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Fixie ticket deja-vu in Germany

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 4th, 2007 at 9:24 am

A reader recently sent me a a German news story about police and fixed-gear bicycles. Judging by the photos accompanying the story (below), he suspected (hoped) it was about how some German cops were riding fixed-gear bicycles on their bike patrols. This would be in direct contrast to Portland cops who issue citations to cyclists riding fixed-geared bicycles without a separate hand brake.

[Bonn Police Force officers
pose with suspect's bike.]


I sent the article to a friend to have it translated and I was surprised to find out that it was actually about how these German cops had stopped a cyclist who was riding a fixie and ticketed him for riding "entirely without brakes."

This got me thinking about the fixed-gear bicycle controversy that has raged here in Portland ever since that fateful stop of bike messenger Ayla Holland way back on June 1, 2006 and the subsequent trial which sparked a national debate about their safety and legality.

While covering this story I've been torn between both sides of the issue. On one hand it feels like the police are just hassling messengers (and those that look like them) and on the other hand I feel that riding a fixed-gear downtown can be a safety hazard for roadway users (especially when ridden by all but the most skilled pedalers).

Regardless of how this issue is resolved (work is being done to change the wording of the law), it was interesting to learn that cops as far away as Germany have reached some of the same conclusions about fixed-gear bicycles as cops in Portland.

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Comments
  • Gregg January 4, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Open...floodgates...now.

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  • Jessica Roberts January 4, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Remember that the police witnessed a near-miss before they ticketed him...I didn't get the impression they were out there cruising around looking for fixies but rather pulled over a cyclist who had just nearly caused a crash and were surprised to find that he had a brakeless bike.

    Based on the wording I got the impression that these bikes are very uncommon in Germany. It seemed like they didn't even have a specific word for a fixed gear bike but kept having to describe it.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 4, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Yes, in the German case, the cyclists was clearly riding recklessly and that is what drew attention to him (he also acted in defiance of the officers once stopped).

    My main point was that, after looking over the "track bike" they noted that it clearly lacked what they considered to be "brakes".

    I think this just shows the difficulty in making the case that pure fixed-gear bicycles without hand brakes are tough to defend as being "safe" vehicles.

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  • gwadzilla January 4, 2007 at 10:36 am

    well...

    it seems like there is a hang up about fashion

    a fixed gear rider can have a brake on their bike for fulfillment of the law

    it can be a illusion
    it can lack a cable
    it can lack brake pads
    it just needs to appear to be a brake

    but...
    there is the fashion status that is achieved by the brake-less-ness of it all

    why not appease "the man"
    put on a brake
    and then ride without it

    I remember that years ago there was a "snowboard leash law"
    an effort to prevent run away snowboards

    I had a leash that was attached to my boot that I clipped around my calf

    when in the binding it appeared that I was wearing a leash

    everyone was happy...

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  • Carl January 4, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Also note that he was in violation for not having a bell.

    I love bells almost as much as Elly, but requiring them by law strikes me as about as necessary as...ticketing track bikes.

    We have plenty to learn from Europe, but I don't envy some of Germany's laws and bureaucratic hassles. Perhaps the PPB does.

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  • patrick January 4, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    I'm reading a book right now called "On Your Bicycle: An Illustrated History of Cycling" by James McGurn. It's a wide-ranging and interesting book.

    One thing I just learned was that in the late 19th Century, bicycles were instrumental to gold miners in the Australian outback ("bush"). Here's a quote that made me chuckle:

    "The typical bush bicycle had no brakes and some riders slowed themselves down on descents by pressing their feet against the front tyre, or by trailing a stick or a branch along the ground--either held in the hand or tied to the bicycle."

    A stick, huh.

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  • Scout January 4, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Well, sticks are all the rage these days!
    Great find, Patrick.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis January 4, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    In the law, we love hypotheticals. Here's one for the folks who ride fixies without specifically-dedicated braking devices:

    You're riding down one of Portland's many hills. It's sufficiently steep to require a fair amount of negative pressure on the pedals to slow your descent.

