Wheels Are Not Square

January 6th, 2012

A friend sent me a photo of a bike with square wheels. It may sacrifice a little in the area of smoothness of ride, but its absurdity made me laugh. Just when you think you’ve seen the last art bike, another one comes along. We believe this bike hails from Marfa, Texas where Donald Judd… Read more »

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A friend sent me a photo of a bike with square wheels. It may sacrifice a little in the area of smoothness of ride, but its absurdity made me laugh. Just when you think you’ve seen the last art bike, another one comes along. We believe this bike hails from Marfa, Texas where Donald Judd reigns supreme and where right angles dot the landscape, walls, buildings, and psyche.

We take the wheel for granted, but it may be the most impressive invention humanity has ever created.

The wheel has been around a lot longer than the light bulb or wifi or the abacus or toaster waffles.  It dates back to about 4000 BC and all the while it has stayed true to its original form. Look at the wheels on ancient chariot carts – they are almost identical to those that move goods around in modern day Cartagena, Colombia. I spent a day photographing all kinds of wheels, stationary and in motion.  Life there essentially revolves around the wheel. Without them there would be no commerce or trade.  The basic human exchange of goods and communications is enabled by vehicles and their wheels. The same holds for most of the modern world.

Wheels of Cartagena from PUBLIC Bikes on Vimeo.

We acknowledge the ingenious internal combustion engine, but what would cars and trucks be without wheels? OK, airplanes don’t need wheels in flight, but many insist that a safe landing is an important part of their flight. The bike is really just two wheels made animate – though that doesn’t keep us from obsessing over elegant frame architecture or getting geeky about gears, weight, and all.  Wheels are everywhere – cranes, trains, pulleys, scooters, skateboards – even those gears we get geeky about.

In a place like Cartagena the diversity, character, and ubiquity of the wheel is extraordinary. You notice them more when they are not shrouded or incased by metal as they are often with cars.  It was easy to get carried away with an appreciation of the aesthetics as I walked around taking photos.  And the wheel as an object or symbol has been adored by artists as diverse as Marcel Duchamp and Ai WeiWei. And then someone rolled by in a wheelchair and I realized how dependent we are on the wheel for our basic needs of independence and survival.  The wheel is too cool to be square.

 

Parklets, Prizes, & Promos

January 4th, 2012

Our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, rarely elevates issues of design and architecture to the front page. But last week (December 29th), that’s where you could find Urban Design Critic John King’s Streetscapes column (photos above). Billed as “a mini tour of tiny parks” around the city, the article is more than just a… Read more »

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Our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, rarely elevates issues of design and architecture to the front page. But last week (December 29th), that’s where you could find Urban Design Critic John King’s Streetscapes column (photos above). Billed as “a mini tour of tiny parks” around the city, the article is more than just a guide – it even gives information on how to get your own parklet approved and built in San Francisco. Our friend Deep pioneered the first residential parklet on Valencia Street in the Mission District.

John King is probably best known for his book Cityscapes, a compact guide to 49 buildings in San Francisco, many of which are eclectic and unique and not to be found in standard tourist guides. King delights in the unexpected, which we think is a pretty good way to approach buildings, streets, people, food, and life in general.

You would expect to see coverage of this topic here in our newsletter, PUBLIC Opinion, where we have featured parklets in the past. But the fact that King is getting front-page attention is not only a tribute to his journalistic chops but also proof that the question of how to make our cities more livable and sustainable has become a mainstream issue. The Chronicle and the many activists, like Deep, that expose the broader public to these “pedestrian” issues deserve a thank you for educating us about issues relevant to a city’s modernity, civility, and sustainability. It got us thinking about this issue:

What is the greenest city in the US and what makes it so?
San Francisco, like many US cities, likes to toot its green horn and would love to be considered the most sustainable city in the US. We might be the recognized national leader in “parklets,” but parklets alone do not make a city green. What does make a city sustainable? How do we measure it? That’s a heated and somewhat elusive question, and there are lots of opinions. We’d like to hear yours.  A $100 merchandise credit will go to the best response.

