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Manufacturing commitment raises stakes for 2014 ‘Oregon Manifest’ competition

Posted by on March 21st, 2014 at 1:49 pm

2014 Oregon Manifest Launch-2
Launch party was at Ace Hotel Cleaners last night.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The details of the 2014 Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project were announced in downtown Portland last night. Among a crowd of professional product designers, bicycle builders and bike industry tastemakers, event director Shannon Holt introduced five teams that will compete to create the “ultimate urban utility bike.”

And this year, the stakes are higher than ever. As announced by Holt last night, the winner of the Bike Design Project will see their creation turned into a full-fledged production model manufactured by Fuji Bikes. The company has committed to make 100 bikes and the winning model (after it’s been value-engineered to a lower price-point than a one-off, custom bike) will be available in select bike shops in 2015.

“It’s important to go from ideation to production,” Holt told me last night. “Our role is to be an outside catalyst for the industry and to fulfill that we had to have manufacturing.”

Since its inception in 2008, the goal of the Oregon Manifest has been to push the limits of what a city bike can do. A bike that would not only work well for urban and utility riding, but more importantly, a bike that would inspire the masses to ride. The ultimate dream of organizers was that this mix of design and inspiration would be a catalyst for a new bike that would take the country by storm.

Put another way, Oregon Manifest Executive Director Jocelyn Sycip told me last night they hope to inspire, “The next Schwinn Sting Ray… That coveted thing we all want to get on and ride.”

But so far, that dream has not been realized. Yes, there have been successes and the event has definitely touched a nerve among bike fans and industry insiders, but so far it hasn’t spawned that One Big Idea that garners widespread, mainstream attention. This year could change all that.

2014 Oregon Manifest Launch-5
Left to right: Oved Valadez, Industry (Portland); Chris Harsacky, Huge Design (San Francisco); Oliver Mueller, Teague (Seattle); Taylor Sizemore, Sizemore Cycles (Seattle).

Looking for the “fresh voices that will take us into the next century,” Holt introduced five hand-picked teams from five cities last night. Like past years, each team is a collaboration between a product design firm (from outside the bike industry) and a bicycle builder. Here are the this year’s teams:

2014 Oregon Manifest Launch-4
Shannon Holt.

The design firms are full of young, up-and-coming stars with impressive projects under their belts. Paired with experienced bike builders, they’ll have until July 25th to finish their designs (they started work in December). On that date, Oregon Manifest will host parties in each of the five cities and public, online voting will begin three days later. The winner will be announced August 4th.

Each team will work from the same design criteria that comes with several mandatory features each bike must include: an anti-theft system, lighting, fenders, load-carrying capacity, ability to stand freely, and it must be road worthy. Unlike the 2011 event, there will be no large-scale race event to test the bikes. Instead, each team must submit a video of their bike in action and in real-world scenarios.

As to what type of innovations might come out of this contest, Oved Valadez, a designer with Portland-based Industry said his team will be looking for a “category busting” idea. To do that, he says they will step back and ask questions. “What prevents people from riding? Is it the tech, the fear, the fashion?”. Valadez said design firms specialize in asking the right questions, a much-needed skill in creating a groundbreaking product. And it’s one that bike makers don’t always have.

2014 Oregon Manifest Launch-6
Oved Valadez.

“Every great idea comes alive with friction,” Valadez said, when asked about working so closely with a bicycle maker, “And there will be friction.”

Having this outside perspective on bike design is something the industry needs more of, said Chris Distefano. Distefano has a long bike industry resume that includes stints with Shimano America, Chris King Precision Components and his current employer, Rapha. He explained how these collaborations with design firms could bust the industry out if its bubble. “You have product managers who make bikes for bike magazine editors and you have bike magazine editors who write reviews for product managers,” he said, “These [the bikes in the Manifest contest] will be the bikes they [the designers] want and need.”

And hopefully, the winning bike will be wanted by the public. With the promise of production, the teams in this year’s Bike Design Project have much more than civic pride and bragging rights on the line, they’ve got a shot at a lasting legacy. And who knows, maybe one of them will create the next Sting Ray.

ā€” Full event details at OregonManifest.com

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I have to believe that there are quite a few disappointed bike builders this morning and I count myself as one of them. What bugs me is not necessarily the design firm/craftsman collaboration, which created some very interesting and groundbreaking designs at the last OM, but the fact that it’s an invitation only, closed competition. No school teams, no solo craftspeople. What made OM such fun was having a wide range of experiences and talents brought to bear on what constitutes a utility bicycle. That seems to have been thrown out in favor of a safe and approachable corporate model. A total sell out in other words.

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    • Dwaine Dibbly March 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      Only 5 teams? This makes the event much less interesting. There will certainly be less total creativity on display. I didn’t like the emphasis on design for the sake of design at the last OM and the next event only goes farther down that path.

