Public Bikes lands in the East Bay.

Marketplace: A Very Public Display of Bikes


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Bikes for the masses.

Courtesy Public Bikes

Shopping for a bike can make the average Joe feel like he has to be the next elite spandex-clad racer. That’s not the case at Public Bikes.

San Francisco–based Public Bikes, now with a warehouse and store near Jack London Square, is bucking the “bicycling is only for those in training for the Tour de France” trend. The company’s two-wheeler designs are heavily influenced by the classic everyday bike designs popular in European cities like Amsterdam, where biking isn’t just for racers, but is the primary mode of transport for many. “Public” bikers don’t even have to wear spandex shorts, but Public does make a racing bike if you absolutely have to have one.

And everyone can hightail it over to Public’s Oakland outpost to kick a few derailleurs. The roomy warehouse/showroom in Oakland is right across from the Amtrak station near Jack London Square with plenty of room to ride and little traffic, so test-riding a Public bike couldn’t be easier.

Aside from the commuter aesthetic, what makes Public Bikes unique are their classic styling. In an age when many bikes are trying to look futuristic, Public opts for timeless appeal. Practicality is part of the Public mission statement as well. Public bikes feature shoe-friendly pedals (ride in just about anything, including combat boots), chain guards to protect pant legs, and tires that are wide enough to handle curbs yet thin enough for speed. Here are more details on some of their more popular models.

The C7 ($449). Public’s most popular bike, the C7 features a comfy upright riding stance on a “step-through” frame (these rides are more commonly known as girls’ bikes). Step-through frames came about to accommodate riders, usually women, wearing skirts. Never mind that women rarely pedal through town in a skirt these days. Better to just chalk this one up to longstanding tradition. It also boasts a crisp shifting seven-speed derailleur that, unlike many derailleur-rigged bikes with upwards of 21 gears that require two shifters, has just one handlebar-mounted shifter. Nice and easy. According to Public, even men buy them, but they’re usually wearing kilts.

The M8i ($1,095). For those looking for a step-through frame with a bit more oomph, the M8i (or “Mixte”) fits the bill. Decked out with an eight-speed internal hub in the back wheel that allows the rider to change from one gear to another without having to pedal into it, the M8’s design was all the rage in Paris in the 1960s.

But what really sets the M8 apart is the internal hub. Most geared bikes use a derailleur to change gears, which requires riders to pedal into the gear. But with an internal hub in the back wheel, riders can just click into the gear any time, whether they are pedaling or standing still. In stop-and-go traffic this feature is a blessing, as once stopped you can downshift into a lower, easier-to-pedal gear while waiting for the traffic to clear. Riders with derailleurs have to struggle those first few feet after a stop as they pedal into the lower gear (unless they’ve planned ahead and downshifted before stopping, but who does that?). The forward feel of the M8 allows riders to pick up a little more steam on the road as well. The M8’s also have reinforced wheel rims in case you plan on plowing through some potholes.

The D8 ($1,095). Featuring a horizontal crossbar (popular with boys for some reason), the D8 has all the features of the Mixte, including an eight-speed internal hub. The bright orange paint job, is, well, bright, but the model does come in green, and it’s also available in blue (all Public bikes come in at least three colors and can be delivered 99 percent assembled. That 1 percent of assembly work can be a killer, though).

The V7 ($449). Similar to the horizontally framed D8, the main difference with the V7 (as with the C7) is that it uses a cheaper and more conventional derailleur to switch its seven gears. The disadvantage here is that riders have to pedal into their gear of choice, which, as already mentioned, can be kind of a buzzkill when stopped. But the shifting on this model is so easy that most riders can probably live with the mild inconvenience.

For more information on Public Bikes, visit www.PublicBikes.com or stop by the Oakland warehouse/showroom at 205 Alice St., 510-251-1581.

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