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Oregon Manifest: Read what builders consider ‘key design features’ for utility bikes

Posted by on September 23rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Team Metrofiets explains the highlights of their entry to the panel of judges as the Oregon Manifest competition continues in Northwest Portland today.
(Photos © J. Maus)

As you might have gathered by my two stories and photos today, the Oregon Manifest is not your average bike show. In fact, it’s a completely different approach than what you might be familiar with if you’ve been to, let’s say, NAHBS.

The builders at this show (called “constructors” around here) were given an assignment many months ago to build the “ultimate modern utility bike.” But they don’t just make the bike, polish it up and show it off.

Judges at work-75

Dave Levy explains his entry to the judges.

All the entries are judged by a panel that includes Joe Breeze, MTB legend and founder of Breezer Bicycles; Bill Strickland, Editor-in-Chief of Bicycling Magazine; Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach and Public Bikes; and Tinker Hatfield, product innovation guru at Nike (the panel is moderated by United Bicycle Institute president Ron Sutphin).

Each builder and team was required to give a two minute presentation to the panel about how their bike met the detailed criteria laid out by show organizers. Each entrant also wrote up a list of their bike’s “Key design features.” Those lists now hang on each bike as they await the throngs of visitors at tonight’s big public unveiling (7:00 pm at PNCA NW 13th and Johnson).

I snapped photos of a few of the key design features lists and thought some of you might like to read them. It’s a neat look into what some of America’s top bike builders and designers feel should be essential parts of the “ultimate utility bike.” (If you want to view these larger, check them out on Flickr.)

“Lockable storage”
Boxer Bicycles key design features-70

Art and Industry key design features-69

Ahearne key design features-65

Geekhouse bikes- key design features-53

Donkelope bikes - key design features-52

Quixote Cycles - key design features-44

Retrotec - Design features-42

Ira Ryan - Key design features-39

After judging, the bikes will undergo a 50-mile “field test” tomorrow. It’s not a race; it’s just a chance to see how the bike performs in the wild in real-world conditions. Stay tuned for photos and coverage.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • 9watts September 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    something else worth considering in a utility bike (that is actually to be used as one day-to-day rather than showcased at this incredible event) is that it have nothing important that is easily removable/stealable. To me a utility bike would specifically *not* ‘be easily adjusted without tools’ because, you know, some thief could adjust it right out from under you.

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    • Scott September 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      All darts and no Laurels. That phase of design comes later when they dumb it down for consumption 9watts. Have you ever seen/heard of a concept anything being even 75% practical? Wouldn’t be very conceptual would it?

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      • 9watts September 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

        I appreciate the sentiment, Scott, but in this case will disagree. These bikes are being put through a
        ‘real world test’ and the whole point of the competition as I’ve understood it is to be applied, real world, utilitarian, etc. So I think we can invoke some of these things at this stage–or am I missing something?
        I know if I’d entered a design that having it fit onto a Trimet bus or be reasonably theft-proof would have been on my list. I think this whole thing is fantastic and I’m having trouble seeing the bikes through all the laurels so I’m not too worried.

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        • Alan 1.0 September 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm

          You’re both right. There are two sides to the coin, innovation and utility, and neither one alone would be as interesting as this pairing of them. The tension and attention between them spurs the discussion. In economics, discussion of utility quickly turns to the diamonds-and-water paradox, where monetary value is not directly related to utility. Neither a diamond-encrusted bling bike nor a purely utilitarian BSO with a big box would deserve the attention as these OM creations.

          9Watts’ litmus tests of the bus or theft resistance, and Clever Cycle’s blog questioning OM’s test of hauling a 6-pack 50 miles*, pique my interest. How about mixing that mileage up with some dirt surfaces, add some streetcar crossings, urban traffic, parking and lugging the bike, cargo trade-offs of 100 pounds of spuds, some 8-foot lumber and a china dinner setting for six, and then haul a passenger the last mile? And if you can beat the pack by loading it on the bus, you could still win the race!

          One other thing, which the students at PNCA know all about, is that in a juried design competition such as this, critique is part and parcel of the show. No project will come out unscathed, and the point (again) is the discussion of the pros and cons of the various design solutions, not trashing-talking anyone’s cool creation.

