Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not Completely Manifest

Okay, I know the custom builder bike cognoscenti is going to be ticked off about this, but what the heck is going on with the Oregon Manifest? Oh.....wait, let me fill in the blanks here....

No motor, not "fancy", but it is "Utility".
 The whole idea was for the Portland area constructors of bicycles to take up a challenge where they would build a specific type of bicycle, in this case, a "utility bicycle", then they would, according to all rules set up along the way, be judged on their creations. Then, they would be put to a test of riding them on a specific course, for which there would be a winner. So, something of a race ensued, as I understand it.

Now, while that is cool in and of itself,  I find it all somewhat amusing, and totally puzzling when fancy custom bicycles that cost the price of a good used car, (at least in these parts), are proffered up as a "utility bike" that should be seen as a "car replacement option".

Really? (And apparently, I am not the only person that feels this way. See the comment #1 on this Bike Rumor post here)

Ya know, it is great to see the passion, focus, and dedication to utility cycling that these folks show. I don't doubt their enthusiasm and drive one bit, but c'mon! These bicycles are not going to get the "non-cycling public' excited about ditching the Suburban or that aging Caravan. Like the commenter said on the Bike Rumor post, "I did not see a single machine that beat a Trek Soho or similar as an urban bike"

Hey, neither did I.

The thing is, these are geek-bikes for bike-geeks, and by the response from the bike geeks out here that I have seen, it worked. They made bike geeks feel all warm and fuzzy. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but it isn't advancing the goal of getting the "non-cycling public" into bikes, or even thinking about thinking about getting on a bike.

Electric Assist? I don't need no stinkin' electric assist!
Now when I actually am loaded down with cargo, and rolling down the street, or carrying my son on the Snap Deck, folks look at that. They see "someone doing the deed" on a bike that looks "normal", to the extent that it isn't "fancy", costs four digits, and is accessible to their minds eye.

I remember being stopped at a convenience store last summer by a guy who was generally stoked by my rig and the possibilities it presented. Did he get out of his car and go utility bicycling? I don't know, but my lowly rig, and "normal" clothed appearance made it something he could grasp.

The Oregon Manifest wouldn't work here. Maybe it does out there on the West Coast. If so, I apologize for thinking less of it, but here? Ha! Yeah........right. In my opinion, most folks, even cyclists here, are going to be on a similar page to the commenter I referenced.

What I'd like to see is an Oregon Manifest that is "readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight" as an accessible, realistically priced, practical bike that folks would see as something they would ride for fun and utility. Something not high priced. Something not so exclusive, but inclusive. Something that looks like a bike. (Really, that wouldn't be so bad, would it?)

Works of rideable art are fine and all, but "utility" means something far away from that for most folks. Especially if the folks you want to get out of cars are going to look at them as being something useable. Just my two cents.

Maybe me and the guy commenting on the Bike Rumor post are just daft ninnies that don't get it. But, I'm betting we're on to something here......


Johann Rissik said...

With all due respect, without prejudice and off the record, your honour; the Oregon Manifest is is so far up it's own rectum that it may never again see the light of day.

Bill G said...

Mark you make a great point. It does not take a lot to make me covet a bike, but to drop 4K (and more) for a bike that I can take to the grocery store - well that takes a lot of justification that I just cannot come up with. Maybe someday when I am retired in flat Florida it will but not right now.

They are cool to look at though - you have to admit that ;)

Matt said...

I agree... heck, I think even the cargo-type bikes out there now are expensive! I'd love to get one, but so far I haven't been able to justify it over "normal bike+panniers" or "normal bike+kid trailer."

Scott Loveless said...

The only "car replacement" bike I've seen within the last few years is the Bakfiets. It can carry both kids and keep them out of the weather. That's my criteria. But at $3500 (probably closer to $4k after shipping and taxes and taxes on the shipping) it's out of reach. I couldn't sell the family's real car for that much.

So I built up an old Bridgestone MB-2, got a trail-a-bike and a trailer, and we hitch it all up and ride the bike train to school every day. Rain or shine. I figure the whole rig, including rain gear for me and the big one, was less than $700.

