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Disaster Relief Trials bring cargo-bike heroism back to Portland

Posted by on July 13th, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Photo by Al Hongo.

Portland’s 30-mile catastrophe-themed urban bike competition returned for a second year Saturday with a splash and a lot of grunts.

“Bikes in general solve more problems than they create, and that holds true even when we’re at our most desperate.”
— Austin Horse, DRT open Class winner

In all, 48 cargo bikers set out from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry past a series of checkpoints at which they picked up three eggs (representing vials of a precious vaccine during a hypothetical outbreak) from a local health station, a bucket of “food” from Sauvie Island and two buckets of fresh water hand-scooped from the Columbia River.

Total cargo weight by the end of the event: 88 to 132 pounds depending on class, according to steering committee member Michael Cobb. Cobb conceived the “spirited scavenger hunt” in 2010 as a fun showcase for the potential of cargo bikes to play a key role in disaster response after an earthquake, tsunami or other devastating event removes easy access to gasoline or electricity — something experts warn is likely in Portland.

“It stokes the Pacific Northwesteners’ either public or private deep-seated belief that we’re headed toward some sort of war, famine, zombies, aliens, disease, economic collapse, whatever,” said Al Hongo of Eugene, a volunteer at Saturday’s event. “It’s so rad.”

The route wrapped back and forth across the Willamette River several times, leading participants on an overland trek:

Photo by Al Hongo.

After crossing the Hawthorne Bridge back to OMSI, participants hoisted their cargo and vehicles over a jersey barrier:

and pedaled in to cheers at the finish line.

Organizers used walkie-talkies to track participants in each of three classes: “open,” “citizen,” and “e-assist”:

The first-place finisher in the “open” class was Austin Horse, 31, of New York City, a retired bike messenger who’d flown to Portland to take part.

Horse said he’d fueled up the night before with “a bowl of something” from the Sweet Hereafter pub and packed four bananas in his pannier for the day:

In the “citizen” class, an only slightly less intense trek, the first to finish was Ken Wetherell of Portland Pedal Power. Cory Poole of the NW Skate Coalition even participated on his cargo-equipped skateboard:

Photo by Al Hongo.

Mark Ginsberg of Berkshire Ginsberg LLC, who finished fourth, said his secret was to go “slow and steady.” He’d taken a 10-minute break mid-race to get a drink at New Seasons, he said.

Turbo-charged by DRT steering committee member and chief evangelist Ethan Jewett, the event drew sponsorships from OMSI, several cargo bike makers and the emergency preparedness departments for the City of Portland and Multnomah County. The organizers lined up other partnerships, too.

“It’s really great to see the fed authorities included — FEMA was at some checkpoints,” said Ryan Hashagen of Portland Pedicabs, who finished the course for the second consecutive year. “I feel like Portland is leading cargo bike innovation for the rest of the country.”

In all, Jewett said, about 41 men and seven women had taken part in the competition, which is (like so many volunteer-driven Portland street culture events) a nonprofit project performed under the wing of fiscal agent Umbrella. Riders paid $50 to participate.

Horse, the New York City visitor who won the open class, said he was motivated by the chance to visit Portland and by his conviction that cargo bikes are a way for ordinary people to solve problems for themselves — fed in part by his own experience helping with relief efforts last summer after Hurricane Sandy.

“Bikes in general solve more problems than they create,” Horse said. “And that holds true even when we’re at our most desperate.”

Several of the photos above, and the first two below, are the terrific work of Al Hongo, reposted with permission. You can find more of his photography from the event on Instagram under the handle mybagisbigger. If you know of other good photos from the day, link to them in the comments below!

– Read more about bikes and disasters in our archives.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley July 13, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Inspiring event! I think it’s kind of cool that a guy from New York City (NEW YORK CITY?!? [points if you’re old enough to remember that reference]) won. That way, BikeSnob can crow a little, and we can all be proud of Austin Horse and his fellow cyclists who helped out after Sandy.

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    • Craig Harlow July 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      Pace, baby 🙂

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  • dbrunker July 14, 2013 at 12:13 am

    Darn, and here I thought I’d get into at least one of the pictures.

    Cory Poole on his skateboard was just astonishing. I was writing down competitors’ numbers and looking in the direction they were coming when I heard something about a skateboard. I though it must be a bike with a trailer made from a skateboard. Then I saw this guy kicking for all he was worth and a woman and little kid running next to him, cheering him on.

