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Cyclist wins fixed-gear case

Posted by on September 5th, 2006 at 2:00 pm

This morning Portland cyclist John Boyd successfully defended himself in a Multnomah County traffic court trial for a ticket he received for riding a fixed-gear bicycle without a hand brake.

Boyd, a 40 year-old architect and resident of Northeast Portland, was given the ticket by Officer Barnum of the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division. Barnum is the same officer who ticketed Ayla Holland, a local messenger who lost her case for the same violation on July 27th (that case is under appeal with the State of Oregon).

The judge in Boyd’s case was Christopher Larsen, who, unlike the Judge in Holland’s case, is an avid cyclist. Boyd credits his victory not just to the fact that Larsen is a cyclist, but that in his defense he stuck to one simple fact: the dictionary definition of a brake. I spoke to Boyd this morning and he told me about his trial:

“My entire argument in my defense was a copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary definiton for the word “Brake”, Which says “designed or used to slow or stop motion”. Barnum’s argument for the State consisted soley of the dangers involved, which I agreed with. In his rebuttal, he asked me how would I stop if I had a leg spasm, to which my answer was, “I would be unable to stop and would crash”. Barnum’s rebuttal included the phrases, “separate device” and “alternate means” in describing what he considered a brake, and my final rebuttal, quoted these phrases and said these terms were not provided for in the statute. Slam Dunk. I’m very sorry to all for taking the law-breaker edge away from the the other pleasures of riding fixies without redundant brakes.”

I asked Boyd if the Judge had any other comments. According to Boyd, the Judge said that since there is no specific statutory definition of the word “brake” he determined that fixed-gear bicycles comply with the statute. However, the Judge also added that this issue will be decided on a case-by-case basis in the future.

This contradictory situation apparently left Officer Barnum questioning the Judge as to what standard he should use in the future.

No word yet whether this decision will have any influence on Ayla Holland’s case for appeal.

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  • revphil September 5, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    case by case basis… what a novel idea, if a biker (or any traffic) cant stop than it is a problem. if they can stop it is not.

    Officer Barnum should be scolded for wasting time any money. Why did he become a cop anyway? If I were a Portland police officer I would be embarrassed.

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  • Brett September 5, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I don’t think having such a negative opinion of the PPB is the best thing.

    I would like to see the following fleshed out a bit. In particular the “contradictory situation” and the “apparently” part.

    “This contradictory situation apparently left Officer Barnum questioning the Judge as to what standard he should use in the future.”

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  • Martha September 5, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    “…left Officer Barnum questioning the Judge as to what standard he should use in the future.” Perhaps he might use the standard set out in ORS, and get the rider to prove he/she can skid. The law doesn’t define what a brake is, but rather defines a performance standard that a rider must meet.

    A quicker test would be to observe whether the rider is currently afflicted with those leg spasms that the officer is so concerned about. (Who the heck has leg spasms while riding, anyway?)

    So I’ve been wondering — when are the police going to start targeting office workers who only have hand brakes because they are more likely to have diminished hand strength due to carpal tunnel syndrome?

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  • John Boyd September 5, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Brett, to the “contradictory situation”, I don’t believe this is unusual, the judge was not proclaiming himself savior of opressed fixie riders, but in this particular case, with this evidence, after these particlular arguments, I was found not guilty. This stance makes the inevitable awkward run-in with judge Lowe in the judges-only parking or cafeteria a little easier. I don’t see officer Barnum giving any more of these tickets out though, unless he enjoyed his.., well unless he enjoyed loosing his argument and sitting on a wooden bench for 3 hours.

    Officer Barnum said he had given 2 (or 3?) tickets that morning to bus drivers cutting off cyclists. I think he is really one of the good ones. Just way mistaken on what a brake is, that’s all.

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  • Brett September 5, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Hey thanks for the info.


    GO Merriam-Webster !!!

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  • Tankagnolo Bob September 5, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    Yo – My buddy and I are beginning to do tests to compare. Here are his results. How about others on this site creating a data base on HOW MUCH DISTANCE TO STOP w or wo “BRAKES”.

