Monday, September 26, 2011

Manifest's Destiny: Thoughts on Utility Bikes and the Oregon Manifest Challenge

Oregon Manifest Field Test-18
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
The Oregon Manifest took place over last weekend, and it was fascinating to follow. Having now become an annual tradition, this event is a competition among framebuilders - a "constructor's design challenge" - for creating the ultimate utility bike. What's a utility bike? You are not the only one who's wondering. Not only does everyone seem to have a different idea of the meaning of this concept, but the Manifest's parameters have shifted over time as well.

Oregon Manifest 2009: Cielo - III
image via scurvy_knaves
In the first couple of years of the competition, most of the participating framebuilders submitted some version of modified racing bikes or French randonneur or porterur inspired bicycles: aggressive diamond frame bikes designed to carry a front load (I believe the requirement was a case of beer). Only some of the entries were equipped with proper lights, fenders and other basics. This approach was criticised for taking into account the needs and abilities of only a small portion of cyclists, and for not being sufficiently condusive to everyday use.

Fuse Project - Sycip-3-22
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
But the 2011 entries were radically different. Nearly all framebuilders submitted some version of a cargo bicycle - ranging from contemporary versions of long-tails, to long johns, to front load box bikes and tricycles resembling small houseboats. Electric assist was used on what seemed like half of them. Mixte or step-through designs on some.

Frances-66
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
With this in mind, it is somewhat ironic that this year's competition seems to have garnered even more criticism than I recall in previous years - and mostly from transportation cyclists. All weekend long there was exchange about it on twitter that has been summarised in this post by Dave Feucht on Portlandize - the gist of it being that the winning entries suffer from lack of real-world applicability, making the Oregon Manifest "irrelevant." Personally, I would not go that far. But - with the disclaimer that I did not actually attend the show and formed impressions based on photographic evidence - my personal view is that this year's competition went too far into the opposite direction from which it started.

Ziba Design - Signal Cycles-5-28
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
Most of the designs I see in the show's documentation are so convoluted that I hardly know where to look, let alone how to operate the bikes. From side-cars, to bags suspended like hammocks, to complicated locking systems, to frames that look like they are designed for an acrobat, it seems to me that many framebuilders focused on bells and whistles rather than actual utility. It also seems like many of the builders worked in a vacuum - trying to design a cargo bike from scratch instead of taking into consideration the perfectly good, time-tested models that have been out there for decades.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-22
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
I suspect the judges felt this as well - because the winning entry was fairly simple in comparison to the others. But I agree with Portlandize that an integrated stereo and carbon fiber lock box for your lunch do not make a bicycle a "car replacement."

Curtis Inglis-Retrotec-2-40
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
There were a few bicycles in the show that - to my eye - were both simple and utilitarian, such as the Quixote/CleverCycles collaboration, the Rock Lobster bike, and the entry from Geekhouse. And my personal favourite in the show was the long tail + front loader by Retrotec/Inglis Cycles (above). The low step-through makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of gender and choice of clothing. The X-tracycle-based design and extra boards placed low in the rear allow for enormous loads as well as passengers, and the front utility rack allows for more cargo still. The design is harmonious and classic and the bicycle looks approachable to a moderately skilled cyclist - which I think is an important factor many builders tend to undermine.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-32
image via Jonathan Maus / BikePortland.org
Finally, I agree with the comment on Portlandize that the Field Test part of the challenge - a 50 mile on and off road course over a mountain - is not representative of how a typical person in North America would wish to use a heavy-duty utility bike. It was a relevant test when the randonneur style bicycles were prevalent among the entries, but not for bikes like these - the whole point of which is to carry much more than is pictured, but over shorter distances. With all the talk of "car replacement" in the guidelines, a huge cargo-style family bike seems to not have been what the organisers of the Oregon Manifest had in mind.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-45
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
There are many varieties of utility bikes out there and perhaps events such this would do better if they picked one and stuck to it, optimising all the aspects of the competition - including the field test - for testing that particular style of bicycle. There is a world of difference between randonneuring bicycles and long-johns, and a competition that is vague enough to include both - and then make them race against one another - is bound to evoke criticism.

"Identity before destiny" might be a motto to consider for next year's Oregon Manifest. And one could say that the same issue faces the utility bike market in North America at large. What do we mean by "car replacement?" Are stereos and electric assist must-have parts of the equation, or is it about ease of operation and hauling capacity? And is it reasonable to expect such a bicycle to win a 50 mile race?

64 comments:

  1. Ugh. This show has totally jumped the shark.
    Aside from the brilliant Quixote/Clever Cycles entry, some of the rest seem to be in some sort of imaginary contest to see how cargo chic and outre you can build or how to fabricate a gang plank, I mean front rack.
    Pulling in Rob Forbes as a judge and partnering design firms with local builders tells the tale.
    Apparently the field test is equivalent to a DMV moto exam in a parking lot, cos I sure don't want to ride a lot of that crap.
    Also I think their manifesto is dumb.

    Aside from that, I have no opinion on the subject.

    Note: the Inglis isn't a strong structural design. I believe Curtis uses it to transport bikes in boxes to be shipped, but regardless there is not enough fore-to-aft bracing to resist side-to-side twisting. The numerous swoopy tubes of the rack don't supply metal where it's needed. Though super step-throughs of Xtras exist, they are prone to instability if laden with more than moderate weight.
    Clever Cycles/Quixote design is far superior, allowing for a low step-through using small wheels and superior theoretical structural strength.