    As you approach an intersection, you notice the light turn red and cars on the perpendicular street begin to go through the intersection. Also, a teacher and a long line of pre-schoolers trailing behind enter the crosswalk, crossing your path. The sidewalks on both sides are filled with pedestrians.

    Just then, while you are going about 15 mph and maybe 20 yards from the intersection, your chain breaks. What do you do?

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  • Chakra Lu January 4, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    From recent experience, you swirve throught cars while applying your boot to the back of your front wheel then make a steep right turn onto 1rst avenue to slow the speed, or steep turn onto one of the streets or hills or whatever going upward to decrease your speen. Then once that is done, you drag your boot on the ground like Jake brakes on a diesel truck and then plant your foot, lunge forward and wa-lah, you're stopped...not the most graceful, not the simplest, but it worked...also, make sure your chain didn't have a partially broken plate in it, meaning don't mess with the same links over and over with a bad chain tool...found out, not good...but bike, me, boot, made it through without a scratch...go ahead, make your comments, it happened, and now i know better about my chains...and tools, and what not...
    still told to put a brake on my rims, but can't on these rims, so, considering building yet another wheel with steel walls, then i can put a brake on it...oh and this was not grammatically correct typing...commence with your mockery...cheers!

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  • Carl January 4, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Gee, I hope Tim Becker of Northeast Portland (see story above) knows what he'd do in that situation, Attornatus. His newly won Amsterdam's only brake is chain activated, too...and that bike weighs one heckuva lot more than your average fixed gear.

    Why do people continue to use this "what if your chain breaks?" line? Don't they know how a coaster brake works and how common they are?

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis January 4, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    I've broken three chains at various times on my mountain bike. I'm pretty sure that, all three times, it was due to me exerting a great deal of pressure on the chain. So I don't regard it as an unusual or particularly unlikely occurrence.

    I'd like the benefit of the doubt here. I'm legitimately interested in what people will say in response to my hypo. This isn't a "line" and it isn't an attack. It's a sincere, straight-faced question.

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  • pushkin January 4, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    With a topic as lukewarm and partisan as this, A.O's “straight-faced” question is about as sincere a query as can come from someone who has learned never to ask a question to which you don't already know the answer.
    Who will take the bait?

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  • Dabby January 4, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I have many comments regarding this....
    Gwadzilla,
    I can't even believe ...you still think that this has to do with fashion and vanity.
    You are so off the mark.
    With messengers, it is about function-ality. It is about the fact that the bike has a brake already, and a redundant front brake is not only un-needed, but dangerous in the context of the fixed gear bicycle.
    I cannot speak for the fixster's out there (fixie-riding hipsters, the new scourge of the nation). They seem to be all about vanity, and I doubt they would be caught dead using a redundant brake on the front end.
    So, Gawdzilla, as soon as people like you move on from your closed mindset into the reality that fixed gears are safe if ridden properly, we can all move forward together, freewheel or fixed.

    Many things should be pointed out regarding this article. Much of my info comes not only from the article linked here, but from other versions of the same story I came across.
    This rider, a week or so before this incident, had been given a warning for many things.
    Failure to ride in the Bike Lane (this was one separated from the road entirely, and it is illegal there to ride in the road when the bike lane is present. ( note, not a striped bike lane, but one seperated with curbs, etc... virtually it's own street)
    Failure to have a bell.
    Failure to have a redundant mechanical brake.
    Then, after being warned about this, he was seen almost crashing into police, then taking off, cutting off more cars and bikes along the way.
    This is not so much a fixed gear issue as much as it is about ignorance.
    This should be an example to all of us.
    We know that due to a gross mis-interpretation of a badly written ordinance, fixed gear bikes are supposedly illegal here. Illegal only because they are misunderstood by those who enforce the rules.
    The same mis-interpretation has made it illegal in Germany too, it seems.
    This is still open however to individual discussion with the officer ticketing you, as you are innocent until proven guilty. At the site of the ticket, any reasonably minded cyclist should be able to get off scott free, if you present your case properly.
    But, once ticketed, or stopped even, for violations such as this 19 year old messenger commited, suck it up.
    I remember when I was a young, fresh fellow, I thought I was right all the time.
    Now, being much older, I realize I am only right like 90% of the time............