P.S. Congratulations to Deep & Kimberly, who graced our catalog as a PUBLIC model, on their New Year’s Eve engagement. We wish them many years of happiness together on and off a bicycle.

P.P.S. John King has numerous excellent articles on urban design that are archived on SFGate.  He occasionally lectures around town and you can follow him on Twitter.

A Little Red Goes a Long Way

December 20th, 2011

It’s hard to hide from red this time of year. We have been bulldozed by this fine color over the last month: packaging, Santa’s hats, poinsettias, websites, billboards, ads, and more. The truth about red is that a little goes a long way, and it is often best as a surprise element in discrete applications,… Read more »

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It’s hard to hide from red this time of year. We have been bulldozed by this fine color over the last month: packaging, Santa’s hats, poinsettias, websites, billboards, ads, and more. The truth about red is that a little goes a long way, and it is often best as a surprise element in discrete applications, on things like lips and shoes and chili peppers and such. So to honor the season and the color, we’ve assembled this collection of redness found outside of the holidays. It crops up without any commercial holiday intent around the world: French shacks, red vines, Cuban fire hydrants, Taiwan pots, San Francisco shoes, Canadian radishes, Maine crates, Cartagena peppers, Flora Grubb cafe chairs, downtown motorcyles, Havana windows, Milan poles, Sonoma highway markers, Souel nail polish, Project Color Corps cranberry juice, Colombian fruit stands, and Croatian laundry.

Red at Project Color Corps
If you want to see how red gets used for a positive social purpose, check out Project Color Corps, a great new organization that is fostering random acts of color across the country to aid communities in need. “Project Color Corps believes in the power of color and sees it as a change agent, infusing a sense of well-being and energy into urban neighborhoods nationwide.” In San Francisco earlier this month we created a heart to honor the event and to support a west Oakland community. A special shout out to Laura Guido Clark who is heading up this spirited new organization.

Ten Gifts. Free Shipping. Peace.

December 9th, 2011

We rarely send out two emails in one week, so apologies if this is an intrusion. But we wanted to alert everyone to these special holiday ideas and offers. We are offering Free Shipping – on PUBLIC items only – but just until December 11th. For three days only you can save $125 and have… Read more »

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We rarely send out two emails in one week, so apologies if this is an intrusion. But we wanted to alert everyone to these special holiday ideas and offers.

We are offering Free Shipping – on PUBLIC items only – but just until December 11th.
For three days only you can save $125 and have a bike shipped directly to your home (Use Promo Code: FREESHIP) or receive free shipping on gear & accessories (Use Promo Code: JOLLY). We only make this offer on rare occasions. This holiday season, we want to encourage as many of you as possible to get on a bike. A bike is a very conscientious gift that is guaranteed to generate smiles.

I've assembled ten last minute gifts. They are not all PUBLIC items, but they are all from people or companies that I know personally. I’ve included several books as they are meaningful gifts for almost anyone. If you have an especially hard-to-please person, Paula Scher: MAPS will open their eyes to the world the same way a bike does.

1) PUBLIC C7 in Salted Caramel $650
One of our limited edition models named after our favorite ice cream in San Francisco. Salted caramel is one of our limited edition new colors.

2) Vlaemsch Deer Head $200
Our Deer is a modern, playful take on the classic trophy head designed and produced in Belgium.  Made from beech wood and arrives to you flat packed, it assembles easily in a few minutes without any tools. They are lightweight enough to hang on almost any surface.  At PUBLIC it is a perennial favorite.

3) PUBLIC Bleeker 8 Speed $1250
We just launched this beauty. It’s a classic guys bike that works just as well for women. The vintage-style aluminum fenders and Brooks saddle make it a timeless piece of design.

4) BackRoads Bike Trip to Tuscany in April $4000
I’ve been on five of these trips over the past twenty years and they never disappoint.  You get the independence of riding all day, eating delicious food, and the comfort of someone else lugging your bags.  And you’ll likely meet some cool people, like my ex wife!

5) McFadden Farm Bay Leaf Wreath $25.50
The wonderful fragrance of Bay leaves is a traditional indulgence for many of us. This is the wreath for modernists – simple and classic.

6) Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop $27.50
Is there a bike rider alive that does not love desserts?  The book is almost as gorgeous as the pastries from this signature San Francisco pastry shop run by Meg Ray. The photos by Frankie Frankeny are tasty too.

7) PUBLIC Federico Red Bell $15.00
It’s our most popular item, and for good reason. Maybe the sweetest sounding stocking stuff around.

8 ) Paula Scher: Maps $50
The is a shockingly beautiful and provocative book by Paula Scher. She is one of the few visual thinkers whose work seamlessly spans both Art and Design fields. GPS geeks, surfers, artists, and PhDs and designers of course, will have this book atop their coffee table for most of 2012.

9) Portland Design Works Light Set $36.00
From our friends in Portland, a superb way to light up your holiday rides. Both lights are built to withstand rain or meteor showers and keep you safe from blastoff to touchdown.

10) High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky $29.95
Here is a great read or Christmas gift, by Joshua David and Robert Hammond. The book has received five stars reviews all around. If you cannot go to the Highline, at least get the book.

HARD TO PLEASE? If nothing here strikes your fancy, we do have some other gift ideas.

Occupy PUBLIC Space

November 30th, 2011

I just returned from New York where I had the pleasure of seeing The High Line in the fall for the first time. Here are some pictures. I almost said ‘where I had the privilege of seeing…’ because the place is that great. This is a truly transformative public space, which is why we have… Read more »

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I just returned from New York where I had the pleasure of seeing The High Line in the fall for the first time. Here are some pictures. I almost said ‘where I had the privilege of seeing…’ because the place is that great. This is a truly transformative public space, which is why we have written about it on several occasions. If only we could achieve a fraction (99% comes to mind) of The High Line’s success with our other public spaces ­­– our parks, streets, sidewalks, bike lanes.

I guess the first thing a society has to decide is how to use their public space. Public squares were originally intended for people to congregate, hear the local news, and express their opinions. Do we still endorse that purpose (pepper spray notwithstanding)? The Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing us, individually and as a society, to grapple with that question. Do streets exist only to get us from one place of business to another? Must they always be kept clear so that commerce can flourish? Should they be car-centric, bike friendly, welcoming to pedestrians? Should they be beautiful; should they have shade? These questions don’t answer themselves.

Public space, like public education, public health, and public safety, are the truest measures of a civic democracy. Our sidewalks and streets are also public spaces and our design of (and commitment to) them might be one of the best measures of our civility. This is why we adore sidewalk cafes, neighborhood parks, pedestrian walkways, and bike lanes that connect us more closely with our communities. Name your favorite city, and I’ll bet it will be abundant in public space.

We tend to take our public spaces for granted (99% of the time?) until a demonstration like Occupy Wall Street comes along, or something amazing gets accomplished like the New York High Line. We should thank the people behind these movements for raising our awareness.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Here is a great read or Christmas gift, by Joshua David and Robert Hammond. The book has received five stars reviews all around, and this is an apt summary:

How two New Yorkers led the transformation of a derelict elevated railway into a grand—and beloved—open space. The story of how it came to be is a remarkable one: two young citizens with no prior experience in planning and development collaborated with their neighbors, elected officials, artists, local business owners, and leaders of burgeoning movements in horticulture and landscape architecture to create a park celebrated worldwide as a model for creatively designed, socially vibrant, ecologically sound public space.”

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky
by Joshua David and Robert Hammond
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 339 pp., $29.95 (paper)

NEW SPECIAL EDITION BIKES

We also believe that one great public space to occupy is the seat of a PUBLIC bike. I put together seven new PUBLIC models this season. They are designed to create different bicycle personalities and to suit a range of personal styles (and budgets). One example is the Bleeker, shown here, with vintage-style aluminum hammered fenders, black Brooks B17saddle, and many other details to compliment the black frame.

Visualize Space

October 24th, 2011

Our culture greatly values ‘space.’ We nest in our remodeled homes on our porches and decks, relax in our landscaped gardens, and work in our organized offices.  We enjoy public spaces too ­– parks, promenades, squares, stadiums, beaches. Our National Parks are cultural treasures. We care about these ‘spaces’ and take pride in their condition… Read more »

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Our culture greatly values ‘space.’ We nest in our remodeled homes on our porches and decks, relax in our landscaped gardens, and work in our organized offices.  We enjoy public spaces too ­– parks, promenades, squares, stadiums, beaches. Our National Parks are cultural treasures. We care about these ‘spaces’ and take pride in their condition and appearance.