      The French Constructeur Trials of the 1930s and 40s were about improving function. It’s a shame that OM has lost sight of that and has decided to marginalize itself this way.

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    • Tony March 23, 2014 at 9:26 am

      I couldn’t agree more, Michael. Certainly the pre-ordained collaborative efforts could happen alongside the open-invitation efforts of smaller/lesser known builders. It’s a serious bummer that Manifest has shifted from being a break-out opportunity to “let’s rely on established builders and give even more publicity & opportunity those who already have the hip designery jobs.” Using the term “sell-out” can be a cliche, but in this instance I think it’s wholly appropriate.

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  • Adam March 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I went from excited to sad as I read this. I loved watching all that took place in the past events and was truly looking forward to building a design and seeing things from the competitors point of view. I suppose that will never happen.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 21, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Perhaps this is an opportunity to set up a parallel event focusing on the elements now missing from the evolving OC event.

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  • JV March 21, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    If the goal of the Manifest this year is to get people who don’t regularly bike to ride, then the judging should reflect that. Get some members from outside the usual bike community to be judges, or even to be riders in the Constructor’s Challenge!

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I think even the ride has been jettisoned, in part due to the ‘Five Cities/Five Teams’ configuration…….

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  • matt f March 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Man, I don’t know…I don’t think the bike itself really has anything to do with why someone rides or doesn’t ride…

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Matt, I totally agree. I never thought of the OM as something that would create an object that would get everybody cycling. To me it was never about that. It was all about the love of the bicycle, about it’s physical manifestation. It’s about the obsession of detail and the beauty of execution which is precisely why the organizers of OM have got it all wrong. They will never incubate a product that “will take the country by storm” because we all know it’s not about the bike but the environment in which we ride. Look at Holland: an example of a cycling nirvana and everyone rides the same bike and doesn’t give it a moments thought. That doesn’t negate what OM represents which is engagement and participation in creating an object of beauty and obsession…..

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      I think the Holland comparison has limits.

      We have a very different culture here. Love it or hate it, it’s the truth. The object, the product, the bike must be compelling as an object for many Americans to consider using one.

      To continue on the Holland analogy… Their bike network is complete like our auto network is complete… So why aren’t we all driving around boring black cars that all look the same and not giving it a moment’s thought? ;-) And look at how much design emphasis we put into our cars. Automakers spend billions every year obsessing over designs to create excitement so that people MUST have a new one or two or three.

      This being said, I agree that nice bike designs are a poor substitute for having nice places to ride them. I think we can have both in the future.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    I can understand people’s concerns about the event. But I’m going to wait and see what ends up happening. The people behind this thing are not trying to make a bunch of money, I think they truly want something special to come out of this… And thus the tweaking of the format. My impression was that the design firms involved are very talented and the teams are all very engaged and committed to the process. In other words, we have top-shelf designers teamed with top-shelf builders and they’ve been given a format and a goal that should be highly motivating.

    As for whether bike design matters, I absolutely think it does. Is bad design/bad bikes the #1 reason so few Americans ride? Probably not. But I do know that the lack of a super cool and functional and accessible bike certainly has a negative impact on ridership.

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    • Tony March 23, 2014 at 8:45 am

      What ends up happening could be cool, but it won’t fix what is wrong right now. Manifest has become an insular who-you-know event. I saw/heard no outreach and as a budding builder who was interested in participating, this is a real bummer. This was the exciting grass roots thing and now it’s pretty much out of reach.

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve no doubt we will some impressive designs. I’m just bummed none of them will mine…….

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  • Pete I March 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Most people don’t ride because they are afraid to. A bike design won’t change that infrastructure and education will. That said I am always jazzed when creatives take on a challenge with such lofty goals…especially when it involves making bikes.

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  • Glenn March 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Chain Guard. I don’t care for a chain case, that makes it too hard to change the tire. In 50 years of riding I’ve never broken a chain, and cleaning and oiling is no big deal to me. But a chain guard compatible with a front derailleur system so I don’t have think about tucking in my cuffs for a short spontaneous ride would be a really practical thing. And a two-leg kickstand that holds the bike level while I load up the racks…

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  • Buzz Aldrin March 21, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    so how’d they pick the teams? was there some sort of prequalifying round?

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Buzz…. good question.

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  • Beth March 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I volunteered at the first event, and could already see that, if future OM’s were to happen, they would probably go down a road rather like this one — increasingly niche, even clique-ish in some aspects, and now, ultimately, a closed circle — all in the interests of pursuing a very particular vision. This is not a public-private partnership, but a privately owned brand and they can do what they please.