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis January 4, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    See, when you question others' sincerity and call them imbeciles, you end up driving away all the people interested in a genuine and civilized exchange of ideas. Bye.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 4, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    A_O,

    I just edited Dabby's comment to remove the insult. I apologize for him.

    Dabby,

    Name calling is not tolerated. Please refrain from doing so in the future.

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  • John Boyd January 4, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Hi.
    Riding a bicycle in traffic, at all, is dangerous. So dangerous that most people wouldn't even consider it. You, you cylcist, think that living as you believe is worth the risk to your personal safety, not to mention the fragile mindset of the Cadillac driver driving on top of you.
    Living as you believe is your thing and mine, not safety. If it were safety, we'd be driving. What's really my thing? hey thanks. Ecology? That's nice. Fitness? gravy. Cost? more than I'd admit. Alternaculture? too old.
    protest american manufacturing's built in obsolescence slash consumerism? largely.
    self reliance? a little less. All these things and more make up 49% of why I'm looking forward to riding home just now. The other 51% is my selfish fetish for simple (as in no redundant brake) mechanical simplicity. I'm dealing with it, mostly by riding a hell of a lot slower than cyclists on bikes with gears, and stuff. But then hey, I'm on a bike, not really in a hurry..

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  • Dabby January 4, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Attornus,
    The differences in the tourqe applied to your chain during geared Mt. Biking, and Fixed gear riding, are vast. I mean, I could make a list.......
    I will give you the simplest of reasons.....
    Ders. and gears apply sideways and other tourqe to your drivetrain, and especially chain. This combined with alot of panic (and planned shifting), much of which happens going up hills, applies levels of tourqe to the chain you could not even imagine. We are talking G forces here....
    I am suprised at the few chains I have broken off road. (with gears).
    On road, I have mishifted and instead of the chain breaking, the der. hanger has ripped itself from the frame. On a geared road bike.
    But, on a fixed gear, or singlespeed bike, with a properly alined drivetrain, these factors are not applied.
    The chain goes straight forward, and straight backward.
    The sideways tourqe, which is the killer of chains, is not there.
    With a quality chain, applied properly, and maintained and replaced when needed, there is no
    reason to concern youself with such an issue.

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  • Brad January 4, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    So this is the famed "Portland Bike Culture"? A bunch of people sniping about a case in GERMANY that Jonathan merely put on the site for interest's sake.

    I guess that I cannot refer to myself as a cyclist because I don't hate the cops, judges who don't ride, Eurocops, rich white guys in Lycra riding $3000 carbon steeds with (gasp!) gearing and brakes or traffic laws. Nor do I own a tall bike, work as a messenger, go Zoobombing, know what a Clown House is, ride a fixie, think Critical Mass makes a difference, or think the Sprockettes are particularly good dancers.

    I'll just have to be content with riding for fun and fitness, racing for personal accomplishment, and using my bikes to save money, gas, and the environment. I know that is so incredibly uncool here in Amsterdam-on-the-Willamette but I'll just have to cope with the knowledge that I'll never be hip to the .000354% of the population that actually gives a crap about such things. Time to ride home and hope "The Man" doesn't stick me in Gitmo for not supporting Halliburton and Big Oil. (Because we KNOW that is what the PPB is all about.)

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  • Tom January 4, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    AO, put your feet on the ground and/or on the back tire, like you did on your BMX when you were a kid, and skid to a stop. OR ditch it.

    If you're gonna ride it, know it...it's not a toy, it's a machine and it's how we make a living. A little respect is due to the couriers of Portland and those across the globe that dodge cars all day long making your deadlines for filings, etc. Let us get back to work.

    Cheers

    PS Give hipsters a brake!

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  • Dabby January 4, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    My point in typing that was that it is an idiotic thought to take someone's lively hood that you obviously do not understand, and chalk it up to vanity.
    This is like me calling Attornus an ambulance chaser. Which I would not do.
    I stand by my statement.