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  2. PS There are some fundamental errors in Portlandize's post that I won't go into but suffice it to say there's a lot about riding he doesn't know.

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  3. I didn't necessarily mean that the entire Oregon Manifest competition is irrelevant, just that the judges choices suggest that their decision/opinions are irrelevant to the future of utility bicycles.

    Ground Round Jim: What sorts of errors? (I'm honestly curious)

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  4. surely the challenge should be in the riding and let the framebuilders interpret utility how they will. Maybe a course that involves picking up a kid from daycare, stopping at a library, cafe and supermarket, taking a train and then cycling home again in after dark? The person who arrives first complete with child, exchanged library books, coffee, watermelon and intact bike is the winner

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  5. Portlandize - mostly it's about the mindset of not understanding muscle recruitment and why a slightly leaned over posture produces better efficiency and power. Once this is a parameter in the design equation, the bike looks very different.
    Some guys have very long commutes so speed and efficiency are paramount. The e-assists help of course, as in true cargo bikes, but the position is big. Hence, bikes porteur-style work much better than a Dutchie.
    Hub brakes are great, but discs are awesome too. There is a reason cars have them.
    You and the judges like the Tsunehiro, but given that there's a passenger seat it suffers from the same structural problem as the Inglis.

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  6. GR Jim - I didn't so much think of it as having jumped the shark, but as having gotten a little lost. I think it can be brought back. I really liked the Oregon Manifest as a mostly randonneur-type challenge, and its name "constructor's design" implied that it was indeed intended to resurrect the old French tradition. I forgot which year - 2008 or 2009 - Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly was one of the judges, and it was great to read his write-up in BQ. I was looking forward in it going in that direction - with increasingly better equipped, higher quality bikes submitted. What I suspect happened, is that this vision was not considered mainstream enough and they tried to make the event appeal to a wider audience.

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  7. Here's an excellent comment from Maus' blog the sums up how I feel about this show:

    Author: Dave
    Comment:
    I also have that bike! My lovely wife rode it to the party carrying:

    21-month-old child
    2-month-old child
    Diaper bag
    Snacks
    Water
    2 kid-wearing devices
    Rain gear for the whole family
    Locks

    and there was still room for a bag of groceries and another toddler if we were really pushed on it. One party-goer told me that there was a secondary show going on in the parking lot of designs that didn't get to formally compete. An "outlaw" show, if you will. Turns out he was just looking at the parking area. There was my bike, a couple bakfietsen, a couple Metrofiets, a couple Xtracycles, and various others whose owners don't work for months to dream up a concept bike that could possibly serve as a car replacement.

    They already ride bikes that replace cars.

    If all it takes for the judges to be convinced that a bike is a viable car replacement is a stereo, a motor, and locking storage, then why do any of them drive cars? That describes a moped. If that's all you use your car for you are vastly over-equipped, and if any of them read this and sputter "but sometimes I use my car to haul groceries and small pieces of furniture, and sometimes other people too" I respond by asking "what happens when the owner of Tony's bike needs to do the same?"

    He has to use a car or a cargo bike.

    A bike supposedly serving as a car replacement should not only replace it when the car was only serving as a single-occupancy vehicle. That is a very low bar to set utility-wise, and there are lots of ways to do it at a fraction of the cost of Tony's bike.

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  8. "The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery."
    If the organizers pull their heads out yes, it can come back.
    As I wrote above, porteurs are indeed relevant but to focus solely on that is a mistake. After all, your average old road bike with a front rack is a porteur, even if the geo isn't dialed. To this extent, though you are a stronger rider and like randos, there is very little additional ground to be covered if the show continues to focus on this style of bike. Ira Ryan said "screw the rules" and built a bike that works for him: a pure porteur. Pereira's bike is a gussied up porteur.
    I'm disappointed not only in the judges' decisions, but their collective experience riding a true cargo bike, which is little indeed.

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  9. I do understand that a slightly leaned forward posture better utilizes your buttocks for more efficient pedaling - I wasn't intending to suggest that they build them all with the same geometry as a bakfiets.nl bike, but I personally feel that for a utility bike, a more-upright-than-hunched posture would be good. I know it's a bit of a fine line.

    My biggest argument against disc brakes is that they are much more easily damaged and are higher maintenance, because they have to remain true to work well - it's not that they aren't good brakes, but again, if we're talking about utility bicycles, I feel again that low-maintenance = good.

    I also agree about that comment from BikePortland, I saw it as well and thought it was a great summary.

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  10. That's a hilarious comment, about the "secondary show" : )

    I suspect the Preira bike was chosen as the winner because it is ridable and - despite its colourful appearance - not made overly confusing with a system of hammocks and attachments and whatnot. People don't like complexity, and things like the classic bakfiets appeal precisely because it is simple and you see exactly how it works and where to put stuff. There was almost nothing like that in this show.

    But the judges' comments about the stereo were just ridiculous, I agree; not sure what to make of it.

