Public Bikes

Public is a new company out of San Francisco headed by Rob Forbes of Design Within Reach and Studio Forbes. In April of this year they’ll be debuting their line of bikes “designed around the style and principles of the classic city bikes of Europe, updated with new technology and modern materials, and adapted to the U.S. market.”

Public Bikes

[via Bike Hugger]

32 Responses to “Public Bikes”

  • Giffen says:

    It’s great to see that so many people are starting to get it when it comes to elegant, practical bikes.

    Have you seen the new Dutch bikes from Republic Bikes? Velouria has a nice post about them on her blog.

  • Rick says:

    I’m very conflicted about this; it’s nice to have bicycling become more mainstream, and as such, draw in people like Rob Forbes; as he did with furniture, Forbes never misses a trick to make copies of the real thing. Don’t we already have enough Chinese look-alikes? Doesn’t Electra lead the market in this sort of approach?

    I’m not against this as a business model, per se, as long as people know (and I wish I could italicize this) these are copies of the real thing, and as such, will not ride as well, be as comfortable, or last as long as a real bicycle. After looking at his brochure, I think he’ll be catering to uneducated consumers looking for a certain “style”, and that’s a shame.

    But if this is the price we pay for popularity, then so be it.

  • rdhd says:

    Given how expensive their (ugly, imo) furniture is, I am scared to see the prices on their bikes. I am also concerned with the general idea that a furniture company has decided to design bikes–not because they like bikes or know a bunch about bikes, but because they think they look cool. That does not inspire confidence.

  • Gary Fisher says:

    I took a close up look at one of Rob’s bikes, not junk! well done. The real question is who does the final build and sets the rider up.

  • Buck-50 says:

    Ugh. Bikes designed around “the the style and principles of the classic city bikes of Europe” won’t work here. This look like another case of someone designing a bike for a market they don’t actually listen to.

    We need to stop looking at bikes in Europe as our be-all end-all of commuting awesomeness. What works in pancake-flat Amsterdam doesn’t work in Seattle. What works in temperate Paris doesn’t work in Minneapolis. We need bikes designed for the rigors of American commuting- crappy potholed roads, lousy cycling infrastructure, indifferent drivers, and much longer commuting distances. Pretty singlespeeds don’t answer any of these problems.

    There are already more than enough really good $650-1200 commuter bikes in the US. We’re full up. What we need is a decent bike that can compete with the $200 POS from the big box stores.

    There’s nothing these bike can do (besides looking pretty) that a 15 year old mountain bike can’t do better and cheaper.

    Maybe that’s what america needs- someone to recycle and re-powdercoat old MTBs for the masses. Then you get pretty colors, function and cheapness.

  • Alan says:

    Public bikes will be priced from $650-$1200. I’m excited to see someone of Rob Forbes’ stature from outside the industry take notice and enter the market. To me, this indicates a level of mainstreaming in practical bicycling we haven’t seen in a very long time, if ever.


    PS – I saw a pair of Electra Ticinos in Sport Chalet the other day. I thought that was pretty cool. To me it was another indication of the mainstreaming of practical bikes and bicycling.

  • Perry says:

    I can see both sides of the argument here but all in all, it is good to see more options for people who want to buy a new grocery-getter-commuter-knocking-around bike without fanfare or having to resort to rolling their own. So to give these a thumbs up.

    And Rick, you have forced me to try italics just to see if it works.

  • Rick says:

    Based on Gary’s observations, the next time we’re over in the City, I’ll go over and take a look–but I’ll remain skeptical until then.

    It’s interesting that Alan should bring up the Electra Ticinos–that’s exactly the bike I was thinking of when I wrote about this last night; three years ago, I bought an Electra Amsterdam based on how it looked, as opposed to thinking about the actual function of the bike: within three months, pieces of it fell off, the seat post bent, spokes broke on a regular basis, the bottom bracket seized, and the generator failed to work (after dark, no less). But it looked great, if you know what I mean.

    I just don’t believe that “form over function” works for a bike–and I won’t be fooled again.

  • Rick says:


    How do you write in italics? HTML code? I’m not a computer guy, so….help, please?

  • Alan says:

    According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is $28,400. Given that, certainly a $2000-$3000 bike seems like a steal. Yet still, outside the small circle of bicycle “enthusiasts” (I hate that word) anything over $600-$700 is considered an “expensive” bicycle (this is the feedback I get from dealers). Believe it or not, according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the average unit value of all imported bicycles is a mere $58.76. If you limit the figure to bicycles with 700c wheels only, it jumps to a whopping $273.02… LOL. In any case, you see my point – we have a long way to go before high quality bicycles are perceived as a good investment by the general, “non-enthusiast”, public.


