Erik Spiekermann: Type Geek, Bike Geek

March 18th, 2015

Since day one, many designers have been involved in shaping PUBLIC into what it is today. But none of them are more fanatical about bikes than Erik Spiekermann. He’s the only guy I know who has more bikes (a total of 13) and rides more often than I do. He rides daily in either of… Read more »

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Erik's bike collection in Berlin

Since day one, many designers have been involved in shaping PUBLIC into what it is today. But none of them are more fanatical about bikes than Erik Spiekermann. He’s the only guy I know who has more bikes (a total of 13) and rides more often than I do. He rides daily in either of his two bike centric residences in Berlin, Germany and Tiburon, California.

Erik and I go back about a decade, starting when I had him design some house numbers for DWR. I learned then that he was opinionated about many things and a perfectionist in everything he touches. He contributed to the core elements of the PUBLIC brand including our logo and the original stripes on our bikes. He is a world renowned designer with numerous awards and typefaces under his belt, a master Tweeter, a modernist extraordinaire and a good friend.

Below is our interview with Erik where he shares how both design and bikes inform his life. Enjoy.

Rob Forbes

PUBLIC: Do you remember your first bike? If so, please describe it.

Erik: Yes. My neighbor gave it me when I was about 10. I painted it green and it had silver spokes and no gears. It had just one little rubber pad for a brake on the front wheel. And it was too tall for me so I couldn’t sit on the saddle but had to stick one leg under the crossbar to get to the other pedal. All that said, it got me to school.

PUBLIC: How did you come to love bikes?

Erik: They offered independence. I would cover distances that were too far and boring to walk and I could carry things without effort, like books, to school. If the weather got really bad, I would go and take a tram. So we never needed a car (not that we had one while I lived with my parents). My dad drove a 20-ton truck and I learnt to drive on one of them.

The main thing about a bike for me has always been that I use them all the time, not just for sports and not dressed in Spandex. I get on my bike in whatever I’m wearing, even if it is a Tuxedo for a posh reception. It is the most efficient and fun way to get around.

PUBLIC: How often do you ride?

Erik: Every day. In Berlin, I take my bike to work and for errands, including shopping (that’s why I need different bikes for different tasks). In London, I cover distances much faster than I would by public transport. Here in Tiburon, I take my bike to the ferry over to San Francisco and run my errands there on my PUBLIC D8. And we ride the Paradise Loop as often as we can on our steel road bikes. But I wish I had more reasons to use the bike every day.

2010 PUBLIC Stripes

PUBLIC: You designed the original identity stripes featured on every PUBLIC bike. Please talk to us a little about your inspiration for the stripes.

Erik: Stripes are a classic bicycle theme and also prevalent in other sports (Adidas et al). They are a good way to identify a bike without it taking over the whole frame, like the classic bike brands do. Stripes work well on bike tubes where there is a lack of real estate. The stripes can be adapted in colour and frequency and also used on other media. It’s more subtle than repeating a logo.

PUBLIC: Why do you have 13 bikes?

Erik: They are in 4 locations (1 Amsterdam, 2 London, 2 SF, 8 Berlin) and most serve a different purpose. A few are just there because they’re beautiful.

PUBLIC: How does bicycling fit into your lifestyle?

Erik: I ride to work in Berlin and I get around on a bike in the other cities as well. Just practical.

PUBLIC: Describe your perfect day on a bike in Germany?

Erik: Going to the studio, running errands. Not a special effort, no spandex gear, no special shoes, just moving around the city.

Erik on a PUBLIC bike prototype.

PUBLIC: How does your PUBLIC bike reflect your personal style?

Erik: It’s practical and effortless to use. It has a few gears for San Francisco and a luggage rack to carry my shopping and other gear.

PUBLIC: What does the word “public” mean to you?

Erik: Bikes are for everybody, not just for sports

PUBLIC: Where do you find inspiration?

Erik: Life. Travel, people, read, listen.

Poster designed by Erik for PUBLIC.

PUBLIC: You mention that Apple could do better than Helvetica. What font would you suggest?

Erik: One that I would design for them. A lot of people are using my Fira typeface as system font on Apple Yosemite. We originally designed Fira for Firefox/Mozilla and it is now Open Source. The hack for the system replacement is on Github.

PUBLIC: Any upcoming projects/ partnerships/ designs that you are excited about?

Erik: Yes, a letterpress studio in Berlin.

PUBLIC: Anything else you’d like to add?

Erik: Bikes are practical, fun and healthy. They get you around, you see things and they make you feel good.