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  11. Re the Portlandize commentary: I think it is incorrect to say that "there's a lot about riding he doesn't know." Rather, there is a lot about riding certain kinds of bike he does not know, which does not disqualify him from making the kind of comments he did. Similarly, there is a lot about riding bikes like Bakfietsen and classic English delivery bikes that N. American framebuilders do not know, yet they attempt to make similar bikes.

    I once rode my Dutch bike to a framebuilder's workshop and he was delighted to see it, never seen one before. Tried to ride it, found it "unridable" - handling all out of whack. Prior to becoming a framebuilder he raced track and cyclocross. As almost everyone, he knows a lot about riding some types of bikes, but not others.

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  12. Right then, so we are agreed. You two need to get yourselves on a longtail.

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  13. Also, "Dave Feucht" is me, for anyone who doesn't know. Accidentally clicked "use google account" :)

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  14. Ok, so you are putting a very fine semantic point on my general gist.
    It does disqualify him from making comments about uprights being superior to porteurs, yes indeed. If he has an opinion he has the right to publish in his blog and elsewhere, but as he wrote above there is an acknowledged physiological component not taken into account.
    There is a huge opportunity for discussion of this topic alone: rider or bike, one I've had a lot over the years. Suffice it to say, a rider with a wealth of experience over all kinds of bikes knows how to handle each of them and qualifies him or her to speak from a more knowledgeable experiential base if not intellectual.
    And yes, a lot of builders can't ride.

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  15. My point was more general - that there are different types of bikes and riding styles, and we all speak from diff povs of cycling. One may have zero experience with racing and the other zero experience with upright utility bikes, but plenty of knowledge in their own realm.

    Also, I just think it's interesting that in the US most framebuilders come from a very particular cycling background and everything they build is informed by it. Customers do not always realise that when they order, say, a utility bike, and are then surprised when it has 410mm chainstays and handles like a racebike.

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  16. Just as an aside, I considered a true box-style utility bike for awhile, but I kept getting the nagging feeling that I would feel confined by its very narrow purpose and lack of versatility (can it carry an extra person? Can it go fast? Can I modify it to do different things?). In the end, I got a tandem. My tandem allows me to carry an additional human if needed, or I can ride solo. I can pull a trailer with four bags of groceries, and four panniers bags filled with God knows what... maybe even the kitchen sink. I can climb steep hills and I can go fast. Oh, and if it rains? Nothing even gets wet (the panniers are waterproof and the trailer is covered). Try that on a cargo bike (other than a bakfiets with rain cover). Sometimes you have to think "outside the box", and sometimes the solution is right in front of you.

    Also, I've owned and ridden different types of bikes with different geometries (English 3-speeds, aggressive porteurs, road bikes, etc) and I have to disagree that an upright riding position is ideal for a cargo bike. My favorite riding position, even when carrying a heavy load, is slightly leaned forward with handlebars at or below saddle height. If I ride a bolt-upright bike for more than a few minutes at a time, I get tired and I feel confined to one hand position.

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  17. Yes, my point was Portlandize can speak well to his interests, but to negate a particular position on principle isn't correct.

    What you said about builders is entirely true and was manifest (!) at the show.

    There were main spiritual antecedents: those more heavily influence by racing and those, whom Todd acknowledged, were influenced by sociological factors, namely Ross Evans.

    Ok, I gotta ride!

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  18. I attended the opening party on Friday night and I have to say that I am not sure what the purpose of the Manifest is anymore. It reminds me of AIGA design camps where "graphic designers" try to come up with some irrelevant themes and ask themselves to work on them; in short a waste of time and resources and just a good excuse to blow money on another irrelevant party in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps, heavy involvement from the design community (design firms teamed up with some frame-builders, as well as the leadership of the Manifest that are primarily "graphic designers") with very little involvement from the bike industry (the only representative is Joe Breeze). Yeah, they have a capable designer from Nike on board, but the last time I checked he was designing shoes not bikes. In any event, the bikes themselves were more of an engineering exercise in futility than utility. Seriously, such complex materials and geometries, not to mention that many of them are rather ugly.Oh yeah, and that race... c'mon, with thousands of feel of elevation gain on those long and heavy rigs... gimme a break. And did I mention the absence of some good names (e.g. Davidson, DiNucci, etc.) that were there in the past. I guess the expulsion of bike-industry people from the board and judging panel earlier this year has led to this mess.

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  19. Regardless of the discussion about frame geometry though, I still feel that in a fairly objective sense, the top three bicycles in the competition added pretty minimal utility value to a bare minimum bicycle that is just a frame and wheels, and I still feel that the Tsunehiro, of those three, adds the most, even if it does have some "shimmy" with weight on the rear.

    I would agree with you that the Clever Cycles entry was easily one of the most interesting, well-thought-out and actually useable utilitarian entries.

    Part of the reason there is such a diversity of bicycles in existence, is because everyone's need differs a little, so for some people (a few), I could see one of those three bikes being sufficient for most of their trips. You could add a few more people to that given that you could carry a messenger bag or something. However, I'm pretty comfortable saying that *most* people would pretty quickly find a bike like that limiting in terms of what they could do with it, if they really didn't have the option of using a car at all, and a bicycle that requires you to carry a bag on yourself in order to be useful doesn't seem like much of an innovation to me, if we're talking about a bicycle whose purpose is to replace an automobile. It's certainly a viable option, but it's already a viable option with millions of bicycles, no innovation needed.

