by Jason Moore
Photos by Bridget Carroll and Dan Long-Coogan
It's a new home for cycling activists in Eugene, Oregon, and the city's only bike repair collective. Inside this 8,000 sq. ft. former sheet-metal shop, one can find Oregon's largest cycling newspaper, the state's most eclectic and thought-provoking cycle shop, the base for a workbike courier service, the country's only facility for teaching workbike design and manufacture, and one of only a handful of intermediate-scale workbike factories in North America. A non-profit community organization ties all these projects together. After years of development, the Center for Appropriate Transport (The CAT) opened its doors to the public November 20th, 1992, and hundreds attended the party.
The primary emphasis of the center is cycling. Nonetheless, other alternative transportation groups are finding a home here: light-rail, car co-ops, et cetera. The hope is that anyone interested in sustainable transport will get involved with the CAT. Here they meet fellow enthusiasts and advocates. The point of putting all these cycling projects in one building is of course to make the center a catalyst for action. It's intended as a prototype for communities that need to push alternatives to the combustion engine. As project founder Jan VanderTuin says, "we want this to serve as a practical model that can be used anywhere."
VanderTuin studied workbikes and projects like the CAT while living in Europe. He found postal workbikes in Great Britain, built trailers to haul fresh produce in Switzerland, and visited German shops where apprentices studied bicycle production and design. In Europe bicycles are recognized as the appropriate vehicle for many jobs, while in the US motorized transport is used for everything. "If you think about it, there's a lot of overkill in our transportation system. A van will go out to deliver just one pizza, or someone will drive their car to deliver an envelope ... that is overkill."
After trying to start this project in other locales (e.g. New York City), VanderTuin was finally able to create the center in Eugene. The city has an unusually strong bicycle manufacturing infrastructure, as well as the University of Oregon: a veritable fountain of cyclists. And while the city's bikeway system doesn't compare to many in Europe, it is probably the best in the US. VanderTuin points out, though, that many of the city's inhabitants have become apathetic about cycling. He hopes the CAT will sweep away the cynicism and lethargy in this old hippie town.
After settling in Eugene in 1990, VanderTuin began laying the ground work for the center. He built workbikes under the name Human Powered Machines (HPM), and taught a class in Workbike Design and History in cooperation with the University of Oregon. His attractive workbikes, easily demonstrated and clearly useful, were excellent hooks on which to hang proposals for the non-profit center. When a local business-person donated a very appropriate building in April of 1992, the CAT really began to take form.
The upstairs has apartments, which were renovated first. One is home to VanderTuin, and another is for guests of CAT. The other rooms upstairs house Auto-Relief, Eugene's only bicycle advocacy group, and Oregon Cycling, Oregon's monthly bicycle paper. Both groups are part of the CAT project, which is under the non-profit Rain Umbrella.
The downstairs area was quickly transformed from a dark and almost windowless cavern to a lightened, livable working area. Corrugated plastic "windows" were removed, and real windows and skylights added. A wall covered with mirrors, remnant of a previous owner's attempt to build a nightclub, was left alone, because no one could think what to do with mirrors the size of garage doors. One storage room has been converted into a darkroom, for photowork related to Rain Umbrella projects, and another into a non-circulating library on bike construction and transportation.
With all these projects in one space,
the center becomes a catalyst
for community action.
The CAT houses Pedalers Express, a courier group using workbikes to haul everything from newspapers to photographs, pasta to paste-ups. Pedalers Express has grown quickly, and became self-sustaining after only six months in operation.
Human-Powered Machines is the manufacturing sector of the CAT. A symbiotic relationship exists between it and Pedalers Express: HPM provides the bikes, and the builder is on site should any problems arise. Pedalers Express in turn provides high-profile exposure for the bikes, and therefore the whole CAT project.
The CAT intends to stress the benefits of such close, cooperative relationships for community work. When bikes are built and used locally, the manufacturing process is decentralized and the communal element is added. The workers and consumers involved begin to understand more than just a corner of an economy. This education through broad, fair relations makes the CAT a force which can affect deep social and economic change.
Reaching out to the community isn't so difficult. Pedalers Express has one bike with an insulated container for ice cream sales. On summer evenings and weekends, it rolls onto the nearby river bike path. Its distinctive appearance and chiming bell have become well known, and the ice cream sells well on hot days. People are very responsive, and often stop the riders just to talk about the bike. One rider has taken an unusual angle, dubbing himself the Short Order Poet. He sells ice cream and poems, which he creates on the spot.