    OK, rough testing yesterday on the Nishiki road bike, 700 x 25 tires:
    20 mph : both brakes = 41 feet
    15 mph: rear only = 25 feet; front brake only = 20 feet; both brakes 18 feet.

    NOTE: variables to consider are 1) type of bike (weight and tire width), 2) type of brakes, 3) type of rubber on calipers, 4) skill of rider, 5) roughness of street. Also this does not include the variable of reaction time . . .

    Write in your result for level ground at 15 mph and 20 mph, fixie with and without brakes.

    Tankagnolo Bob

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  • Dabby September 5, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    No matter how sucessful this victory “was”.
    In my mind it is negated by a statements like this:
    “I’m very sorry to all for taking the law-breaker edge away from the the other pleasures of riding fixies without redundant brakes.” (Mr. Boyd)
    People like Mr. Boyd are still missing the point.
    This has nothing to do with vanity at all. This is not about breaking the law by continuing to ride with out a caliper brake.
    This is our lively hood, working 8-9 hours a day on a track bike. It is like MR. Boyds T-square and pencil. He relies on it, and I dare you to talk crap about it to him
    The last thing that we need in this town is for someone who is 40 years old and should know better( Dammitt, that is how old I am!) representing this case with a attitude like that.
    It appears that he would like everyone reading about his win to believe that we are riding like this because it is fun to break the law?

    I consider this statement slander, and a injustice to messengers, and serious track bike riders everywhere.
    I would call for this statement to be removed from this article before the police and or judges that frequent this site are allowed to read it.
    Mr.Boyd, that statement was way out of line, and we deserve an apology.
    I read here posts by people who think the cycling community is divided by vanity.
    This is not the case.
    Our cycling community is divided by ignorance.

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  • John September 5, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Glad to see this got overruled, it was really quite silly.

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  • John Boyd September 5, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    To be super extra cystal clear, I don’t actually believe anyone derived satisfaction from the aspect of illegality of non-redundantly-braked fixed-gear bicycles ridden within the limits of city of Portland, Oregon USA. It was kinda said in lighthearted jest. That is, a humorous anecdote or remark intended to provoke laughter. I’m sorry, well, double sorry.

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  • Chris September 5, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    WTF? Lighten up man.
    I ride fixed and brakeless, and enjoy it. I fail to see, however, how anybody, let alone Mr Boyd, is threatening your livelihood in any way shape or form. No one is making messengers ride brakeless fixies, and the successful completion of your job duties does not specifically rely on having that particular type of velocipede.
    So what exactly did My Boyd do to offend you?

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  • Wyatt September 5, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    This is a really bizarre, classist issue which has divided the cycling community. Pointing out an obvious rift I hadn’t noticed existed until now.

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  • NeRf September 5, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    I second Dabby’s post please remove his comment as dabby said

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  • Arienne September 5, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    the main reason i ride fixed is because its safe, and controlable, realiable utilitarian, and its solid. theres nothing better, i’ve been riding fixed 3 years and riding as a messenger 1991, the only way to survive is a fixed gear.


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  • Crankers September 5, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    Someone get NeRf and Dabby a script for some Percocet chop chop.

    Speaking of… John, I’m sorry but the humorous anecdote or remark only provoked a smirk. You’ll actually have to slander someone for a laugh from me, I’m sorry.

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  • SKiDmark September 5, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    There is nothing “outlaw” about riding a fixed gear bike without a caliper brake. Any fixed gear bike can stop as well as any coaster brake bike in the hands of a competent bike rider.

    Tankagnolo Bob , I asked you before if you wanted to try riding fixed and compare for yourself and you did not take me up on it. At this point
    I know you are just here to talk smack and not learn anything new. Dabby is right, and I said it before, this whole controversy is based in ignorance.

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  • Jonathan Maus September 5, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Dabby (and Nerf),

    I agree that John’s comment about “law-breaker edge” is not too cool, but I don’t feel it’s necessary to delete it.

    It is merely one man’s statement and doesn’t reflect any official position from anyone.

    The same judges and cops who read John’s quote, will probably also read your comment. As a matter of fact if you (Dabby) or someone else want to write an article about this fixed-gear issue, I will definitely consider publishing it.

