Rob Forbes, creator of PUBLIC Bikes and founder of Design Within Reach, has a beautifully designed vision for the world.
He takes his vision for improving communities to the evolution of societies and the uprising of a ‘livable cities’ movement, where bikes are prominent. In the U.S., less than 1% of trips are made via bicycle. In European countries — like Holland, it can be as high as 30%. New York City and San Francisco are, according to Rob, the more ‘enlightened’ cities of neighborhoods; but it’s simply a matter of time before more catch on. Bicycles connect you closely to your community, increase your health and sense of well being, and — they make you look pretty damn good.
It’s no surprise that the founder of DWR and a former potter(!) with a bagckground in retail, strategically planted himself at the forefront of this movement. He paid close attention to the fixie movement, the street scene, and the DIY bikes that young people gravitate towards — and, he looked at it from the perspective of a design guy. “If you put a monochromatic palate on a bike — you’ve got the frame, the fenders, and you lighten the color on the tires. People look at you like that’s incredible.” said Rob.
And so PUBLIC was born.
PUBLIC started with inspiration from the mid-50s France — he looked at the mixte; the scale, size, and architecture, and used the best technology and bike designers to get the geometry just right — to make something simple, and recognizable. Color became an important aspect too.
“Bikes are narrow, so in order to make something really have character — you need to stick a bold, saturated color on it.”
He tells us that he’s always been a bike guy. He’s always had a bike, ridden around on bikes, and simple liked them as design objects the same way he liks chairs. “I just they they’re really cool,” he said.
His visions for the future are sourced in his daily way of living. He photographs beautiful objects that strike him, wherever he may be, as inspiration for new visual ways of looking at pattern and repetitions. Speaking with him, it’s obvious that he’s a purveyor of good design, but not just as a retailer — as a philanthropist.
Throughout our interview, he frequently referred to a life with a bike as a life you’re living. “You train yourself to look at things more visually,” he said. “You look at what the road looks like, the people walking down the street, the sounds from cars, the architecture, and what’s happening around you.” It changes your views.
“Everyone needs inspiration and music and creativity — but we don’t really need another sweater, bench, or chair. As a designer, you’re always going to do it anyways, but what could you sell, that if you sold more of it, could improve communities around the world? Bicycles.”
Previously published in the Design Issue of Snap Magazine.