  • Perry says:

    In my opinion, the primary reason people buy Electras is not because of “form over function,” or as my boss used to say, “fabulous marketing,” but rather that they want crank-forward design at a reasonable price.

  • Michael says:

    I am always disappointed that these urban/commuter/slow style bikes do not include lighting.

  • Perry says:

    Rick, I could tell you how to italicize but then I’d have to kill you. ;-)

    But seriously, try this code below but delete the asterisks (*) and see if that works for you.

    italic text here

  • Alan says:

    The Trek Belleville competes with these bikes and it comes stock with a lighting system:

    I’m hoping to have one of these for review later this year. Trek tells me the Belleville is selling so well they can’t keep up, so for now every unit is going to their dealers, which is great news.


  • Perry says:

    Argh! I got mucked up. Alan will have to clarify somehow.

  • Alan says:

    @Perry & Rick re HTML coding within the comment window..

    You can use most basic HTML tags within the comment window. Normally, we can use a special tag to share source code, but within the WordPress comment system the special tag doesn’t work, so the code you’re trying to share is read and implemented instead of being shown as text. Instead, have a look at the screenshot below…

  • Rick says:

    Perry, I hear what you’re saying, but it’s the “reasonable price” part that worries me; if I’m not an informed “bike enthusiast”, but I see a bike with cool colors and an assortment of sellable bells and whistles, take it home, ride it everyday for three months, only to have it keep breaking, will I get so upset that I’ll stop riding? Will tell all my friends what a lousy deal bicycling is? By selling cheap bikes, is the industry ultimately hurting itself?

    I’m not saying you can’t sell a reasonable bike for 600 bucks, but I hope (as Gary mentioned) not only is the set-up and fit important, but also that the sales people explain what the bike is designed to do–and, more importantly, what it can’t do.

    If Forbes can have his people properly educate consumers to have realistic expectations about the bike, then fine; but if he can’t, it won’t work–and people who might otherwise enjoy biking as a way of life might get turned off… and that would be bad, you know?

  • Mark K says:

    Alan, I was hoping to test a Bellville the other day. Unfortunately the LBS didn’t have any in…had to take a spin on a GF Simple City 3 while the wife tested a nice little Specialized Secteur Sport.

    To Buck-50, I am not so sure you’re entirely right about what would work here or there. With respect to hills and such, I do see cruisers and Dutch bikes rolling the hills in Seattle with some regularity. With one exception, I can’t think of a hill here (speaking Seattle city limits) that doesn’t have a more reasonable ascent somewhere. It may take a little longer, but there’s an easier route up most hills here.

    As for what works in temperate climes versus others, I think that’s bogus. Look at Euro bikes. The same type of bike is being ridden all over Europe…from the warmer (and often hillier) southern regions to the northern portions with much more variable weather.

    One point you do make, and that’s our commutes are different here. Our poor cycling infrastructure, combined with poorly maintained roads and long distances make it more difficult to nail down a good bike for doing so…what’s best for the potholed, rougher roads are not as easy/comfortable for the long rides. What’s easiest for longer rides will rattle our bones on the poor roadways….

  • Gary Fisher says:

    My bike must have:
    fenders and a cycle cape, rain does not stop me.
    gen. lights, I can ride anytime.
    chaincase, no greese, eazy to maintain.
    a rear rack. clip on bag, I shop!
    A kickstand, a good quality bell.
    and because I am in the states, it’s gotta be fast to keep up with traffic and light because I take it up stairs!
    AND it should be long lasting like a Chris King headset, cheap in the long run, always, always ready to go at MY service.
    Now thats a well designed bike!

  • Rick says:

    Mark, it’s a shame you’re not closer to Sacramento–we’re having a number of bikes on display for our Tweed Ride this Sunday, and I just got off the phone with the local Trek dealer in Davis; he’s going to bring out both a men’s and women’s Belleville for people to check out (I asked about him bringing one of Gary’s Simple City bikes, but he said he was out of stock–a good sign, no?)

    Also, the MyDutchBike folks from San Francisco are bringing a Bakfiet and some other bikes to show and offer for rides, plus we’ll have a couple of classic bikes from local museums on display.

    It’s going to be a great time!