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  • Crankers September 5, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    I guess Mr. Boyd can’t be super extra crystal clear when the comprehension level around him isn’t so high. I saw the sentence as an obvious joke when I read it, and I didn’t need super smarts or John’s follow up post to confirm that it was facetious. This reminds me of a quote I heard attributed to Ralph Nader once, which even if he didn’t say it, it can’t be that far off mark:

    “Humor will be important when there is justice in the world.”

    Get over yourselves. He shouldn’t have to write at a fifth grade level so as not to offend you.

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  • Dabby September 6, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Chris, Crankers, et all,
    My point again, in case you didn’t get it when I typed it above.
    This has nothing to do with glory.
    This has nothing to do with vanity.
    This has nothing to do with skirting the law.
    This has to do with mis-interpretation of a ordinance, and misguided law enforcement.
    So, the last thing we need is for people to be under the impression that we are riding like this in order to have fun breaking the law.
    Especially since this could not be farther from the truth.
    I applaud Mr. John Boyd for many things.
    For riding a fixed gear in town at our age, first. Sometimes it kills my bones to do it myself, but I love it.
    For winning his case using Websters, and logic.
    For posting after my comment with respect, apologizing, and explaining what he meant.
    Luckily, I knew what he meant.
    I knew he was making a joke. I thought it was funny, for a moment.
    I also know that not many people on these comments tend to understand sarcasm. This has been proven over and over just with this fixed gear issue, on this site alone.
    So, as I wrote, this site is way too read and publicized for such off hand comments, when wedged next to such a serious issue.
    Once again, Mr. Boyd, kudos to you.
    This is not a personal attack on you in any manner. Due to your comment, you seem to fully appreciate this, and unerstand it also.
    But yet, Chris, what you do not know is that a statement like that is a personal attack on me. Though wounded and not working all summer, I started being a bicycle courier 20 years ago this winter. When working, I ride a fixed gear everyday. The police know me. Very well. They see me all day, everyday.
    A Track Bike is the proper equipment for my day to day job. Other bikes are a hassle, take much more maintenance and money, and can be much more dangerous.
    So, as you MAY now understand, a misguided comment as such will do nothing less than bring the heat down on those who are the brightest light on the christmas tree.
    If you do not have the comprehension to understand this, that is one thing. But, I just think you may not have tried hard enough. Life is about understanding many different things, some of which we do not fully agree with.
    I also recognize that people have the right to say whatever they want.
    But another cyclist making a public statement like this is a whole other issue.
    A statement that will, if read and misinterpreted by the wrong people, will do nothing less than create animosity towards messengers mainly, and cyclists in general.
    Is more animosity what we need?
    I think not.

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  • NeRf September 6, 2006 at 12:59 am

    hey “crankers’
    what exactly is your input into this whole subject??
    because to me, honestly, it seem that you are just a troll a this point,
    (i’m not trying to provoke a confrontation, just wonderign because it doesnt seem clear…)

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  • SKiDmark September 6, 2006 at 3:10 am

    We did our “tests” earlier this evening. I was on my 52 Schwinn and Nerf was on his track bike. We preferred the open road with real traffic situations like stoplights and unpredictable car drivers rather than static stopping tests. He can outsprint and outstop me easily. There is no doubt in my mind that a fixed gear bike in the hands of someone competent is perfectly safe.

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  • BLDZR September 6, 2006 at 6:30 am

    As I’ve said a million times before…

    Shut up, Dabby.

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  • doug September 6, 2006 at 11:24 am

    I’m a little confused. Is there anyone here that believes riding a fixie with a front brake is more dangerous that riding one without? Or that having to ride a fixie with a front brake threatens their line of work?

    (Note, this is not a comment on the ordinance. Kudos to John for his successful challenge of the citation.)

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  • mike September 6, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Daddy said something funny. “Serious track bike riders” Oh man, make it stop… I am peeing my pants.

