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.