San Francisco entrepreneur speaks at UTPA
Robert Forbes is a man adept at blurring the lines between aesthetics and function. Practicality and vision. Business and art. Forbes is the founder and owner of PUBLIC Bikes, a small company based out of San Francisco with an emphasis on practical and chic bikes for transportation around cities.
“They’re a unique, European-style bike that is very well designed, specifically for people using them in cities,” said Forbes of his product.
On April 12 and 13, Forbes came to the University to talk to students and non-students alike about business and design in public spaces. He was invited to Edinburg by John Sargent, a UTPA business professor, and UTPA librarian Virginia Gause as part of the campus’ Fifth Annual Entrepreneurship Speaker Series.
“My dream to bring designer Rob Forbes to UTPA began about eight months ago when I was shopping for a bicycle and first learned of PUBLIC Bikes through a ‘free bikes’ ad in the local Sierra Club newsletter,” Gause said.
Forbes spoke on campus twice. On the first day, he focused on the financial side of his life. Speaking in the Business Building, Forbes covered his business’ history and future.
“We have a terrific little young company,” he said. “We do a lot of promotion of other sustainable businesses, and we’re a little bit of a nexus for contemporary urbanist thought.”
Forbes started in ceramics, then furniture, and eventually made his way to designing bikes and started a small business near San Francisco’s South Park. PUBLIC Bikes are catching on in the surrounding area and slowly spreading to the rest of the country, with a target of selling 50,000 bikes a year. The goal of the company is not to make as much money as possible, but to become sustainable and make the PUBLIC Bikes’ unique design more available.
“They’ve got a coordinated aesthetic which makes them different from a lot of road-type bikes,” said Forbes, referring to the bikes’ upright handlebars and lightweight steel frame.
PUBLIC Bikes bicycles are known for coming in bright, vibrant colors, something Forbes particularly appreciates when he observes design, which is what his second presentation covered. Forbes showed over 150 PowerPoint slides depicting what he considered particularly striking and impressive design (intentional or unintentional) in public spaces, including elevated town plazas in the Netherlands and the curved bike path adjacent to Second Street in McAllen.
All the pictures were photographs that Forbes had taken himself, many of which were from his journeys in Cartagena, Columbia. He pointed out the artistry in everything from food carts to trashcans to padlocks.
Forbes commented on how often in a society that mostly uses cars to get around, people lose sight of things in the world around them.
“Riding a bike is … a way of being more closely connected to (your) communities,” Forbes concluded.