    If Clever Cycles and Quixote decide to actually manufacture those Xtravois, I can certainly see renting one for certain purposes, though for daily life stuff, my Raleigh DL-1 is easily sufficient for me :)

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  20. When I first saw the pictures of the competition here: http://bikeportland.org/2011/09/23/oregon-manifest-entries-revealed-wow-59528#more-59528
    I saw the pink bike and immediately liked it. Maybe it was the color of the bike, maybe it was the musical lock box, but something about it I just really liked.
    There are some things that would improve it, like a internal hub, some kind of rear rack/carrier, and a step-through version, but overall I think it is a very nice bike that, if it were in production, I'm sure many people would consider as a viable option for transportation.

    When I look at other pictures, there are bikes that I think should have gotten more recognition, ESPECIALLY the Clever Cycles bike. It's a beautiful bike with a well thought out design that would definitely work in real life. I also really enjoyed the Tsunehiro bike, but I think is too reminiscent of what already is being made - your typical longtail. Of course, this is a design that works very well and they made a version that looks like a very successful and integrated system.

    I also think that it's unfair to criticize the use of an off-road section in the field test. Though utility bikes are mostly used in cities on paved roads right now, not everyone lives in the city. There are many people that live in slightly more rural settings (or even just not the city) that do have to traverse unpaved or poorly maintained roads that this type of testing would be useful. I myself recently lived in a small mountain town that many of the utility bike options out there today would not be viable. I think this fairly tests each bikes ability to be versatile and useful in different settings -- think of the Pilen.

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  21. Also, I don't think a good utility bicycle has to be a cargo bike in the sense of a bakfiets.nl or a Bullit or Christiania, or even an Xtra-cycle type bike. But it should be really useful for something in addition to moving fast.

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  22. Lauren - I wasn't so much criticising the off road aspect, as the fact that it was a 50 mile multi-terrain race. If you look at the photos from the field test, many of the bikes are equipped with clipless pedals and were operated by lycra-clad cyclists. That does not say "utility" to me, but feels like a holdover from when the Manifest was rando-oriented.

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  23. It would seem, as several people have already remarked, that a utility bike is very much defined by the eye of the beholder. Yet are there some universal standards in describing such a bike? I would include:

    - a durable frame
    - a relaxed riding position [upright or close to it]
    - a strong rack/platform/carrying system
    - wide tires
    - fenders
    - moderate gearing [not too many or too few]
    - a bike that is easily maintained [that you don't have to fiddle with]
    - maybe a trailer or cargo setup for heavy loads and/or the young 'uns.

    Did I miss anything?

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  24. Unfortunately, even some of those parameters are quite subjective.

    Is 28mm a wide tire in your book, or were you thinking 50mm? Because for many the former is "wide." Same idea with "moderate" gearing, "durable" frame, etc.

    Maybe (numerical) wheelbase parameters could at least keep all the bikes in the same category (cargo vs personal transport), but I am not even sure about that.

    Also, I don't think one can mix ebikes with non-ebikes and the competition should either be for e-bikes only, or exclude them.

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  25. I also think there needs to be distinction between a 'utility' bike and a car-replacement. Wouldn't a genuine replacement for a car be required to be able to accommodate a bunch of people in addition to their things? Most cars can do this, so unless you're single or married without kids, I would expect a bicycle that replaces a car to be capable of this.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5155341076/in/photostream/

    I couldn't imagine one person pedaling a bakfiets carrying 400 lb of flesh any significant distance on a daily basis, or up a steep hill.

    I think the French got it right over half a century ago when they held Porteur races in Paris. The bikes each had to carry a 30 lb stack of newspapers all through the city, over all sorts of street surfaces including cobblestones. That to me is a better test for a utility bike than having to carry a six pack of beer over a mountain.

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  26. Somervillain - Roughly what portion of the time do you use this bike vs the car, and when you do use the latter what are your reasons for choosing it?

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  27. I've followed the whole show from afar, and love it. Any chance to have a party with bikes is a good one! All the bikes are really cool, but like the NAHBS, designs are going over the top and showcasing design for design sake. I think it is a really great event, but could be more meaningful by tweaking the rules, the route, and judge panel. I do think that the fact that Pereira won with a porteur style bike is telling. While his bike was too fancy to be a real world utility bike, it has the basics covered for a good bike to have about town.

    In the end, the definition of utility has to be decided upon. It needs to be solid, resistant to bike rack theft and damage, able to be carried up steps such as an apartment, and able to put it on the front of a bus or on a train hook. All the while carrying "stuff". Stuff should include groceries, diapers, toilet paper, beer and pizza... maybe a kid.

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  28. I don't know if utility bike and car replacement are necessarily mutually exclusive, as there are certainly a good percentage of the population that are single or married without kids - again, different people have different requirements, and certainly a car replacement for a family of 4 or 5 would look a bit overkill perhaps, for married-without-kids folks, unless their profession or hobby required hauling large cargo (like photography equipment, for instance), and a viable car replacement for someone without children may not be sufficient for someone with children.

