I am not going to presume that I am in the same league as Bike Snob when it comes to snarky putdowns of bicycle designs, and his analysis of the Oregon Manifest utility-bike competition is spot on.
Assume nevertheless that all entrants in the competition are functionally identical in bringing a “design-y” aesthetic to bicycle construction, as demanded by the rules of entry. The bikes all look kind of modishly similar, with subdued, metallic finishes, no derailleur, narrow saddles, flat bars to encourage hunching over, and a prescriptive set of angles, which make the bikes look as if they urge the rider to conform to them, instead of vice versa.
My version of the ultimate utility bike would have (just as a start):
- A double kickstand for stability
- A café lock for the rear wheel, mounted on the seat stay
- A step-over frame like a mixte (in case I’m carrying a kid in a rear seat)
- Easy-to-replace parts, like rim brakes, 26″ wheels with Schraeder valves, and derailleurs
- A permanent rear rack with a mount for a rear light
- Room for a U-lock bracket on the seatpost
- Fenders front and rear
- Trailer hitchings on the rear axle
- Two-sided pedals so I can use cleated shoes when I want
Manufacturing and distributing a bike that is designed intentionally not to meet the utilitarian needs of a broad section of consumers is perfectly reasonable as a business strategy, but I wouldn’t call such a product a “utility” bike. I’m wary of bikes with too many custom parts; when one breaks, the whole assemblage might need to be replaced because it’s impossible to find a replacement for the broken part that is compatible with its complement. This is perilously close to the “bicycle-shaped object” conundrum that is found at the other end of bicycle marketing. In that case, the bicycle is so poorly designed, quality replacement parts cannot make up for the poor quality of the existing parts that they are being bolted on to.