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.
We traveled to Copenhagen for VELO City 2010, an international platform where passionate professionals join to exchange ideas on bike policy and promotion. VELO City 2010 will:
“(VELO City) will highlight the bicycle’s potential to enhance the quality of life around the world and to solve global challenges such as congestion, obesity and climate change.” – Quote from VELO City About Section
Seeing the large presence of the bike culture in Copenhagen is an inspiration for PUBLIC’s mission. Check back soon for daily updates from our trip to Europe.
“Pretty classy look, but that one striped sock is going to make us a global laughing stock.” Uni Watch, on the US uniforms
Around the PUBLIC office most of us are big fans of the World Cup. One of our staff even set off last week to join the fun in South Africa. There is no rational way to explain our exuberance. We don’t chat about every soccer match, and we don’t suit up to play on weekends. But the truly international and democratic nature of the event is irresistible. The World Cup is so thoroughly optimistic. Where else can North Korea and Germany get equal media coverage without political bias? Where else do we even hear about Cameroon or Slovakia? The World Cup is full of engaging cultural subplots. One of them is aesthetic – the uniforms themselves are celebratory and controversial. The US stepped out a bit this year with some quirky stripes that have been turning heads.
We are big fans of stripes also. Our obsession goes back to childhood memories: goofy socks, Dr. Seuss hats, summer beach towels, surf mats. Stripes drew us to the zebra and skunk over other beasts, because they seemed to insert fantasy into the natural world. These guys were not afraid to be themselves. And they appeared on fun stuff like candy canes. Stripes also appear in an array of authoritative applications: highway markings, referee shirts, military badges and flags. Serious design personas from Paul Rand to Paul Smith have been equally obsessed with stripes. Stripes pop up just about everywhere you look.
We’re selling lots of items with stripes: bikes, socks, bags and more. One of our most popular items has been our Nutcase Helmet with PUBLIC colors and stripes. This pleases us for a couple reasons. First, helmets are usually a clumsy but necessary piece of gear for most riders. They are often unflattering to most faces and hairdos. But these simple helmets tend to complement most faces, while protecting the coconut. (They meet all the rigid safety standards set down by the CPSC.) Beyond that, stripes on helmets bring out smiles in the public, and whenever we can contribute to some visual pleasantry in the world, we should do it.
We’re fans of David Byrne for all the cultural stuff he churns out and we think his Bicycle Diaries is a brilliant form of advocacy. We’ve written about him before. And we’re fans of TED. Both have quite special websites. We just received a note from his office:
“My own [TED] talk (it wasn’t a musical performance) was based on the idea that the acoustic properties of the clubs, theaters and concert halls where our music might get performed determines to a large extent the kind of music we write. We semi unconsciously create music that will be appropriate to the places in which it will most likely be heard. Put that way it sounds obvious…but most people are surprised that creativity might be steered and molded by such mundane forces. I go further – it seems humans aren’t the only ones who do this, who adapt our music to sonic circumstances – birds do it too. I play lots of sound snippets as examples, with images of the venues accompanying them…Enjoy.”
Byrne’s talk is also available as video podcast, downloadable free from the iTunes store.
Bike shops often get a bad rap for having attitude or being unfriendly to anyone but bike geeks. That’s changing big time. What could say “take your time, you’re welcome here” better than a friendly, on-site barista?
We were in Minneapolis last month. We stopped by the Angry Catfish bike shop where the barista served us this cappuccino with the foamy heart shaped adornment. It was nothing special for him – just another coffee. But it was very special. How many other kinds of retail stores provide this sort of pleasure? Maybe in Italy, but here in the US – and in a bike store?
It turns out that quite a few bike shops across the country boast a café – it’s becoming part of the culture. In San Francisco we have the Mojo Bicycle Cafe, a terrific local establishment where the modest barista allowed me to film her finishing off my cappuccino. Other caffeinated bike shops we have visited include the Juan Pelota Café at Mellow Johnny’s in Austin, and One on One in Minneapolis where you can find Moose and Masi’s together.
This cool bike shop in Lexington, MA, just opened. They are carrying a range of PUBLIC bikes as well as their own Honey bikes. Both are pretty sweet. For information on what other bike shops carry PUBLIC bikes click here. Not all these stores make and serve cappuccinos, but they are known for service and smiles.