But when it comes to our street spaces ­– where we all spend so much of our time ­– we share a collective blind spot. Our aesthetics break down completely. Why do we settle for ugly, car-impacted streets as our means to get from our well-tended homes to our well-tended offices?  Every time we drive into town and park our car (SUV or Prius) on the street, we are perpetuating a situation that one would think we would all find intolerable. Why does this persist?

Here are some of the usual explanations:

  • Most modern cities were designed and laid out to serve the needs of cars, not people.
  • Gas and parking are cheap.
  • Our love for convenience trumps all else.
  • Many of us are stuck without other options.
  • We are creatures of habit and changing behavior is painful.

What can get us to think and behave differently?
We posted the photo above on Facebook and it generated a lot of feedback. We’d like more. To keep the conversation going, we’re soliciting more comments and offering a $100 merchandise credit for the best response. You are welcome to respond either on Facebook or on our blog.

Elect Visionary Leaders
One way to get us to think and behave differently is to elect visionary leaders in our cities who have the courage to oppose short sighted urban developments.  Mayors have been shown to have significant effect on public space, both here and abroad.  Our heroes range from Enrique Peñalosa (Bogota) to Kramer Mikkelsen (Copenhagen) and Joe Riley (Charleston). We send a special shout out to former San Francisco mayor, Art Agnos who opposed the rebuilding of the Embarcadero Freeway in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake.  Thus our popular Ferry Plaza and waterfront were reborn, and Agnos lost his re-election bid at least in part for his courage.

Public space is the one place where all members of society are welcome and equal. It is the essence of democracy. Below are a few “street space” shots taken from a recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia. The city was built before the advent of the car and is now preserved by UNESCO decree. The life of the city is all in the streets – day and night – and it feels right.  There is some space for cars, but always subordinated to humans.
Cartagena Streets.blog

 

Cartagena – See It on Foot

October 19th, 2011

Driving through a city is great if your goal is to get to the other side. If, on the other hand, you want to learn about, notice, savor, discover what’s actually there, a slower pace is recommended. Detail and interest emerge when we give our senses a little time to take things in. That’s why… Read more »

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Driving through a city is great if your goal is to get to the other side. If, on the other hand, you want to learn about, notice, savor, discover what’s actually there, a slower pace is recommended. Detail and interest emerge when we give our senses a little time to take things in. That’s why we sip whiskey, lick ice cream, and kiss slowly. That’s why we read the book, not just the outline. And that’s why a walk or a bike ride through a city is so much more compelling and pleasurable than a car ride.

Take Cartagena, Colombia for example. To be appreciated, this steamy, walled port city demands attention. The occasional distracted glance through a car window just won’t get it done. That’s probably part of the reason its been designated a UNESCO site – to preserve the pedestrian friendly historic streets and allow visitors and locals to drink in the color and detail, like these windows we found in two days of wandering around on bike and on foot last week.

Cartagena is no longer about drugs and muggings. It’s about a diverse Caribbean culture and history. You can bike there, but Bogota is the most bike friendly Colombian city with its Ciclovia program – now respected and widely imitated around the world.

Steve Jobs Made Design Mainstream

October 12th, 2011

Like many people, I’ve been thinking and talking about Steve Jobs and Apple a lot this past week. There are too many ideas for one newsletter, so I’ll likely write more in the near future. Everyone who takes design seriously owes him, myself included. Most of my professional career in business has relied on Apple’s… Read more »

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Like many people, I’ve been thinking and talking about Steve Jobs and Apple a lot this past week. There are too many ideas for one newsletter, so I’ll likely write more in the near future. Everyone who takes design seriously owes him, myself included. Most of my professional career in business has relied on Apple’s products, devotees, attitude, and inspiration. Apple was instrumental in creating a broad consumer market for good design.