Bringing the community inside the CAT is a form of outreach. There's a large meeting room that can be used by any appropriate activist group or club in town, where even films or slide shows can be shown (there's a popcorn popper, and a ping-pong table for breaks). The space itself thereby makes connections between existing groups that might otherwise not interact. For example, a local touring club's newsletter, on browsing tables and bulletin boards, share space with activist literature, racing news, and recumbent newsletters. People from every bike subculture become familiar with each other, making alliances possible.
Eugene Bicycle Works (EBW) is one of the most ambitious of the many difficult projects in the CAT. Its goal is to help the community learn about bikes: their design, use, repair and construction.
EBW runs a repair collective modeled after The Bicycle Repair Co-op in nearby Portland, Oregon. Members of the co-op pay a small yearly or hourly fee, in essence renting a large number of tools, from the most basic wrench to expensive professional specialities. Skilled mechanics are on hand to assist with any repairs or answer any questions. Soon people with wheelchairs will also be repairing their own equipment in the collective.
The shop is packed with human-powered vehicles of every description, in an attempt to introduce community members to a diversity of designs. Recumbents, tandems, tricycles, folding bikes, trailers and workbikes in all price ranges from around the world can be examined, bought or rented. EBW is the community entrance to the design work done by other projects in the CAT: eventually, rentals and sales will include bikes that can be produced either by people coming to learn bike construction, or by apprentices involved in the school.
EBW and the Hands-on Project will soon host classes, focusing on repair and framebuilding. Anyone wanting to build a human-powered vehicle will be encouraged to get involved in the design/manufacture process. The hope is that the costs of special bikes, that would be prohibitively expensive to develop within the "free market", will be defrayed by the labor of students and volunteers in these classes.
As with any non-profit organization, funding is always a challenge. Most of the money so far has come from private donations and the sweat equity of dedicated volunteers. Some money is now generated through membership fees to the CAT, as cyclists realize that it's working as a powerful cycling advocate for the benefit of the entire community. The projects and their workers pay some rent, and must be self-sufficient either through community support, classes or activity-related products. Every project coordinator is financially responsible for their role in the non-profit.
The CAT is fast becoming a vital part of the community, and has built momentum which will not easily dissipate. By pointing out the hidden costs of the automobile and the wonder of the alternatives, the CAT hopes to transform our car-dominated transportation system. The CAT is not alone. Groups in New York, San Francisco and Santa Cruz are already taking inspiration from the project. Soon there may be CATs everywhere!
[From original article. CAT is now closed.] CAT is looking for an individual to join us in the Workspace Rental Project, the Hands-On Project, and in the general operation of the Center. Bicycle shop experience, both in repair and manufacturing, is needed. Teaching experience is an asset. All genders, races, etc. are welcome to contact us. Like all other projects in the building these projects are bootstrap, i.e., everyone must figure out how to generate income for their specific project. What we can do is to offer an infrastructure, solidarity, and connections within the community.
2022 - the pandemic led to the close of Jan VanderTuin's Center for Appropriate Transport, after almost 30 years, and the building now hosts the City of Eugene's bicycle rental program.
But beyond the accomplishments listed in this early article, it should be noted that the first two US carsharing organizations were incubated at CAT -- the best known example in the US is zipcar, but "Wheels" and "The Eugene Car Co-op" were earlier and more socially ambitious, based on the Stattauto model. Hundreds of cycling centers around the world were inspired by the existence of CAT, and it organized a Eugene school dedicated to the community network of learning model. It was also involved in the naming of the 'Critical Mass' bike ride by Chris Carlson, and hence the all other rides and protests that followed.
Some of the projects at The Center for Appropriate Transport.
Above: community members can repair their own bicycles on the stands of Eugene Bicycle Works, where bicycle mechanics are available to help [in photo, CAT president Greg Bryant].
Below: some of the publications put out by the CAT. Auto-relief is the newsletter of the advocacy group of the same name, and Oregon Cycling is the state's premier bicycling publication.
Below: CAT Executive Director Jan VanderTuin explains the elements of intermediate-scale workbike manufacture to architecture students. From their study of the CAT, they designed a number of future community cycling centers.
Below: Kurt Jensen of Eugene Bicycle Works points to oddities in a trike available for sale or rent.
Below: the logo of CAT.
