride Delano’s PUBLIC bikes in this South Beach paradise.

El Cosmico in Marfa, TX: A sustainable living concept, El Cosmico lives in the Texas desert and offers guests their choice of vintage trailer, yurt, teepee and tent – not to mention a hammock grove and a rotating calendar of fun clinics and classes. Grab a PUBLIC bike and ride around this sleepy, artsy town. Witness the famous Marfa lights and experience the calming concept of Mañana on your PUBLIC bike vacation.

Hotel San Jose in Austin, TX: Hotel San Jose, the hotel with a soul, trumpets its joy for living in Austin by offering all sorts of soulful details to guests. Features include a hand-picked music and video library, a vintage Remington Premier typewriter for when poetry strikes, Polaroid cameras for capturing Austin moments, and…PUBLIC bikes that can take you touring through South Austin or nearby Barton Springs.

Hudson in NYC, NY: Hudson Hotel, centrally located in Hell’s Kitchen and five minute’s walk from Central Park, takes design seriously and creates an unforgettable guest experience with its personal library, private park and sky terrace. Soak in the ambiance, and then grab a PUBLIC bike to take a leisurely spin through Central Park on your way to soak up some more New York City culture at the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mondrian SoHo in New York City, NY: Mondrian SoHo is a flavorful experience for connoisseurs of culture as well as cuisine. Chef Sam Talbot heads in-house restaurant Imperial No. Nine, a sustainable seafood concept, not to mention a visual and culinary delight. Guests can check out a PUBLIC bike and ride through nearby Little Italy and Chinatown,

Mondrian South Beach in South Beach, FL: Nothing says luxury like a chandelier in the shower. Except maybe a private island. Explore Mondrian South Beach’s lush private island, soak in Miami’s downtown skyline at the Sunset Lounge, and then indulge yourself in the ultimate two-wheeled luxury by jumping on a PUBLIC bike to explore the beach and hotel grounds.

Shore Club in South Beach, FL: Shore Club exudes old-world Miami charm, inviting its guests to wake up to gorgeous beach vistas and the soothing sound of waves. A taste of old-world Tuscany charm is available at restaurant Ago, and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Japanese cuisine empire can be sampled at restaurant Nobu. Work up an appetite for these international treats on a PUBLIC bike.

The James Hotel in New York, NY: The James Hotel New York, conveniently situated in SoHo and a quick PUBLIC bike ride to three parks – Juan Pable Duarte Square, Cavala Park, and St. John’s Park – is a lovely place to kick back and enjoy the details. Explore the Urban Garden, and then sample its Chef’s Herbs at the David Burke Kitchen. Cap off your busy day of riding with a drink at Jimmy, the rooftop bar with a 360-degree view of the Manhattan skyline.

The James Hotel in Chicago, IL: The James Chicago offers a stylish and engaging alternative for the contemporary business or leisure traveler. The James is ideally situated right in the heart of downtown Chicago, just steps from Michigan Avenue. In addition to its proximity to numerous dining, shopping and nightlife choices along the world famous Magnificent Mile, The James is within easy walking distance of such celebrated cultural attractions as Millennium Park and The Museum of Contemporary Art.

Verde Camp in Austin, TX: Beautifully furnished, eco-friendly Camp Verde in Austin invites you on a PUBLIC bike ride through its fair city. Hop on a PUBLIC bike and pedal your way towards cupcakes, cafes, uncommon objects, art galleries, tacos, dress costumes, pizza and  ice cream. It will be tough deciding how best to divide your time between Camp Verde and the rest of Austin, but a PUBLIC bike will make the ride a blast.

W Hotel Austin in Austin, TX: What’s that sound? You won’t have to go far to follow your ears; nestled at the heart of Austin’s music happenings, W is poised to offer guests a hopping live music neighborhood scene. W is also a quick PUBLIC bike ride to Lady Bird Lake Trail, where you’ll take in views of Disch Field, Town Lake Park, and Zilker Botanical Garden, not to mention lovely views of Lady Bird Lake itself.

Ames Hotel in Boston, MA: Only five minutes walking distance from Boston Common, Ames Hotel is conveniently situated in the heart of historic Boston. Elegant and urban, Ames Hotel is the perfect launching point for a PUBLIC bike tour of lovely Boston on the Freedom Trail, and along the Boston Waterfront and the Boston Esplanade. The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a 22-mile day trip and a wonderful way to soak in Cape scenery. Bikers can pedal away knowing that the comfort and luxury of Ames is close by at the end of a day.

Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York City, NY: Tribeca Grand appreciates that good taste is as much a product of well-articulated design as it is of historic location; this affinity for design turns a stroll through the spacious atrium into a walk through a Hitchcock mid-20th century Penn Station set. Tribeca Grand guests can request ipods to explore the city with soulfully arranged New York soundtracks, meet their new pet goldfish through the hotel’s signature goldfish program, and best of all, borrow a PUBLIC bike to ride around town in style.

Three Fun Gigs for Local Models, Photographers, Writers

April 5th, 2011

PUBLIC Casting Call for Models

PUBLIC is seeking models for a lifestyle photo shoot that will feature our new bikes, hats, shoes, and other gear.  We are looking for “real people,” rather than professional models, who are comfortable in front of a camera and on a bike. If you are local and have a somewhat flexible schedule, please send us a brief note and a high resolution photo to  Check out the websites Copenhagen Cycle Chic and The Sartorialist to see what we’re after.

Compensation will be a $100 merchandise credit, plus coffee, snacks, and good humor during the shoot. This modeling gig is more about coming out for fun than about fame. The photos will be used on our website and possibly in a brochure, poster, or magazine. The date and time are weather dependant and TBD but may include an evening.

PUBLIC Video Stars
Do you already own a PUBLIC bike? Come share what you love about biking in the city in a two minute filmed interview.  We plan to publish these fun, casual, spontaneous, and genuine customer interviews on our website. Our first video shoot is planned for Thursday, April 14th. If you are available anytime between 11:00-7:00 please send an email to If you can’t make it on Thursday, send us an email to let us know you are interested.  We will plan other video shoots soon. There is a small gift for everyone who participates.

Photographers and Writers for a New Book
Our friend, author Gary Boulanger is writing a book titled Where to Bike San Francisco. This new guidebook about road and bike path bicycling in the Bay Area will be published in late 2011. The book will feature 83 rides (53 adult, 30 family/kids) in color, with four pages dedicated to each ride, including photos, maps, and historical references. Gary will be riding each selected route with a GPS unit, a notebook, and a camera to compile the highlights of each ride in the four regions: San Francisco, Marin County, Berkeley/East Bay, and the Peninsula.

He’s asking for Bay Area cyclists to submit a maximum of four photos that were taken in the designated areas. Winners receive up to $300 and a chance to be published.  Here is a press release describing the book and photo contest in greater detail.  Submit your high-resolution photos to