    It's all a bit wibbly-wobbly, but in the end, I think what bothered me the most about this competition is that none of the winning bicycles really offered any kind of significant utility over and above a slew of bicycles you can find in any bike shop across the country. It's not the bicycles that won this competition are bad bicycles in some objective sense, they just are not innovative in terms of utility, in a contest that was (I thought) supposed to push innovation in terms of utility.

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  29. cyclotourist - If this event is thought of as basically a good reason for a party with bike design thrown in (and I'm simplifying and distorting your words here, but for the sake of the argument), then perhaps that explains why 21 out of 28 entries are from Oregon and neighbouring states. Just saying. But they do seem to want to make the show have wider appeal, as is evident by the choice of sponsors and judges, and for that I do think there needs to be some rather fundamental tweaking.

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  30. Roughly what portion of the time do you use this bike vs the car, and when you do use the latter what are your reasons for choosing it?

    It's getting to the point where we transport the kids to and from school at least four times a week on the bike train, not to mention soccer practice and games (4x weekly), grocery shopping (several times per week).

    When we use the car, it's because:

    - we're doing a large purchase that won't fit in our trailer or on the bike
    - we're transporting additional people (our smallish car seats six-- the smallest such car sold in the US)
    - it's pouring rain
    - we have to drive out of town

    So in terms of numbers of trips per week, it's probably 5:1 to 10:1 bike:car. But in terms of cumulative distance, the car still puts on more miles than our bikes.

    Granted, in the middle of winter we'll certainly be using the car more frequently, and biking less.

    You yourself know what kinds of hills we have to deal with in our neighborhood, and while I do know some other neighborhood folk who tote their kids around in bakfiets-style bikes, it just wouldn't work for us. One thing you will notice about bakfiets families is that their kids are all small. What happens when their kids are too large to tote around but too young to responsibly ride in urban traffic? Two nine year olds sitting in a box might might amount to 150 lb. Should one adult have to pedal around all their weight? I for one wouldn't want to. Shouldn't THEY get exercise as well? And contribute to the speed and comfort of the cycling experience for all?

    I really think my experience with kids demonstrates that not all utility cycling solutions work for everyone (I think I've said this before), and that utility is something that each person must define for himself. The reason I think our solution works for us is because it doesn't do just one thing. It can be a kid hauler, or it can be a grocery getter. Or, it can even be a reasonably fast, if not ideal, solo bike (ask MDI how fast we went that time we rode out to Harris together last fall). When the kids become pre-teens and think riding with dad is no longer cool (and they'll be old enough to bike themselves around town), I'll have Mike Flanigan make a super-extended long-tail platform for the bike, replacing the stoker's cockpit. Then I'll have what I think might just be the world's best longtail bike (believe me, the plans are already in the works :)). The bike will continue to adapt with changing needs, rather than be confined to one design.

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  31. SomerV - an Xtracycle is a cargo bike; basically your tandem without a stoker!

    I'm all for e-assist, though I'm too macho to use one. A much more relevant criteria for Joe Average to get moving than anything represented at the show.

    I might not have dry heaved up the mountain just now had I had an e-assist. With a frig of cold beer. That's utility.

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  32. It seems to me that there is already a wide range of bicycles ideal for everyday "utility," be they more touringish or more commuter/cruiserish. It seems like the next area of innovation needed in the bicycle world is a collection of bicycles designed to handle loads that these touringish and communterish bikes can't. This new direction makes a shit-ton of sense to me - there are already lots of touringish, communterish bikes to choose from if this is not what you are looking for, but if you want to haul a bunch of furniture, or dirt, or whatever, it'd be nice to have more pedal-powered options, rather than just buying a pick-up truck.

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  33. I'm getting to the point where many of these frame builders just make me want to hurl. So many of them are so cute and clever, not to mention pompous and self-absorbed. I totally agree about your points regarding their limited background in various disciplines. As somebody who takes bike fit very seriously and has invested a zillion hours in learning about it, I find it amazing that most frame builders think they are just magically "custom bike fitters" just because they can weld a frame together. Most don't have a clue, I suspect.

    All that said, I'm super happy that so many custom frame builders and companies exist now in this country. It's certainly a heyday for hand-made bicycles in America!

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  34. Am I the only one who sees the Oregon Manifest as emblematic of the kind of Oregonian attitudes that are so ripe for loving parody on the TV show Portlandia? They could build an entire episode about handcrafted, overly clever cargo bikes racing up and down a mountain with a case of organic beer as their load.

    Anyways, love the blog. I've never posted before but your blog is a great resource for urban commuters like myself. Thanks for sharing!

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  35. Also, why should the definition of utility have to be limited? A rando-ish bike is what works for some people (or some cargo), a cargo bike for another, and a super-duper-crazy cargo bike for others. What I'm sayin' is that we have a lot of randos and cargos, but not as many super-duper-crazies, which is the reason many people own cars.

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  36. One thing that hasn't been discussed is price; since these are all handbuilts I'd say the minimum price of entry is probably $3K, with some venturing close to or above $10k.
    I'm getting in my car at those prices.

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  37. When your "practical cargo carrying" contest attracts three different sidecar-based designs, something is dangerously wrong.

    As someone who owns a sidehack and has ridden it on hilly 45 mile rides before, I can state with absolute certainty what a ridiculously bad idea this is. Really, if you're lucky you only veer off into a ditch alone and your cargo doesn't land on top of you. Just the mental effort you have to put into avoiding countersteering is exhausting.