  • Buck-50 says:

    Mark k, I don’t doubt that you see cruisers and dutch bikes in seattle- I’ve seen a guy commuting on a 80’s style funny bike. But what I’m getting at is that there is no one solution to commuter bikes in the US. We’re an enormous country. What works in one place with very special conditions doesn’t work everywhere. Here in the US, the late 80’s MTB probably comes closest to being our one-size-fits-all solution- gears, fat tires, nearly indestructible, easily left out in the rain, ubiquitous enough to not be as much of a target for theft.

    And yeah, you can get around the hills in Seattle, but that means adding time, and most folks these days would rather be stuck in slow moving traffic with their i-berries then figuring out how to find a less hilly route.

    These bikes appeal very much to already avid cyclists- the retro-nerd style with the knowingly dorky baskets and bags makes us feel in the know.

    But regular folks look at them and say yuck.

  • brett says:

    I disagree with the naysayers. I see Dutch and Dutch style bikes and Breezers and the like all over Portland, and I see “regular folks” smiling and wanting to try them out, including mine, because they look (and are) much more comfortable and practical for running errands and commuting than the typical american hybrid. The steel frame and big puncture resistant tires make a big difference in handling America’s rough streets. And the reliability — mine’s barely needed any maintenance at all, including pumping the tires, in two years — makes “regular folks” feel like they don’t have to be a bike nerd to get to work reliably.

    You just hop on and ride — don’t have to add a fender or chain case or bell or back rack or kickstand or lights or lock because they’re all there already. You don’t have detach the wheel and that other nonsense. Just lock it and go. That’s pretty much what I do every day — get on bike (maybe putting on rain gear), ride to my destination, get off bike, lock it, come back, unlock and take it home. repeat as needed. no other tinkering or fussing needed. I do take it to my local shop for a once a year checkup.

    Every time one of my “regular,” non bike nerd friends has ridden my Oma, she or he wants to buy one because the ride is so smooth and comfortable. That is NOT the case with a 15-year-old mountain bike. It wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable nor nearly as reliable. Do not confuse a real steel Dutch bike with the Electra knock off, which is admittedly pretty but by all accounts not nearly as robust or sturdy.

    I agree with Gary that I’d want a dynamo lighting option on these Public bikes, and a full chain case (which not only keeps my clothese clean but also makes a big difference in reducing maintenance, says the mechanic at my bike shop when I asked him to check to see if it needed any cleaning or lubing after a year). But generator lighting does add some up front cost (though is cheaper and greener in the long run), so you want a no-lights option to reduce the entry cost barrier for people who already have clip on lights.

    I do agree that single speed models won’t work all the time for a lot of places, especially SEattle and SF, where I’ve also ridden. But in general the “flat European city” claim is, as Mark notes above, a myth: My Oma has eight speeds, and that seems fine for my urban errands and commutes in Portland, which admittedly don’t take me up any super steep climbs. And because my building has a bike storage room, I don’t have to carry her upstairs. So I’d rather have the weight and comfort and sturdiness of steel, though I can see a place for a lighter weight option.
    These kinds of bikes aren’t for bike nerds or uber commuters who take long, sweaty rides through the hills but rather for regular people: shoppers and commuters who need to go less than three miles, which is the majority of American car trips. That’s who you see riding them in Europe — grannies and grampas and business types and college kids and everyone else except the bike nerds. I’m glad to see more of them in shops every year.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Doesn’t look half bad, though please enough of the long reach calipers. Just use some V-brakes and be done with it.

    I’ve often had the idea of trying to sell a “creation” using off the shelf components for this market. Something like a Handsome Devil frame, some VO components, V-brakes, and an internal or 1×9 drivetrain, dynohub, north-road style bars, Brooks saddle, rack, fenders, etc.

    Problem is, even something as basic as this would be ~1k, minimum, which is, as many have pointed out, more than most Americans want to pay for a bike. Case in point: the Breezers are probably the best-specced all-around commuting bikes sold in the US, but do they sell well? Not really. Most people think they’re too expensive. So they end up buying something cheaper. Then they might add fenders. And a rack. And a crappy lighting system. And so on and so forth. And by the time they’re done, they’ve spent damn near the same amount for not nearly as nice of a bike. However, it’s all about the upfront cost for most consumers.

    Not sure what the solution is other than either bring the component cost of “commuter” stuff down by sheer volume, or, more likely, figure out a way of better marketing good commuter bikes.

  • Alan says:


    “….or, more likely, figure out a way of better marketing good commuter bikes.”

