Dispatch from Disaster Relief Trials in Seattle

Posted by on June 24th, 2013 at 11:22 am

Portlander Mike Cobb competed at the
Seattle Disaster Relief Trials.
(Photo by Fred Bretsch – FEMA Region 10)

Seattle cargo bike advocates held their first Disaster Relief Trials event over the weekend. The event sprung up thanks to inspiration from Portland’s event of the same name that was held last year. Portlander Mike Cobb traveled north for the event and sent back a few photos and notes…

All photos by Mike Cobb.

DRT Seattle was a sweet success. They ran a tight ship and facilitated a delightful ambiance, filled with community-involved cargo cyclists swapping stories and fostering friendship, bolstered by a heart-felt common mission. The event piggy-backed on the Bicycle Urbanism Symposium at the University of Washington, so there was good sharing of resources and great cross-pollination-style networking. 40 riders attended (20 cargo bike competitors, 20 regular bike attendants — who received expert disaster relief lessons at each checkpoint). The relief supply payload (25Kg, accumulated) is described below, checkpoint by checkpoint.

Start: News of earthquake event is shouted out to the field of 40 riders. It is brought to our attention that people in our community are in need of: vaccine, water, sandbags, first aid and food. We inflate a pre-deflated tire on our bikes and then run to the registration table to pick-up “vaccine” (three eggs in a partial egg carton).

Checkpoint 1: Run with 4 gallon bucket to lake Washington, fill, lid, run back for signature.
Checkpoint 2: FEMA-staffed: grab “sandbag” (potting soil), portage it, water bucket, and bike over 1meter barrier, register ID (including emergency contact )info at FEMA tent, fill out ID sticker for helmet (including emergency contact).
Checkpoint 3: RED CROSS: Receive thorough instructions on field-repair of a broken Ulna (arm bone). I receive actual expert first-aid for a serious cut on my finger…while I was receiving the bone-repair tutorial.
Checkpoint 4: FOOD BANK: Pick up any two food items. I chose peanut butter and bread.

The crowd gathers, KUOW interviews the fabulous Madi Carlson (a custom pink big dummy-riding dynamo, who advocates for family cargo biking in Seattle).

Mathiew Snyder and his ’92 Bilenky

Relief supplies delivered. The “vaccine” (three eggs) was swaddled in a wool shirt, then stowed in my handlebar bag. No breakage.

The manifest filled, mission complete.

Like we saw in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy in New York, using bicycles as disaster relief tools is an idea whose time has come. Similar to the excitement and partnerships Portland’s event has created, this event in Seattle has already led to involvement by FEMA and their city office of emergency management. Portland’s second annual event will feature the Cascadia Cargo Bike Fair and will be held at OMSI on July 13th.

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Mike CobbdwainedibblyEthanlonggone Recent comment authors
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Way to go Mike. Thanks for sharing. I hope to try this out in the next years or so, it looks like fun.
Added bonus:.. seeing P-town inspiring Seattle.


Portland’s DRT rolls out for supplies on July 13th at OMSI!


So, were there any “lessons learned”? What type of bikes performed best? Would I be better off with a bakfeits or a longtail, or maybe a regular bike with a trailer? Advantages & disadvantages of each time in a disaster situation? Any recommendations on racks or other equipment, etc? How low should my gearing be? What about tire widths & wheel diameters? I guess I want to see these events treated like the French Constructeur Trials of the 1930s. Let’s see how different options compare!

Mike Cobb
Mike Cobb

I love that QUESTION! One of my DRT inspirations is to stimulate the development of technique and equipment for bike-based relief supply transport. To that end, Ethan Jewett and Joe Partridge (DRT Steering Committee) are developing model response bikes on longtail and long john platforms. Splendid Cycles is helping and local emergency management is endorsing the effort.

I would love to see a DRT SEATTLE results chart, with vehicles listed…I don’t think that was an event focus. I can tell you that I was the first one to deliver supplies in Seattle and I used my train-compatible kit (pictured): Surly Steam Roller + Blue Sky Cycle Cart.

Here are vehicle-referencing results (fastest competitors) from 2012 DRT Portland:

Disaster Relief Trials Top Finishers
(7 Checkpoints, 30mile minimum distance, 100pound accumulated payload) 

Citizen  Female (10:35am start)
1) Megan Sinnott (MAP+trailer) 2:14
2) Diana Rempe (Metrofiets) 3:08
3) Shetha Nolke (Bilenky longtail) 3:29

Citizen, Male* (10:35am start)
1) Reuben Deumling (trailer) 2:14
2) Michael Jones (HL Bullit) 2:17
3) Dan Kaufman (D.Trike) 2:29

Open, Female (11am start)
1) Melinda Williams (HL Bullit) 2:23

Open, Male (11am start)
1) Pat O’Herron (Metrofiets) 1:45
2) Vajda (Yuba Mundo) 1:57
3) Joey French (Yuba M) 2:05
4) Adam George (recumbent) 2:06
5) Ryan Hashagen (L.john) 2:06
6) Adam Shapiro (Xtracycle) 2:07

The fastest rider, Pat O’Herron, maintained an average speed of FASTER THAN 17 MILES PER HOUR.

* Matthew Sellens, Metrofiets rider in the Open Class, accidentally started with the Citizen Class riders and finished in 2:03.  Had he started with his group, he probably would have achieved a podium spot.  He sure looked good.

Mike Cobb
Mike Cobb

Dwaindibbly: convenient and secure cargo hold and lashing system is important: for separating payload from bike for the 1 meter barrier portage + dropping a load and/or worrying about load security, especially during the rough terrain section, will slow a competitor down. Check out the DRT “Essential Elements” list on TransportLAND.org (DRT tab) or on Facebook: “Cascadia Cargo Bike Fair and Disaster Relief Trials” for the authentic challenges shared by all DRT events: Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Eugene, and hopefully SF this year.