    Both pilot and monkey need to be able to lean way out with three wheels firmly on the ground to be able to make turns without high-siding. If you're solo you need to be able to drop a foot out on the sidecar to be able to turn that direction or even go in a straight line downhill. The step through frames on a couple of them help, but the center of gravity is still way too high.

    The one on the designer collabo bike can at least be flipped up to disable it, but I can't think of a worse linkage design for actual use — it's just going to bounce around with the wheel at a whole range of cambers.

    Putting the hack on the left on the art student bike is a real killer since we drive on the right — it's much better to put it on the right since those turns are much sharper in radius and you have less time to set yourself up. Forcing the monkey to stay low and seated in a cage is a death trap, and the brakes and tires on it are also completely inadequate even for parking lot riding.

    The speed/terrain limit for simply ambling about on a sidehack is terrifyingly low, even in perfect conditions it takes very little before you're pushing it to the limits of getting rad.

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  38. Speaking of utility, how about this one (from the previous Oregon Manifest)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scurvyknaves/3982098929/in/set-72157622518567724

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  39. "When your "practical cargo carrying" contest attracts three different sidecar-based designs, something is dangerously wrong."

    : ))

    And I was thinking that too about the left sidecar. They must have seen vintage English pictures online.

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  40. I find this conversation here more pertinent than the Oregon Manifest. I found it interesting experiment to look at from the far outside as an experiment with bikes as objet d'art rather than emblematic of anything expressing utility.

    Yes, utility changes as ones life changes. Currently I've got a big dummy as my daily load involves a toddler, her stuff & groceries. I wanted something that grew over the years and my experience with bakfiets seems that they're great for small kids, but not as flexible in the long term for people hauling. I envision a trail-a-bike rigged to the dummy if we have another kid, when the elder can pedal without napping. I used to have a rear rack on a hybrid that did ok for the utility that I was fit enough to do at the time. Later I had a touring bike with rear racks and panniers for hauling. I didn't feel the need for a specific "utility bike" till I had a kid.

    But for true utility, for me, it looks nothing like the competition. I'm currently building up a low trail, drop bar porteur as an errand bike for sans-kid hauling. But currently daily loads are groceries, take-out, stuff to mail, a push bike, library items etc... usually with 50lbs of child and child gear, up hills. Gravel would be an improvement over some of the roads here, but I rarely ride more than 20 cargo miles in a day.

    One of the entrants had a child seat, but a seat for a small child (ibert) well out on the front of the bike like a hood ornament. Probably in the least practical place to have a young kid.

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  41. They must have seen vintage English pictures online.

    I think it's more likely to be something altogether dumber: they just wanted to put it on the non-driveside. Note from the pictures that it's built primarily from two scavenged bikes.

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  42. I think 50 miles of mixed terrain is not that unusual for a day of commuting and errands out here in suburbia, where work is 20 miles from home, and the grocery store 3 miles in another direction, etc, etc. "Utility" is a pretty broad category which will definitely vary by individual situation. For example, I might favor an efficient riding position and a bike light enough to haul up and down stairs and across a train platform over cargo capacity, whereas someone with a short commute and kids younger than mine might want more child-portaging ability.

    I think where the Oregon Manifest bikes seem to succeed is as "concept bikes" that explore the directions utility cycling can take. Maybe a lot of the stuff they're building won't catch on, but eventually a thing or two might find its way onto a production bike. Instead of thinking of it as an event to define the future of practical cycling, it seems better to look at is as an chance to try new things, with the understanding that they may or may not work.

    All in all, I think it's best to take it lightly.

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  43. When it comes to utility, I think they are pushing it a bit with the topic at Manifest. Here is an example of an old rig in Tanzania. It belongs to someone who cannot even think of affording a car and does more/less everything that those fancy exercises in design tried to achieve.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scurvyknaves/4295528512/in/set-72157623103799269

    That whole theme seems to be redundant. Utility bikes have existed, have been made and this whole thing feels like reinventing a wheel

    Here is another one (I beleive made by Jordan Hufnagel)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/laali/6168034405/in/photosof-hufnagelcycles/

    Examples are countless. What we see at Oregon Manifest feels like a Hollywood's remake of a classic film (with fancier special effects added, of course).

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  44. So I’ve read a lot of comments about what an ideal cargo bike is... I was at oregon manifest to see what the constructors came up with (and was just as impressed by the parked bikes as the handmade ones). There were some great cargo bikes, like clevercycles/quixote especially, but many that were just handmade porteurs or what have you.

    I have a question though (for school research, actually) — barring having kids, what would you transport on a daily basis? I have a feeling there is still a missing piece in the spectrum, where the rear rack many people have isn’t enough, but they don’t carry enough to justify a longtail, let alone a bakfiets. is it just a porteur and maybe an occasional trailer load? What are things that you’d carry with a bike, if you could, but don’t justify having a cargo bike for? thanks to anyone who replies!