Artek Alvar Aalto, Stool

Artek Alvar Aalto, Stool

If there were a silver lining to Steve Jobs’ passing, it would be the numerous discussions about the value (spiritual and financial) of good design in our culture. Jobs did something that no one else had ever done: he made great design mainstream. This will be his legacy. I have been reading comparisons of Jobs to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, but neither of them (nor any of the industrialists) kept design and aesthetics right at the core of their businesses.

None of the current tech geniuses at Google, Facebook or Twitter have design and aesthetics as integrated into their missions. Or if they do (or think they do), it is relegated to stepchild status – cleaning up after technology, function, and speed. All lack the caliber of design elegance that is part of Apple DNA. For many of us, there is no such thing as civilization without elegance, and Steve Jobs provided plenty.

DWR

“Design,” as a respected business discipline, is a very recent phenomenon. Even ten years ago “design” was not part of the business vocabulary. I know this well because I was trying to raise money for Design Within Reach about that time. In my meetings with nearly a dozen venture capital firms, nobody seemed to understand what I was talking about when I said that good design meant good business and that the US market would embrace it if it were made accessible. Design and aesthetics did not have a meaning to most business leaders beyond visual appearance – it was associated only with creative work, decorators, fashionistas, business card graphics, and hairdos. Certainly not with business success and profit.

Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990’s and led the most successful turnaround of any modern company, all based on design. Apple is now worth more than Microsoft and Intel combined. Credit also goes to Steve Jobs for making the business world a safe and welcome place for designers, creatives, and visually oriented people. The value of this may be unquantifiable, but it is hugely significant to a lot of us.

Paul Rand, IBM Logo

Paul Rand, IBM Logo

PUBLIC was founded on the principles of good design and with the belief that design is now a mainstream value. Jobs and Apple did not create this alone. He appropriated much from others such as Dieter Rams, Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, and other significant modern designers. One of his lasting legacies will be as the person who brought good design to more people than anyone else.

I hope the myriad discussions and articles on Jobs, Apple, and design persist as relentlessly as Apple’s products come to the market.

Portland Street Sense

October 6th, 2011

Last week I wrote about the inspiring handmade bike design contest held in Portland: the Oregon Manifest Design Challenge. Portland leads the nation in the percentage of people who commute or ride a bike everyday. What is less known is the fact that Portland might be the most progressive public transit city in the US…. Read more »

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Last week I wrote about the inspiring handmade bike design contest held in Portland: the Oregon Manifest Design Challenge. Portland leads the nation in the percentage of people who commute or ride a bike everyday. What is less known is the fact that Portland might be the most progressive public transit city in the US. You almost feel that you are in Europe. It forces some unfavorable comparisons with our transit system in San Francisco.

TriMet, Portland, OR



TriMet, Portland, OR


BART, San Francisco, CA



Pacific Electric Railway, CA



Food Trucks, Portland, OR



Parklet, San Francisco, CA

When you arrive at the airport in Portland you are greeted by the Light Rail, which is part of the TriMet system. It delivers you into the city for about $3.00 – an average price for many European trains. The price is kept low to encourage people not to drive to the airport. BART, San Francisco’s public transportation to the airport, costs about $8.00.

Aside from the cost, productive comparisons can be drawn from the design. Portland’s rail cars are colorful and modern on the interior and exterior, with places to store bikes, ramps to make it easy to enter, and a generally cheerful ambience. The seating is an easy to clean, modern vinyl. Our BART cars have an aging institutional feel, with scary signage. The upholstery is unhygienic to such a degree that it got written up in the New York Times. Apparently help is on the way and San Francisco will be spending $2 Million for a remake.

When you get to Portland’s city center you find more modern streetcars and it feels very much like the trams in Zurich or Amsterdam. It’s easy to get almost anywhere in the city as the transit systems are connected. For most of us in SF, when we arrive downtown from BART, getting home or to work is often complicated, time consuming, or expensive.

Portland is billed as the “first modern streetcar system in the US,” but this may be an exaggeration. There were many modern electric streetcar systems throughout the US in the early 20th century. These rail lines were torn and replaced by buses and cars – often billed as a conspiracy led by GM. We believe more rails, more bikes, and less cars will beautify our cities and attract healthier lifestyles. That’s why we support efforts to reduce private auto trips along Market Street, one of San Francisco’s major thoroughfares.

