When was the last time you saw a carpenter carrying a ladder on a bike while drinking coffee, or woman carrying two purses on handlebars, or a newspaper chain guard, or a pink bike-parking facility on the street? Danes are known for pragmatic design and keep efficiency at the core of their bicycle culture. Riding bikes is good fun in Denmark, so no surprise that one third of Danes use a bike on a daily basis.
The Danes have a longstanding reputation for design based on principles of practicality and simplicity. The 20th century Danish Modern movement advanced these ideals. They pioneered sustainable woods (teak), enduring metal (stainless steel), and they turned recycled wood scraps into plywood, which led to some of the most iconic pieces of modern design. Legendary designer Nana Dietzel told me once that there was a reason for their pragmatism: Danish designers mostly came from backgrounds in cabinetry, not architecture. They are makers, not theorists.
While Danish Modern faded as a movement in the latter part of the 20th century, the Danes have resurfaced as international leaders in design of the contemporary “livable” cities movement—Copenhagen is the poster child. Danish city planner/designer Jan Gehl is as widely respected for his city design as Arne Jacobsen for chair design. We witnessed this Danish practicality and attention to detail in design examples seen on the streets:
Separated and protected lanes for bicycles and pedestrians
Ubiquitous bike carts to haul kids and instruments
Covered bike-parking areas to protect from weather
Train cars earmarked for bikes
Bikes with racks for carrying almost anything: children, ladders, plants, etc
Public bike racks done artfully and efficiently for storage
On street storage for large bike carts
Street signals that solve basic safety issues
Tile wedges to lessen curb bouncing
As pragmatic as they may seem with their common sense design approach, it is their resourcefulness, humor and style and that make them especially relevant. And filmmakers like Mikael Colville-Andersen and Copenhagen Cycle Chic are making biking more than a practical option.
In Taiwan the buildings stretch upward and a sea of scooters flows between them like no place we know in Europe. The scooter population is such that separate lanes have been set-aside for them on some freeways. Parked scooters dominate the sidewalks. Huge packs of scooter riders mass at stoplights where the car drivers allow them to go first when the light changes. They have special scooter-specific graphic messages on the pavement.
In short, scooters set the pace and the tone for movement around their cities. They are like the taxis in New York, except that they lack color. They form a sort of moving grey monolith – like government issued, anonymous machines. There is none of the style or glamour of the Vespas in Italy, but neither is there the noise level. These scooters are much quieter than their European counterparts, and Taiwan lacks groups of kids noisily terrorizing peaceful piazzas or quiet streets. In Taiwan scooters create an omnipresent, but fairly quiet, visual and auditory background drone.
The helmets on the riders of these non-descript scooters are, on the other hand, all about diversity. Sitting at a busy intersection watching the throngs of riders go by, I noticed many styles and colors of helmets, most refreshingly free of any commercial branding. Offer a population a very limited range of choices and they will still find ways to express their individuality. The bouquet of helmets scooting by made for an optimistic contrast to the otherwise pervasive asphalt gray.
Protecting your noggin is important, and we try to make the daily ride a little more fun – and your head little more visible – at the same time. We sell a few helmets that are not designed for scooters but bikes.
Special Deals this Month
Free shipping on bikes. A good way to view the details of our bikes is on this short video clip courtesy of Fast Company. Apparel Sale. All of our clothing is On Sale.
We took a look at bicycling attire on the streets of Copenhagen and Amsterdam recently. This was good fun, as you can see the friendly faces of people riding around when they are not concealed under a helmet. We noticed that there were actually more scarves than helmets on riders. It’s not that they are more concerned with fashion than with safety abroad. It’s rather that scarves, like front zippers on jackets or gloves, allow you warm up, or cool off quickly. They are an easy way to adjust to changes in weather from morning until night. They allow people to ride more often, and in greater numbers. This might be the real key to safety.
