September 29th, 2011

. . . being a juror at the Oregon Manifest.

I just returned from a weekend in Portland where I was a juror for the Oregon Manifest Constructors Design Challenge (OMCDC), a utility bike design competition. It was not a normal jury assignment. We reviewed the bikes for a full day indoors before the contestants set out on a 51-mile, challenging road and trail course.  At several check points along the way we judged criteria such as load carrying capacity, lighting systems, fender durability, and more. The day was a perfect sunny 80-degree day through the bucolic countryside north of Portland.  It was one of the most enjoyable work assignments I have ever experienced.

It seemed like the bikes held up better than many of the riders. But to their credit, all of the riders finished. Leading the pack was Tony Pereira on an electric assist bike with a built-in music system.  This iconoclastic magenta bike was a sign of what the future of utility bikes might be and what type of bike might realistically convince many people to swap in their car for a bike.  My shout out was Diana Rempe, on a Quixote bike, who covered the course in a dress and flip-flops with her daughter as a passenger. Be sure to check out all the entries and winners or follow us on Twitter where we will be featuring a bike a day for the next month with my comments.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Portland
This event reminds us that while the US seems in a perpetual backslide as a producer of goods in the global market, we are actually the unqualified world leader in handmade bikes. Portland is the epicenter for the movement. It was fitting that Chris King Precision hosted the event. They are the recognized international leader in manufacturing high quality bike headsets and other components.

Biking is more than a subculture
Biking is becoming mainstream, as evidenced by the broad range of people at the OMCDC events. Two years ago the event drew mainly a hardcore biking subculture.  This year Levis and Urban Outfitters set-up a bike fix-it shop at the event and there seemed to be an even split of men and women. We were invited to speak about the event as part of Live Wire (a podcast will be out next week).  CNN covered the event as did many local newspapers.

Portland is transit progressive
Every time I go to Portland I am reminded how special this place is and how it is a bellweather for the country for more than just bikes. The light rail system linking to the airport and running through the city is an elegant and fun transit system that rivals anything I have ridden in Europe.

Global design firms are jumping in
The show drew concept bikes from prestigious design firms including IDEO, FuseProject, and Ziba. These bikes were not juried against the individual submissions, but they did join the road challenge and they all finished. These design firms are well respected internationally for conceptual work and branding, but they can also crank out world-class functional product design. Fast Company got wind of the LOCAL bike designed by Yves Behar of FuseProject.

PUBLIC products in evidence
We are happy to see a number of products that PUBLIC sells in wide use, especially Brooks saddles and brass bells, which now seem ubiquitous. If the professionals can use these over a 51-mile course, they will work for you.  Our Yepp seat and Nutcase helmets were also along for the ride.

Thanks to the other Jurors
It was a special pleasure to work and learn from the other jurors – Legendary bike icon Joe Breeze, Biking magazine editor Bill Strickland, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, and UBI leader Ron Sutphin.