Courting disaster

Words by Adam Newman, photos by Howard Draper

This is it. The Big One. With no warning the Cascadia Subduction Zone begins to shift, resulting in a massive earthquake and tsunami that ravishes the Pacific Northwest. In Portland bridges are unsafe to cross, gasoline is being rationed and electricity is spotty. Luckily the city is filled with cyclists who can transport water, food, medicine and other relief supplies quickly and easily.

Ok, so the massive earthquake that threatens Western Oregon hasn’t happened yet, but if or when it does the local cycling community will be well prepared thanks to events like the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT). A checkpoint-based bike race with a cargo-hauling twist, it’s designed to promote resilience in the face of the inescapable. In a handful of cities on the West Coast, the event simulates a supply run on cargo bikes (or whatever bike can handle the load).

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I joined dozens of other first responders, cargo bike fanatics and curious participants for the Portland edition of DRT, which fanned out 30 miles across the city. From a central hub we raced to checkpoints where we picked up supplies including a case of food, a big bucket of water, a wooden pallet and a fragile egg. Along the way we had our manifest checked off and our cargo inspected. Different categories separated payload weights along with e-bikes or team efforts.

Cooperation was key in many respects, of- ten for route finding but also to lift the bikes over a four-foot wall and push them through a difficult uphill dirt section. All the participants were eager to help each other and the volunteers manning the checkpoints were helpful and friendly.

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The variety in bicycles represented was astounding. I’ve certainly never seen such a collection of longtails, bakfiets, trailers and trikes. Most were Yubas, Bullets and Surlys but there were also quite a few handmade bikes. I borrowed a beautiful, Portland-made Metrofiets for the event and, despite my limited experience piloting such a craft, it turned out to be a great platform for the day. Even with a massive front end, the bike handled well and shrugged off my 100 pound payload. All I had to do was pedal—and remember that the Shimano Alfine 8 shifter is backward…

Event founder Mike Cobb said he felt a wave of emotions after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010. While the quake itself was unpredictable, the secondary disaster of homelessness, famine and disease that followed was entirely preventable. Fueled by “anguish motivation,” Cobb knew he had to do something. Intimately involved with the with cargo bike com- munity (Cobb’s day job is at Splendid Cycles, a Portland-based cargo bike shop) he began to brainstorm how a cargo bike democratizes disaster relief. Professional disaster response teams are reliant on infrastructure to complete their duties, but bicycles can aid in citizen-led community resistance.

“I was suddenly struck with incredulity,” he said. “Why aren’t cargo bikes considered a top tool of community disaster resilience? Why isn’t ‘Do your neighbors have cargo bikes?’ one of the common questions posed to communities seeking resilience?”

“There are always resources not too far away from a given disaster but the normal infrastructure that allows you to transport recovery resources is usually destroyed and there is never a budget big enough to have emergency tools in place to overcome all infrastructure obstacles with a motor when the time comes. I just envisioned a decentralized approach in addition to the massive traditional approaches.”

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Cobb said that most people’s supplies will run out after about three days, and “Day 4” supply runs are where bicycles excel. Whether it’s fetching clean drinking water from a community drop point or providing pedal power to charge radios, lights and mobile phones, cargo bicycles are perfectly suited to infrastructure-independent self support.

“They are inexpensive, small and light, they require very little maintenance, and so they lend themselves to mass distribution across the landscape,” he said. But Cobb knew getting buy-in from policymakers would be difficult.

“I know most of the civil servant decision makers view bikes as toys,” he said. “I knew that the first task for making the case for cargo bikes’ relevance in disaster recovery was to display their abilities in dramatic style and to stimulate design technique by hosting a race. Competition is always a great way to stimulate design and technique, and I knew nobody was really working on optimizing cargo bikes for disaster recovery.”

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After a few years the event started to get the attention Cobb wanted. He secured sponsorships from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and assistance from FEMA’s Region 10 that covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Partnerships with Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams and San Francisco’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams blossomed. Founded after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, these community-based groups train and equip volunteers to take the lead in disaster situations and keep a small cache of tools and supplies.