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  • Adam-8 January 4, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    In response to A_O, I'm going to have to echo Carl in asking "Why do people continue to use this 'what if your chain breaks?' line? "

    No one asks drivers to legitimize their right to drive by answering the question of what they'd do if THEIR brakes quit working. Or geared cyclists in the event that their brake cables snapped.

    The fact is, catastrophic equipment failure is not a likely enough situation (unless you're jumping boulders on a dirt track) to warrant it being a factor in the legitimacy (or legality) of an activity.

    Also, as I just finished getting taken for $255 dollars in tickets today, I'm curious what work is being done to change the ORS statutes regarding bikes. I'd love to see a story on that.

    ~Adam

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  • John Boyd January 4, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Where was I.
    Oh yes. When I ride my multiply-redundantly-braked tourer, I approach every car grill with my hands on the levers and think "how fast can I continue through here where a full stop will keep me from being hit? These disc brakes stop really, really well, wet or dry".
    When on my fixed gear, hoping SPDs and chain continue to work, I think "what possible scenarios must I avoid at this and the next intersection, and what will I do instead if they can't be avoided."

    Guess which bike I feel safer on.

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  • John Boyd January 4, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Also, Is Star Trek *that* big over in Germany? I think I saw that episode, where they go back in time and discover evidence of a long lost technologically superior society. Here evidenced by the fixed gear.

    "I wanna hold it"
    "No,I'm holding it"

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  • Tom January 4, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    “what possible scenarios must I avoid at this and the next intersection, and what will I do instead if they can’t be avoided.”
    - this makes us safer, we're always thinking ahead.

    Guess which bike I feel safer on.
    - this is why you shouldn't ride a fixed gear without brakes...leave it to the professionals.

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  • John Boyd January 4, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    Tom. As a completely unprofessional bicycle rider, I must defer to your experience and expertise in thinking ahead. Still, you've guessed wrong on which I feel safer on, and probably because I can can't write. I feel safer, too, having to plan ahead than by thinking I can always stop quickly when in trouble.

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  • Carl January 5, 2007 at 12:35 am

    I'm taking the bait. This is thoroughly off topic:

    Brad,
    You might not have a tall bike, but you certainly do have a high horse. I suggest you get off it and pitch in to make Portland's bike culture something of which you, too, can be proud.

    Let's not paint lines of division where there aren't any. I don't care who you voted for and I don't care what you ride. What counts to me, and probably most people who read this website, is that you ride and that you seem to care about the quality of bicycling in this city. So get off it. Hating haters won't get you anywhere.

    Grab your biggest backpack and some panniers and come to one of this week's upcoming bike moves, get your ass kicked at next week's alleycat, go drink some coffee with Slug Velo, or get creative welding chariots to pull behind minibikes over brunch this Saturday. At all of those events, you'll find total wackos and some incredibly generous, creative, and fun people.

    Those people are my friends. I'm very proud of Portland's bike community and I find pot shot comments like yours disappointing/hilarious.

    Welcome to the .000354%.

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  • Gustavo January 5, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Brakeless fixies belong in one place - the velodrome track. Think upon the logic of saying that ADDING a brake to a bike makes it less safe... if you have the skills to ride brakeless, couldn't you develop the skills to use that front brake safely with your fixie? And boy - wouldn't you be glad to have it if you ever did really need it? Maybe stop and consider that adding a brake to your bike isn't so much just for your safety - but for the safety of others around you too?

    It's really something that should NOT be legislated - since you would hope common sense would win out. But it seems that fashion and style trump sensible ideas every time.

    If you're riding a track bike with forks not drilled for a brake on the street - admit it: you're doing it to show off. It's no different than a stereotypical meathead riding his non-street legal dirt bike all around town, lacking lights, mirrors, and a muffler.

