What to expect at the Disaster Relief Trials

It’s here! The biggest event of its kind in the world.

One of the most interesting and influential bike events in Portland starts with a kickoff party tonight. The Disaster Relief Trials was first held last year at Velo Cult Bike Shop in Hollywood and since then the event has ridden a wave of interest, gotten attention from local, regional, and even national agencies, and has spawned imitators in Vancouver (BC), Seattle, Eugene, and other cities.

This year’s event features two big parties, the Trials themselves, and the “Cargo Bike Fair” — a huge gathering of cargo bikes and the people who love them. I’ll share more about what’s on tap, and highlight a few of the bikes and riders below…

Madi Carlson from Seattle will be
competing in the Citizen Class.

The kickoff is at one of Portland’s cargo-bike innovators, Joe Bike on the corner of SE Cesar Chavez and Lincoln. Owner Joe Doebele has been active in the local cargo bike scene and he’s got another reason to celebrate tonight: It’s his fifth year in business. It goes from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, everyone’s invited and there will be food and drinks provided.

Tomorrow the Big Event kicks off early at OMSI. There are 47 competitors registered this year, and they’re arranged in three classes: Open, Citizen, and E-assist. The range of personalities and riding backgrounds of the competitors is one of my favorite aspects of the event. This year, organizers have recruited some very big names who will no doubt put on a display of speed and skill; but there are also regular folks who have simply caught the cargo biking bug.

Take Citizen Class competitor Jon Berkner for instance. He’s just a “single dad with errands to run” who’s never ridden his Yuba Mundo longtail more than 10-12 miles. Then there’s Open Class competitor Austin Horse. He’s an eight-year messenger veteran who has traveled to Portland from New York City just for this event. You can read about more of the competitors on the DRT blog.

And bikes? You’ll see just about every cargo combination that exists. From old-school “Burley” trailers attached to regular city bikes, to the latest in custom-made cargo bike goodness. Speaking of which, local builder TiCycles has collaborated with Portland’s EcoSpeed to create an amazing e-assisted cargo bike dubbed “Utility Horse.” The bike (see it below) won an award at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and it will be on display at the Cargo Bike Fair.

(Photo courtesy EcoSpeed)

Another interesting bike you won’t want to miss tomorrow is the “Comms Bike.” Created through a partnership between Ethan Jewett/Stickeen Brand Services, disaster preparedness consultant Joe Partridge of Genevieve Consulting, and cargo bike specialty shop Splendid Cycles, this bike is a new product developed specifically for use in disaster response. I met up with Jewett (the DRT’s chief evangelist, who picked up the idea last year after it was conceived in 2010 by local bike lover Michael Cobb) last night to get a closer look.

Mobile command center bike-2

Mobile command center bike-7

Mobile command center bike-3

Mobile command center bike-1

Mobile command center bike-5

Ethan at the controls.

Jewett says the project started as a way to win a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). When that fell through, Partridge, who was convinced of its merit, urged Jewett to continue its development.

” “You can send text messages, social media updates, and emails from the bike even if something laid waste to the entire city.”
—Ethan Jewett, Stickeen Brand Services

Features of the Comms Bike include:

  • full power via a 27 watt solar panel and GoalZero battery inverter system
  • 10 external USB ports
  • first-aid equipment
  • loudspeaker for announcements
  • a fire extinguisher mounted to the cargo bin
  • custom cargo bin commissioned from Joel Grover of Splendid Cycles by local craftsman/designer Jake Rosenfeld
  • a waterproof, 50 watt, two meter HAM radio
  • antenna atop a 14-foot telescoping mast to pick up radio signals after local repeaters have shut down
  • an iPad on the dashboard of the cargo bin that running DeLorme InReach GPS mapping software
  • custom LED lights on the front and sides of the bike

The bike is intended to be a communications base station that can be kept at a neighborhood park where it can provide power, lights, and a staging area. All the communications and other electronic equipment is maintained in the cargo bin, so the bin can be detached and left at a staging area and the bike can continue to be used to haul cargo. It was built as a retail product and the cost ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 depending on how it’s built up. “This bike is done and awaiting a new owner. If New York City calls up and they want it, we’ll put in a box and send it to them, and make another one,” says Jewett.

With connection to the iridium satellite constellation, Jewett says “You can send text messages, social media updates, and emails from the bike even if something laid waste to the entire city.”

It’s sister bike is a modified XtraCycle EdgeRunner longtail that carries stretcher and a host of other EMS equipment. That bike was donated by XtraCycle, whose founder Ross Evans will be at the DRT event tomorrow.

You can see all these amazing bikes and the people who are passionate about them at the DRT event which takes place all day tomorrow at OMSI. There’s also an after-party at Velo Cult that starts at 7:00 pm. Full schedule here.

Learn more about the DRT from its organizer, Ethan Jewett, via his interview on Wednesday’s Sprocket Podcast.

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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JR 'eh
JR 'eh
11 years ago

Wow! Way to go on those new bike designs all. Very Impressive! I am sorry to be out of town for this year’s event. I hope the Quixote – Clever Cycles Xtravois2.0 will make a showing and that the evolution of this event provokes further design and preparedness advancements.
I find this so much more interesting than shaving off a couple watts through windtunnel testing or making gear clusters that “go to eleven”.
Good work and good luck.

Anne Hawley
Anne Hawley
11 years ago

That Comms bike is amazing! FEMA missed a trick by not funding that grant.

11 years ago

Just listened to the Sprocket Podcast with Ethan Jewett on my lunch hour today. Enjoyed hearing his perspective there and reading more here. Will try hard to make it to the trials tomorrow!

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
11 years ago

I know what bike I hope comes to the next Cycle Wild camping trip…10 USB hook ups! Wow!! (No more running around looking for an outlet in the woods.)