    And so can I. I’ll be skipping this year’s OM, and may even try to get some friends together to stage an alternate bike event that showcases the most innovative HOMEMADE answers to the same critera. If you’re interested in creating this with me, contact me off-blog.

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  • michael downes March 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Beth….. I am interested. How do I get in touch? You can contact me on my blog which is: artandindustry.wordpress.com

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    • Beth March 21, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Michael — Unable to contact you via your blog due to tech issues. please reply at my music blog using the contact page there:
      http://www.beth-hamon-music.com
      Thanks!

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  • dwainedibbly March 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    When I hear “design” with regards to bicycles I think of Function being compromised in order to achieve Form, the result being something that just doesn’t work well but sure looks cool. Designers seem to know nothing about bicycling and rarely respect that the modern bike as evolved to it’s current state for a lot of reasons. Making something different just for the sake of making something different is fraught with dead ends and dinosaurs.

    I hope that an alternate event does take place. Mrs Dibbly & I will enthusiastically attend. We attended both previous OM events. We might attend this one out of curiosity, but my expectations have been lowered.

    One thing that I should also say is that I do applaud Fuji for taking a risk.

    How can they call it “Oregon Manifest” if the only connection to Oregon is a single team?

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  • daisy March 21, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    “A bike that would not only work well for urban and utility riding, but more importantly, a bike that would inspire the masses to ride.”

    If the sought-after “masses” young, white, fit men, we’re in good hands.

    Based on names and photos (which I acknowledge aren’t always accurate):

    Chicago: 8 team members include 8 men, most white
    NYC: 9 team members include 7 men, most white
    Portland: 8 team members include 7 men, most white
    San Francisco: 12 team members, 12 men, most white
    Seattle: 6 team members, 5 men, most white

    I’m sure these folks are all incredibly talented. But are these the “fresh voices” our male-dominanted bicycle industry needs?

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  • GlowBoy March 21, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Wow. First I was excited after reading about the event, the design criteria, and Fuji’s promise to commercialize the winner. But it took Michael’s comment to make me focus on the fact that this was a closed competition. I enjoyed the first OM immensely. I saw some really cool, creative, inventive, mostly functional ideas. And a lot of the enjoyment of that was the sheer range of ideas (including Michael’s bike, BTW) triggered by the wide-open competition.

    Maybe this year’s tightened design criteria would have reined in the range of entries slightly, and maybe that would have been OK. Mandatory integration of necessities generally sold as “accessories” is probably a good one – most people expect locking systems and lights to be integrated into their cars after all.

    What’s not OK with me is closing the competition off to all but 5 teams, even if those teams consist of handpicked, seasoned professionals. I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist attending OM despite this, but I certainly will also eagerly welcome (and attend) an alternative event.

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  • Red Dawg March 24, 2014 at 9:53 am

    eh, i can see where they’re going with this, as the display of cool bikes does not really forward the movement in relation to possible jobs and a real retail impact in the bike industry. If we’re all just making candy frames and patting each other on the back, then the industry doesn’t really move forward. I get that, and hope that the Portland design wins.

    THAT SAID, this basically is set up like a reality show, especially with the long drawn out showcasing and voting process and the inevitable culling of social media in order to further the OM brand. totally fine, but not really a spectator friendly event…. more geared for Internet consumption.. like check Twitter to see how the Chicago event…

    THAT SAID, with the loss of the handmade bike show after a couple years of hosting, and the reformatting of OM, I think this city is starving for an opportunity to just meander around a bunch of really sick bikes, maybe pick up some stickers, think about a candidate for a new frame, drool, take pictures, bring a kid, that type of thing.

    The perception here is that frame builders may not see an ROI to showing me and my kid one of their bikes because I won’t be buying one, so they are moving towards events that get them industry visibility, and more importantly, orders.

    Like some of the wineries who open their doors to the masses once a year so you can take a few sips, but really, they are looking for Fred Meyer and restaurant contracts.

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    • dwainedibbly March 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      OMG, I think you hit on something here. They’re going to film it and make it a reality show, to be on TLC, right after Honey Boo Boo. (I’m not being sarcastic. I think this will really happen.)

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  • kww March 24, 2014 at 10:49 am

    It would be cool, if an outsider frame maker, would make a bike without an “invitation”, but the community is so close knit, I doubt it happening.

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  • Mark Allyn March 24, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I thought it was a bit exclusive (invite only, etc). . . . .

    Then I saw the venue and the number of people on Thursday night.

    Small (tiny) venue and large numbers of people.

    I, for one have claustrophobia.

    Also, could I predict that the fire marshal would have wet his/her pants if they say many more people in that space? :(

    Mark

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    • Red Dawg March 25, 2014 at 9:20 am

      If it’s at The Cleaners… You’re not invited.

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  • Red Dawg March 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

    predictably, this got bikesnobbed pretty hard…

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