Oregon Manifest Technical Trials 2011

The 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Design Challenge will be held in Portland, Oregon, on September 23-24, 2011. The goal is to determine what the ultimate modern utility bike looks like and who can build it.

The 2009 Constructor’s Design Challenge was an innovative event that focused on riding bikes over a challenging course. Inspired at least in part by the famous French Technical Trials, the Challenge awarded points for desirable features. Unfortunately, the penalties for “problems” were inconsequential in 2009, even though several bikes had racks coming loose, fenders breaking, unsuitable tires, and a host of other problems. Thus, the on-the-road test was instructive to observe, but neither on-the-road performance nor failures influenced the final results.

Over the last year, it appears that the Oregon Manifest crew has examined what worked in 2009 and what needs to be improved. I hope that there will be clear rules, published months before the event, so that builders can determine their likely scores as they design their bikes. Performance on the road should be required (for example, by imposing a minimum speed), and failures should be penalized. One thing probably should not change: The course was both challenging and scenic (see photo above), and it truly tested the bikes. The 2009 event was great fun, but with some careful fine-tuning, the 2011 event has the potential to be much better. I really look forward to next year’s Challenge. More info is at the Oregon Manifest web site.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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15 Responses to Oregon Manifest Technical Trials 2011

  1. Jimmy Livengood says:

    Great news. I missed it last year, and hope to put it solidly on the calendar for 2011, looked like a bunch of fun from the reports. As a spectator, I’d love to see more explicit rules so we can make our own judgments about how well a builder did in creating an appropriate bicycle.

    I’d love to see some of the on-the-road trials have a “leveling–the playing field” effect. A short bus-ride would be great, where a bike that can’t fit on a bus rack instead has to ride that part of the route(arranged so that this is a disadvantage in either time or expended effort). Also, a large-load carrying section, where something like a bakfiets can make only one trip, but a rando bike might require two or three trips to transport the load. A stair-carry to simulate apartment living would in turn favor a rando bike, not the box-bike.

    After a participant locks up their bike, perhaps it would be fun to give a spectator a multi tool, and they get 60 seconds to remove and “steal” as much of the bike as possible. Participants must re-install before continuing, and points could be deducted based on the $ value of the stolen items.

    It’s difficult to imagine a test where the long-term maintenance benefits of internal gear hubs could be evaluated, though the benefits of a chainguard are easier to spot. Again, an offsetting wheel-change test could balance things out for derailleured bikes.

    I loved reading about the on-road test, and I like that there isn’t any cost, marketing, or manufacturability criteria.

    I’m mostly just thinking out loud here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas or others.

  2. John Speare says:

    Jimmy — interesting ideas.

    I think if there’s interest in a “big load hauling” contest, it should be a separate category. I wouldn’t expect a daily/performant commuter bike to haul huge loads well, but I would expect it to haul small grocery/laptop/clothes load well.

    In my mind, the bakfiest/cargo truck/long bike style loads are pretty specialized and wouldn’t make sense competing against “ultimate modern utility bike,” which in my mind, has performance as a high priority criterion. That said, after trying all of the above styles of bikes, my heart is with the cycle truck specifically because IME, it is more performant unloaded than the other styles of big load carriers.

    In any case, clear rules/categories set out months in advance would be helpful.
    I’d love to ride it, but that minimum speed idea spooks me — though I think it’s a good idea.

    • Dan Connelly says:

      Given the number of pick-up trucks which are purchased as daily commuting vehicles, I think it’s safe to say people value hauling capacity, so if a bike offers that it should be rewarded in competition even the consequent disadvantages would in practical designs offset the point gain. While I may only rarely buy a piece of furniture, for example, if my bike allowed me to do that it would improve my options as a non-car-owner. The points should ideally reward useful characteristics without a pre-conceived bias about the bike design, or about the limits of a particular favorite bike design.

      • Pick-up trucks are popular as long as you can stick huge, powerful (and gas-guzzling) engines in them. On a bike, the engine horsepower is limited! If all cars had to make do with the same 500 cc, 30-horsepower engine, you would see very few full-size pickup trucks on the road! I suspect many drivers would downsize their cars, so that they can go at reasonable speeds and up most hills…

        I have ridden cycletrucks, including really smart designs like the Frances Smallhaul, but for my custom commuter bike, I traded some hauling capacity for speed and enjoyable riding characteristics. It all depends on the distances you cover and the terrain. The further you have to go, the more important performance becomes.

