Cargo bikes reach new heights at ‘Disaster Relief Trials’

Disaster Relief Trials -75
Michael Jones loads boxes of first-aid supplies
at a checkpoint located at the Red Cross on
N Vancouver Ave.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Sunday’s inaugural Disaster Relief Trials (DRT) was a big success on many levels.

The mock disaster scenario (a major earthquake) that the event was based on gave emergency responders and cargo bike enthusiasts a lot to think about. Disaster preparedness volunteers with the City’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) and the County’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service learned how to relay messages during a crisis, cargo bike builders learned how their designs performed under a variety of challenging, real-world conditions, and cargo bike operators learned how to push through the limits of pedal power.

At checkpoints scattered throughout a 30 miles swath of north and northeast Portland, the competitors (split between “Citizen” and “Open” classes) had to pedal through tricky obstacles and load and carry 100 pounds of cargo. The competitors tackled the course in all types of bike set-ups: There were standard bike and cargo trailer combos, longtails, two trikes, front loaders, and even a tall bike.

And a few shots of the bikes in action on the course:

The first checkpoint was the most challenging. It was set up to simulate how to get cargo bikes across damaged routes full of boulders, water, and other obstacles. As captured in photos by Will Vanlue, riders had to heave their large bikes over a 3-4 foot barrier, negotiate a pothole-strewn stretch of road, navigate a boulder field, then ride through a pond. (The three photos below are by Will Vanlue)

There were seven checkpoints in all and at each one volunteers relayed positions and messages back to base camp at Velo Cult Bike Shop in Hollywood. In the photos below, event co-organizer Travis Wittwer logs status updates of each rider and co-organizer Ethan Jewett makes announcements to the crowd…

As the riders finished, a big crowd showed up at the shop to welcome them back.

Beyond its success, the DRT has helped strengthen the community of cargo bike believers throughout Cascadia and it has once again expanded our perceptions of what bikes can do.

We’ve seen cargo bikes replace the mini-van for many Portland families, we’ve seen them serve as rolling storefronts for many local businesses, and now, thanks to the DRT, we’ve seen that these bikes can even act as a crucial transportation link following a major disaster.

The only question now is: Is there anything cargo bikes — and their dedicated and civic-minded owners — can’t do?

More on the 2012 DRT:
– Full BikePortland photo gallery of the event.
– Recap and thoughts from event organizers TRANSPORTland.
– Great photos from Prudent Cyclist.
– Coverage on OPB: Cargo Bikes Could Play Key Role in Crisis”

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