The Good Life: Coffee with Beer Chaser

August 24th, 2010

Copenhagen Still LifeWe were in Copenhagen recently for a big biking event and took tons of photographs of Danes and their bikes. My favorite photo, however, is bikeless – just a café table top on the main drag, right across from Tivoli Gardens. The table was occupied by an old guy who looked like he might be a WWII veteran or a character out of some post-apocalypse movie. Gaunt face, old guy ears. He even had his aluminum crutches sprawled on the sidewalk next to his table. Not wanting to invade the moment, I just snapped a quick picture of his carefully laid-out table and another from behind him.

His table styling was better than any professional could achieve because it was real. It was a still life emblematic of the Danish character, soul, and culture. Morandi could not have done better. The guy had arranged his beloved objects just so, creating a strong sense of order and control: wool hat, tobacco pouch, coffee, corncob pipe, beer, plastic lighter, ashtray. The palette was impeccable as if worked out in advance with the café owner. It was a mixture of old and new cultural artifacts, made elegant and timeless atop a classic Danish teak table surface. It was a study in materials, simplicity, practicality, and self-sufficiency. Resourcefulness and design run deep in Danish culture.

Here it was, 11AM, and this man was alternating sips of beer and coffee, preparing for the day. There was such a sense of pleasure in the little things in life — the ones that we can take control of and author for ourselves. This guy was doing his part. It was a study in dignity, tradition and comfort — a reminder that these little things are a huge part of our lives.

What does this have to do with bikes? Everything. This is a study in the pleasure of independence and self-sufficiency — the qualities that first drew us to bikes when we were kids, and that still attract us as adults. We don’t need much to be happy.

If this guy were riding a bike today he would probably be on a single speed because of its simplicity and Copenhagen’s flat terrain.

Our Single Speeds Are On Sale

Danny on our Classic D1
Doubling up with the Dahon on a Vespa

We sell two basic modern lightweight single speeds: our classic D1 and a foldable Dahon Mu Uno. Why choose one of these over our geared bikes? Lots of reasons. First, they are easy to ride and will take you almost everywhere. For almost 70 years (from 1880 to 1950) most bikes had only one gear. In fact in the early Tour de France competitions, racers would have to change wheels to climb the mountains. There are different reasons today. They encourage us to ride more slowly and to look around more carefully. Stress levels are reduced when you are not concerned with speed. You do not race — you cruise. Think of our D1 as a modern cruiser.

The Dahon is less a cruiser than an ultimate utility bike. You’ll find numerous uses for it depending on your habits and needs. For example, I strapped it to my Vespa (with our Swiss bungee cord) when I dropped the scooter off for a tune up and needed a ride home. It’s perfect for short trips around the city. It fits almost anywhere: a car trunk, closets, narrow elevators, on public transportation and takes only 10 seconds to fold up. Works if you are 4‘6” or 6’4” and anywhere in between, so it is a great guest and family bike.

Ian showing off his own double-upSally on our D1Test riding a Dahon

Copenhagen: Where the Mayor does not wear a bike helmet

August 10th, 2010

Mayors and HelmetsCopenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen (right)

Mayors and HelmetsDanish “World Cup” helmets

Mayors and HelmetsMayors and HelmetsMayors and helmets

Denmark has a long tradition of helmets and head protection used for battling wartime opponents and confronting freezing winters. So they must know their stuff about protecting noggins. When we visited Copenhagen last month we took note that only a minority of the cyclists wore bike helmets in the city. We saw Nutcase helmets on kids, racing helmets on bike messengers, and some chic hats on women’s heads. But scarves were more common than helmets. The Mayor himself, the figurehead for the biking conference we attended, chose not to wear a helmet in the 2000 person bike parade we all took through the city.

Was he making a statement? Of course, he is a politician after all and very conscious of his public image and opinions. I did not interview him, but I can wager his rationale. He has reviewed the data over the last ten years in Copenhagen enough to know that bike safety is first and foremost a function of the number of people riding bikes and protected streets. He was campaigning to reduce the fear element associated with cycling. Many people think that cycling is unsafe and helmets often confirm this assumption. He was communicating what recent urban bike studies have shown — there is safety in numbers.

Serious injuries have declined by 20% in Denmark in the last decade as cycling has increased 20%. The same trends are seen in other cities. Take New York for a local example. Cycling is up 66% from 2007 -2009 and injuries are down 50%.

The key to safe riding is related to a range of factors: the number of riders overall, driver awareness, separate lanes, safe streets, and intelligent riding. At PUBLIC we are advocates for the concept of urban cycling as fast walking. The most entertaining dissertation I have read on helmet usage may be in David Byrne’s book and come from his personal efforts to cope with this issue.

Back to Mayors. Would Mayor Gavin Newsom ride a bike without a helmet? Probably not. Why? In the U.S., the infrastructure and culture for bicycling is far behind places like Copenhagen, so helmet use is generally encouraged.  Also driver awareness and respect here in the U.S. are much lower.  But Mayor Newsom was front and center today right in our SOMA neighborhood for a bike lane painting ceremony to mark the end of the painful injunction that has kept us in the dark ages.  Check him out painting the new bike lane. Now San Francisco can roll with the rest of the U.S. 
We love to see our Mayors taking action around the country on behalf of alternative transit. Mayor Bloomberg of New York, with Janette Sadik- Kahn, has been the poster child in recent years. But Mayor Daley of Chicago recently implemented the B-Cycle bike share program, throwing down the gauntlet: 

“My goal is to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States.”