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  45. Ian, a lot of people either buy the bike to fit their needs or buy the bike then find previously unknown needs fulfilled.
    I built a longtail primarily to transport my dog around and for general fun, but have found it has changed my way of thinking about how long to be out.
    Things I carry on it all the time:
    dog
    two soft-sided coolers
    multiple water bottles
    tools
    straps
    platform for carrying big things like little dressers
    platform for carrying boxes
    dog treats
    poop bags
    multiple leashes
    water dish
    energy bars
    saddle cover
    large reuseable bag with way too many plastic bags in it
    bunch of other stuff

    Basically this kind of setup allows all day errands and general sight-seeing between.
    If someone's getting rid of stuff you can look through it and pick up what you like. Versatility is maximized.

    If I'm doing a 9-5 job then it's one bike w/an expandable backpack with huge capacity. I've carried 2x4s and a weed whacker with it.

    Also carried a bookcase by hand but that hurt.

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  46. Ian,
    I gave up my car this spring (the transmission died and, after being laid off, I coudln't afford to fix it any more). Among the many odd jobs and part-time occupations I've been using to keep a trickle of money coming in is working as a musician, and I wish I had a proper cargo bike to haul my instruments and sound gear. Unfortunately, the lack of steady work means a new bike is out of the question at the moment.
    What I did do was snag a used child trailer and strip it down to a flatbed, which I've used to haul gear to shows within ten miles of home. I just bungee my instruments and, if needed, a compact sound system to the trailer. It handles a bit rough with the speakers on it (and downhill braking takes a bit of extra distance) but works reasonably well.

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  47. I am in broad agreement with GRJ -- and I ride a Big Dummy, and own three other bikes, including a tandem and an old "ten speed" and an antique 3-speed rescued from the trash. Most of my body is omnivorous w.r.t. riding position, except that my hands aren't what they used to be, so I don't want to put a lot of weight on them for a long time. I can ride no-hands in a tuck, though.

    I think we need to find a way to run "longtails 101" for a whole bunch of people. They are not quite perfect (carrying a pizza is a pain!), but they are really, really good, the xtracycle-compatibles especially. I'll try to explain why.

    First, you can tune the weight/capacity of your bike somewhat. Want a lighter bike, fit it with lighter running gear. My bike is some distances towards the other extreme and weighs about 65lbs. And yeah, sometimes you need to horse it around. Weight has its privileges, a couple of times I have accidentally clipped an immovable objects with the WideLoader on one side (it's bent now), and I didn't even stop. Just, "whammo".

    Second, the bike rides like a bike. I lane split, I weave around stupidly positioned cars, I go off road, I happily go off curbs. Bunny hopping (riding in flip-flops) is hard, going up a curb at speed requires a real yank on the bars, But otherwise, you're on a bike.

    Third, they seem to handle just fine (mine does). No hands, just fine, can do it for miles at a time, nice and responsive, even over potholes. Going on/off sidewalk at speed, nice and precise, I can set it down on the road and track the little white line (my little 15-inch bike lane, sigh).

    There are "issues", aka "things you learn", associated with where your passenger sits, and how you pack your load, but overall this is a great design. My bike gets a weird oscillation if I ride it no-hands down a slope unloaded, but that's about it for pathologies. One "thing you learn" is that your brain has interesting feedback systems that learn fast. I carried a load of wood once where I was not sure I was going to be able to safely ride on the minuteman trail at first -- but it was better in a few hundred yards, and after a half mile, I was holding a straight line, automatically. And when I got home, boy, where my arms tired (42cm handlebars, great for skinny spaces, not so good for leverage).

    And do note, I have used trailers, two different kinds, in years past. The longtail is a fun-fun-fun bike. It can go fast, it can go far, but it's just as much fun not going fast and dinking around.

    Stuff I've carried on my longtail -- everyone else in the family, at one time or another. A shrubbery. A folding ladder. Some logs. Groceries, all the time. 2 bikes, towed. A pair of wooden pallets (I was going to share with some guy with a Camry, but he couldn't fit either one in his car).

    All that said, I don't think I know enough about box bikes. I've only ridden one, homemade, for a few hundred feet, though I've read about their handling, and they guy who built the bike I rode had an excellent explanation for what you perceive and how you react at first. I think they might win big on loading convenience, for usual-case loads (groceries).

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  48. Late to the party...like Somervillian, we also have a Bike Friday tandem*, and though we live in a very rural and hilly part of Mass, it gets the bulk of our short trip (in and out of town, 5 hilly miles or so) use. Groceries, library, school bus stop, etc. Takes much longer than a car of course, but it is a PERFECT cargo machine. And like Mr Somervillian, there's already a drawing for a long tail to sit atop the stoker compartment, when the time is right (ideally would like to have it come on and off so's we could still use it for a tandem when need be). Additionally, 4 panniers + loaded rack tops = 150 lbs of cargo moved many times, albeit with lots of effort and swearing uphill. But fun and worth doing. These manifest bikes are overly complex; a great thing about bikes is their simplicity; and there are known knowns...get the load to axle level, centered if possible. The end...more complexity = a solution in search of a problem.


