Monday, November 5, 2012

learning sf: laurel from public bikes

[Paula Scher for Public Bike's Public Works project]

In today’s learning sf, I sat down with Laurel Collins wholeft the world of industrial automation to first join the team at TchoChocolate before starting her current gig at Public Bikes. Public Bikes is adesign-focused bike company bringing bikes to the masses. They are about tolaunch their most affordable- and approachable- bike yet. I sat down withLaurel in a café across from their Valencia Street pop up shop, one of threePublic Bikes shops in the Bay Area, to talk biking and San Francisco.

Be sure to check out some upcoming events at Public Bikes atthe end of the interview!

Did you bike before taking a job at Public Bikes?
I’m generally athletic. I played soccer in college and aftermy soccer career, I started doing triathlons, because once an athlete, alwaysan athlete. I needed something to train for. So I was biking for the triathlons.I was not a casual biker. For me, bikes and cities did not come together. Itdidn’t occur to me, especially with a small child. Working with Public hasopened my eyes to a completely different world. Even with a child, you caninvolve bikes in your life to a much greater degree that I ever thoughpossible.

So if it wasn’t biking, what drew you to Public Bikes?
There was a philosophical match for me with the company. I’mpassionate about urban spaces and my own personal environment, having it be pleasingand rich and functional. San Francisco, for me, personifies everything I wouldlike in a city. It is functional, you can bring up a family here, there areparks, there’s color, different neighborhoods. It’s eclectic.  It’s just a great place to work andlive, so for me adding bikes to that whole mix a no-brainer.

Now I’m hyper aware of all the passion around biking thereis here. It’s one reason we’re on Valencia Street; it’s the center of the bikecommuting community.

How does design play a role at Public Bikes?
Our products are oriented around design and lifestyle. Ourcustomers are women who maybe haven’t biked in 5 years and they want to go downto the market with their functional, beautiful basket and put all their fruitsand vegetables in it, and go to work and tool around town and look good doingit. We’re not a super high tech bike-y type of company.

Those people are going to find those bikes, so what’sreally great is you are expanding the market for people like me who get here orto other cities and realize how much more convenient biking can be. Design hasplayed such a role in the company… founder of DWR
The accessibility of the bikes is part of the design of thebikes and the company. It is interesting to me that so few bike companies thathave anything quite like public bikes. They are sort of a nod to the past- theold French mixte, the Dutch step-through. I think people are getting back tothe time, when things were simpler and more carefree. When I look at the brandas an outsider, it’s fun. It’s playful. It’s almost like being a kid again.Back to the pure enjoyment of riding a bike, I get see that everyday [whenpeople go on test rides.] It’s probably the best thing about my job.

We don’t want to be any way exclusive. We want to beinclusive- we just want people on bikes.

[Jason Schulte for Public Bike's Public Works project]

What would you recommend to someone visiting the Bay Area?
That is such a hard question because there is so much to dohere. SF transcends the time in your life you are there. You could be a singleperson, you can be a family, but there is so much to offer for whatever part ofyour life you are in. I’ve been single here, I’ve been in a relationship here,and I’ve had a family here. I’ve done it all here.

I could get lost in Golden Gate Park any day of the week.I’m a huge gardener so I have a huge appreciation for the green, physical worldaround me. In GGP you can feel like you are in Jurassic Park when you are in aforest of Tasmanian tree ferns, or you can be in the arboretum, in a big dahliagarden, or walking around Stowe Lake, or a the Beach Chalet and outsidelistening to music at the edge of the park. To be able to go there with my sonto appreciate the wide open space.

Whenever people come into town, my husband and I aretremendous tour guides. We do the 49-mile drive, it seems so cliché, but itreally is an amazing experience that takes you from presidio all over thecity.  There is just so much. Oneevent that I feel like is a classic San Francisco event is Opera in the Park.Talk about a contrast, you are listening to sophisticated opera but you aresitting in the grass playing with your kids. It happens every year in Septemberin the park and for me, it’s a do not miss. You sit and drink wine all day andlisten to something people don’t think is so approachable but you put it inthat context and all of a sudden it’s just nirvana.

You grew up outside of Rochester and went to college onthe East Coast but now you've become a Bay Area convert, it sounds like.
I never imagined being a city dweller, because I neverimagined the city being a peaceful place for me. But I love having my peacefulplace and then walking out and having all the color of the city right there. Ilove the fact that my son can grow up around the city for all the good thingsand the bad. It creates awareness at a young age that this world consists of awhole lot of people in a whole lot of different situations.

Describe your perfect sf day.
To be quite honest with you, there is nothing more fun thanjust to pick a neighborhood- it may be Hayes Valley, it may be Dogpatch. I wasunemployed for a short period of time and I would just pick a neighborhood andsit in a coffee shop. You can walk two blocks in any direction in San Franciscoand be in a completely different neighborhood and culture. That’s my favoritething about this city; you can have some wildly different experience everysingle day. For me, being in the food industry for a little while, itfine-tuned my gastronomic interest and there is nothing I love more thanfinding a new great café in San Francisco. My current favorite neighborhood isDogpatch because it’s emerging and it has the sense of excitement and you’llwonder what it’s going to look like in six months or twelve months because it’sgoing to change.

Thanks so much, Laurel! Want to learn more sf? Check out all the interviews here. And now, the promised events: 

November 23- Black Friday Bike Sale
December 8- Valencia Street Holiday Party

Get updates on happenings and events at

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