    Oh yeah, let's not talk about fixie riders and helmets, reflectors, and lights. ;)

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  • Tiah January 5, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Ahem. Gustavo-clearly you haven' tbothered to read th emessenger and other fixed gear riders comments about how they percive riding fixed gears to actaully be safer than othe rkind of bikes. So your comment about how the only real reason anyone would ride a track bike off the track is to "show off". Yes, there probably are a few people out there (Dabby's aforementioned "fixsters") who just want to look cool. However I would not say that they are anywhere near th emajortiy of fixed gear riders. Oh, I'm on a nice little bike team here in town and guess what? Lots of my teammates ride fixed gears when commuting, and some do so while racing(on and off the track). People who are architects, artists and cafe workers, messengers, and other jobs...All proficient fixed gear riders who love riding their fixies. L-U-V. They are competent and skilled riders. They aren't trying to look cool.They are trying to ride and enjoy themselves.

    As to this article, yeah, it is too bad that in Germany there are also foolish bike riders.I think it is important to recognize that this guys issue is not that he was ridinag fixed gear but that he was a bad cyclist(bad as in negligent to safety and laws).

    As for everyone getting all gung ho when they are at the keyboard and thinking they need to lambast each other, rather than just have an open discussion, once again I must say: Goodness gracious. Really? Can't we play nice?

    Ride your bike! Love your bike! go from there...

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  • gabrielamadeus January 5, 2007 at 11:50 am

    It's okay folks, you're not jerkfaces, it's the interweb's fault!

    proven here:
    http://www.psfk.com/2007/01/rude_awakening.html

    Now let's get back to the hating without feeling guilty about it!

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  • Gustavo January 5, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Lol. I did read those comments, and I disagreed with them. I never claimed there was something intrinsically wrong with riding a fixie on the street - it's just my personal opinion that to say adding a brake is dangerous is pretty silly.

    You have your right to your opinion, I have one to mine. Plenty of messengers that I used to see or employ when I lived in SF (which has LOTS of hills and much sketchier traffic) have brakes on their work bikes - wether geared, fixed, etc. Not to say they ALL did, but generally - the more experienced the rider, the more sensible the bike.

    BTW: none of my 4 bikes have gears. But they all have brakes. :)

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  • Tom January 5, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    see...totally safe!

    http://www.mashsf.com/#

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  • Tom January 5, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    John,
    Sorry...I shouldn't assume. You're right that you need to be more aware on a fixed gear, brakes or not. I always feel safer riding in traffic or in the rain on one. The idea of grabbing a front brake in an emergency situation kind of freaks me out.
    Cheers.

    PS Again, props to the working messenger! let 'em do their job.

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  • John Boyd January 5, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    "to say adding a brake is dangerous is pretty silly"
    Yes, to say that would be silly. No one has said that adding a brake is dangerous. I have said that adding a brake may not necessarily be more safe.

    I have a table saw that came with a complicated clear plastic guard. I immediately removed it as a liability for the main reason that it blurs what should be the simple and obvious reality that if your finger is not where it should be, it will taken. With the guard in place, risks are taken with the belief that it will protect you.

    Go on a car trip, look for folks talking on their phone in the fast lane. They're the ones with largest mass and latest safety appointments, not so much the folks in economy cars.

    Or how about the grieving parent that forgot to lock the gun safe.

    get it? safety features can increase your risk exposure. Just a concept, not a rule.

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  • Gustavo January 5, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Tom - very cool video. Seen it before on the bikeforums.net site. Made me miss SF for a bit. My office was right by the Valencia street overpass. My days of shenanigans like that were somewhere back in the late 80's early 90's. :)

    Ok - so maybe I came across a bit close-minded. This is really a un-winnable argument, since it's all about your personal choice. It's another mac-vs-pc type of argument.

    If you have the skills to ride brakeless safely - go to town.

    If you don't have the skills, think about it for a minute, and make it easier on yourself, every way you can. Maybe practice riding that sexy trendy Pista you just bought in a parking lot until you can skid without eating it. ;)

    Ahh... I remember the feeling of being immortal and invincible. Faded somewhere around my 3rd motorcycle accident sometime in my late 20's. ;)

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  • John Boyd January 5, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    experts precede us:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=risk+compensation

    "This controversial view was at first strongly resisted but detailed investigation, particularly of the case of compulsory seat belts, caused the theory to become more widely accepted, although it is still resisted by many who support an interventionist approach."