We welcome the competitive spirit almost as much as new bike lanes.

– Rob Forbes



We sell helmets at PUBLIC, and we love them. And we encourage people to wear protection if they are riding fast, in dangerous areas, or where cars propose a threat. That Danish Mayor probably straps on a helmet when he is late for a meeting across town and biking over icy pavement. But we will also continue to lobby for safe streets, slow riding, driver education, and more Mayors on bikes.


Dad, Let’s Hit the Road.

July 26th, 2010

Kids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & Bikes

Put yourself in the position of a young child. You are given the choice of how to get to school, or to the store, with one of your parents on any given day. Do you want to go:

  • Buckled up or strapped down in the rear seat of a car with a view of the back of a seat and someone’s head? or
  • Sitting in front of a bicycle cart with the wind blowing in your face, fresh air, and a 360-degree view of the world with your parent behind, at the helm

This would be an easy choice for most kids. It would be like asking a dog if he would rather have his car window rolled up or down. But kids and dogs do not get to make these decisions on their own. Parents decide these things, based mostly on convenience, safety, or on fear. And thus we have major differences in various countries and cultures.

One of the most visible differences between US cities and cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam is that kids and parents are both highly visible on the streets in those foreign cities. They are everywhere omnipresent. I saw so many young parents with children on the streets on bikes that I actually asked one mother if the birth rate was especially high in Denmark. She laughed and replied: “No, our birth rate is actually one of the lowest in Europe. But the government makes it so easy for us to take our kids out on trips that you just see more of us in Public.”

Almost 50% of young children get around Copenhagen on bikes with their parents. It looked like these percentages were higher in Amsterdam. One in four parents in Copenhagen have a specially designed bicycle rig – cycle carts – for hauling their kids around town and are given special bike storage spaces on their neighborhood streets.

I have to believe that this bodes well for a child’s development. What is the lifetime value of experiencing the world from the front of a bike versus the rear seat of a car in early youth? What is it worth to learn to approach the world with a sense of adventure instead of fear? From where do we get our sense of confidence, independence and social connection? How cool is it to spend time with your parents doing something physical and fun everyday?

These thoughts were on mind as I watched so many parents pedaling their kids around the city. My Mom did not pedal me around in Pasadena where I grew up – we rode bikes ourselves, but I do remember how cool it was when my Mom got a convertible car. What is the value of fresh air and wind alone?

I cannot advocate the Amsterdam/Copenhagen bike mode for parents in many US cities that are not very bike family-friendly at this time. But I wish I could. What would it take to make more of those Danish kidmobiles common on our streets? It will take governmental policy, community leadership, courageous smart Mayors, separated lanes for bicycles, and a lot more people riding and having fun on their bikes. Let’s get there.

– Rob Forbes

Photos taken in Amsterdam and Copenhagen

Also, this week at PUBLIC:
Free Shipping Ends Tonight
Special Deals On Clothing

Kids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & BikesKids & Bikes

Commuter Chic in Europe

July 14th, 2010

Commuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in Europe

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.

Commuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in EuropeCommuter Neckwear in Europe


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.


Quantifying Civilization

July 9th, 2010

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.

No need for a mini-van hereThe 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.

Note from Copenhagen: Hard-Core footwear

July 5th, 2010

Yellow sandals for commuting complete with matching toenail polish

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.

Bikes and sandals - a perfect picture of summerSocks over the pants make up for lack of chainguardSummer sandalsA more traditional lookRed heels, classic white fendered bike, and a skirted rider make a beautiful imageYou won't be seeing these in the Tour de FranceBallet slipper flatsA version of Chuck Taylors pedaling awayEven the simple flip flop is comfortable to ride withCasual sandals and a visual example of why a chainguard is a good ideaRed flats on a commuterCycling doesn't mean having to give up your business attireMaking a statement with blue Chuck Taylors - and check out those stripesIn the US, we're used to seeing flip flops like these on the boardwalk more often than on a bikePoppy red low heelsTasteful heels with denim - but when's the last time you saw this on a bicycle?Stylish strappy redBright blue flats

Critical Mass Danish Style

June 25th, 2010

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.

Bikes and fashion are a natural combinationCopenhagen's commuting cyclistsCyclists as part of traffic
Variation on the Danish "bucket bike"Enjoying the city sun on a bikeCharming young troupe of unicyclistsWe're not the only folks who love stripesAn inspiring display of style, attitude, and enjoymentClassy stripes on a canary yellow cargo bikeSome lucky kids getting an early start as bike commutersColorful and elegant unicycleStripes, cycling, and practical use of a bicycle rack

Different Gears – Same Destination

June 24th, 2010

Different Gears - Same Destination

PUBLIC attends VELO City 2010 in Copenhagen

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.

Copenhagen TrainTransporting a ladder by bike