Chris Skogen said...

Insert link to article on Sun Atlas Cargo bike here. http://www.joe-bike.com/cargo-bikes/sun-atlas-cargo/

Vertigo Cycles said...

I get what you're saying, Mark, I really do. I think it's important to keep in mind that (in my mind) this whole thing was about small innovations or even rehashed ideas that can make it into the marketplace. I think it's unrealistic to think that many of these bikes can have marketable merit on their own. A few of them may be recreated by their builders for aficionados but that's probably it. To see the real impact of what a show like this accomplishes, pay attention to what Trek and Specialized have to offer next year.

Tim said...

Wow! You guys get all excited about new bikes in Las Vegas that cost as much or more, and then go all negative on a dream build utility bike competition. I am amazed.

Maybe I'm biased, since a good friend from San Luis Obispo was in the competition (honorable mention), and have known the third place since he worked his lathe in the basement of a bike shop in Santa Barbara in 1979.

True, I cannot afford one either, but eye candy is eye candy, and who knows what the student competition part of this can lead to in the future?

The times, they are a changin'!

Guitar Ted said...

@Vertigo Cycles: Wow! I must say that your response here is like a breath of fresh air. This is because of who it is coming from as much as how/what you wrote. I am very impressed.

My "behind the scenes" discussions about this subject with someone from an important Portland based cycling company, (think "royalty"- hint), also turned up some really positive growth and good deeds done to bring more folks on-line into the "utility/commuter" bicycling scene, so I know there is more to this than "good looking bikes".

However; the perception that anyone gets that pays even cursory attention to this Oregon Manifest is not going to be the same as what they will think when Trek, and the like, come out with whatever innovations were tested out there. See what I mean?

There is a story you guys are writing out there that isn't being told. Your comment is part of that. I would suggest that getting a focus on these things is better in the end than featuring someone that won a race on a pink-ish electric assisted bicycle with a bulbous growth on its nose is.

Thanks again for the considered and refreshing comments!

Vertigo Cycles said...


I just wanted to chime in again to make a few more points.

I love the OM idea, I really do. I have a few issues with the judging and the testing but I know that they're doing their best and more importantly, they learn from every event they put on. Two years from now, I'll be they change the test again and tweak the judging criteria again. I don't want my absence from OM to be a sign that I don't support what they're doing...it's only a sign that I've matured a little bit and knew that I couldn't build what I envisioned while keeping customers and family happy.

Back to my previous point about marketability...it's just numbers. While the number of small builders had exploded in the last five years, we're still such a tiny share of the overall bike market. Add that the prices can often rival those of top shelf production bikes and we're not leaving ourselves with many potential customers. Few of us build a high percentage of transportation bikes...the high end custom transportation bike market is a niche within a niche...there's not much incentive for any one of use to spend a great deal of time developing those bikes and the processes to build them.

That's why OM is cool. 20 or so builders stepped out of their boxes and went nuts. I guarantee that each builder learned a lot, even more once they got feedback from the ride. More importantly, there are at least 20 more people riding what they envision as the ultimate utility bike. Needs change, visions change and what you saw at the show is what was envisioned by the designer/builder/customer right now. Two years ago, my buddy Eric got ribbed a little because he built a fixie and carried a bag...but that was his ultimate utility bike. The winner this year built something that he can undoubtedly use on a daily basis. Watch him again two years from now when his son is almost three years old. His needs will be different then.

Guitar Ted said...

@Vertigo Cycles: Thanks again for your considered comments. I know the custom bike market is small, that custom builders can "only do so much", and that needs change so therefore designs follow that. Those are perfectly fine and valid points.

My thing is that the perceptions the folks that are not bike nerds get is not what the custom builders and the bicycle industry as a whole wants them to get. Namely, that this OM deal is so far removed from reality for them that it doesn't matter, or worse.

Building "real" bikes that are accessible to "joe" and "jill" public at reasonable prices seems to my mind the ideal that would strike closest to "utility" for those that are still thinking cars are the way to go here.

