Builders challenge; design the ultimate transportation bike

Posted by on July 9th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

[ is an official media partner with the upcoming, five-week Oregon Manifest event that will celebrate bike builders from across the nation, bike advocacy, and much more.

Stay tuned for more coverage of builders, events, rides, and more.]

A few of the builders who will compete.

Portland just might bear witness to the Next Big Thing in transportation bikes.

As we’ve shared recently, city bikes are (finally) sweeping the bike industry right now and that makes the timing of the Oregon Manifest’s Constructor’s Design Challenge competition all the better.

The Design Challenge is based on what were known as “technical trials” held in France in the early 1900s. In those trials, builders built frames and components to achieve specific goals and that would have to stand up to actual riding (as opposed to making a bike for to be displayed at a bike show).

In the shop with Joseph Ahearne

What will those crazy builders
think up?!
(Photos © J. Maus)

Top builders from all over the country — including Independent Fabrications (Massachusetts), Circle A Cycles (Rhode Island), and Richard Sachs (Connecticut) — will participate in the event. Young builders, like Portland’s Ben Farver of Argonaut Custom Bicycles, will go against legends of the craft like Oregonian Mark Dinucci, who’s coming back from a 20-year building hiatus to compete. The event will also pit one-man shops against much larger and well-established brands.

Another exciting aspect of the Design Challenge will be to see what builders like Richard Sachs — who’s known for his specialty in road and track bikes — will come up with when forced to build a bike for transportation and city riding.

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Local builder Tony Pereira says the idea was “to drive innovation.” It was through events like this, he says, that French builders came up with and perfected many major innovations we now take for granted, including; derailleurs, multi-speed drivetrains, forged aluminum parts, cantilever brakes, brake levers, and so on.

Ron Sutphin, President of United
Bicycle Institute, will be one
of four judges.

Pereira is looking forward to the event and is interested to see what innovations might sprout up. “The idea,” he says, “is to see if we can come up with a better bike.”

Four judges from a diverse background of bike building and product design will decide which builder gets the Grand Prize — a custom-tailored, bespoke suit by tailor Timothy Everest (valued at $3,500 dollars).

The judges are:

  • Rob Forbes — Founder of Design Within Reach and Public Bikes
  • Sky Yaeger — Designer of Swobo bikes and industry revolutionary
  • Ron Sutphin — President of United Bicycle Institute
  • Bryant Bainbridge — Product creation, Specialized Bicycles

They will judge the bikes on a specific set of design considerations including; handling, integration, presentation and execution, load carrying, security, portage, utility, and more.

All builders (19 at last count) will present their finished creations to the judges at a public event on October 2nd. After the final judging, bikes will be entered into a race (meant for fun) that truly tests their mettle (some builders will ride their bikes, others will designate a stand-in).

Learn more about the Oregon Manifest at the official event website. For all the details on the Constructor’s Design Challenge, download the event press release (PDF, 76kb).

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john sOpus the PoetEvanRyNO DanStreetsblog San Francisco » Today’s Headlines Recent comment authors
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Very cool. I’m excited to see what they come up with. Being a bike geek who is fascinated with the technical aspect of bikes, I would love to see some innovative improvements in design features that allow you to change the configuration of your bike. Eccentric bottom brackets and sliding dropouts are pretty useful in that regard, but I wonder how they could be improved.

Something else that would flip my wig would be a hydraulic-drive bicycle. If you could transmit power efficiently from the pedals to the wheels through a system hidden within the frame tubing, and use it for braking and infinitely variable gear ratios, that would be f. amazing.


Bikey innovation is pretty fantastic. In honor of the spirit of innovation and the Design Challenge, I reprise my greatest literary work, the Ode to the Derailleur:

Ode to the Derailleur

[Say it with me, like the French: de – rail – yeur. Not de-railer.]

Oh, how I love my derailleur
as I fly past the hipsters without failure
You are an object of human ingenuity
like the works of Norman Mailer

I can ride faster because my gears are not fixed
I can shift you between and betwixt
quicker on the climb, and on the descent
I adjust my power to one hundred percent

Oh, derailleur, how could anyone forsake you?
you are an engineering marvel, and functional too
I suspect it’s more about fashion than simplicity
Oh, derailleur, why can’t they see –
You are the ultimate in bike utility!


poetry + dis = lmao

Jessica Roberts
Jessica Roberts

Rad prize…but does that mean they’re assuming all the builders will be dudes?


Yeah, right Jessica?!? Natalie from Sweetpea for the win!!

Opus the Poet

Jessica, a custom suit is one thing first and foremost, custom. That would mean more feminine styling should the winner desire. I hear that more and more women these days are actually wearing pantaloons similar to men’s wear 😉



This is something to look forward to. I have to wonder how many designs will end up similar to the alluded classic French designs.

It would be also interesting if they designed it to a price point. Most of these builders are amazing that have signed up, but is a transportation bike really going to sway the masses if it costs over $1000.

If thats a slight to Mr. Design with(out) Reach so be it….


I would like to see a nice 24″ wheeled bike for the 8 to 12 year old market which had fenders, rack, lights, belt drive and internal geared hub. Seems like the only options are BMX or mountain bikes. I don’t think my 8 year old needs full suspension or a stunt bike to get around town. Parents are spending a lot of money on cargo bikes to transport their little ones, but where’s the options when they’re big enough to start riding on their own?


Jessica # 4

That is why it is the Oregon MANifest.


RyNO Dan
RyNO Dan

And Please,
While you’re at it –

Could you design a volks-trailer,
a trailer design than anyone can build with easily attainable parts. Some welding OK.

Please ?
(maybe just a hitch ?)
Thanks !!


I don’t think cost should necessarily be an object in this competition. We are trying to come up with ideas here, right? Ideas that could be implemented on a larger, cheaper production scale at a later (I was kinda hoping for sooner) date. Remember when disc brakes were only available to the elite? Now even townies have them. The goal here is to get more people riding (whether or not it is instead of driving). If this competition furthers that goal, no matter who wins the suit we will all win in the end. Cheers and best of luck to all the participants, and those who will inevitably copy them.

Opus the Poet

OK I have a question. I build some cargo bikes here in TX and one of my most useful items on those bikes is the double 10mm layer Coroplast grocery carrier. It can keep frozen food solid for a ride of at least an hour. On the converse of that one of the UGLIEST items I sell is that very same double 10mm layer Coroplast grocery carrier. There is just nothing that can be done to make that thing pretty, or even socially acceptable. It’s Coroplast, and it’s a box (or 2 boxes) on the back or side of the bike. No matter what I do it still ends up looking slightly “ghetto”.

Is this going to be a fashion show, or judged on function?

john s

Quentin, to answer your question. Hydraulic is probably not viable. First you need a hydraulic pump, then hydraulic lines, tubing, and then some sort of hydraulic turbine, motor.. to make variable adds additional complication. Tolerances have to be tight, things would be heavy, more than anything the design and manufacturing would be expensive. Now, not saying it can’t be done, might be an interesting project. But first you would want to talk to an hydraulic engineer ie someone who works for Hyster or Bobcat, etc (ie machines that run on hydraulic)

As far the judging I hope at least one of the judges is a experienced and degreed mechanical or manufacturing engineer. So much bike stuff gets made with disregard for proper stiffness or strength and or cost or ability to easily and cheaply make and recycle.

For example Cantilever brakes mentioned above are in many aspects an incredibly poor design!

That said 90% of engineering is common sense, and if everyone waited for things to be tweaked to perfection, nothing would get done..