Pushing the boundaries: Oregon Manifest will team with top design firms

New for 2011, Oregon Manifest
will team with Core77 on
‘Creative Collaborations’.

What if you paired a small, custom bike builder with a world-class product design firm? That’s the experiment that organizers of the Oregon Manifest event plan to carry out during their event next year. Details of the 2011 Oregon Manifest were unveiled yesterday and if all goes according to plan, transportation bike design will go to places it’s never been before.

As part of their effort to push the boundaries of design and create the “ultimate utility bike for modern living”, Manifest organizers will link builders up with teams from three of the worlds’ top product design firms (not yet public). These ‘Creative Collaborations’ will be chronicled step-by-step by the widely read and respected design magazine Core77 (which has been named as the official media partner).

According to Manifest organizers, “These three teams will be tasked with re-framing the conversation about bikes as tools for modern living, pursuing design solutions that are effective, practical and truly innovative.”

The aim of teaming up bike builders with big design firms is to “break out of the bike ghetto” says Shannon Holt, one of the Manifest’s organizers.

“Our inspiration is to foster some design innovation around the bike as a tool for living, not just as a recreational vehicle. Something you use all the time that integrates seamlessly into your life.”
— Shannon Holt, Oregon Manifest

Holt says custom bike builders need to break into new markets, and the design community would be a perfect match because it’s larger than the bike scene and full of people who appreciate (and will pay for) good design. Holt says one of their goals is to push the design of city and transportation bikes up to the same level of rigor and innovation that the bike industry gives high-end racing bikes. About the state of transportation bike design today, Holt says, “They’re just making the same old thing and throwing some racks on it. There hasn’t been much innovation in that realm.”

“Our inspiration is to foster some design innovation around the bike as a tool for living, not just as a recreational vehicle. Something you use all the time that integrates seamlessly into your life.”

2010 Oregon Handmade Bike Show -8

Portland builder Tony Pereira won the 2009 Oregon
Manifest design challenge with
this smartly integrated U-lock.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The auto industry has worked closely with the design community for decades (many design schools in California have entire programs dedicated car design), so it makes sense to put velomobiles on the same design track as automobiles. And, as Holt points out, something great could come out of it; “What happens when you mix someone who’s used to working with a file and a flame with resources like 3-D printers and CNC machines?”

In addition to the Creative Collaborations, the Oregon Manifest will bring back their Constructor’s Design Challenge (set for September 23-24) where builders compete to make the ultimate transportation bike. Each entry will have to go through the Oregon Manifest Field Test, which is described in the excerpt below:

“This rigorous road trial [that] will assess the real function of every bike in the challenge, in real world environments including hills, highways and off-road sections. It will include several on-road check points where judges will evaluate specific features of each bike. The Field Test requires riders to keep a brisk pace that will stress their bikes to the limit, and demands a well-crafted, expertly assembled entry in order to complete the route in good time. Final evaluation and point tabulation will occur after all bikes have completed the Field Test.”

New for the 2011 Design Challenge will be five student teams from design schools who will compete alongside veteran bike makers.

Stay tuned for the full launch of the event in January when we’ll learn about which design firms, builders, and schools will be participating. Check out OregonManifest.com for more info and see our comprehensive coverage of the 2009 event.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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13 years ago

I hope one of the design considerations is affordability. I love the envelope that this city’s custom builders are always pushing but just once I would like to see something for the everyman and everywoman.

13 years ago

I love the Oregon Manifest Field Test – I enjoyed reading about it last year – but I wish speed was downplayed or eliminated in its evaluation.

For many (perhaps even most) interested in “the ultimate transportation bike”, comfort and convenience are key. Speed (beyond a reasonable minimum standard – maybe 2-3 times walking speed) is largely irrelevant.

Focus on speed is what has created the current imbalance in transportation options. Shouldn’t we be recognizing this and downplaying it as part of our efforts to create a level playing field?