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  • Gregg September 6, 2006 at 11:48 am

    It really doesn’t matter which method is more dangerous. Many keep saying that the past ruling was a “misruling” but if the judge declared it, that’s the way it is. The majority of people (even without any knowledge of law) see that there is indeed enough ambiguity in the ordinance to confuse the police and even the judiciary. But too many have emotional ties to the outcome and are apparently not thinking clearly. Although this site is a valuable source of information, debating a legal issue here will contribute little to getting the law clarified. We all know that real legwork needs to be done.

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  • Dabby September 6, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t shut up, I grow up, but when I look at you I throw up…..
    How’s the sternum doing?

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  • brock September 6, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    My god, we’re back in second grade.

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  • Jonathan Maus September 6, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Please do not comment unless you have something constructive to add to this topic.

    Off-topic comments severely detract from the value of the community I have worked very hard to establish.

    Thank you for understanding.

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  • SKiDmark September 6, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    I feel safer without a front brake on my track bike. I ride a little slower and pay more attention. If you feel safer with a brake on your “fixie” then by all means run a brake. My fixed road conversion has front and rear brakes.

    I will remind you AGAIN that a front brake by itself does not satisfy the law as it is written.

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  • ItalianOnly September 6, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    This didn’t start out as brake vs. no brake issue. It is an issue derived from the arrogant and snob-like approach to riding brakeless that I see committed on a frequent basis by a few *EDITED* messengers riding downtown. I ride a track bike that’s never been drilled for brakes. It is truely a unique riding experience that is worth defending against those who are misinformed.

    As for the arguement that someone’s livelyhood is at risk, I can think of better pro-brakeless arguements then that, especially when I see messengers with brakes all the time who seem to get by.

    Give me a break *EDITED*.

    Try stopping at an occasional stop-sign. That cop is probably about of sick of you as I am. A midlife crisis is not a justification for trying to pick fights with people who, for a hobby prefer to ride the style bike you chose to ride for a living. Instead, why don’t you just take credit for making what you do look cool enough so that people would perhaps want to emulate you. After all isn’t that why track bikes have become so popular in Portland as of late? I don’t know the answer to that but stop bringing the heat on the rest of us.

    [Editor’s note: I’ve edited and deleted several inciteful and unneccessary personal attacks from this comment. Please keep it clean guys.]

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  • SKiDmark September 6, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    They are not being stopped for running stop signs or red traffic lights, ItalianOnly. I talked to 3 messengers last night that between them have about 6 tickets and NONE of their tickets are for running a red light or a stop sign. They are being specifically pulled over for (percieved) no brakes, then they come to a stop for the ticket. Maybe your tune will change if YOU get a “no brakes” ticket while riding down the street and obeying the traffic laws.

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  • Patrick September 6, 2006 at 10:25 pm


    Do we have 1 documented scientific case of a cyclist losing control of his bike because of leg spasms?

    What if I have a seizure while riding my geared bike with 2 brakes, what then???

    How many of these ridiculous what if scenarios do we have to come up with?

    Taxes come out of my check to pay this guy’s salary?? LEG SPASMS!?!?

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  • […] I don’t know what made me write about this, maybe it was riding my fixie a lot more since the racing thing is winding down, maybe it was all the fixies I’ve seen out, or maybe it was the article which I saw about a good win for fixie riders in portland. […]

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  • John Boyd September 7, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Huh, I mean wow.
    I’ve just been informed that officer Barnum handed out another ticket for failure to have a brake this morning.
    I dare say *that* to me would represent a squandering of city and county resources.

    This would seem to suggest that Barnum does not recognize the Judges authority in the matter.

    Is there precedent for police repeatedly bringing known loosing cases before the court?

    How many times will he need to be spanked on the behind with a dictionary before his superior says “get over it, looser”.

    John Boyd

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  • Elly September 7, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    For what it’s worth, there is a supposedly independent police review commission in Portland. You can file commendations or complaints with them, if you feel that a specific officer has done an especially good job or has failed to uphold their duty.

    The web site for this is:

    You can choose to file a commendation or complaint from the toolbar on the right.