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  • Dabby January 6, 2007 at 12:03 am

    Gustavo,
    It is certrainly a fact that messengers in SF ride fixed gears with a redudant front brake.
    This is because of riding for a living in a flat city like ours, they ride in San Fransico, with big hills.
    6 hours into the working day, in a city covered in hills, a redundant brake is your friend
    The biggest hill found working in this town is like a freeway over pass in Indiana.
    Not very big, but the only thing around to train on......I know, I used to train on them....
    In the city of Portalnd, a front brake is more of a danger than a help.
    I have yanked on my front brake on a road bike, and flipped over the bars......
    Think of this happening with no freewheel............
    Owe........can you say clipped in?

    And, it is a fact that you must be prepared blocks ahead of time, for anything, when riding a fixed gear.
    This is something that comes with the experience of riding a fixed gear.
    It makes you more aware.
    It makes you ready.
    For anything.
    It changes everything about how you look at riding a bike in the city. For the better...
    This is not only how you should be when riding your fixed gear, but how you should be when riding any bike on any street.
    Ready and aware.
    Think of the difference it would make if all cyclists were this prepared for anything?

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  • SKiDmark January 6, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Motor Vehicle regulations are much tighter in Germany than they are anywhere else in the world with their TUV Approval regulations so it follows that their regulations for bikes would be tighter. I am pretty sure that the law for brakes on bikes across the EU is that each wheel must have a brake and a fixed hub counts as a brake, so in this case the bike is illegal , as one of the wheels has no brake on it. Anyone who is incensed by this ruling OR is trying to use it as an example of how fixed gear bikes are unsafe should take into account that the bike is supposed to have a front brake under German law.

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  • SKiDmark January 6, 2007 at 11:59 am

    It's so funny to see someone relate riding a skinny minimalist track bike to machismo. I have read more than article that compare brakeless fixed riding to meditation, which to me is the polar opposite of being a macho meathead. if anything riding a track bike is like riding a stripped-down "bobber" motorcycle, a motorcycle with the front brake, instruments and front fender removed. Once again the minimalist ideal is being exercised. It's not about showing off to most people who do it, because most of us would still be doing it even when nobody is watching.

    Maybe putting down riding a track bike on the street stems from your own insecurity about the fact that you can't ride one safely without brakes?

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  • Gustavo January 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Skidmark & other sensitive brakeless fixie folks, obviously my own insecurities are the problem here. What would you recommend to improve my fixie skills? A campagnolo hat, PBR belt-buckle, or a studded belt and wallet chain? ;)

    Machismo isn't tied to a "biggest is best" attitude. It can also be "I'm more minimal than thou". I've encountered that attitude in everything I've ever been involved in - art, music, cars, fashion, bikes, rc sailplanes, paragliding, etc. Style over function, coolness over practicality.

    I'll bow out of this thread, and leave you to ride as you wish - since it was never my intention to do anything but point out some poor logic and justifications in other posts.

    To some of us, it's not a contest or a race. And if I see you on the side of the road with a flat, I'll still offer to share my patches and let you use my pump even if you don't have brakes. :)

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  • SKiDmark January 7, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I hate PBR, ask anyone.

    You are making a lot of assumptions about me Gustavo, and if you actually comprehended all the posts I have written about this topic, you would know how far off the mark you actually are.

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  • SKiDmark January 7, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    For the first time I actually side WITH law enforcement and I get labeled "sensitive brakeless fixie folk".

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  • Krebscycler October 17, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I still don\'t get why a front brake would be more dangerous on a fixie than not having one. One comment was about how they flipped over the handlebars because of their front brake. Well, isn\'t that operator error? And if you flipped over, isn\'t that better than crashing into something when you have a limited stopping distance. I don\'t care if you have a front brake or not, suit yourself. I have one, sometimes I use it, sometimes I don\'t. The important thing is that I know when I am using it or not. If someone rides by and sees that I have a front brake and thinks I\'m a puss, so what? I\'m just happy to be on a bike!

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