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Cyclists Ride in Portland's Disaster Relief Trials


In Portland, it’s not uncommon to see people riding all manner of pedal-powered vehicles. Local cyclists are famous for constructing two-wheeled creations that aren’t always the most practical. However, amongst the frivolity and fantastical are cargo bikes, the utility of which is turning the gears of emergency planners and city officials.

Cargo bikes are used to haul everything from yard debris for landscape projects to furniture during a move. Carbon-conscious parents use the large, sturdy bikes to transport their families. And last week a small contingent of the Portland bicycling community, led by Mike Cobb, aimed to add “emergency supply vehicle” to the long list of functions performed by cargo bikes.

Bullitt specialty cargo bikes were among the bikes competing in the trials.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

After a disaster strikes, one of the most important tasks is getting help and supplies to those who need it. But when obstacles like fallen trees or rockslides prevent other response vehicles from reaching a group of survivors, Cobb believes that cargo bikes can play an instrumental role.

“A bicycle carrying 100 pounds can go many, many places that a car can’t,” explained Cobb.

The Disaster Relief Trials was the brainchild of Portlander Mike Cobb.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

To test the feasibility of including bicycles as an official component of a large municipal disaster response effort, the Portland Office of Emergency Management sponsored this year’s Disaster Relief Trials. Participating riders were tasked with locating and retrieving emergency supplies along a 30-mile route around the city of Portland, and then returning the supplies to the starting location. Along the way, various obstacles were set up to simulate real-world disaster scenarios.

The event was also somewhat of an unofficial showdown between two cargo bike manufacturers. One local company, Metrofiets, was well represented during the trials, as well as Bullitt, a heavy-duty bikemaker headquartered in Denmark. 

Though it wasn’t a race, that didn’t stop some of the participants from introducing a competitive angle. Adam Shapiro came all the way from Oakland, California for the challenge.

“I came up to ride this race — showcase the Xtracycle sidecar and ride my bike home when were done,” he explained. Sharpiro has competed in many cargo races in the Bay Area and this seemed right up his alley.

“Routing oriented street races, I have a lot of fun with that — I have some wins under my belt,” said a confidant Shapiro. “I don’t know this city at all, but I did a little bit of pre-routing and read the manifest. I feel as optimistic as makes sense.”

The event was successful in attracting a variety of different people, including representatives from emergency management agencies, and for Cobb that was the most important show of support.

“If those people feel like this is legit, it’s a nice endorsement,” he said.

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 OPB Reporters April Baer and Amanda Peacher contributed to this article.

Correction - June 25, 2012: An earlier version of this article misstated that cargo bike company Bullitt manufactured bikes in Denmark. Bullitt is headquartered in Denmark and its bikes are manufactured in Taiwan.