          (*Why not just big pockets in a jersey and a fast trials bike, but then who’s to say that’s not ‘utility’ in that rider’s view?)

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    • nom de plume September 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      Don’t worry, Trek will borrow the best ideas, ship them to Taiwan, and incorporate them into their 2013 line of bikes.

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    • Chris September 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      Making something easy to adjust doesn’t prevent you making it tricky or time-consuming to remove outright. Takes a little extra creativity, but it can be done. Sure, the standard quick-release seatpost binder leaves you vulnerable if no other features are added, but there’s more than one way to get that job done.

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  • Ted Buehler September 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    If Velomobiles are the promised Flying Cars of the future, these are the promised Flying Pickup Trucks.

    Very nice!

    Ted Buehler

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  • SilkySlim September 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Utility, for me at least, is an extremely efficient grocery getting bike. That being said, I’d like to see a top-tube baguette securing mechanism, an insulated beer hold, and perhaps a salad-spinner that harnesses pedal power.

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  • Patrickz September 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    W O W. We’re lucky to have your good work, Jonathan. Thank you for BikePt. What a treat.

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  • Zaphod September 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    If all goes as planned, I’m entering this thing if it ever comes around again as I have a number of ideas that I’m confident will be well received.

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  • GlowBoy September 24, 2011 at 10:47 am

    It was really cool to see the range of integrated racks, lights and locks. Lots of innovation and “ideation” (to use terminology from the judging criteria) here. This needs to be more common, rather than regarding these items as “accessories”.

    On another note, I did think that a few of these bikes had a significant flaw for urban environments: excess width. Some of them (such as the huge deck of the Metrofiets entry) were wide enough that I think they’d be problematic. Not only for weaving through tight spots, or past bollards when you enter and leave MUPs, but also for maneuvering and parking when you’re off the bike. This is especially a problem for some of the entries with sidecars. Sidecars are great (my kid enjoyed the use of one for several years) but to be practical they can’t be much wider than the Chariot SIdecarrier (, which got it right.

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    • METROFIETS September 26, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Hey GlowBoy,

      Good observations – we did take into consideration the bollards as a design consideration and our deck is way narrower than the min spec as defined in the MUTCD [(FHWA) under 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 655, Subpart F)].

      As the deck is narrower than the width of motorcycles with saddle bags we felt that there won’t be a problem with maneuverability in traffic (a reason that the shape of the deck is large in the front – it gives the rider a visual cue for width when approaching a passing opportunity)

      Storage could be an issue if one lives in an apartment without secure storage but parking/locking is a snap as is turning it around in a tight spot – all things being relative.

      Thanks for your comment!

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      • GlowBoy September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

        After more thought and discussion, it seems that width is more of an issue if it’s behind you (as on the Rans HammerTruck, which I found cumbersome to maneuver on foot) than if it’s next to you (as with the Chariot Sidecarrier) or in front of you. I still think it would be a problem for a couple of the sidecar entries, but on second thought probably not a big deal on your bike.

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  • randy September 24, 2011 at 11:57 am

    A “utility” bike needs a lockable, solid sided container to hold the stuff you purchased at the first store while you’re shopping in the second store.

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    • dr2chase September 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Not as large a problem for me as you might think, though it does cause me to order my purchases. So buy beer last.

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      • Alan 1.0 September 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

        Even at my first stop I’d like to secure my pump, tire levers, spare tube, patch kit, multi-tool, bike-computer/gps, etc., like the tray built into the rear deck on the Littleford entry, for example.

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        • randy September 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

          I recently read an article about stores not liking it when cyclists bring a knapsack in w/ them. One bike riding reader commented he was sorry that he didn’t transport himself in a giant mobile safe, i.e., a car. The humor highlights my point perfectly. A utility bike needs a safe to protect all kinds of stuff we decide to carry w/ us.

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          • GlowBoy September 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

            No kidding. I usually don’t have problems wearing my backpack into stores, but Next Adventure recently gave me a hard time about it. Their counter area is very open and not secure looking, so I was unwilling to leave my bag at the front, and they only very reluctantly allowed me into the store.

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          • dr2chase September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

            It’s a non-issue for me. I don’t leave my backpack in my car, either. Its contents are usually worth considerably more than the car.

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