The 2012 Portland Disaster Relief Trials

Portlanders Plan For The Worst Case Scenario With A Cargo Emergency Drill.

13 Jul 2012  |  Posted by GARETH  |  Categories: Bicycles, Events, Stories

The cargo bike community is a broad parish, welcoming even those patently not in possession of a cargo bike.

Regular readers of the Brooks Blog will be aware of our enthusiasm for the notion of getting bulky loads around on a cargo bike. Both here and elsewhere, we have happily welcomed its surge in popularity, and continue to argue the case for relegating the car in its favour when it seems reasonable to do so.

It would seem we are not alone.

Well, it would be even more difficult with a car, right?

And in Portland, Oregon this truth was succinctly and elegantly borne out recently at the inaugural installment of the Disaster Relief Trials. Mark Reber was on site for us, and managed to file a report of the goings on there, before succumbing to the charms of a be-Brooksed Metrofiets beer bike. We let him take up the story…

The Disaster Relief Trials: Cargo Bikes to the Rescue

Bicycle racing enthusiasts around the world have their eyes fixed on the Tour de France. Regardless of their favorite rider, the vicarious thrill of the dashing peloton is on many minds.

A human Route Calculator makes up with time saved what a rider burns in calories carrying one.

But, just two weeks before the first TdF rider left the starting line a unique event took place in Portland, Oregon (USA). It couldn’t be farther from Grand Tour competition, but the ramifications for folks inside and outside of bicycling sub-cultures couldn’t be greater. Instead of riding ultra light, fragile racing bikes, these riders used bikes meant to haul cargo rather than professional cyclists. The Disaster Relief Trials winners did not stand on a podium in brightly colored jerseys. Their reward? Bragging rights and a cool beer served, of course, from a specially designed beer bike.

Disaster Relief Trials (DRT) was an unusual event in a month of unusual bicycle events, coordinated, loosely, by Pedalpalooza. The premise? In serious natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes, roads and bridges may be so compromised that emergency vehicles may not be able to proceed. How would vital supplies of water, medical goods, food, and, of course, beer, be carried to those who need it? According to this group, the answer is the bicycle.

Cargo bikes such as the Bullitt Clockwork are an increasingly familiar site in cities worldwide.

With their slogan, “Real Loads, Real Roads,” organizers mapped out a course for 30 competitors to carry 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of either real or simulated emergency supplies over a 30 mile (50 kilometer) urban course. Along the way were obstacles to negotiate, course changes to manage, and the myriad of frustrations that come with trying to strap unwieldy boxes, barrels and bags on a two-wheeled, human powered “truck.”

Out on the road and at each of the seven “checkpoints” were amateur radio operators, part of a citizen’s network that helps government and other professionals in emergencies. Their job was to track the riders, report progress or problems, and keep communications open.

“The keg is dying! Repeat! Keg dying! Over.”

A few of us non-competitors followed the trials over their course along with a small army of photographers and videographers. What did we see? Committed riders straining, sweating, grunting as they figured out how to put 50 pound (25 kilogram) buckets of water on a bike and still ride it with reasonable control.

Struggling participants had more than just physical demands. They had to work out the time advantages of unloading and re-loading a bike before hoisting it over a barrier compared to leaving it fully loaded. As important, participants had to decide if the loss of time helping a fellow rider, which was allowed, outweighed the advantages of going it alone. Would there be places where I want help myself? Would it be given?

There were other potential problems that have no simple algorithm for solving, like what to do if zombies show up?

The start and finish line at Velocult looked like a cross between an emergency command center, bicycle exhibit, kid’s playground, and a beer garden. In fact, it was all of those things. The 30 riders, about evenly split between Open, or professional class, and Citizen classes and their friends, families and others interested in what a bike can be were treated to one of the most complete exhibits of off-the-peg and custom-built cargo bikes anywhere.

One at a time! Our Brooks Emergency Saddle Exchange Checkpoint did brisk business all day.

Those of us who sort of tagged along for the ride, pedaling around with little more than a water bottle on our bike, had the opportunity to see messengers, who normally ply the streets around downtown office buildings, carrying emergency stretchers instead of legal pleadings. We also talked to men and women who have worked on our bicycles during their day jobs as technicians. And, we had an opportunity to view all of the other competitors riding a dizzying variety of “cargo” bikes that let us see that the two-wheeler is more than just a tool to get ourselves from point A to point B. It can move us and hundreds of pounds of goods, too.

A rear-loading Bilenky.

The beautiful weather on this early summer day held out. Participants filtered in to the finish and were eventually all together as they had been from the start. At this point, their bikes were unburdened with cargo, but they had one more thing to lift: a beer as a toast to their fellow riders and an acknowledgement of the value of a bicycle.

A steel framed CETMA will run you a few quid, but we understand it’s money well spent.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous 
    Posted 10:10 pm
    13 Jul 2012

    Amazing…and wonderful to realize that bikes may be there for us where vehicles could not go.
    Kudos to all the participants!

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