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  • Joseph E July 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Cory Poole finished 30 miles (according to his GPS) by skateboard in under 4 hours, placing 11th out of 19 in the “citizen” (non-pro) category. And he pushed with the same foot for the whole route. To get thru the final water obstacle, which the bikes were able to ride thru, he picked up his board and his cargo trailer, loaded with 80 lbs of cargo, and carried it thru the water, and then over the last concrete barrier. I hope someone will post that video!

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    • Cory Poole July 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm

      I should note that I carried the heavy part of the load across the water separately. Water is hardest obstacle for skateboards to overcome. Bikes clearly have a huge advantage in wet situations. But I had so much fun I can’t wait till next year. Perhaps even the Eugene DRT if a way could be found around the prohibition of skateboards on the street.

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      • Joseph E July 14, 2013 at 11:29 pm

        I hope you can represent skateboards in Eugene. The only thing I can find says that skateboards are prohibited on 13th avenue in Eugene, it doesn’t seem to be the whole city:

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        • Shane July 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm

          Yeah, it’s the whole city unfortunately. You can ride the sidewalk…except downtown.
          Hope we can get it changed someday. Though, it’s not really enforced from what I hear.

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      • Shane July 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm

        Dang I hope we can!

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  • Joseph E July 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Beth also has a set of photos up from the Cargo Bike Fair and the DRT finish line:

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  • Katie Proctor July 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

    It was an inspiring, difficult event. I was glad to participate.

    That said, I’m disappointed that of the only seven women who participated, not one is pictured here. It was a male-heavy event, no doubt, but showing only men in coverage erases us entirely.

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    • KYouell July 14, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Katie, my butt is in the 4th photo. Not good enough, is it?

      I’m serious, Katie is right, there should be more photos of the women as they rocked the course just as hard as any of the other competitors, on longtails, front-loaders and bikes with trailers. Nice work everyone, not just the guys.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm

        Kath and Katie, you’re totally right – I did think about this, but didn’t act on the thought. Part of the issue is I was only there for about 30 minutes after the first few riders came back. I’ve added a photo that includes the one woman who came by when I was there – I believe her name is Diana Rempe, though I’m not sure.

        I’d love to include the sweet photos you guys linked, but didn’t get permission to do so. If any one knows how to get in touch with Dat and ask, I’ll do so.

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        • ladyfleur July 15, 2013 at 10:46 am

          Thank you very much for adding the extra photos of the women racers. The fact that we don’t finish toward the front of events is sadly why women frequently get overlooked.

          Not just in races, but in century rides too. There’s nothing like arriving at a rest stop to find the food picked clean by faster rides. The fact that there only say 15% of the riders were female didn’t make me feel any better coming in to the end of the party after riding hard for 100 miles.

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    • Katie Proctor July 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      This is Diana Rempe, the fastest woman on the course at 3:22.

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  • Sarah Williams July 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    My husband did this again after competing last year, and I’m sad to say that even as a spectator it wasn’t as cool this time around. No music, no beer bike, no food stands…just plenty of unmarked tents that may or may not have had something to do with the cargo bike community, I honestly couldn’t tell. My kids were bored and cranky ten minutes in to getting there while we waited for the riders to start coming in, and since I wasn’t clad in spandex or hauling a $3,000 bike around, no one was very friendly or talkative. The biggest display of joy from this extremely insular crowd was when the dude from New York who did this for a living came in first place. Um, yay? Also, totally agree with Katie Proctor, really skewed coverage regarding the women. I was contemplating joining the event for next year, but I think my time and money would be better spent somewhere else. Bummer.

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    • Beth Hamon July 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      I would definitely share your concerns with the event organizers. I’m sure they will appreciate any and all feedback to improve the event in 2014.
      That said, in my role as a volunteer, my job was to try and get an “official” count on all the cargo bikes and related vehicles in attendance, and to try and interview as many participants as I could prior to the start of the DRT event. I brought a camera as an added thing on my own, and tried to get as many pictures as I could before my batteries died.
      As for the lack of clarity around the larger event, this may have to do with the fact that the DRT was part of a larger gathering (being hosted by OMSI). Again, I think asking questions of the organizers would be a good way to begin a discussion towards improving an event that is only in its second year and which saw explosive growth in that short time.
      Happy riding!

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    • Mike Cobb July 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Sarah, consider your criticism heard. One of the compromises we made by locating at OMSI was heeding their cafeteria food vendor contract: no food cart competition allowed. Re: accommodating the needs of kids, honestly I was so embroiled with DRT circuit management then finish line announcement, I didn’t notice how our plans for kid entertainment went. I’ll at least glean from your disgruntlement that we didn’t publicize or sign well enough to direct you to the kid tent. Thank you for coming, we sure want you and your family back next year and we heartily welcome you to join our all-vounteer crew at some level. Feel free to personally contact me – antload at gmail dot com.

