30 May 2012

Preparation for the Disaster Relief Trials

Here's the scenario: The Pacific Northwest has just been hit by a massive earthquake. Help is trickling in, but the local roads are tattered and broken; your car is useless. You can pickup emergency rations for your family, but it's all staged miles away across town. What do you do?

Enter the Disaster Relief Trials. It's a cargobike alleycat race around Portland where the participants will be putting their bikes to the test in an effort to help the local Emergency Management Department plan for just such a scenario.  We'll be riding 30+ miles, picking up cargo along the route, and facing a number of required challenges and obstacles along the way. I'm registered to ride my Xtracycle longtail cargobike that I typically use for local errands and taking kids to school.

Yesteday was a training day, which really just means that I stacked a bunch of lengthy cargo trips together. First I took the kids to school. Then I biked 25 miles to Federal Way making a delivery for The Can Hattery. Not a heavy load, but not aero either. The ride mostly follows my old commute route up Highway 99. It's still as scary as ever riding on the shoulder next to so many semi trucks.

Then I did a run to Costco, where I ran into Mark Monlux, a local illustrator and fellow chalk artist. Mark was impressed with the bike, but I was less than satisfied with the performance of the Xtracycle on the ride home. The bike gets quite fishy with heavy, non-people loads, especially when they stick out that far. The big descent down Pine Street to South Tacoma Way felt sketchy in traffic.

used with permission from @markmonlux

I finished the day taking to kids to the park for baseball practice. All together, it was over 40 miles on a 50 pound bike, carrying a payload most of the time. I am super stoked about this event! If you'd like to follow along, I'll be tweeting about it with hashtag #DRTpdx.


Shetha said...

Interesting about the sketchy bike with the xtra. That's a big dummy, right? So it's one frame? Did you have the weight distributed evenly side-to-side? I was riding with 100 lbs cargo on my bike (I assume it's ~ 50 but I've not weighed it). Rode about 13 miles (wind! rain!) but felt pretty darn stable. I know my old Kona Ute was twitchy but I think my Bilenky is pretty darn fantastic.

Matt in Tacoma said...

@shetha - No, it's an Xtracycle Freeradical bolted to a Surly Karate Monkey. (Clever Cycles calls this setup a Super Monkey.) Very similar sizing and geometry to a Big Dummy.

It's great for lighter loads and kids, I think because they lean into turns and absorb some of the flex with their own bodies. But if you load it up with the same weight of just cargo, it wiggles like crazy and don't even think about getting out of the saddle. A 35# bag of dog food strapped on the deck is far more difficult to manage than a 35# preschooler. Maybe just a weight distribution issue?

That load was unbalanced a bit, with the heavier side resting on my running board. I think an upgrade to a Big Dummy (or similar) is imminent. Can't wait to test ride all the cargobikes at the DRT!

Mark Monlux said...

I saw Matt, or rather his bicycle, when I was returning a cart back to the entrance of Costco. My thought was, "Wow. Taking a bike to pick up your groceries is very admirable, but to go shopping at Costco, that takes some cojon├ęs." And then Matt called out my name and I swelled with pride. One of my friends was doing something we should all do. I bet he even lives farther away from Costco than I do. And he certainly is picking up a lot more stuff. I felt happiness that I could now live vicariously through him as I dream about having less of a carbon footprint.

todd said...

With a light or live load I like the Super Monkey's feel a lot better than Big Dummy, precisely because it's more compliant, and also the steering feels lighter and the bottom bracket lower. With a heavy/dead load, a Big Dummy is definitely more rigid, but I don't care for the steering feel so much, and getting a stabilizing foot down is harder with the high BB. Building up a Big Dummy with 24" wheels helps with the steering and BB height...

It's really hard to design a bike that feels great both with and without a heavy load. Inevitably one designs for one or the other case as the norm.