      • Ray says:

        I think an occasional 50-pound bulk load would happen from time to time, be it bags of compost/soil/concrete mix or sacks of brown rice or birdseed/chicken feed.
        And yes, dog food. But I might be willing to tow a trailer for those times.

        Concrete mix would be very unforgiving on racks partly due to density and fragility of the paper sack to corner penetration.
        And the bags don’t flop over a rack.
        Would you rent or borrow a car just to get a cheap bag of cement for a repair or setting a post? Delivery charges are not worth it. Carrying it a few miles? Bingo.

        I would buy 25-lb sacks of bird seed which was tolerable to carry on top-tube and handlebars or in a big messenger bag for at most a couple miles, but if they had 50-pounders and I saved ten bucks and another trip, and had a good rig to carry one, I’d have bought them instead.

        Two 2.5-gallon spring water jugs are another likely candidate.
        That much drinking water doesn’t last all that long.
        It’s about 41 pounds.
        Just one of those boxy jugs is 20 pounds and with other groceries boosts the weight quite a bit.

        And a mere case of beer in glass bottles is about 30 pounds.
        Add the groceries for a BBQ for six people plus a sack of charcoal and that’s a good load and it’s only one big evening meal. Do you want to make multiple trips for such a simple thing as an impromptu barbecue for a few friends?
        Do you want a dedicated cargo bike or an Extracycle for that?

        Me? I want a large front rack, some kind of bags mounted to the bike, and if necessary, I’ll carry something bulky and light on my body.

      • Ray says:

        Dang! I forgot that 5-lb bag of ice for the beer.

    • Jimmy Livengood says:

      John, I see your point about the distinction between a large-hauler and a more universal modern utility bike. Still, there are plenty of folk who are happy to go a bit slower and commute on an xtracycle or whatever. For them “ultimate utility” means being able to make middle-of-the day decisions to pick up 50lbs of dog food, not have to go home for a different bike or trailer or car to run that errand. Though, two 4-gallon bucket panniers exactly fit a 50lb bag of dog food, so there’s always that sort of solution, too. I’ve got some sketches for a “rando-truck”, I think that’d be a fun thing to try.

      I know the Metrofiets in the last competition had a shortened frame and smaller carbon-fiber deck, plus an attachment point at the center of gravity for a custom shoulder carry-strap. I like seeing that kind of innovation, and I personally don’t want to see this become just a rando-bike with locks competition.

      Disclosure: My buddy Matt rode the Metrofiets last year, so I’ve probably got some bias. Although I personally don’t own a cargo bike, so I clearly don’t think they’re the solution for everyone.

  3. Why should there be a minimum speed in technical trials? Speed is important not just because a good urban bike must be able to cover significant distances efficiently. Most of all, riding faster stresses the bike more. In the 2009 Oregon Manifest, many riders averaged less than 12 mph. Not only does this allow them to go easy on the bike (perhaps even walk bumpy sections), but it also allows them to repair problems on the road, out of sight of spectators and the jury. The bikes that developed problems in 2009 almost all were ridden by the faster riders, who usually were “hired hands,” while those ridden by the builders themselves usually did not report problems.

    A minimum average speed would make sure that the bicycles have sufficient performance to make them useful transportation tools. It also would stress them enough to make flaws in design and execution apparent even over a relatively short riding distance.

  4. Steve Palincsar says:

    The discussion has kicked around a number of different concepts of “utility”. Some of those concepts are mutually exclusive, and designs that do one well are virtually useless for other, very different, notions of utility. I really don’t see much value in lumping together everything from short distance city bikes to light tourers to heavy duty cargo bikes into one class and pitting them against each other in one all-encompassing test.

    In over 28 years of commuting to work from the suburbs to downtown Washington DC, I never once saw anyone commuting to work on a cargo bike. I used to see plenty as a kid growing up in the South Bronx, but they were all owned by the grocery stores and operated by store employees. I can’t imagine anyone using such a bike for anything other than delivering groceries. Nor, for that matter, can I imagine any commuter I ever knew stopping off on their way home from work to pick up a 50 lb bag of dog food. One small bag of groceries or maybe a baguette, sure; but a week’s worth of groceries, not a chance.