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  • John Boyd September 7, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Great link Elly. Who knew that could be so easy. Thanks

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  • revphil September 8, 2006 at 1:21 am

    Mr Boyd, I suggest you give Officer Barnum a Merriam-Webster of his own so he can look up words like “nuisance” and “contempt” before a judge has to explain what they mean.

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  • […] Then, just last Tuesday, Barnum found himself in court again for the same violation. This time John Boyd, a local architect, convinced the judge to overrule Barnum’s ticket on the grounds that the definition of “brake” was not clearly defined in the statute (815.280(a)(b)). […]

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  • SKIDmark September 8, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Right on Rev. Phil!

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  • September 20, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    Cyclist wins fixed-gear case…

    Another fixie case in Oregon goes the way of the defendant. Charged by the same officer in the Ayla Holland case….

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  • fixing a Friday « foldable walter October 1, 2006 at 8:45 am

    […] As far as I’m concerned, the fixed gear works very well as a rear brake or even the primary brake. I’ve ridden “brakeless” (in actuality, I’ve backpedalled to brake) for quite some time, even gone down some very steep descents with no issues. However, there are definately some concerns to be had about whether or not it’s legal to ride on the street without a brake, though we’ve got some people in high places fighting to defend us. For this reason and because, after riding my gearie for a while, I realized I really like riding on the hoods on my drop bars, I put a front brake on my bike just recently. You might disagree and want to ride brakeless. Fine, but because of these concerns, all of our fixed gears will come equipped with at least one brake. Don’t want it? That’s what craigslist is for, silly! […]

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  • Kia Karimi October 18, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    The first thing I would like to say is in regards to the rebutle by officer Barnum, in which he asked what Mr. Boyd would do in order to stop his brakeless fixed-gear if he suddenly had a leg spasm. These ridiculous hypotheticals are entirely too far fetched to be taken as a seriously because they can be applied to any and all situations to make them seem unsafe. What if someone was riding a bike WITH brakes and suddenly had hand cramps and was unable to squeeze the brake levers? Are we going to outlaw all bikes now? Or what if Officer Barnum himself was driving his patrol car, had a leg spasm which forced his foot into the gas pedal and he slammed into another car or a pedestrian? There is no justification for such an erroneous scenario in a court of law, unless it is a probable or common occurring phenomenon. And as a member of the cycling community, I have never seen or heard of a leg spasm ever being the cause of a bike related accident and welcome anyone to come for with a documented case. It is for these reasons, and for the fact that the judge disregarded Officer Barnums case, that we see no real logic is applied to this reasoning.

    Secondly, I would like to speak on the judge’s decision to handle this issue on a case by case basis, which I entirely agree with. Although logistically it may be difficult to comprehend, it is the best and safest alternative. I ride a brakeless fixed-gear, and have for many years. I have encountered enough situations in which my abilities have been put to the limit, so I have proved that I am not a danger to myself or other. My ability to stop is refined to the point where I am able to stop as quickly and efficiently as my friends who ride with brakes. However, this is in no way true for all who ride brakeless, especially as of late. As I am sure many of you have noticed, fixed-gears are becoming somewhat of a trend, and within this trend there is a misguided idea that you are “cooler” or a better rider if you ride brakeless. Due to this stereotype, I personally witnessed riders attempt to ride brakeless upon their first time riding a fixed gear. Needless to say their ability to stop as minimal at best and posed a threat to themselves and others. Therefore, the judges ruling to handle this situation on a case by case basis is entirely appropriate because this trend may lead to more unsafe brakeless riders endangering our streets, and giving the rest of us a bad reputation.

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  • Archie November 3, 2006 at 9:14 am

    Doen’t common sense come into this argument, somewhere? (I know that’s a difficult concept for many Americans.) In spite of what has been written by the macho, no handbrake gang, there’s no way you can stop quicker without a front brake than with one on a fixie. And yes, I have a fixie and have ridden them on and off for 50 years. This no brakes issue is just one more which will help to brand all cyclists as irresponsible, if not plain stupid.

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  • Val January 7, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Speaking of banning brakeless vehicles: It seems all you fixed riders could be in very affluent company.

