Now that the Oregon Manifest is behind us and the dust has settled I thought it would be good to reflect on the experience and offer up some opinions about this rather unique competition. It was after all, if not the inspiration, then certainly the impetus that set Jeff and I on the course to designing and building a fairly unique vehicle. Without the focus of the criteria and it’s attendant deadline and the competitive pressure, real or imagined, of the other builders I bet we would still be tinkering with No.1. Having said that any competition that sets out such bold ambitions and with so many worthy entrants is almost inevitably going to disappoint in someway and it is fair to say that in the days immediately following the event I was more than a little depressed. This was in part sheer exhaustion from the brutal week leading up to it and the equally brutal (on a 70lb cargo bike) field test coupled with the natural come down from the intensity of any project of this scale. But there was also the realization that despite seeing ourselves as outliers in the context of Oregon Manifest and our very public claims that there was no way we were going to win anything our egos had taken a bruising. We had allowed ourselves to believe, in the euphoria of the first night gala, that maybe we might win something. As Jeff succinctly put it: ‘I was bummed that I was bummed about not winning’. Now, with a couple of weeks distance, I can see that we were indeed outliers but not for any failing in our concept or execution but because we built a plywood cargo bike….. whoopee. Until we establish a proven track record with this material and method of construction it will always be viewed as a gimmick, a one of a kind like a toothpick Notre Dame, to be admired for a moment before moving on to the serious business of designing and building utility bicycles. What we lacked was credibility and while we are utterly convinced of the viability of this material & methodology we have a long road to travel before other people (like an OM judging panel for instance) see beyond the surface to the deep functionality that we see. Having said that I am gratified to say that No.2 was warmly received and we had many strong endorsements and words of encouragement from friends and strangers alike and while I have some gripes about the field test and it’s relevance given the intended use of our entry I think overall it was a fantastic competition. Some people have criticized OM as bicycle centric navel gazing to which I reply: ‘what’s your point?’ I’m sure there are plenty who gaze in from the outside and wonder the point of it all but if you love bicycles then it was simply breathtaking to stand in the gallery at PNCA and watch these wonderful machines, so full of craft and innovation, roll in. I applaud Shannon Holt and Jocelyn Cycip for putting together an incredible event that is sure to grow in scope and influence as well as becoming a staple of Portland summers like Pedalpalooza and the Rose festival for years to come.
That said here is my list of recommendations to enhance and improve Oregon Manifest for 2013:
1) More categories. Given the wide field of entrants awarding only six prizes over two categories (constructors & student teams) seems a little stingy. How about breaking it down further? Best solo bike, best longtail, best cargo bike, best use of material, best integration of technology. Let’s make it the Oscars of bicycle design.
2) Other areas of cycling that could benefit from the OM effect are apparel design and accessories, especially in a soft goods crazy town like Portland.
3) No need to bus everyone out to the boonies for a field test. It’s slow, boring and consumes a bunch of hydrocarbons belying the sustainable image of bicycles. We all could have ridden out from PNCA quite happily and completed a fifty mile circuit.
4) The ‘no tools except a patch kit and a pump’ rule is non-sensical if you have internal hub gears. Had I been fully equipped to fix a flat, and thankfully I didn’t get one, I would have been DQ’d for having a wrench. Beyond that most people assembled their bicycles the night before the deadline and even the best mechanic in the world will have something work loose over a fifty mile ride with gravel sections. This is a demonstration of innovation, functionality and construction not mechanical prowess.
5) An empty cardboard box and an empty poster tube don’t make a load (I could have carried that in my messenger bag!). Put some real weight in it. Like the equivalent of two full bags of groceries.
6) Create a peoples choice award for the gala night where the public can fill out a card and slip in a ballot box. That way people feel more invested in the competition.
That’s all I got…….