The details of the 2014 Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project were announced in downtown Portland last night. Among a crowd of professional product designers, bicycle builders and bike industry tastemakers, event director Shannon Holt introduced five teams that will compete to create the “ultimate urban utility bike.”
And this year, the stakes are higher than ever. As announced by Holt last night, the winner of the Bike Design Project will see their creation turned into a full-fledged production model manufactured by Fuji Bikes. The company has committed to make 100 bikes and the winning model (after it’s been value-engineered to a lower price-point than a one-off, custom bike) will be available in select bike shops in 2015.
“It’s important to go from ideation to production,” Holt told me last night. “Our role is to be an outside catalyst for the industry and to fulfill that we had to have manufacturing.”
Since its inception in 2008, the goal of the Oregon Manifest has been to push the limits of what a city bike can do. A bike that would not only work well for urban and utility riding, but more importantly, a bike that would inspire the masses to ride. The ultimate dream of organizers was that this mix of design and inspiration would be a catalyst for a new bike that would take the country by storm.
Put another way, Oregon Manifest Executive Director Jocelyn Sycip told me last night they hope to inspire, “The next Schwinn Sting Ray… That coveted thing we all want to get on and ride.”
But so far, that dream has not been realized. Yes, there have been successes and the event has definitely touched a nerve among bike fans and industry insiders, but so far it hasn’t spawned that One Big Idea that garners widespread, mainstream attention. This year could change all that.
Looking for the “fresh voices that will take us into the next century,” Holt introduced five hand-picked teams from five cities last night. Like past years, each team is a collaboration between a product design firm (from outside the bike industry) and a bicycle builder. Here are the this year’s teams:
- Chicago: Minimal & Method Bicycle
- New York City: Pensa & Horse Cycles
- Portland: Industry & Ti Cycles
- San Francisco: Huge Design & 4130 Cycle Works
- Seattle: Teague & Sizemore Bicycle
The design firms are full of young, up-and-coming stars with impressive projects under their belts. Paired with experienced bike builders, they’ll have until July 25th to finish their designs (they started work in December). On that date, Oregon Manifest will host parties in each of the five cities and public, online voting will begin three days later. The winner will be announced August 4th.
Each team will work from the same design criteria that comes with several mandatory features each bike must include: an anti-theft system, lighting, fenders, load-carrying capacity, ability to stand freely, and it must be road worthy. Unlike the 2011 event, there will be no large-scale race event to test the bikes. Instead, each team must submit a video of their bike in action and in real-world scenarios.
As to what type of innovations might come out of this contest, Oved Valadez, a designer with Portland-based Industry said his team will be looking for a “category busting” idea. To do that, he says they will step back and ask questions. “What prevents people from riding? Is it the tech, the fear, the fashion?”. Valadez said design firms specialize in asking the right questions, a much-needed skill in creating a groundbreaking product. And it’s one that bike makers don’t always have.
“Every great idea comes alive with friction,” Valadez said, when asked about working so closely with a bicycle maker, “And there will be friction.”
Having this outside perspective on bike design is something the industry needs more of, said Chris Distefano. Distefano has a long bike industry resume that includes stints with Shimano America, Chris King Precision Components and his current employer, Rapha. He explained how these collaborations with design firms could bust the industry out if its bubble. “You have product managers who make bikes for bike magazine editors and you have bike magazine editors who write reviews for product managers,” he said, “These [the bikes in the Manifest contest] will be the bikes they [the designers] want and need.”
And hopefully, the winning bike will be wanted by the public. With the promise of production, the teams in this year’s Bike Design Project have much more than civic pride and bragging rights on the line, they’ve got a shot at a lasting legacy. And who knows, maybe one of them will create the next Sting Ray.
— Full event details at OregonManifest.com