Chicagos bike, the BLACKLINE
  • Shamis McGillin
  • Chicago’s bike, the BLACKLINE

At a Friday night release party, held in a warehouse next to Minimal’s West Loop office, the bike prototype developed by Chicago’s Oregon Manifest team was finally revealed to the public.

The team’s vision for a better bike for Chicago, the tech-heavy BLACKLINE, presented a reductive version of what an urban utility bike can be, with a name inspired by the rattling Green Line train that runs just above Minimal’s Lake Street studio. According to brand director Kevin Flatt, they thought about it as the ride that can “take you to the places where the el train can’t.”

The most striking feature may be the empty space. The oversized two-inch main tube cuts a distinctive profile with a single line, an angular shape that the team’s frame builder, Garry Alderman of Method Bicycle, said took him out of his comfort zone in a very good way. In an attempt to design without wasting a gesture, the Chicago team has built an entry that’s sleek, assertive, and serious, a steel “V” in sans serif.

Combined with the curved wood fenders, with lights that run parallel with the oversized tires, BLACKLINE embodies the theme of rugged refinement and the “everything you need, nothing you don’t” ethos the team focused on during the design process (which they spoke to the Reader about earlier this week).

Other standout features of the BLACKLINE include:

Custom Helios handlebars
To make the bike more responsive and connected, the Minimal team reached out to Helios, a San Francisco startup behind an integrated headlight and blinker system that raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter last year. The custom kit they created for the BLACKLINE provides the prototype with a turn-by-turn GPS navigation system, with integrated LED headlights, that’s controlled by a custom iOS app, as well as a USB charging port powered by the front wheel. The blinking blue lights on each handlebar signal turns while providing additional visibility for riders at night. The bike can also track and locate itself via GPS.

Sealed SRAM three-speed hub
The centerpiece of the team’s no-maintenance philosophy, the special SRAM three-speed kick-back hub was originally designed by the Chicago-based company to be durable enough for rural African roads. The self-contained hub required no shifters— with the pedal actuated gear shifts, bikers simply pedal back to shift up—and along with the carbon belt drive, results in a drive train with fewer exposed parts that stands up much better to weather extremes.

Flexible mounting system
Instead of creating a front or rear rack, Minimal gave riders both. The curved front basket—which includes a clip underneath to store a U-lock and bungee ties—and the back rack both sport truss patterns. Screw-in metal discs replace the detachable mounts when they’re not in use. Two custom panniers, created by Portland company Terrazign, have retractable straps that turn the bags into waterproof messenger bags for easy carrying. A double-leg kickstand facilitates loading and unloading easy.

Voting for the Oregon Manifest contest—which pits the BLACKLINE against prototypes designed by teams in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland—begins on Monday morning.

  • Shamis McGillin