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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
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Anne Hawley

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.

dbrunker
Guest
dbrunker

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.

Joseph E
Guest

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!

Joseph E
Guest

Beth also has a set of photos up from the Cargo Bike Fair and the DRT finish line: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethness/sets/72157634632278132

Katie Proctor
Guest

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethness/9279624649/in/set-72157634632278132

http://instagram.com/p/buE8m3EW95/

Sarah Williams
Guest
Sarah Williams

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.

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

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!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

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!)

Fred King
Guest

Bike cam footage of the Citizen Class course

http://youtu.be/k2qWP1JGtAc

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

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

Fred King
Guest

My bike cam footage:

http://youtu.be/k2qWP1JGtAc

rob
Guest
rob

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.
thanks!

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

> 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).

Josh G
Guest

#35 Krista Rees deflating and inflating at mechanical stop.

drew
Guest
drew

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?

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

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.

Mark P.
Guest
Mark P.

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

Fred King (#29)
Guest

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.”

jim
Guest
jim

What? No pontoons?