19 June 2012

Disaster Relief Trials: Emergency Response with Cargobikes

We loaded up the minivan on Saturday and headed south to Portland for the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT), a cargobike alleycat race built around a post-earthquake emergency response scenario. We went down a day ahead of the event and made a weekend of it.

Can you find the folding bike in this picture?

My girls had a taste of Portland's cargobike culture at the bike rack outside of OMSI, where Tula was transfixed at the site of this trike. When we came back out, this spot in the rack was replaced with a family of three dismounting a Yuba Mundo with double kid seats. The girls exchanged helmet compliments. These kids were their people.

The following morning, I unloaded my Xtracycle at our hotel and rode a few miles to Velo Cult, a bike shop/bar that was playing host for the event. I was impressed to see a fully operational communications trailer already in place.

The Multnomah County ARES provided ham radio support for the event, working in conjunction with Portland Neighborhood Emergency Teams. Not only were they tracking and relaying rider information from the seven checkpoints to HQ, but riders also delivered short handwritten messages to checkpoints which the radio operators then relayed back by code. For some of the radio operators this was their first emergency drill, and it was important to test as many of their skills as possible.

I used to help with emergency preparedness exercises like this when I worked for Big Oil, so seeing the integration of the Incident Command System and the Comms Unit added a high level of realism to the disaster scenario. This is not just an alleycat race.

ARES and NET Unit Leaders

There were other important components of the event still left to set up, like the beer garden! Phil biked over on this bar bike, a custom cargobike made in Portland by his company Metrofiets.

Phil, posing

Local shop Splendid Cycles brought a few demo bikes on this Bullitt + trailer setup so that spectators visiting the start/finish line throughout the day could take them for testrides.

Bullitt with rain cover

 Big Dummy with electric assist

The staging area began to fill up, too, giving me a chance to meet many of the racers and checkout their rigs.

 Reuben (in helmet) and his homemade trailer

internally geared Xtracycle 

Jake's homemade Long John ("Frankenfiet")

 Brand new CETMA front-loader.

Their was also a film crew that would be riding along to document the event. The front half is an electric assist Bullitt with 1.5hp motor (and a freewheeling crankset!) and the rear half is a Surly Bill trailer. The director/pilot pointed out to me that with a trailer this big, it was actually advantageous to have a large bike upfront to tow it, as it helped to stabilize the weight and manage momentum more effectively. If I recall correctly, he said top speed on the flats for this setup (with camera man) is ~27 mph.

The Citizen Class, our non-competitive group of 15 riders, was told to get ready just after 10am. The Open Class, the really competitive group, would be starting shortly after us.

The cowbell rang and we were off, scrambling out of the parking lot. Nearly the whole pack took 42nd, but my scouting showed 38th was a bike boulevard, so I cut over a few blocks. I spotted Reuben taking the same route and tried to reel him in. His trailer was bouncing all over the place as he sped over the speed bumps. It was amazing how fast he was. This was a real race!

Reuben made a few turns that I didn't understand, but I followed him anyway, no time to check the map. Suddenly we were back on an arterial with much of the main pack. As we descended a short and fast hill towards the flats near the Columbia River, a pastry bag flew out of my FreeLoader landing in the road behind me. My lunch! But it's a race, should I turn around? At nearly the same time, I noticed a group of several riders on the side of the road. "Patch kit? Do you have one?" they asked as a passed. I did. I pulled over to dig it out, then decided to go back for my lunch sack, which was relatively unscathed despite all of the cargobike traffic. I secured it in my front basket (which I have only installed two days earlier), and got back to racing.

Checkpoint #1 was at the Oregon National Guard near the Portland airport. We had two items to pickup here: a Sked rescue sled and a 5-gallon bucket of water (meant to replecate a propane tank, I think.) I loaded the heavy bucket on my running board and the Sked on the other side. The bike was very unbalanced, but manageable. This was also where I realized I was still carrying my U-lock.

Back on the course, I was now pacing the film crew bike and also being followed by Gabe and his two daughters. Gabe was a spectator, but he obviously wanted the full race experience as he even stopped with me when I needed to ajust the strap on my water bucket. He also doubled as an extra navigator when we met up again later on the course.