Facts: Safety in Numbers
Cars respect cyclists in these cities. Riders have some special rights and privileges, like dedicated lanes. Serious bicycle injuries have been in decline in recent decades in Copenhagen and Amsterdam because more people are riding. A recent 20% rise in cycling was accompanied by a corresponding 20% decline in injuries in the past decade. The same dynamics occur in US cities. When more people ride, the streets are safer as the car drivers and bicyclists pay more attention. There is safety in numbers.
We recommend helmets for bicyclists in the US and we sell a few that are quite special. We also sell some gloves and other accessories for comfort—some are On Sale right now. We look forward to a time when we will have separated safe lanes and paths for bicyclists in US cities, more respect from car drivers, more scarves than helmets, and more hard-core commuter footwear like this on the street.
Bicycle theft is a sad fact of life in every country we know. It sucks. And most of us have had a bike or bike component stolen at some point. Depending on our mood, theft hits us somewhere along the unfair–depressing–devastating continuum. Is there any way to see something positive in bicycle theft? Not really, but if one had to try, studying the scene in Holland offers some rich material.
We learned on a recent trip to the Netherlands that 750,000 bikes get reported as stolen every year. That’s about 2% of all bikes in that country. The Dutch typically employ a standard rear wheel clamp to deter petty thieves, and a hunky steel chain sheathed in fabric to discourage hard-core thieves. These Dutch chains and locks are as ubiquitous in Amsterdam, and they make for some compelling compositions – studies in contrasting materials, color, and form. The durability and permanence of steel in our world of plastics and virtual safeguards is a compelling story. And chains and locks are quite brilliant low-tech solutions that have endured without much change since the advent of civilization. There is something cool about that.
These compositions are as individual as the bike riders themselves and offer us one chance (admittedly desperate) to put a happy face on bike theft.
A Gallery of Bike Locks
We sell two basic solutions that work for most situations in the US. Our Kryptonite u-lock will keep most hard-core thieves away, and using a cable lock in addition will offer even better protection. Using your good senses and defensive instincts are the best deterrents to bike bandits, and most thefts are a result of bicyclist naïveté. If your PUBLIC gets stolen keep in mind that we have the serial number on record to help track down your bike.
I took a break from the VELOCITY 2010 conference and rode to the Copenhagen street corner billed as the busiest intersection in the city. A meter there counts the number of bikes that pass by as they cross the bridge. 27 cyclists cruised by during one light change; 15,000 in all on that day; and 1,815,570 so far this year. Quite cool. The stream of cyclists felt like the very definition of freedom and self-reliance. And people looked happy and alive as they pedaled along on their way to work or school—it was a collective experience of a high order. I submit that this counter is as good a “civilization meter” as anything that history has provided.
Traditionally we have used other data to decide what makes a great civilization.
If cultural output is the yardstick, Egypt and Classical Greece are looking pretty good. But did enough of the community share in the greatness? If civilian enlightenment is the measure, China during the Sung dynasty (9th Century) comes out well: their civil servants had to pass tests that included writing poetry and painting landscapes. What about those who never took the test?
The US considers itself highly civilized based on education standards, citing statistics about how many people have college degrees. But Native Americans – who greatly value their connection to nature – might see things a bit differently.
Whichever aspect of civilization you value more, it seems fundamental that a truly civilized society has to be one in which the greatest number of people feel safe and secure as they move around and congregate in their public spaces. This is where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness take place, where they are visible. And you can judge the greatness of a city by the percentage of people using and enjoying the public spaces.
This brings us to bikes.
The Danes consider themselves as civilized as it gets. They take pride in their egalitarian and democratic principles, and they have become tireless advocates of rights for pedestrians and cyclists. More than one third of Danes ride a bike everyday to school or work. They have become synonymous with cycling (along with the Dutch). Over the last 50 years they have weaned themselves away from cars in urban areas, and they have increased the amount of public spaces devoted to pedestrians, cyclists, sidewalk cafes, etc. Denmark now leads the Livable Cities initiatives internationally. And they can quantify the advance of their civilization:
16% of all transportation trips taken in Denmark are by bike
45% of all kids ride a bike to school everyday
25% of all parents bike their toddlers around the cities
20% fewer bike injuries have occurred as cycling has increased 20% in recent years
9% of the population in Denmark suffers from obesity
(30% of the US population suffers from obesity. We ‘lead’ the world in this metric)
Warehouse Sale this Saturday
If you happen to be in the Bay Areas next week, please come to our first ever warehouse sale. We’ll have bikes, samples and all kinds of things. The location is right on Harrison Street. See more details on our Sample Sale.
