The premier Oregon Manifest Constructeur’s Race course: 77 miles of mixed pavement, gravel, dirt, urban and rural, four tough climbs and four good descents, beginning in Vernonia, OR. By far, my favored entry was Dan Boxer’s lovely machine, pictured right. It’s a well balanced bike, well conceived for both tackling the course and regular commuting. Having ridden a short distance at the conclusion of the race with him, it was thrilling when he was the first racer to come in to the finish line. Due to a staggered start based on the stated abilities of the riders, he placed third in the race overall, but the assembled crowd at NW 10th and Hoyt was ready for a party, and Dan provided the first exciting finish. Job well done Dan.
The disappointment? Dan didn’t even place in the top 12 of the 30 entries. Why? Well if you were there, you would have seen 32 damn pretty bikes, some well designed, some flashy, all well crafted. But the complexity of the disappointment is that of the bikes that did place, one of them in the top 3 had a broken fender bolt, another in the top 12 had lost its front rack somewhere along the way, and one placer didn’t even come out for the race. WTF? Apparently, the judges were a little upset that the structure of the judging took so little points away from things like this. Think 5 points of 500 for a failure. That’s 1%! What would a broken frame have been worth? One percent? If I had just spent good money on a custom bike, like the $7k-10k some of these guys charge, you bet I’d be pretty miffed if, on the first real ride, I had ANY mechanicals, except maybe a flat, much less broken and falling off pieces.
I hope they do this again next year, but the organizers should take a careful look at the gravity of such failures. A failing front rack? How are you getting your handlebar bag home? A missing fender bolt? Annoying at best, but under the right conditions, it could mean a crash and if you’re out there alone, you could be in serious trouble. Not showing up for the ride should mean disqualification from placing, period. These bikes were meant to be the next great transportation machines, and if it doesn’t even get ridden, well it may as well be wall art.
I think part of the issue was in the definition of the requirements. In the original Technical Trials, there were clearly defined parameters because then current bicycles weren’t meeting the expectations for the type of riding people aspired to do. Points were structured to reflect things like gears appropriate enough to get you up mountain passes, fenders to keep you cleaner and drier, an appropriate weight based on frame size, because the bicycles of the day were way too heavy, minimum tire width, because the roads weren’t that great, etc. etc. The Trials addressed the issues they were facing with the available bikes by defining what they wanted out of a machine and what they were expected to do.
If the Oregon Manifest decides to put on the Constructeur’s race next year, they should get a group of potential buyers, avid riders, people who just commute and little more, and people only contemplating commuting by bike, and get them all to have a discussion with the judges, organizers and perhaps a couple builders to define clearly what is needed in a transportation bike. There likely won’t be one definition among the groups (but that is what “custom” is all about). At least we can see what people might be looking for in a bike and how they use it. Points should be accounted for on a sliding scale where something like a broken toe clip might mean 5 points out of 500, but if a rack goes missing, it would cost something closer to 100 points. Riders and builders should determine what is safe and important to all concerned regarding designs and failures. Handling should be judged somehow, as well as the proper clearances for fenders (a must in the PacNoWest) and tires, adequate brakes, multiple gears as well as usable gear range and differences between the gears, and define a minimum standard for weight in relation to bicycle size. Women’s bikes categorized separately from Cargo bikes, separately from Rando bikes? Sure, we can define what we want to see in the next Manifest. Maybe we should have stage races, like the original events where the bikes weren’t allowed to be touched between stages to more appropriately assess the utility of the designs by penalizing faster, yet more fragile bikes by making the riders fix problems in the time they are being counted for in the stage.
I see the potential in the Oregon Manifest and the Constructeurs to be a huge boon to what needs to happen in the bicycle industry. Most of us don’t race, but racing is where false “innovations” come from to the largest degree. I guess its much easier to televise and sell advertising built on racing rather than commuting or randonneuring or touring, but if riders demand more appropriate bikes and components through things such as the Manifest, then eventually component manufacturers and bicycle designers will start to pay attention and develop components that actually are improvements over what’s available.
Overall, I am excited about where we are in the development of ridership and custom bicycles in the United States. I see the great potential for forward progress as gas prices rise and people become more aware of the environmental impacts of car use. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this Manifest can grow into something very mature and that is where we start to see development in components blossom from, and that larger bicycle manufacturers take a note and start developing bikes like what we’ve seen at the Manifest using economies of scale to produce an acceptable bike for a price that most could afford.
A few pictures can be found here