I had a tough time finding Checkpoint #2, mostly because I didn't look at the back of the nicely laminated course map I was given at registration, which detailed the area and how to find it. More lost time!

Checkpoint #2 was an obstacle course where riders had to first lift their bikes and cargo over this remarkably high steel and concrete structure. My bike weighs about 50 pounds and the tongue of the Xtracycle doubles as a handle, so I managed this fairly quickly. The 85 pound Frankenfiet was more tricky for Jake.

Down a short path, over a pile of giant rocks, then reloading again: ready for the water feature and some more road debris. Note that I'm squinting in all of these photos because I misplaced my sunglasses that morning.

After the obstacle course, I chose to take the riverfront trail along the Columbia towards Checkpoint #3. I figured it would be relatively flat and away from car traffic, but I hadn't thought about the fact that I would be riding into the wind.  This was probably the most exhausting section of the course, between that wind and the still unbalanced payload. This was also where the first two Open Class riders overtook me. They were moving at an impressive pace, one I knew I couldn't maintain.

Finally, the route turned south, away from the riverfront lowland and back toward the city. There were actually folks on horseback on the trail at this point.

Checkpoint #3 was at the Oregon Food Bank, where we picked up another 5-gallon bucket, this time filled with dirt to replicate a food provision. With my payload now more balanced, I felt more confident and picked up the pace. Another Open Class rider was hot on my wheel.

Cruising towards Checkpoint #4, a small pedestrian bridge, I spotted several other Citizen Class riders making repairs and checking maps. Yes, that's a tallbike/cargobike. This is Portland.

Checkpoint #5 was the farthest point west on the course list, basically just a turn-around. The volunteers had cold beverages and a hose ready to cool off riders. They gave us an egg carton with three eggs inside to add to our load.

While I stretched and hydrated, a few more Open Class riders arrived and departed. This homemade recumbent cargobike is weight rated to 600 pounds.

Checkpoint #6 was a corkscrew pedestrian bridge where @dontbecreepy captured some cool photos. With a small crowd cheering me on, I rode up one side and down the other with no problem. On my way to the last checkpoint, another Xtracycle rider passed me. The Open Class was really pushing hard.

Checkpoint #7 at the American Red Cross was the last pick-up. Dave of Portlandize was working at this checkpoint and captured a funny series of me trying to decide which box of medical supplies I wanted. The boxes were of varying shapes and sizes, but all were filled with the same weight of rocks. With my final item strapped, I returned to Velo Cult and the finish line.

What a blast! I finished fifth in the Citizen Class. The finish line was bustling with all kinds of activity...

...kids were demonstrating the Skeds that we had transported,

 emergency supplies were pouring in from all over Portland,


Taco Pedaler was making amazingly delicious food,

and tricked out cargobikes were everywhere.

But the best part was talking with all of the people there, meeting their families, and seeing the positive impact that cargobikes are making on this community and on their lives. I even had a chance to talk with Ross Evans, founder of Xtracycle.

After the awards were handed out, some of us took the opportunity to test out a few new things to the cargobike world.

Dave and Katie took the prototype Xtracycle SideCar for a spin

 the new Yuba Boda Boda

one last Mundo test ride.

The Disaster Relief Trials was bigger and better than I could have imagined. Many thanks to Travis, Dave, Ethan, the sponsors and everyone who helped make this event possible. Thanks also to my family, who understand more than anyone how important this was to me. And on Father's Day, too!

Thanks also to Will Vanlue, Dat Nguyen, and Dave Feucht for taking some great event photos.

You can read more about the event and the riders at www.TRANSportland.org. I hope to see you again next year!

10 June 2012

Needed: Tacoma Riders for Girls of Summer Alleycat

Tacoma, we have been challenged by Seattle.  The organizers of the 2nd Annual Girls of Summer Alleycat called to let me know that there weren't any riders at their event last year from Tacoma. They don't want us to miss out on the fun this time around, so I propose that you get yourself up north on June 23 and show 'em how we roll in T-Town.

They've upped the ante this year by adding even more sponsors and assembling a great prize pile that includes a brand new road bike from Raleigh.  Last year's race was a big success - all 46 racers won something. Those are good odds. Go mark your calendar.

If racing just isn't your scene, you can always find these ladies on their monthly Menstrual Monday ride.