Another Visit to Portland, City of Bikes: Part One, A Splendid Time is Guaranteed for All

Back to Flatland!

Tyler was right when he pointed out that even in 43 degree weather at midnight, every time we looked down a long (flat!) Portland Street we saw a rider. Every time, every block, from Downtown to pretty far Southeast, for the entire 20 minute ride, at midnight. At least one bike in the distance. The flat distance.

That's cool. Whatever. Portland's all right, I guess.

We took Boltbus, Ruby, my folding cycletruck and Tyler's vintage Trek road bike to Portland to visit with some cargo bike peoples. Our trip was only one day but felt like a week. We really packed in the Portlandishness of it all!

For example, we weren't in town five minutes and I'd already pulled us over to drool on the Clever Cycles window.

Ladies and gents, the motherfucking Edgerunner. More on this dream bike in Part Two.

We stayed with my friends Elly and Joe. Joe's behind Microcosm Publishing, we are friends from a previous life, when zines and comics were my big thing. Elly is a publishing, crusading superhero for justice and fun in biking for transportation. She blogs and sells her books at Taking the Lane. When we arrived at their place in SE PDX, I was thrilled to find a stack of zines waiting for me. My contributor's copies of Childhood! This is a really great book. You should probably buy it.

Have you noticed that I am bike vain? I like getting pictures of people admiring my bike. In fact, I am vain enough to assume that this guy outside the place where we were eating breakfast the next day was admiring my bizarre, hacked-up Raleigh 20 and not the spotless, white Brompton parked on the same rack.

And, by the way, those two bikes on the same rack? Heeeey, fifty years of British small bike magic! Hot. If a Moulton had pulled up, I think I would have started tearing up. The beauty of some bicycles. Sigh.

This is Joel...

and Barb

The first part of our day was a productive and enlightening hang-out with Joel and Barb from Splendid Cycles. These two are the real deal. Both long time veterans of the bicycle industry, they co-run a cargo bike boutique shop. Splendid is one of the most focused bike shops I've ever been to. They carry high quality cargo bikes, period. Their space is small and the bikes on display are large.

The variety of build options on display is inspiring. Each cargo bike tells a different story Each allowed me to imagine a different life. On this bike I have three kids. On this one, I haul sand up a mountain all day. On this one, I cruise around, picking up interesting hitchhikers (with tubas) and start a band with them, in the rain.

Splendid's main offering is the Larry vs Harry Bullitt. I know I am prone to hyperbole, but I think I can say with confidence that the Bullitt is the nicest cargo bike I've ever ridden.

This is the one I tried first. The Bullitt is the lightest, most rigid and most fun Long John boxbike I know of. From design to materials to components, dedication to quality just oozes off of these things. Notice how the frame divides to form the cargo platform area out of two main tubes, rather than the single boom in the similar bakfietsen.

I think this picture of a more traditional bakfiets was taken from Lovely Bicycle.

Even better, Splendid soups them up further still, adding highest quality hydraulic lines for the disc brakes among many, many other improvements. Preparing for my test ride, I felt how I imagine sportscar people must feel when they have a chance to admire some... fancy sportscar they've only read about in cargo bike blogs. Oh, you know what I mean!

The most intense upgrade that Splendid offers is their other specialty, e-assist systems. The Bluebird I rode sported a variety from EcoSpeed, a Portland-based company who's throttle operated assist felt like... getting a boost from a trailing motorcycle?

Many of the Bullitts feature this style of decal, hidden somewhere on the frame. I love this detail. The stencil style makes it look like a tiny Banksy visited the cargo bike factory.

Here's Tyler on a BionX equipped Bullitt. Note the grin.

Joel caught up with us and gave me a chance to swap bikes for that one he's on there. It was also set up with BionX pedelec system. Basically, this kind of assist is not operated by a separate control on the handlebars, but instead senses the amount of torque you are putting on your pedals and cranks and supplies the precise level of assist to keep you feeling like you've gained super-pedal-powers. Every pedal stroke takes you farther. Pushing into an incline causes the bike to give you just enough to skip over the top. Its like, you are riding on a bike and whenever you might grit your teeth and exert yourself, the gritting of teeth released some perfectly localized and immediate performance enhancer and you immediately became just fit enough to breeze past the effortful part.

The image that came to my mind was Popeye's arms. How he's got all this muscle on his forearm, just beefing up his wrists and fists. It doesn't add up, biology-wise, but damn if it doesn't make Popeye look strong. That's how my pedaling felt with the BionX helping. Illogically strong.

It was awesome. After I got off the bike I had to resist the urge to leap a tall building. All day I needed to remind myself that I am not capable of backflips or handsprings. The BionX has spoiled me on real life.

For a great review of the BionX-equipped Bullitt, visit my buddy's blog, Hum of the City.

What an amazing bike.

Tune in next time for the second half of our visit, when we'll spend some time with some impressive moms and test ride some very clever bicycles.