Below: The Grand Opening of the Center for Appropriate Transport was a community party of tremendous energy. It was promoted with a huge ticket sporting this illustration by Dennis Kuklok: We've saved you a seat!
Below: Jason Moore delivers the Northwest Comic News, which regularly uses Pedalers Express, to one out of a hundred or so stops. Jason is now editor of the CAT publication Oregon Cycling.
Below: Teri Blue delivers film for a local photo chain, replacing the van delivery service the chain ran before bicycles began to take over transport in Eugene.
The Center for Appropriate Technology is on 1st and Washington in Eugene, Oregon.
Workbike Workbook # 1
The Wheelchair Trike
by Jason Moore
RAIN 14-3, 1993
If you can only travel in your specialized wheelchair, and your friends or family are going for a bike ride, you usually sit at home. But human-powered technology offers an alternative.
Most wheelchair cycles are single-wheeled attachments that use a standard chair as the front of the vehicle. The stress of being part of a tricycle, however, is too great for many wheelchairs. Other trikes, such as the one built by Neatworks (see Lees Stables, p. 52), build a solid chair and attachment as a unit. But the makers of this combination are in Europe, making the chair hard to customize at a distance.
The wheelchair carrier pictured on this page places the chair on a sturdy steel frame on the front of the trike. The design is based on traditional front-load hauling tricycles, a workbike modified to carry special cargo.
The trike was built by Jan VanderTuin and Human Powered Machines of Eugene, Oregon (see article on The Center for Appropriate Transport, above). He was aided by students in his class on Workbike Design and History, taught in conjunction with the University of Oregon. The students used old bike parts and teamwork to help build the first prototype, learning about bike design and manufacture, while doing service for a member of the community.
The owner of the trike had some pressing issues that led him to seek an alternative to available bikes. He wanted to use the custom wheelchair he already owned, both because his daughter needs to recline slightly due to poor blood circulation, and because he had already spent $5,000 on it. He had tried carrying the wheelchair in a trailer in the past, but there was too much flex in the connection between the bike and the trailer, and a crew was required to load it.
He points out that the bike has greatly increased the range for daily outings with his daughter. Before using the trike, they ventured out in only a one mile radius during their daily walks. Now, with the added mobility, their domain has a ten mile radius. They can cruise to the nearby river bike path, or to any number of new destinations to keep the outings interesting. They can even put the trike in their van and travel to new riding spots. The whole family can go on long bike rides now, whereas before one person always had to stay with the young woman.
Technically, the bike posed some interesting challenges. The greatest was the head tube angle, which is actually at a negative angle when mea.sured by traditional diamond frame standards. To determine this, an adjustable head angle was built into the first prototype, and the correct angle determined by test riders. The dynamics of a front loading trike are so different they almost can not compare to those of a standard bike.
It has two sixteen inch wheels in front and a twenty four incher in back. The small wheels help lower the center of gravity, making the bike more stable. The wheels are all plastic, for strength and ease of maintenance. Braking duties are handled by two rear brakes: one drum brake and a cantilever. Both brakes are on the rear because the front of the bike has two wheels, and because the pivot point of the bike is in the center. The owner of the bike says the set up works just fine, and there have been times when he has been glad to have both brakes.
To put his daughter in a wheelchair on the bike, he stands behind her and pulls her up an aluminum ramp into channels which stabilize the wheels. The channels each have wheel stops to hold the chair in place. The wheelchair's brakes are applied, and two simple pedal toe straps attach the wheelchair to the frame. Although simple, this maneuver does require a strong person.
So how does a front-loading-articulated-wheelchair-carrying-tricycle ride? Quite well, actually. On flat ground, and at low speeds, it handles much like a regular bike. But one shouldn't try fast turns: it wants to jackknife like a truck. Also, if you turn too sharply, it's easy to hit your feet on the frame. It is a tricycle, so it feels tipsy on off-camber turns and slopes -- the third wheel prevents it from leaning like its two-wheeled relatives. An intriguing characteristic is its tendency to veer to the side of the pedal downstroke. If you push hard on the right pedal it veers to the right, and vice versa. This feature is more amusing than annoying, and can be easily compensated for.
The bike was rideable a mere 90 days after its conception, at a cost of around $1,500. Not bad compared to a six month wait the owner of the bike had for a custom attachment for a wheel chair carrying trailer. VanderTuin hopes that when the design is perfected the plans of the bike can be shared with others so that it can be built and used elsewhere. A third generation design is planned, and undoubtedly the small improvements needed will make this good trike great.