    I think you nailed it. For so many years, racing was sold as “sexy”, while commuting was portrayed as boring and drab. There’s absolutely nothing that says transportation bikes need to be poorly engineered, ugly, and cheap. To the contrary, we believe bikes used for transportation serve a more important purpose that recreational bicycles, and as such, deserve more attention and a larger investment of personal resources. Part of our mission here at EcoVelo is to raise awareness of the value, enjoyment, and yes, beauty inherent in high quality commuter bicycles.


  • Gary Fisher says:

    IBD’s for years said: don’t sell us the bike with fenders etc. we want a better profit in the aftermarket sale. now half are saying bring it on. In Germany and much of Europe you call it a sport bike (MTB Road) or by law it must have, fenders, chaingard, bell, kickstand, lock and gen lights. 70% of the Euro market is this type of bike, I call them “Bikes That Do Things”. I bought my first one ten years ago. check out
    One of my strongest bikes. I have ridden this bike so much and it gets love only ONCE a year! about 50 lbs of fine steel.
    The US version of a high quality Commuter/shopper bike has just begun, parts, frames and ideas are starting to flow. The next few years should have some world rocking street wheels that we get to pedal!

  • Alan says:


    “Bikes That Do Things”… I like that!

    “The next few years should have some world rocking street wheels that we get to pedal!”

    I can’t wait to see what’s coming!

    Thanks for dropping by, Gary.


  • internal gear says:

    Here is a slightly different take on bicycle cost versus automotive cost and the perceptions of ‘value,’ perhaps applicable to both cyclists and no-cyclists;

    2010 Honda Civic Si coupe $22,055 MSRP
    2,900 lbs


    Civia Loring (and mine just might show up today!)
    $1,700 (the ’09 price)
    42 lbs


    That makes the Loring over 5 times more expensive ‘by weight,’ and not an electronic gizmo in sight. No lights. No roof. No heat. No doors. Less, far less, than 1 horsepower…

    Like I said, mine should be here today, Friday March 26.

  • Alan says:

    @internal gear

    I don’t think equating weight with value works unless you’re talking about things like food or precious metals. Most vehicles, particularly those that are geared toward performance and/or efficiency, get more expensive and are perceived as having greater value as they get lighter, not heavier.


    PS – Congrats on your Loring – you’re gonna’ love it… :-)

  • internal gear says:


    The first time I read about the ‘weight’ comparison was reading ‘Top Dead Center,’ at that time a regular motorcycle column by Kevin Cameron in Cycle World, and in part it pointed out the cost of low production volumes (amongst other things) that were applicable to the pricing of motorcycles, aircraft, and bicycles relative to automobiles. That was 1983 I think, and if you can find a copy still well worth reading. Not sure but it might also be included in a collection of articles titled, what else, ‘Top Dead Center’ Whew, 1983 feels like so last century.

    And the Loring doesn’t appear to have shown up today. :( Well the shop will call when it does, and then I’ll go put it together myself, and I’ll let you know.

  • Alan says:

    @internal gear

    Wow, Cycle World from the 80s… I used to read it back then. It would be very difficult, but I’d love to find a copy of the TDC article you mentioned.

    Have fun building your Loring, and send pics for the Gallery!


  • Charlie says:

    Looks to me like a fair weather bike, with the uncovered chain and too-short front fender without a mudflap.

    But bikes with real chaincases are starting to become more widely available…the most recently notable entry is the Schwinn NX7, with a 7-speed nexus internal gear hub for $550. Not as nice as some of the more expensive belt-drive or chain-case equipped bikes, and certainly not as pretty as some, but a very good deal for the money. I linked to the schwinn site listing of it from my name.

  • Darryl Jordan says:

    The price of bikes and what the selling price of the popular models is not based on weight, practicality or features as it is the purchasing memory of the first bike. When I was a kid (’60s, if I have to admit it) a bike was less than $100. By comparison, a $1000 bike these days “seems” expensive because we haven’t taken inflation into account in our memory.
    The corollary is that bikes for kids are thought to be more like toys for recreational use and to be outgrown. Therefore “investments” in bicycles is not a consideration when buying bikes for kids who trash ‘em as soon as they get ‘em.
    Therefore, most people do not outgrow the notion that bikes are cheap toys and usually balk at prices at more than a few hundred dollars. Not because of the current features but because of memories of what they used to cost. (LIkewise, in photography a professional camera would cost $400-$500 in the ’70s. Now they cost $3000. Even a $1000 budget D-SLR is a choking factor in my photo budget, just because I remember when…)
    So, I suggest that besides health benefits, oil independence, and commuting times are secondary arguments for a lot of people to the fact that a bicycle can pay for itself in one to two years.

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