13 years ago

I hope this design collabo approach produces some fruitful results. I’m skeptical about two things:
1) I think (or maybe hope) most framebuilders are already savvy about knowing where to find/hire a good machine shop to get access to “resources like 3-D printers and CNC machines” if they need that. Heck, you can take shop classes at PCC and get access to those things.

2) This is blasphemy (especially since I’m a framebuilder myself… though not a particularly great one): How much room is there for innovation here, really? No one has yet succeeded in improving on the basic design of the Safety Bicycle in more than a hundred years of trying. That says something. The design is simple, practical, cheap to make, and actually, come to think of it, manages to serve quite well as a “tool for living… Something [I] use all the time that integrates seamlessly into [my] life.” And this despite the fact that most of the time I ride a mass-produced, not-very-innovative, Trek. (I ride it because it’s simple, cheap and built like a tank.) So there might be a good reason people are “just making the same old thing and throwing some racks on it.” It ain’t broke.

But I’d still like to see what would happen if people applied the same rigor to urban bike design that they do with racing bikes. I just hope they get the design criteria/goals right — that’s essential. Have your endpoint in mind at the outset. In racing it’s generally an optimization of some combination of “performance” factors like weight, stiffness, etc. For the average urban cyclist what are the criteria? I’d say it varies for each individual rider, which is why the custom approach is so great, but if you’re talking about the average person who’s not particularly a “bike person,” it’s probably cost, durability, simplicity and maybe appearance. Or if they’re a “bike person” it might include weight and other performance concerns… there’s some overlap. I’d like to see them get the criteria right. Even better, I’d like to see someone come up with a truly new criterion, i.e. solve a problem we didn’t even know we had! (One that actually exists and matters, mind you.)

Phew, sorry, that was long.

13 years ago

As a designer, utility bike rider and Core 77 reader (online), I’m spilling over!!! When organizations like this come together, my faith in humanity is revived! Sorry to be so dramatic, but I’m totally geeked.

13 years ago

Design firms? Really? I’m concerned that this is going to turn into a “form over function” exercise, which is exactly the opposite of the old French Constructeurs Trials that OM is based upon. It’ll be interesting to watch and I’ll try to keep an open mind.

13 years ago

I gotta second Roland. I never knew what was so wrong with the Trek hybrid I bought years ago. I don’t mean to sound grouchy, but this kind of event gives the impression that something’s “missing” in the current bicycle industry. I disagree: I can go in to almost any bike store here in town and find a bike that has gears out the ears, plenty of space for a rack and fenders, and can ride gravel roads to boot, all for under $500. That’s amazing! What more could one want in an “ultimate utility bike for modern living”?

Ms. Holt says they’re “just throwing some racks on,” but I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing. Integrated racks are so much better? Seems like the ultimate utility bike ought to be well-geared, sturdy, weather proof (if you’re really getting utility out of it, it’ll be totally covered with road grime and crud) and cheap enough not to break your heart when someone steals it off a staple rack. How can a Wieden Kennedy designer improve on the $500 hybrid, then? Judging from the “design” work that always makes it onto BikeSnob’s blog, we might end up with all-white fixies and “innovative” hubless wheels.

Reading the article closely, I find this nugget:

“Holt says custom bike builders need to break into new markets, and the design community would be a perfect match because it’s larger than the bike scene and full of people who appreciate (and will pay for) good design.”

If this is really just about encouraging designers to buy bikes from local builders, why all the hoopla? Whatever happened to advertising? For that matter, I thought most of those bikes were well designed to start off with.

I’m all for the local artisanal bike industry- it’s a huge boon to the local economy, and the local access is great for those of us who have the money. Pereira’s bikes are beautiful, artisanal, and highly functional (though I’d feel like a tool if I left one outside in the rain, locked to a staple rack, while I’m at work for 8 hours). But do they really need help selling their great bikes to designers?