    (*last change...alba bars/northrd bars)

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  49. dr. and someone else - this is how you do pizza: http://everydayadventurers.com/2009/01/dit-pizzaloader/

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  50. That's nothin'. I'll see your pizza:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5590021187/

    and raise you construction supplies:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/6097953251/

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  51. rural14: can you contact me off board re: BF stuff? atutter AT gmail

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  52. Boys and girls, while your attempts at pizza carrying are admirable, you have entered into a smugfiets realm.
    Since we are here and in the spirit of design critique, you both have failed to grasp the perilous nature of your Willy Wonka contraptions. They are fraught with potential hazard. A pimply-faced kid with too heavy a hand with pepperoni and cheese, while failing to use semi-absorbent wax paper as lining, coupled with a damp evening, can lead you down a path of destruction, one that would lead to a catastrophic Dali-esque distortion of the support structure, rendering road rash inevitable. Never mind your body, we're talking pizza.
    Please, I caution you - leave it to the pros.

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  53. Ian: you can see some of the stuff I carry regularly here:

    http://portlandize.com/tag/daily-bicycle/

    and here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/poetas/sets/72157626828878285/

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  54. There's a reason why outside Portland and maybe Boston 99% of the world's heavy cargo bikes are located in flood plains.

    When I was young and very fit and crazy I loaded up 100 pounds or so of tools and supplies and put a 6-foot ladder over my shoulder and rode to my jobs every day. Did it in blizzards, rain, slush, frozen slush. The long commutes were 20 miles each way. Elevation gain/loss was probably 20 feet. I was certainly an outlier, but I found the whole thing quite reasonable and practical and efficient.

    I had a nice rig, Out of what was available in 70s and early 80s. There's some nicer stuff now. None of it would make much difference in hills. If there's hills involved it's not utility, it's a stunt. And just how many people are there strong and healthy enough to play?

    I carried a 24 foot extension ladder on a bike. Twice. That is, round trip twice. It's possible. It ain't nothing that should be promoted or sold or merchandised or held up as an example. It required no special equipment. An arm, a shoulder.People who really need to use a bike as part of their life will figure it out.

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  55. townmouse said...

    "Maybe a course that involves picking up a kid from daycare, stopping at a library, cafe and supermarket, taking a train and then cycling home again in after dark? The person who arrives first complete with child, exchanged library books, coffee, watermelon and intact bike is the winner."

    I second that.
    The rest is irrelevant.

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  56. @somervillain - you don't want to get in a cargo-pissing contest with a longtail owner :-).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/32419497@N05/page5/

    I may have to build me one of those pizza carriers. But don't you think it needs to fold, and be made of carbon fiber, with speakers underneath?

    As to how many strong and healthy enough to play, yeah, hills are unpleasant, but I am over 50, and carrying plenty of my own excess "cargo". What you get from something made for the job is a bit of stability; if you need to climb the hill at 3mph, sure, fine, you can do that. One of these days I'll be old and feeble enough to sign up for an electric assist, and my main fear is that it will triple my use of the bike and cause me to kick myself for not doing it earlier (which has often been the case with bicycle upgrades).

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  57. @somervillain - you don't want to get in a cargo-pissing contest with a longtail owner :-).


    Holy Guacamole, I concede!!!

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  58. Strickland: http://bicycling.com/blogs/theselection/2011/09/27/alternate-destiny/

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  59. Child's play. How about 4 adults?
    Thanks everyone for the feedback and positive comments on my OM entry.

    Sincerely,
    Jonathan Reed
    Quixote Cycles

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  60. As others have noted, utility depends on your needs. My utility bike is a Brompton:

    http://practicalbiking.org/2011/08/why-i-ride-a-brompton-folding-bike.html

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  61. Yeah, so I'm pretty late on this post, but I just have to add one comment: I think we should completely reject the idea of a bicycle as a "car replacement." Quite simply, when we frame the conversation in that manner, we are allowing the modern car frame the criteria in which we judge transportation.

    I like many didn't like the winning entry. But, then I realized that if I were a judge trying to decided on a "car replacement" this is indeed the bike I would choose. It has a stereo! A trunk! Integrated Lock! Electric Assist! It looks sorta like a motorcycle!

    But it is these attributes that reject. I like my bike for the fact that that it is not a car, it's a bike. There are plenty of wonderful things about bicycles that we shouldn't reject. If we want more people to ride bicycles, we need to remind them of how great bikes are and not try and make the bicycle more car-like.

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  62. Okay, I am very late to this blog post. I certainly have a different take on the bikes that were in the show. As someone who attended and interviewed most of the frame builders I was disappointed with the implication that the Oregon Manifest doesn’t understand the Utility bike. I too, was taken off guard by the judge’s choices but let us not discount all the bikes because you disagree with the judges choices. Many of the bikes had some very innovative aspects, were not complicated and IMO will make great utility bikes.
    Yipsan, the collaborative bike of Ziba design and Signal Cycle, True Fabrication are only 3 of the framebuilders who showed some great innovations for a variety of riders. As already mentioned, a utility bike will mean different things to different people and some do need a bike that can travel a great distance in comfort without failing apart.

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  63. So we are all in agreement that the judging parameters of the event need to be defined better.
    Matt DeBlass said:
    "I think where the Oregon Manifest bikes seem to succeed is as "concept bikes" that explore the directions utility cycling can take. Maybe a lot of the stuff they're building won't catch on, but eventually a thing or two might find its way onto a production bike. Instead of thinking of it as an event to define the future of practical cycling, it seems better to look at is as an chance to try new things, with the understanding that they may or may not work."
    What he said. My humble attempts to cover the show and the ride can be seen by clicking on my user name. I know I'm late but I was riding my bike back to Idaho from Portland.

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