“A cargo bike leverages the NET abilities by allowing you to survey your neighborhood faster, distribute tools and materials faster and by allowing you to go outside of your neighborhood to collect resources and bring them back to your neighborhood,” Cobb said. In the future he hopes cargo bike volunteers will get priority for training and given extra responsibilities suited to their bike.

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The Disaster Relief Trials is expanding to Memphis, Tennessee, this year, and organizer Cort Percer explained that not even his city is safe from seismic activity.

“Memphis is in the heart of the New Madrid Seismic Zone in which the last major activity of 8.1 magnitude was said to have rang bells in Boston. The zone is predicted to erupt every 200 to 300 years. The last major quake was in 1811.”

The city isn’t waiting around for that to happen before it gets to work. Percer said the response from local emergency management agencies has been positive and the event is attracting national sponsors.

“I think of bicycles and the DRT like an 8 mm Allen key,” Percer said. “Not every multi-tool has an 8 mm Allen, but when you need it not much else will suffice. And the 8 mm is a part of the whole, along with the Office of Preparedness, the Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, the Red Cross, the fire department, the parks department, the faith-based community, etc. They all make up the multi-tool.”

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Of course, racing full speed around the city with a giant pallet strapped to your bike doesn’t really simulate the hazards and challenges of an actual disaster situation, but it does help the visibility of the cycling community as a resource that should be considered in disaster planning. On hand were emergency personnel and first responders from several local agencies were practicing communication and operations while a disaster relief information fair was being held next door.

At the end of the day I was exhausted, sore and satisfied. I certainly hope I never have to put any of the experience I gained into use in an actual emergency but, in the meantime, I had a lot of fun.

“Fun is one of the most powerful ingredients in advocacy,” Cobb said. “Advocacy that’s entertaining is powerful.”

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Surly hauls the fat with new Big Fat Dummy

No one does weird as well as Surly, and the latest creation to emerge from the frozen plains of Minnesota wears the word with pride. A combination of cargo and fat bikes, this new mashup takes the best attributes of both and smooshes them together like that hydraulic press guy.

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So you probably think the Big Fat Dummy is kind of like a Big Dummy, but with fat tires. But it’s not. Surly couldn’t just make the thing wider and expect it to work, so it started with a clean slate (or at least a clean bar napkin) and redesigned the frame to be stiffer and handle better.

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Surly shared these cool comparisons of the Big Fat Dummy (dark green) and the Big Dummy (Kawasaki green). 

Surly says the new bike can fit a 26 by 5.25 tire, which is bigger than anything on the market so far (Hmmmmmm…..) but if you want to go wider than the stock 3.8 inch Nates you will have to get creative with the chainline. To fit those monster meats it stretches the rear axle to use a 190 x 10 QR or 197 x 12 thru axle. The bottom bracket is widened to match, at 100 mm, just like an Ice Cream Truck and many other fat bikes. The bike can swallow 29plus easily as well.

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Compared to the Big Dummy, the BFD also has a slacker head tube angle and higher bottom bracket for more trail crushing capability. Ultimate trail work bike anyone?

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It will come as no surprise that the bike is big (more than 7 feet long) and heavy (more than 50 pounds), but that’s not really the point, is it? But you can weigh it down with up to 400 pounds of rider and cargo, so good luck with that!

Head on over to Surlyville for some more details.

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NAHBS 2016, Pretty Pictures, part 2

More bikes and builders. More goodness. So much goodness.

