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Public Bikes Aims to Get San Franciscans Out of Their Cars

Ten years ago, Rob Forbes, the founder of Design Within Reach, visited Amsterdam. After days spent wandering the cobblestone streets, he was left with one prevailing observation: The city was dominated by bicycles. A vast majority of Amsterdammers—55 percent according to the Earth Policy Institute—peddle to and from work. A trend of that scale doesn’t go unnoticed—not by Forbes, at least. “I like going to a new environment and looking at what humans have created,” he says. “Amsterdam just isn’t a car culture.”

Which begs an obvious question: Why can’t San Francisco be more like the Netherlands? Despite the city’s progressive reputation and the seeming ubiquity of Lance Armstrong wannabes, the Bay Area biking scene is more a subculture than a dominant way of life. A reported 120,000 SF residents (16 percent) regularly commute on bicycle—paltry compared to Dutch numbers.

Forbes aims to change that with his newest venture, Public Bikes. It begins, of course, with the bikes. Not surprisingly, Forbes’ design highlights both utility and high aesthetics: Elevated handlebars promote upright posture—versus the crouched, head-down position of performance bikes, Forbes points out—for better visibility and a safer ride. The step-through frame is both practical and female-friendly. “You can even wear a skirt,” boasts Forbes. Modeled after the classic European cycles of the ’60s and ’70s but accented with yummy lime-and tangerine-like hues, the bikes beg to be ridden. Forbes hopes touches like these will tempt car drivers to convert and eventually result in more bike-friendly city planning.

In a nutshell, that’s why he ditched furniture design for bikes. “I wanted to be involved in a design-related business that had real social value,” Forbes explains. His mission is straightforward: “to help people get around more intelligently and more artfully.” But his ethos, which began at DWR and is now at the core of Public Bikes, is simply “to put a smile on people’s faces.” That, plus better posture and cleaner air? We’ll take it.

“I wanted to be involved in a design-related business that had real social value.”

Public Bikes’ line of two-wheelers will hit SF streets this summer.

123 S. Park Ave. 415-896-0123 publicbikes.com