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  • Psher April 26, 2007 at 9:17 am

    I was actually shocked to read of people thinking hand brakes are superior to the fixed! I am a winter cyclist who doesn’t maintain his bike well and hand brakes for me do not last very long. And yes, in response to another post, a front brake can be more dangerous that riding a bike without one. The first day I rode a fixed bike with a front hand brake, I had to stop suddenly and used the front brake which stopped me on a dime and I went over the handlebars, injuring my back which took over 2 years to heal.

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  • jNA September 1, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Only a crap bike rider would go over the front using the front brake. I thought people riding fixies should have excellent knowledge about when the back wheel goes up before you flip it.

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  • Earnan October 6, 2007 at 8:18 am

    The more of you fixie cultists get crushed by buses the better.

    Simple fact is, no brakes means slower longer stops. Which place other peoples\’ lives and health at risk.

    Grow up.

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  • Mike October 8, 2008 at 4:25 am

    I just started to ride a fixie,a bought a bike with a flip-flop hub, rode it around with the freewheel and both brakes. I right away fipped to the fixed sided, took off the rear brake and have been riding ever since , now about 2 weeks. Love it!!!!! I think in regards to the no-brake/ brake issue. I would have to say as a firefighter/emt that upholding the law is a good thing for everyone, but when the safety is compromised, then it is something else. I am not ready to take the front brake off yet, but I don’t really use it unless some idiot pulls out in front of me like the other day and I am glad I did have that extra stopping power , otherwise I would have hit the car. and for those that say to swerve, I didn’t have anywhere to go. so for what it is worth keep a front or rear brake on just for an extra safety precaution.

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  • Kalikiano Kalei January 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    An astute comment was made earlier in this queue about this whole matter of ‘fixie versus non-fixie’ REALLY boiling down to a ‘classist issue’ and it is certainly that. Sadly, many younger bicycle riders are far more concerned with the ethereally aesthetic demands of style than with the basic physics of safety.

    Arguments that fixies are just as safe as (or…somewhat insanely…SAFER THAN, gasp) bicycles fitted with conventional front and rear brakes defy all rational logic and refute the last vestige of any factual reality applicable to ordinary (mortal) human beings.

    As always, it would appear that some people become so aesthetically repelled by hum-drum convention that they are compelled (by their rather ego-contentric sense of inflated self-importance and uniqueness?) to seize upon some esoteric or exotic distinction that will set them apart from the rest of the ‘ordinary’ cycling herd (in this case, cyclists who use hand brakes). This is apparently the case with those who eschew conventional bicycle brake systems and argue that their use of fixed gear bicycles in crowded, congested and hazardous urban environments is just as non-hazardous as using bikes with standard hand brakes. Again, the basic reality of applied physics can’t possibly be convincingly denied in any sober analysis of the facts by a balanced person who maintains an objective outlook on matters such as this (On that subject: how many ‘balanced, objective’ cyclists are there, out there? If pressed for an answer to that, I’d likely argue very few!).

    I whole heartedly agree that far too many bicycle laws are poorly conceived, badly counched and defined (in highly obscure legalese jargon), and imperfectly enacted as public statutes (usually by politicians…who are not bicycle people to begin with and who probably last rode a tricycle to the playground in second grade). BUT, that fact still doesn’t alter my own strong sense that fixed-gear bike proponents are deliberately affecting an obstructive stance in this issue due to the fact that their somewhat emotionally hyper-refined and socially vapid lives provoke them into insisting on maintaining themselves as somehow above the laws of BOTH reality AND physics. In that light, as I stated earlier, the present highly contentious argument between fixies and non-fixies positively reeks of puerile class conflict (and perhaps between the forces of mature intelligence and youthful impetuousness, as well)!

    Aloha mai e, Kalikiano

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  • Christine September 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I rode a fixed wheel racing bike from the age of 16 until my 60s.They are the safest bike on the road, especially in ice or snow. No frantic brake grabbing, just ease up on the pedels.
    A front break is very usefull . Dont forget to wear cleats or the old style rattraps for even more control.
    P.S. I am in my 70s now, and no longer cycle, but still cannot get rid of my bike!
    Happy riding to you all.

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