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Sean Walling – Soulcraft

“Merchandises like he worked at the Gap” award

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Walling has been part of the NorCal framebuilding scene for a long freaking time. Not Bruce Gordon-long, but still. Walling did learn the craft from Gordon, and Ross Shafer at Salsa (long before Salsa moved to Minneapolis). Soulcraft was an early proponent of the drop-bar dirt bike, probably due to the fact that the original 700×43 Rock and Road tire was so easily accessible. First with the Groundskeeper (which became a more racy cyclocross bike) and now with the Dirtbomb (yes, the band inspired the name), you can get your monstercross on here. That custom painted Pass and Stow rack is aces. More info: Soulcraft

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 Erik Noren – Peacock Groove

“You can buy this domain for 12 monthly payments of $158” award

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Noren has been that guy at NAHBS for year. He builds bikes that attract attention. Lots of it. But this isn’t a put-on by Noren, in my experience, it is just who he is. This cargo trike is the latest in a line of flashy bikes, but this one is eminently functional as well. A 500 watt motor provides some serious extra go-juice, and the oversize batteries also power turn signals and 4-way flashers. An eight-speed Alfine hub acts as a jackshaft, sending power to a rear differential from a go-kart. The shift lever on the downtube is the parking brake lever. While this thing was very well finished, and very flashy, it was also very simply executed. More info: Peacock Groove

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Todd Ingermanson – Black Cat

“Head badges? We don’t need any stinking head badges” award

 

 

 

 

 

Black Cat is probably best known as a mountain bike builder, but drop bar bikes are well within Ingermanson’s wheelhouse. This one is an understated champ of a bike, using Black Cat drop outs, a clean meeting of graphics and logo, and a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain. More info: Black Cat Bikes

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Brad Hodges – W.H. Bradford Custom Bikes

“Droppers for everyone!” award

 

 

 

 

 

Talk to me about bikes for more than half an hour, and I’ll bring up dropper posts and how I want one on all my bikes. The dropper is what pulled me to this bike first, but there are a lot of sweet details that shouldn’t be missed. The fork is a Whisky with custom machined bottle mounts installed by the carbon wizards at Ruckus Composites. The dropper lever is tucked up nicely next to the left brake lever, and  Porcelain Rocket did another primo job on the bags. More info: W.H. Bradford

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Curtis Inglis – Retrotec and Inglis Custom bikes

“Clown car” award

 

 

 

 

I’ll admit it, I lust pretty hard after our former-web-guy Jeff Lockwood’s Inglis-built road bike. This one is similar, although it adds a set of disc brakes, and probably a bit more tire clearance, both good things by my accounting. This is another one of those bikes that seems some flashy at first, but is really very understated when you look closely. More info: Retrotec and Inglis Cycles

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We’ve got a few more odds and ends from the show to talk about, check in again tomorrow.

 

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Cargo bikes to the rescue at the Disaster Relief Trials

Photos by Howard Draper

This is it. The Big One. The Cascadia Subduction Zone has shifted, resulting in a massive earthquake and tsunami that has devastated the Pacific Northwest. In Portland bridges are unsafe to cross, gasoline is being rationed and electricity is spotty. Luckily the city is filled with cyclists who can transport water, food, medicine and other relief supplies quickly and easily.

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Ok, so the massive earthquake that threatens Oregon hasn’t happened yet, but if or when it does the local cycling community will be well prepared thanks to events like the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT). A checkpoint-based bike race with a cargo-hauling twist, it’s designed to promote resilience in the face of the inescapable. In a handful of cities on the West Coast, the event simulates a three-day supply run on cargo bikes (or whatever bike can handle the load).

I joined dozens of other first responders, cargo bike fanatics and curious participants over the weekend for the Portland edition of DRT, which fanned out 30 miles across the city. From a central hub we raced to checkpoints where we picked up supplies including a case of food, a big bucket of water, a wooden pallet and a fragile egg. Along the way we had our manifest checked off and our cargo inspected. Different categories separated payload weights along with e-bikes or team efforts.

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Cooperation was key in many respects, often for route finding but also to lift the bikes over a four-foot wall and push them through a difficult uphill dirt section. All the participants were eager to help each other and the volunteers manning the checkpoints were helpful and friendly.