    I’m not even sure it would be possible to devise a trial that would fairly be able to include both long distance suburb-to-downtown commuting and short distance inside-the-city riding. Bikes optimized for short distance in-city use wearing non-cycling apparel are at a horrible disadvantage once distances get over around 5 miles compared to light touring bikes. Although, come to think of it, if you required that at the final destination all participants appeared in formal business clothing and counted the time for the change of clothing; required riders to walk at least a half-mile in a supermarket pushing a grocery cart (which would certainly punish the wearing of cycling shoes and Look style cleats); and punctured a back tire the participants had to repair, you might come close to leveling the commuting playing field.

  5. One question that has not been raised is cost. Does it even make sense to buy a custom bicycle if you ride 10 blocks to work? Or should you get an old beater, and if it breaks down, you lock it to a lamppost and walk to work, dealing with it later? Especially if there were old beaters available with chainguards that protect your suit. (Should we import old beaters from the Netherlands?)

    However, if you ride 12 miles to work, you spend about an hour each way on your bike. If those two hours are spent more enjoyably, that is worth a lot to me – like having a little vacation every day, when I most need it. For me, it makes sense to invest in a great bicycle to enjoy those two hours. And it’s worth carrying the bike up the stairs at either end of the trip if I can’t lock it up safely on the street.

    I see the greatest need for high-end, custom commuting bikes in the area of longer commutes over varied terrain. Cycling apparel should combine function with style. On Seattle’s hills, it’s hard to ride more than a few blocks in a business suit… unless you want to dry-clean it every day. Horse-back riders manage to look dashing in functional clothing. More and more cycling clothes in that vein are available again. Dress codes are changing as well. You should be able to step off your bike and into a meeting without changing clothes.

    • Jimmy Livengood says:

      Jan, I think cost, for the most part, should not be raised in the context of this competition. This seems mostly like a concept show, and I expect that these one-off creations are much more expensive than a production model would be.

      I see this as a vetting of ideas and methods. It seems less an argument that one needs a custom bike, and more of an argument that production bikes should be available that mimic the successful custom bikes.

      Steve,
      I see at least two regular xtracycle commuters on my normal route. I stop for groceries all the time, and there are many bicycles in the grocery store bike racks around here. So our anecdotes differ. Not seeing people on cargo bikes is maybe a sign that they suck for everyday use, all the more argument for developing a better cargo bike.

  6. The solution may be different categories for different purposes, with different loads to be carried. For the “fast commuters,” I’d suggest a laptop (or a reclaimed wooden plank cut to the same size) plus six glass bottles of beverage. For the “load haulers,” make it a 50-lb bag of bird seed plus the six bottles of beverage… The “load haulers” could start mid-way on the “race” course, riding 40 miles instead of 80, as long as they would get at least some of the gravel sections that did such a great stand-in for cobblestones and other poor surfaces so common in urban environments.

    I know that few people will ride a load-hauler 50 miles non-stop, but you need some distance to see whether the bike holds together. In fact, a multi-stage event over several days, like the French Technical Trials, would be best. They went over 400+ miles of rough, unpaved mountain roads… which really tested the bikes.

  7. Kathryn Hall says:

    Finally, after many years of year-round commuting and grocery shopping with rear-loading bikes, I have a custom, low trail, 650b bike that I use for those jobs. It is an absolute joy to ride and easily takes 35 lbs on the front. Even though my commute is only 5 miles each way, for me, it’s worth the money. I use the bike for touring, and even for day rides since it has such a lively and fun ride. For really big loads I use a trailer. So, in answer to the question regarding the use of beater bikes – chacun ses gouts!

  8. Dan Boxer says:

    I agree that having two different categories for cargo bikes and fast, longer distance commuters is appropriate.

    Perhaps a wheelbase cut-off would indicate cargo bike? Or overall rated load-capacity?

    And then there’s the question of riding position and yes, business attire, which brings to mind the step-through frame or mixte. Low-standover height is not an issue for me, but I love the idea of riding well into my later years, so a high performance step-through is a very interesting proposition.

    For me, as a near-38 year old fairly fit rider, performance is of utmost importance. If my 12 mile commute is a slog on my uber urban bike, then I’m less likely to enjoy it through the 9 months of rain in Seattle, and may even ride less. I no longer have a 12 mile commute, as my workplace is combined with my home, so this is truly hypothetical.

    There’s another use for cargo bikes not being discussed. Perhaps someone else will bring it up?

  9. Brian Porter says:

    Dan, I am guessing that you are referring to carrying kids. This is where the box bike (or Xtra-cycle style bike) would come in really handy. Perhaps the short distance/high load carrying capacity phase of the challenge could feature a simulated trip to the day care center!

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