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      • KYouell July 25, 2013 at 11:56 am

        Re: kid activities

        I was the volunteer staffing the kid area. Because we located the kid activities in the registration tent, we didn’t set out all the art and helmet decorating supplies until after all the riders were off. I made a sign, went around and told the woman at the gate with a map and checklist (who I had asked for directions when I arrived so I thought others might) and talked to people at the booths near intersections where curious people might ask what was up. Oh, and at the other kid craft booth, next to the free helmets. Despite having beautiful free artwork to color (thanks, Tomas!), lots of blank paper, scissors, stamps & ink pads, we had flowers and all sorts of other things to decorate helmets. We really only had kids come hang out at the end, when spouses started showing up to see riders come in. Even then it was more a shady space to hang out than kids really wanting to craft. I think everyone was too tired, hot, and hungry by then.

        In my opinion it was a very worthwhile thing to have the area set up, but without the food that wasn’t snacks, lots of people weren’t hanging out with their kids. I wasn’t aware of the deal with OMSI or I would have been letting parents know that the cafe was an option. As a mom I know how important having lunch is to the success of a day out!

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    • Mike Cobb July 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      Also – Austin Horse is not a courier any more, was never a cargo courier, currently is working hard to bring Spinlister up to speed – a peer-to-peer app-based national network for bike sharing. He’s also interested in helping to start DRT NYC.

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  • BIKELEPTIC July 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I’m so excited for this event! And just like last year, you got amazing weather! Maybe next year I’ll finally join you all and haul my little cargo dragging, long-hauling butt in the fray!

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  • Todd Boulanger July 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I am always impressed and inspired by the cargo cult class of cyclists…I had only small mobility dreams of riding to work and the store when CAT and Bakfiets danced in my head back in 2004. The work of this and many others have brought it so far in the NW! It was a fun event to watch yesterday before I jumped on the Amtrak.

    And today I am in Eugene and saw a poster on the street about their cargo disaster event in October. (Still time to train! And perhaps the Portland participants will cargo bike down for the race!)

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  • Fred King July 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Bike cam footage of the Citizen Class course

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  • Jeff July 15, 2013 at 6:22 am

    I’m skeptical that cargo bikes will really be of much use in the coming zombiepocalype. Other disasters? Sure. Zombies? Nice knowin’ ya folks!

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  • Fred King July 15, 2013 at 6:53 am

    My bike cam footage:

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  • rob July 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Is there a contact for signing up as a cargobike riding volunteer? I would love to get involved with my Extracycle. I didn’t see any “who to contact to be a volunteer cyclist” info in the article.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Hey, Rob, good question. If you’d like to be involved for next year I’d suggest getting in touch with the organizers. Maybe start here:

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    • Patrick July 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      I think what rob is asking about is how to volunteer in the event of an actual emergency. The best avenue for this is through the NET program. The teams are structured in a very bottom-up manner, at the neighborhood level, but if you use the contact links at, PBEM can put you in touch with the NET in your neighborhood. Or better yet, sign up for the NET training and you’ll be even more ready to help out. Plus, free hard hat.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm

        Thanks, Patrick.

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      • rob July 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        Awesome! That’s exactly what I was hoping for, though I am more than willing to do both. Thanks Patrick and Michael!

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  • Peter W July 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    > Horse said he’d fueled up the night before with “a bowl of something” from the Sweet Hereafter pub and packed four bananas in his pannier for the day

    Oh please. Are we really going to have bananas, in Portland, after the apocalypse? (j/k)

    Seriously though, great event and great advertising for utility/cargo bikes. The exhibit at OMSI was great (and the bikes were the best part).

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  • Josh G July 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    #35 Krista Rees deflating and inflating at mechanical stop.

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  • drew July 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I was interested in entering the citizen class, but could not find any information about how to do this online. I understand there is a facebook page about it. Is entry limited to facebook members?

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  • Aaron July 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    My wife and noticed them near Marine Drive…I think this is the first time I have ever seen cargo bikes carry “cargo” and not kids.

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  • Mark P. July 16, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I had a blast riding, it was the first time I had been in a cargo bike paceline, it was sweet!

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  • Fred King (#29) July 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

    It was the hardest thing I’ve done this century. Is it possible to have a Senior category next year? As Obi wan Kenobe said. “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.”

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  • jim July 17, 2013 at 12:00 am

    What? No pontoons?

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