I was with a group of American friends last month, riding around the streets of Copenhagen. We were checking out the way the Danes have made cycling the appealing, logical, and safe choice of transport in the city. The most noticeable differences, after the sheer number of people riding, was that there are as many – or maybe even more – women than men on bikes and that people wear their everyday clothes while riding.
There is still the expected competitive cyclist attitude with faster riders forcing slower riders to get out of their way, but it takes a different form:
“Back home the riders passing me are typically aggressive guys in bike shorts and cleated shoes on racing bikes pumping away with their heads down. Here it’s women in leggings and sandals, or some guy with dress shoes, on three-speeds sounding a warning from behind with a bell.”
– New Yorker bicyclist
Here is a sampling of some hard-core commuter footwear from Copenhagen.
Holland appropriated the color orange for its national identity centuries ago. How that occurred is not nearly as interesting as the fact they continue to stand by it and identify with it in unison. They don’t have blue states or red states in Holland; it’s just one big orange State. What other country has pulled this off an aesthetic cultural coup like this? A color is so much more provocative than a windmill as a national identity. If they had picked pastel green we would not be so impressed. Orange has far more personality, like the Dutch themselves.
We ended up in Amsterdam last week on a bike trip while the World Cup was in full swing. We watched Holland play Slovakia one afternoon with our Dutch pals at a local bar. It was a riot of orange, inside, outside, and all around. The servers were all wearing the orange dresses that have become infamous for the scandal that ensued in South Africa and got busted by Budweiser. The bar atmosphere was more like a carnival than a sports event and there were as many women as men watching the match. The World Cup, and orange, has this effect—it makes most people convivial, energetic and social.
The city was also playground for the color orange. There were the obvious banners and t-shirts. Lamps, trees and public monuments were wrapped up but more interesting was the discreet use, like this orange poof on a stylish woman’s bracelet or designer Marcel Wanders’, a soccer fan, orange bling on his necklace. With all the orange mania you lose the ability to distinguish between soccer specific orange and everyday orange. You see it in common objects like milk cartons, tarps and wheel hubs. Orange got the World Cup bump, and for this we thank history, Holland and the World Cup.
PUBLIC Bike in Orange
Color theorists say that orange has special powers to make us more creative, curious and hungry. We can’t say for sure. We selected orange for our bikes for reasons that are entirely personal. But since our best selling bike is orange, we know that we are not alone in our adoration. In fact, we have run out of stock in certain sizes of PUBLIC M’s. But if we do not have your model and size in stock you can place an order for fall and receive a 10% discount for the next delivery. We’ll plan to be back in stock for Halloween and certainly before the Holiday colors kick in.
About 1200 people from five continents came to Copenhagen this week for the annual “bikes in cities” convention aka VELO-CITY GLOBAL 2010. The conference draws the leading urban Transportation and Planning professionals from around the globe. We checked a PUBLIC bike on our flight to attend the conference and to ride around the bike centric city. Copenhagen, along with Amsterdam, are truly world class cities if you like to ride or walk. 40% of Danes ride a bike everyday, that’s over half a million people. Think about it. But the 40% plummets to 30% during the winter storms i.e. only 1 of 3 people ride their bike to work when it is snowing.
The conference ended today so we’ll now have time to write and post photos from this inspirational event. There are many angles to cover. A good place to start might be to show a range of photos of the diversity you see on the streets on bikes—a parade of colors, textures and attitudes. The truly democratic and humanistic nature of a seeing so many people in motion is thoroughly optimistic—people watching as good as it gets. This is just a sample.