Riding the Oregon Manifest

Two years after the inaugural event, the second Oregon Manifest design contest and technical trials were held last weekend. The Oregon Manifest crew put together a great event, even better than the first. I see the Oregon Manifest as an idea lab for the future of the urban bike. Builders, design studios and universities bring all kinds of concepts, and then try them on the road. Riding alongside the participants, we got to see the bikes perform over a varied course.

This year, the course was shorter – 50 miles – and the gravel sections were perhaps a bit too smooth to really test the durability of the bikes. Even so, it was clear that the builders have made improvements since the last event. In 2009, just looking over the bikes, you could predict that racks would fall off, fenders would break… and so they did on the rough gravel of the course. This year, most bikes were much better in design and execution, and failures were rare.

Compared to the past, the entries were much more varied, ranging from lightweight porteur bikes to heavy-duty load haulers that can carry hundreds of pounds. There were whimsical entries like the sidecars to carry dogs and even passengers, a neat little “campus” bike, many varieties of cycletrucks, cargo bikes, a three-wheeler and more. A lot of thought had gone into the design of every single one of them.

I don’t envy the jury who had to pick a winner in the event, because it is almost impossible to decide whether a long-tail cargo bike with electric assist is a better machine than a lightweight porteur bike. It all depends on who rides it and for what purpose.

Rather than picking a “winner,” I am interested in the innovative ideas that many of the builders and designers presented at the Oregon Manifest. The Winter issue of Bicycle Quarterly will have a full report from the event, and showcase some bikes that we thought offered particularly clever solutions for urban riding.

For the Bicycle Quarterly team, the fun continued after the event, as we rode back to Seattle via the lovely Old Columbia Highway and the challenging gravel roads across Babyshoe Pass. It was a true adventure, and a truly rigorous test for our new randonneur bikes. I’ll report on that ride in a future post.

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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10 Responses to Riding the Oregon Manifest

  1. Melinda says:

    Would you be willing to share the route that you took from Portland to Seattle?

    • We did the “Seattle to Portland through the Backdoor” in reverse, but added a few backroad and gravel sections between Randle and Morton. You can find the original post about that route here, with a link to the course map.

      • Melinda says:

        It does look like there are some lovely options for getting off Hwy 12 between Randle and Morton! I had my first tastes of gravel road riding this summer, and fell in love. It’s slower than the highway, but I think it’s a million times nicer.

      • Absolutely. On Monday, the highway was truly unpleasant in the rain, with spray from passing trucks going all the way across the shoulder. The backroads were lovely, and the gravel section, while unexpected, added to the enjoyment of the ride. As a bonus, we got into Morton right in the center, and bypassed the commercial sprawl that separates the town from Hwy 12.

  2. It’s exciting to see technical trials becoming a thing again; moving designers from their bike CADs and back to the saddle. I hope to see this really flourish.

  3. What a truly fantastic event. I’m renewing my BQ subscription to read the gory details!

    I hope it continues to grow, and would love to see it held some years on the East Coast. In the future, to avoid comparing apples to oranges, it might be interesting to organize it like a bench dog show, assuming enough entries. First the judges pick Best of Breed: Porteur; Long Bike, Super Commuter/Grocery getter, Heavy Loader (contest cargo to vary with category). The winner of each of these categories competes for Best in Show, which could include a shorter, but even more grueling trials course. The BIS judging would be weighted more heavily to innovation and functionality. Though I love me a steel bike, it would also be great to see a couple entries that use alternate, more sustainable materials and construction methods.

  4. djconnel says:

    I love the Frances! Glad to see he’s still at it a few years after the BQ review. I’m not an electric assist fan, in pedaling or in shifting, as it adds needless complexity: the beauty of a bike is in the simplicity with which it converts human power into useful work. The Frances does that wonderfully: http://oregonmanifest.com/2011/09/26/the-constructors-design-challenge-winners/

    • Yes, the Frances we tested was great fun to ride – a rare feat for a bike that can haul that much. And Joshua (the builder) rode his newest creation very well. He could even ride it no-hands!

    • Karl Amadeus says:

      In the end the classic “Long John” Design is hard to improve. Here in Vienna we welded Bikes like this out of old montain bikes and scrap metal that ride really great. The concept is quite simple but getting a really nice front end geometry proofed to be quite hard.
      But after all it’s imho still the best way to haul a cargo on two wheels.

  5. Dwainedibbly says:

    Thanks for the report, Jan. Mrs Dibbly & I attended the 2009 & 2011 events and will be looking forward to the Winter issue. Your comment about being more interested in innovations & ideas, rather than a single “winner” match my thoughts as well. I’m hopeful that we’ll see some ideas come to market, but I have to wonder since, other than a few customs, the market hasn’t produced any bikes with u-locks through the top tube, head tube and steerer, as was on the 2009 winner. It may be that there are patent issues, etc, that have prevented that one from being implemented but it’s a little disappointing.

    The flurry of ebikes doesn’t bother me. A few years ago I built one for summertime commuting in the north Florida heat & humidity. I sold it when we moved to Portland. I do have to wonder if bike mechanics are prepared to become electricians. Troubleshooting an ebike can require an entirely new skill set.

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