Building a Better Bike: The Oregon Manifest

The basic bicycle hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. In fact, if we were to fire up our teleporter and bring someone like Albert Einstein from the late 1800s into modern times, he’d know exactly what to do with the modern bicycle.  It’s not that bicycle designers are slackers.  It’s just that basic double diamond bicycle design is about as perfect as it gets.

That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to come up with something better.  That’s the whole idea behind the Oregon Manifest and the Bike Design Project. The goal is perfection, as in the perfect transportation bike…something that should make Bike Fivers very excited.

The Faraday, 2011 People's Choice winner at the Oregon Manifest.

The Faraday, 2011 People’s Choice winner at the Oregon Manifest.

So what has come out of the Oregon Manifest?  The Faraday Porteur, for starters.   This entry by design firm IDEO and Rock Lobster Cycles won a people’s choice award in 2011.  It’s an eBike that doesn’t look like an eBike.  The batteries are hidden in the downtube, providing an elegant look and an extremely well-balanced ride.

It was love at first sight when I saw this bike. It’s in production now so you can own one yourself.  When I look at the Porteur and its elegant simplicity, I think of designers like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  If they had put their heads together and designed a bike from the ground up, I doubt they could have done better.  That’s the level of talent and creativity the Manifest inspires.

SEA: TEAGUE X SIZEMORE BICYCLE’S DENNY from Oregon Manifest on Vimeo.

Last year’s winner was a bike out of Seattle called the Denny.  Designed and built by Teague x Sizemore, it’s everything an everyday bicycle should be. It has an integrated locking mechanism so that it can’t easily be stolen. There’s a nice big front rack as well as integrated lights…even turn signals and brake lights.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I definitely like the Gates Carbon Belt Drive teamed with an internal hub, electric assist and automatic shifting so very little maintenance is required and your hands and pant legs won’t get greasy.  The minimalist fenders are very cool.  I don’t know how they work, but it’s a very attractive looking package.  I wouldn’t mind walking out to the garage and seeing that bike sitting there, that’s for sure.

The Denny is launching at Interbike in Las Vegas in September.  The company has not yet set a price.  It will be interesting to see where it comes in.  The Faraday Porteur is available now in both original and “S” versions.  The original, upper end model comes with the Gates Carbon Belt Drive teamed with a Shimano Alfine 8 gear hub, bamboo fenders and some other touches.  The base model is chain driven with a Sturmey-Archer 5 speed hub and steel fenders.  Other than that, they’re comparable.   The company is also launching two versions of a  step through model called the Cortland.   Pricing starts in the low $2000s for the S models.  All are pedal-assist with a 15-20 mile range.  The bikes are light enough to be used without the pedal assist, dramatically extending their range.

I’d love to see more people embrace cycling here in the States and designs like Faraday and the Denny help make that happen.  When people see these bikes, they fall in love with them.  I’d love to see manufacturers build supply chains close to home and repatriate bicycle manufacturing from Taiwan and other countries.  It would be good for our health, the environment, the economy and our communities.  The Oregon Manifest helps move us closer to that dream.  Visit the site and check out what they’re up to.  Who knows?  In a few years, we all may be riding some of these very cool bicycles.

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