Is the custom bike builder the place for that? Ultimately, no, as you so well put. However, as you also said in your first comment, the custom bike market is where the mass producers get there ideas from. I think that it is imperative that this be recognized and promoted. This and the other stories that aren't being communicated well are what I am trying to point out here.

Jason said...

There are certainly some great looking bikes, and clever ideas that I've seen in the OM pics. However a common theme among them is aggressive postioning with level or lower handlebar-saddle ratios. In my experience this position is not welcome in a cargo/utility/city bike. Sit upright, be comfortable, be visible, and have better control of a loaded bike. Of the winners, none of them would I lock up at the store, lean against a tree, or take on a trip for a week's worth of groceries. Electric assist on a bike that could barely carry a watermelon? Gag. Loud colors, stereos, and flasks? Obnoxious (illegal?).

Now if I had lots of money and needed a bike for going to garage sales in a gated community, I'd be in heaven.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was an awesome competition. I also think that most of the products are in a range of affordability if they are going to replace a motorized (auto) vehicle. $5000 is a large sum of money, but it is about what you lose in interest and depreciation when you take out a 5 year loan for a new $20,000 car. Arguably, a custom made bike is "worth" what the craftsman/person puts into the design and integrity of the end product. Honoring the craft of building a bike from start to finish and what the Challenge represented (and the end products these fine people came up with) leave a smile on my face.

Vertigo Cycles said...

@G.T. - price most likely isn't the biggest obstacle in getting people out of their cars and on bikes. People need the infrastructure and the need to feel safe on the road. Once over that hurdle, ute bikes need to actually be in front of people when they walk into a bike shop...of course people need to walk into an actual bike shop and not the bike department at their local mega sports store.

The pink/bulbous bike is important because it represents what could be available in the future. Lockable storage? Rad! Integrated lock? Rad! Electric assist? For some people that could be super useful...maybe a small person who needs a quick blip to cross a busy intersection, or to help get over Mt. Tabor at the end of a work day. I can totally see that and I totally agree that it needs to be 1. in front of people and 2. more affordable. Unfortunately that's not going to happen until the mega builders see a product they can mark up and put on the floor at the right price point for the demographic.

Obviously this is a huge issue with many, MANY undercurrents that could be discussed at length.

@Jason. It gets less scary when, despite the price, you stop thinking of the bike as a coveted item and let it be the tool it is. I felt the same way and I've been guilty for fetishizing bikes for way too long. It wasn't until I built myself a bike for the last OM that I stopped worrying about it and realized that I'm paying for homeowners insurance (and business insurance) for a reason. All removable items are secured with safety torx bolts, keyed locks for the hubs and a Krypto lock. If someone takes it, it'll suck, but that's what the insurance is for.

Guitar Ted said...

@Vertigo Cycles: Actually, you broach upon an important subject here, price AND availability. (In regards to "getting said utility bike in front of people")

That's a whole "nuther" story there, but in brief, look at 29"ers as an example. Niche market gets grass roots growth after lesser expensive alternatives than custom bikes happen. Growth extends throughout market place over a period of years based on simple, multi-use bikes, (ie: Karate Monkey, et al), then bikes appear in mass market, because that follows trends.

It's more complex than that, but in a nutshell......

And as far as electric assist, and bikes that, well, (for lack of a better place to discuss this-), just don't really look like bicycles, this alienates people more than it makes them think bicycles are a good idea. (And that's disregarding the whole mo-ped deal, which I won't get into here), Again- why do we need to re-package what has been distilled over a century of design and evolution to something pretty darn near perfect?

A simple, cheap, effective tool is what we need here. I mean, look at the Dutch, or the Chinese models. They've pretty much figured this all out already. Refine that, and you are there.

Infrastructure for cycling is happening without the utility factor, in many cases, which the non-cycling public sees as wasteful. If indeed the cycling public were hitting the streets in larger numbers to do simple errands, go to work, and ride to and from schools, then the public at large probably will start changing their tune on this subject. Cart before the horse? maybe, but that's how I se it going down here in the US.