Although there are still plenty of cars in downtown Portland, the city has done some clever things to keep them at bay. For example, there is an unsightly central parking lot that has now been surrounded by a perimeter of colorful and friendly food trucks that offer a great selection of affordable ethnic foods. These food trucks lend a vibrant touch to the city and turn an asphalt parking lot into a community asset and destination.

Converting asphalt into food courts is one area where San Francisco holds its own. Our numerous parklets, food trucks, farmers markets, and street vendors are world class and growing in number. An SF based organization, Off the Grid, brings together the eclectic community of local food trucks. SF Pavement to Parks makes it accessible for small businesses to transform the parking spaces outside of their business into mini parks. The best part is that our local government generally supports these efforts. We’d like to see more government-subsidized projects that directly benefit environment and community.

The Best Gig in the World

September 29th, 2011

. . . being a juror at the Oregon Manifest. I just returned from a weekend in Portland where I was a juror for the Oregon Manifest Constructors Design Challenge (OMCDC), a utility bike design competition. It was not a normal jury assignment. We reviewed the bikes for a full day indoors before the contestants… Read more »

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. . . being a juror at the Oregon Manifest.

I just returned from a weekend in Portland where I was a juror for the Oregon Manifest Constructors Design Challenge (OMCDC), a utility bike design competition. It was not a normal jury assignment. We reviewed the bikes for a full day indoors before the contestants set out on a 51-mile, challenging road and trail course.  At several check points along the way we judged criteria such as load carrying capacity, lighting systems, fender durability, and more. The day was a perfect sunny 80-degree day through the bucolic countryside north of Portland.  It was one of the most enjoyable work assignments I have ever experienced.

It seemed like the bikes held up better than many of the riders. But to their credit, all of the riders finished. Leading the pack was Tony Pereira on an electric assist bike with a built-in music system.  This iconoclastic magenta bike was a sign of what the future of utility bikes might be and what type of bike might realistically convince many people to swap in their car for a bike.  My shout out was Diana Rempe, on a Quixote bike, who covered the course in a dress and flip-flops with her daughter as a passenger. Be sure to check out all the entries and winners or follow us on Twitter where we will be featuring a bike a day for the next month with my comments.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Portland
This event reminds us that while the US seems in a perpetual backslide as a producer of goods in the global market, we are actually the unqualified world leader in handmade bikes. Portland is the epicenter for the movement. It was fitting that Chris King Precision hosted the event. They are the recognized international leader in manufacturing high quality bike headsets and other components.

Biking is more than a subculture
Biking is becoming mainstream, as evidenced by the broad range of people at the OMCDC events. Two years ago the event drew mainly a hardcore biking subculture.  This year Levis and Urban Outfitters set-up a bike fix-it shop at the event and there seemed to be an even split of men and women. We were invited to speak about the event as part of Live Wire (a podcast will be out next week).  CNN covered the event as did many local newspapers.

Portland is transit progressive
Every time I go to Portland I am reminded how special this place is and how it is a bellweather for the country for more than just bikes. The light rail system linking to the airport and running through the city is an elegant and fun transit system that rivals anything I have ridden in Europe.

Global design firms are jumping in
The show drew concept bikes from prestigious design firms including IDEO, FuseProject, and Ziba. These bikes were not juried against the individual submissions, but they did join the road challenge and they all finished. These design firms are well respected internationally for conceptual work and branding, but they can also crank out world-class functional product design. Fast Company got wind of the LOCAL bike designed by Yves Behar of FuseProject.

PUBLIC products in evidence
We are happy to see a number of products that PUBLIC sells in wide use, especially Brooks saddles and brass bells, which now seem ubiquitous. If the professionals can use these over a 51-mile course, they will work for you.  Our Yepp seat and Nutcase helmets were also along for the ride.

Thanks to the other Jurors
It was a special pleasure to work and learn from the other jurors – Legendary bike icon Joe Breeze, Biking magazine editor Bill Strickland, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, and UBI leader Ron Sutphin.