An Homage to Rob Forbes

May 11, 2010

Behold: the Public M bike.

Rob, I’ve known since the old days in San Francisco when I was editing Dwell and he was running Design Within Reach.  And I’ve been waiting for his post-DWR company to emerge.  At first it had something to do with wine, and he did some very thorough research on the subject.  And then a new idea emerged: bikes.  Specifically, Americans need their own version of the standard Dutch city bike, and moreover Americans need to learn to ride bikes as the Dutch do, in ordinary clothing, business attire even, free of scary spandex shorts with pillows in the crotches.

In true cargo-cult fashion,  I’ve been waiting for this Dutch-inspired bicycle to appear.  Lo and behold, it has.  Or it’s about to.  Rob is poised to launch Public at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair on Sunday with a ceremonial bike ride from the Javits Center to the Tretorn Store in Soho.

The website is up and the bikes are really lovely.  The question, speaking as a New Yorker is whether a $1200 bike is really something I’d want to own, just because I’d be scared to leave it on the street, even with the most fearsome lock.  A couple of years ago, after endless bike shopping, I bought a 3-speed, Austrian-made Steyr, circa 1970, from a guy in Gerritsen Beach.  Paid about $150 for it.  Thought that at that price it wouldn’t matter too much to me if it got stolen.  Then I fell in love with it and wound up spending almost as much dough on a state-of-the-art lock.  And leaving it outside, even anchored by 10 pounds of indestructible Kryptonite chain,  still makes me nervous.  Rob’s  new bikes, in their creamy colors,  may be too beautiful for this town.  Or, at least, too beautiful for my fretful nature.

What I’m most impressed with, however, is how well Rob’s DWR-honed  marketing chops serve him on the Public bikes website.  Because he’s not just selling bicycles.  He’s selling accessories: less-dorky-than-average helmets, pretty red bells, and a very cunning basket.  The whole thing, the perfectly curated bike lifestyle,  reminds me of — dare I say it? — Martha Stewart.  When are you launching the magazine,  Rob?