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The variety in bicycles represented was astounding. I’ve certainly never seen such a collection of longtails, bakfiets, trailers and trikes. Most were Yubas, Bullets and Surlys but there were also quite a few handmade bikes. I borrowed a beautiful, Portland-made Metrofiets for the event and, despite my limited experience piloting such a craft, it turned out to be a great platform for the day. Even with a massive front end, the bike handled well and shrugged off my 100 pound payload. All I had to do was pedal—and remember that the Shimano Alfine 8 shifter is backward…

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Of course, racing full speed around the city with a giant pallet strapped to your bike doesn’t really simulate the hazards and challenges of an actual disaster situation, but it does help the visibility of the cycling community as a resource that should be considered in disaster planning. On hand were emergency personnel and first responders from several local agencies practicing their aspects of communication and operations while a disaster relief information fair was being held next door.

At the end of the day I was exhausted, sore and satisfied. I certainly hope I never have to put any of the experience I gained into use in an actual emergency but, in the meantime, I had a lot of fun.

Gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.

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Ask Beardo: What’s the deal with cargo bikes?

Illustration by Stephen Haynes

Beardo,

I’m interested in cargo bikes. I’ve been riding for a while, and more of my trips are taken on my bike. But some pretty normal tasks needed for daily life re- quire more cargo space than my rack and panniers can handle. I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the price of a cargo bike versus how much time I’ll actually ride it. What’s your take on cargo bikes?

linda heffestotleson

Cargo Curious in Lower Yardis, Nebraska

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Linda,

In my younger days there were few things my trusty messenger bag and I couldn’t carry by bike: cases of beers and live animals and small children and radiator fan shrouds for a 1985 VW Sirocco and other bicycles. It’s amazing what a strong back and a bad attitude can manage to haul around. Not all of those things at once, mind you, but you get the idea.

But some loads where just not fun, so at the time when cargo bikes were still uncommon here in the United States, I happily loaded up both one- and two-wheeled trailers with even more food and beer and laundry and children and brakes and rotors for a 1992 Mazda 626 and trail building tools and multiple bikes. Again, not all at once, but still, lots more stuff.

It wasn’t until I started riding a cargo bike that I really started to unlock my potential as a beast of burden. Enough beer for a huge party and gaggles of small children and and reluctant parents of the gaggle of children and ladders and doors for a 1996 Ford F-150 and bags of cement and lumber and even more bikes. And sometimes combinations of these things at once. Combinations like a case of beer and new toilet from Home Depot, or two children, an extra large pizza, imported cheeses, a dog and two growlers of beer.

You didn’t really talk about what you wanted to carry, but as an everyday replacement for a car, cargo bikes are hard to beat. They have some drawbacks: initial expense, storage issues and issues with hilly terrain and loads. I can’t help you with storage issues, but find it perfectly acceptable to strap one of these modern e-bike motors to a cargo bike. In fact, I highly recommend it, as you’ll ride it more. Price? Sure, we are talking real money, and some people loooove to talk about all the motorcycles and used cars you can buy for the price of a new cargo bike. But that’s just short-sighted crap.

Take a typical $7,500 car. Now go on the internet and use one of the many cost of ownership calculators to see what it would cost to drive, insure and maintain your personal automobile
for five years. Try something around $30,000. Even with a new drivetrain and tires every year, the cargo bike has a tiny cost to operate. And if you charge an e-bike from empty every single day of the year, it runs less than $100 annually.

My point? Cargo bikes are sweet. Random passersby love them. I love them. You might love them. They are cheaper to operate than any car, used or new. So get one. Ride it. Bring your crap with you. Be happy. Or at least happier than you were, as some folks start out a lot higher on the happy meter than others.


This Q&A originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine and order a subscription today. Beardo is counting on you.

 

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Yuba unveils new e-assist long tail cargo bike

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Cargo bikes are the perfect application for e-assist technology, and Yuba’s elMundo has been a staff favorite for years. Now the brand has unveiled its second design, the Spicy Curry, built around the new Currie Tech center drive system.