If you frequent a bike café, tell us in the comments below, and we’ll make a list of them to share on our website. We’re guessing that Portland or Seattle might have five or six, given the regional addiction to coffee in the northwest. And if you send us a video clip of a worthy cappuccino foam topping, we’ll post it and send you a surprise gift from PUBLIC. Surprise gift means whatever item we have too many of. We’ll give you credit of course, but this contest is just for coffee nuts like ourselves.
That line is a rip off of a famous Honda ad slogan used when they introduced their cute 50cc motorcycle to the US in 1959. We launched PUBLIC last month in a more modest way in New York, but the event did bring out a lot of the “nicest people”. We had a happy group of 100 people riding from the ICFF Javits Center to the Tretorn store in SOHO. It was a great party. The weather was perfect, and we had a blast. This note is just a belated thank you to the fans that joined us and a promise to feature more photos and a video soon.
We had a wide range of people including Dutch designer Ghislaine Vinas (on an “Dutch” orange M3) and her cute Mom riding a classic Dutch Sparta. Other bloggers included Sam Grawe from Dwell and Vanessa Marie Robinson from For the Love of Bikes. It was a perfect NY afternoon and something of a love fest that might even warm the heart of a cynical New Yorker. You only get to launch a company once, and we feel flattered by the “nicest” people who turned up. Lloyd Alter at Treehugger summed it up pretty well:
“On the bike trail next to the West Side Highway we were passed by many on far fancier, more expensive bikes, with riders wearing colourful lycra and clip-in shoes. I thought that they were a lot faster, but we were having a lot more fun.”
There was one major complaint: “The ride should have lasted longer.” We covered three miles and cruised at a leisurely pace and the whole ride lasted less than 30 minutes. Ok, next year we will be back with a feistier ride and hopefully even more nice people.
Personal thanks to a few people who showed up and pitched in at the last minute: Khairi & Co, James Victore, Sunny, Marie, Hope, Lauren, Leslie, Larry, and the anonymous guy from Queens who joined up with us to help guide the ride.
Rob & Dan
PS. The Good News and Bad News about Orange.
You will see a lot of orange in the PUBLIC bike in Design Ride Manhattan. This is good. But we have already sold out of this color in several sizes, and we won’t have it back in stock until October. If you want a PUBLIC this summer, this would be the best time to order.
I was lucky enough to meet and interview the First Lady of Livable Cities, Janette Sadik-Khan (and NY Times profile) in New York last month. (Her actual title is Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.) Sadik-Khan oversees the way people get around in the Big Apple. It’s one of those jobs that is a little hard to get your head around: she manages 793 bridges and over 300,000 streetlights on a daily basis. And there are impromptu events everyday. For example, we watched President Obama land in his chopper from her 9th floor window office and the ensuing traffic problems as a result of his motorcade. No two days are the same.
I am a big fan because she has done more to make US cities livable than any recent person we know. You’re welcome to challenge me on that in the comments below. I would be happy to meet another person in the US who surpasses her in accomplishments.
Consider these recent New York City milestones:
Transforming Times Square into a pedestrian zone
200 miles of on street bike lanes
1200 new outdoor bicycle racks
600 signs to guide cyclists
35% increase in commuter cycling from 2007–2008. Think about that. 35%.
The changes she brought about in New York set an example for other smaller, less complex urban environments. You only have to go to Manhattan and pedal around to appreciate what these accomplishments mean. You can get almost anywhere in New York City pretty easily. And riding across one of the bridges is a real thrill.
Her actions and leadership make so much sense in light of the BP Gulf Coast debacle. We can chastise BP and “Big Oil” all we want. But as long as our society maintains the current rate of oil consumption, we should can expect more disasters to occur. Sadik-Khan’s rationale for reducing cars in the city has less to do with preventing future natural disasters and more to do with solving immediate and pragmatic urban issues of congestion and mobility.
According to Sadik-Khan, “projections show that one million more people are expected to move to New York City over the next 20 years. Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for the city recognizes that the only way to accommodate that growth is to improve public transit and make cycling a real transportation option for New Yorkers.”
It is great to see a woman in a leadership position like this. US transportation design culture (cars, bikes, trains) has traditionally been male dominated. Robert Moses might have his own opinion.
Hear Sadik-Khan and join PUBLIC in Copenhagen
If you get a chance to meet or hear Janette Sadik-Khan talk, it’s worth it. Later this month she’ll be addressing an international audience at VELO City in Copenhagen. We’ll be there too, so come ride with us.