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
13 years ago

Yeah, it is nearly impossible to improve on the basic design that was perfected, oh, a century ago.

One had best be a superb engineer for starters, but that would not be enough. Few engineers are excellent designers, able to optimize structure and mechanism to a given end.

“Bicycle Design,” by Mike Burrows is the necessary starting point. “City Cycling,” by Richard Ballantine is a good follow up. Good luck catching those blokes!

My personal solution is to slap a front brake, fenders, rack on a decent cheap steel track frame, then put in the effort to learn riding fixed. Can’t be beat.

13 years ago

The U lock solution Tony Pereira figured out is presented on the Manifest webpage as creative thinking, and it is an outstanding idea. This is the kind of thinking they want to encourage. Collaboration with designers seems like a good way to generate more ideas like this. I wonder if any bike manufacturer is considering using this idea on their city bikes?

Slapping accessories (meant to fit on just about any bike) on whatever bike you ride does not always work that well. There are issues with clearances, and stuff tends to loosen and fall off.

Lights, locks, load carrying ability, and the kind of durability that stands up to neglect and the elements are important issues that can challenge designers. I look forward to some fresh ideas.

The race is just a way to test how well a bike holds together under stress, and is just one part of the evaluation. I don’t think anybody is going to drill holes in their chainrings to make their utility bikes lighter.

Integral lights that are always on when the bike is moving should be standard on any city bike. Not some blinky, or bolt-on, or anemic battery light that can be detached by a passerby. How about a powerful LED integrated into a handlebar stem or on a front carrier; which itself is welded to the fork…

beth h
13 years ago

Based on what I saw at the first Oregon Manifest — which I enjoyed, by the way — I’d be surprised if affordability was a part of the design criteriae.

Quote: “Our inspiration is to foster some design innovation around the bike as a tool for living, not just as a recreational vehicle. Something you use all the time that integrates seamlessly into your life.”

That right there says a whole lot about which markets these folks would like to open up.

Seamless integration of multiple facets of one’s life is not generally front and center in the minds of those scraping by on an hourly wage; nor is the idea of ordering and owning a custom bike.

I’m fine with the Oregon Manifest as a concept; in fact, if it spawns some new bike designs that could seriously be followed up on a larger scale by the bike manufacturing sector, so much the better. Mass production is what brings bicycle prices down, after all.

But I would suggest that Design Is Expensive, and perhaps MUST be so, in order to attract the kind of money needed to develop projects past their experimental stages. Once designs have caught on to enough people, then we can hope for trickle-down to the masses.

I’d say enjoy the Manifest for the geek show it promises to be, and don’t ask the designers and advertisers to make affordability a priority. If they did that, people with lots of money wouldn’t be as interested. Whether we like it or not, the process by which something starts out as COOL and can, only much later, be made to seem SENSIBLE, is how new designs often develop in a free market.

If you don’t believe me, go back and study the history of how the first automobiles were marketed back in the day; they began as playthings of the rich, and only decades later did Henry Ford decide that bigger would be better and mass production made car ownership more affordable for everyone. Though we may detest the thought, the marketing of new bicycle designs isn’t all that different.

12 years ago
Reply to  beth h

I never said affordability should be a priority, just a consideration. I don’t think custom lugs and intricate paint have a place on a utility bike, so that is one way to cut cost dramatically. Another way is to steer towards components that are more about durability than prestige, they almost always cost less and last longer. I think it would actually be more of a challenge to create something simple and useful, and still distinctive to the individual builders’ style, without all the expensive aesthetic flourishes.

I don’t think design needs to be expensive because ideas can come from anywhere, and from anyone regardless of what wage they command. If you really want to go back into the history of automobiles I will say that many of them were created by private craftsmen in their home garages, as were motorcycles, and bicycles. No think tanks, just people with ideas and the tools to manifest them, not unlike Oregon’s crop of bicycle framebuilders.