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Adding e-assist power to a cargo bike takes nearly all the barriers away from switching from car-based transportation to bike-centric, especially with young families. The Spicy Curry can carry two kids or a week’s worth of groceries with ease, thanks to the 350-watt electric motor that is mounted in the bottom bracket area rather than in the rear wheel. Power is adjustable between four levels of pedal assist or a throttle for speeds up to 20 mph.

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Unlike the elMundo, which has 26-inch wheels, the aluminum Spicy Curry has a 20-inch rear wheel for added strength and a lower deck height to keep the bike’s center of gravity low. The Truck Bed system has multiple add-ons from Yepp kids seats to cargo carriers that plug in for an easy switch. It also comes equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, Schwalbe Big Apple tires, fenders, and a built-in LED lights.

The Spicy Curry should go on sale in early June with an MSRP of $4,500. It’s still a lot of money, but a lot less than driving a car.

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First Impression: Yuba Boda Boda

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Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.


There’s no doubt about it: this is a quirky bike with a quirky name. The second Yuba model after the widely acclaimed Mundo long-tail, the Boda Boda is designed as a “half-tail”, a bike that falls somewhere in between the 18-wheeler Mundo and a regular car. If we keep rolling with the analogy, the Boda Boda is a minivan—plenty of room for kids and stuff, but not so big that you won’t be able to park it.

There are two models available: a small/medium step-through and a medium/large step over, which is what’s pictured here. At six-foot-two I’m pushing the limits of the seatpost, but otherwise the bike fits great. The handlebars are nice and wide, and the riding position is upright and relaxed. If you’ve ridden a Dutch-style opafiets, you’re going to feel right at home.

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Behind that seatpost is where things get interesting though. The wheelbase is extended to allow for the extra cargo space created by the integrated rear rack. Yuba offers a ton of accessories for hauling kids or cargo, but to squeak under the $1,000 limit we had to go without. Now, normal panniers do attach just fine, but you’re really missing out on the versatility of the bike without them. The extra-huge Yuba Baguette panniers are $89 each.

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If you’re wondering, the black panels over the rear wheel are skirt guards to keep kids toes or—or your skirt—from getting caught up in the spokes. They are easily removable if you’re more of a pants-person.

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So far I’ve taken the Boda Boda on a few leisurely rides and it has a great casual vibe to it. It’s certainly a bike you could ride as an everyday commuter without feeling like you’re a piloting a cargo ship. Watch for my full, long-term review in an upcoming issue of the magazine. Subscribe today and you won’t miss it.

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Video: Whole Foods in Brooklyn begins delivery by bike

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The Whole Foods at Third and 3rd in Brooklyn already has an impressive track record of sustainability initiatives, including solar panels and wind turbines, but its latest project sure looks like the most fun.

Partnering with People’s Cargo, the store is readying specially built Bullitt cargo bikes with e-assist motors and refrigerated boxes. Delivery charges vary based on how far you are from the store, but if you don’t have your own cargo bike, grocery shopping has never been easier!

Watch the video to learn more.

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Review: Xtracycle EdgeRunner

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Xtracycle is largely responsible for the blossoming of the longtail cargo bike market in the United States. In the late 1990s, Xtracycle was thinking big thoughts about what widespread acceptance of the cargo bike could do for American transportation infrastructure. This led to the FreeRadical, a bolt-on rear frame extension that turned many an unused bike into an incredibly practical cargo bike. Since then, the longtail has been in continuous development, with a handful of companies using the Xtracycle LT open standard as the basis for complete cargo bikes. 


The idea of a complete bike has always been part of the plan at Xtracycle, but until the EdgeRunner, all complete Xtracycles just used the bolt-on FreeRadical extension. But a purpose-built, one-piece frame is really the best way to go for a heavy-duty cargo bike. While Xtracycle wasn’t quick to come to market with one, the EdgeRunner was worth the wait.

Read our full review here.

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