Yesterday, the 34 teams unveiled their innovative designs, which ranged from wooden cargo bikes and doggie sidecars to straightforward gorgeous citybikes. Today, they were put to the test in a 50-mile bike ride that stretched from rural Buxton, Oregon, over some very steep hills, and down into Forest Park and Industrial NW Portland. It's arguable whether the ride is actually a good test of the best utility bike—if your commute climbs 2,000 feet and descends miles down a gravel trail, find a new commute—but it certainly tests whether the bikes will fall apart.
When Oregon Manifest first invited me to tag along for the ride, I said, "Hell no." I'm a bike commuter, but I never ride more than 10 to 15 miles a day and, besides, I have no penchant for athleticism. Plus, the company is intimidating—amazing bicycle artisans! With giant calves! Trying to keep up with those dudes on Skyline Drive? No way.
"There's a sag wagon," they said. "And free lunch!" Okay, I'm in.
Here's what happened.
7:30AM Halfway to the start point at PNCA, I realize I left my waterbottle at my house. I only have time to either run back and grab it, or stop for coffee. Coffee or water? Coffee or water? I stop for coffee. I did successfully pack honey, peanut butter, and an emergency Ibuprofen-NYTimes Magazine combination that I hope I don't have to bust out.
8:30AM Oregon Manifest is a classy operation. Staffers hand out free Stumptown cold brews (MORE COFFEE) and gluten free coffee cakes at the start. I meet my new best friend, Rastus the dog, who will be traveling in the Donkelope bicycle sidecar seen at the top of the post. I feel better about my chances of not embarrassing myself given that there will be three bikes with sidecars and several giant cargo bikes on this ride. If they can do it, I can do it, right?
10:30AM At the start point in Buxton, Oregon (near Cooterville on Highway 26!), we are greeted by two horses. This one is named Bruce. His owner gives me a lecture about horse/bike relations. Bruce seems unimpressed with the bicycles.
10:40AM Tony Pereira looks cooler than everyone. His bike and Joseph Ahearne's come equipped with sound systems (Ahearne's also sports the enviable "double flask.")
11AM I'm feeling out of place here not only because I'm riding a mass-produced Univega, not a custom bike, because I'm clearly the most out-of-shape rider, and because I'm slightly more interested in talking about the cute dogs than the bikes, but because I'm one of only four women riding. With the exception of the Folk Engineering bike that was partly designed by adorable seventh graders, none of the bike builders are women. Now I definitely can't come in last, because I'll be "that girl who came in last." One of the other women riding, though, is mother Diana Rempe and her far-too-cute 4-year-old Violet. Little Violet is quick to inform me that she rides a bike without training wheels and races cyclocross. Even the four-year-olds are more badass and me. Off we go!
NOON I stop to try and snag a photo and am passed in a whoosh by a pack of riders blaring Jonny Cash. One is riding a golden, 3-speed tricycle.
12:30PM After all my worrying, the ride is pretty idyllic. Farms! Lots of them! It's sunny! Everyone loves everything! Yayyy Oregon!
1 PM I fall behind everyone for a while and am alone in the farmland. That's fine. My mind wanders. I should be thinking deep thoughts, I tell myself, but instead all I can think about is lunch and the pain in my ass. God, my butt hurts. What could be for lunch? Where is everyone?
1:20PM I round a corner and my lonely reverie is destroyed by a terrible sight: A dozen riders crawling up a hill as steep as the devil's nipple. There's no way I'm going to get up that. Hills are on my list of "things I don't do" right along with mustard and carnivals.
1:40PM Things that keep you riding uphill even when you really don't want to be riding uphillL
2. Fear of being left behind, where you will be instantly struck by a cement truck.
4. Comraderie. I catch up to Diana and Violet, who cheer me on. Actually, everyone cheers each other on. These guys might be vaguely competitive when it comes to bike building, but they're incredibly nice. Not intimidating at all, it turns out.
6. Swearing. When you run out of gears, begin cursing with every third exhale.
7. Commitment. Like any relationship, the knowledge dawns on you that you got yourself into this and only you can get yourself out. Up the hill, up the hill.
8. Mechanical problems. I praised the Lord when my chain fell off and I could take a long break to fix it.
9. Nothing. When all of these motivations come to an end, get off and walk. Which I did.
2PM: The electric assist on Diana's Quixote-designed bike stops working. The bike weighs over 100 pounds, plus there's Violet on back, but she muscles it up the hills all on her own. #1 Badass Award right there.
2:30PM We stop for blackberries and honey shots. This looks idyllic, but really we stopped because we were nearing death.
3PM I cross the Multnomah County line and things get spooky. I look into the woods and see the face of a German Shepard staring back at me. The dog follows me, then disappears. I run over the body of a mummified snake. Am I going crazy?
3:30PM After a delicious but too-short lunch, we're off again. I become slightly delirious on Skyline Drive. I feel like I'm going to vomit. I eat another blackberry. I'm going to vomit.
4PM I reach Forest Park without vomiting. Why haven't I vomited? Maybe if I fall off and vomit, I can stop riding. But it's all downhill from here, I can't stop riding.
5PM The end! Chris King makes us dinner. The rumor is confirmed that Tony Periera passed Ira Ryan while, yes, doing a wheelie and blasting Led Zeppelin. He takes the $3,000 Best in Show award.