Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Report from Salem: Fixed-gear bill moves forward

Posted by on March 27th, 2007 at 3:52 pm

fixie bill in Salem

Mark Ginsberg and Hazel Gross
arrive at the State Capitol to testify
in support of the fixie bill.

Senate Bill 729, which intends to clean up Oregon law regarding the brake requirement for bicycles and add an exception for fixed gear bicycles, took a step toward becoming law today.

The bill received a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the state capitol in Salem.

Joining me to testify in support of this bill were bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg, BTA lobbyist Scott Bricker, former bicycle messenger Hazel Gross, and Republican Senator Jason Atkinson.

First to testify today was Senator Atkinson. As promised, he showed up in his “Ride a fixed gear, go to jail” shirt (which was created in response to the Ayla Holland court case that started this entire saga).

fixie bill in Salem

Atkinson and his “Ride a fixed gear
go to jail” T-shirt.

Atkinson referred to the current law and said, “It makes common sense, but not mechanical sense.” He continued and said,

“The intent of this bill is to clean up the language and legalese in order to reflect the current state of cycling.”

Next up was Hazel Gross. She told the committee,

“I’ve ridden a fixed gear for six years…think of it like operating a clutch in a car. You don’t just go out and do, you first learn in parking lot.”

To which Sen. Burdick asked,

“In those six years, have you ever had an accident while riding your fixed gear.”

“No,” said Hazel.

fixie bill in Salem

Hazel Gross (L) and Mark Ginsberg (R)

Next at the microphone was lawyer Mark Ginsberg, who has spear headed this effort since day one. Mark broke down this bill’s intent by saying,

“We want to do two things. Number one, update the existing law and two, to clarify that fixies are O.K.”

He also pointed out that currently the offense is being primarily enforced by two individual traffic cops (Officers Barnum and Balzer) and that according to detailed police records, there are no collisions caused by fixed gear bicycles on record.

Ginsberg was also responsible for one of the highlights of the hearing. Just before it was over, Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) pointed out how much she appreciated his written testimony and she read an excerpt from it to the committee. It said,

“Even for legislators that don’t ride bicycles, this should simply be a matter of housekeeping.”

fixie bill in Salem

Republican Senator Jason Atkinson testifies
in support of Senate Bill 729.

I got my chance to speak after Ginsberg. This was my first time testifying in Salem and it was a great experience. I told the committee about how important this issue was for many Oregonians. I said that I’ve received over 900 comments in response to the 15 articles I’ve written so far.

I also explained that as fixed-gear bicycles get increasingly popular, they are being ridden by a much more diverse group of riders than just messengers and competitive cyclists.

The other major point of my testimony was that the current law is highly confusing and that bicyclists shouldn’t have to wonder whether or not their bike is illegal (check out the AP article and Mercury blog post for a few of my quotes).

Last up to declare support of the bill was Scott Bricker of the BTA. He spoke about how the current law’s reference to being able to skid is “not a good measure of performance.” Bricker said that not skidding would be the ideal scenario.

At the end of the hearing, all the committee members but one voted “yes” and the bill was given a “do pass recommendation.” This means it will move back onto the Senate floor with a thumbs up from the committee.

From there it will eventually end up for a vote on the floor, which is likely to happen in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.


UPDATE: Read the Portland Mercury’s recap of the hearing.

UPDATE 2: The Associated Press has just filed their story on this hearing. And meanwhile, according to this comment, the Portland police continue to issue citations to fixed-gear riders.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

  • Brian March 27, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Amen, I can’t wait to ride circles around Barnum and Balzer on my fixie.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bikieboy March 27, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    thanx for the account, Jonathan – I’m a little puzzled by your quote of Scott that:

    “being able to skid is ‘not a good measure of performance.’ Bricker said that not skidding would be the ideal scenario.”

    If my rear brake won’t grab enough to allow me to skid (at normal operating speed of 15 mph or so, i don’t test it coming down Rocky Butte at 35 mph) , it means to me that it’s time for a cable adjustment, and/or new pads; I want to be able to lock up my rear brake for an emergency stop.

    Fixies can do this, depending on the quad size/speed of the rider, no? What is a better measure of brake performance?

    What am i missing? Enlighten me, o BikePortland devotees…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jonathan Maus March 27, 2007 at 6:26 pm


    I admit my article above is not the most coherent thing I’ve ever written.

    The point Scott Bricker made was that skidding is not a safe way to stop so we should not have a law that stipulates this as the performance requirement.

    I can’t speak for him so perhaps he’ll chime in himself.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jay March 27, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    just for the record, i got ticketed for riding brakeless today by officer thoresen, who was on a motorcycle. this was right at 20th and hawthorne right after i turned onto salmon, so a relatively hot spot for bicycle citations. well, let’s hope the senate bill gets passed.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Martha March 27, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    I can understand the idea of not wanting to skid; think about anti-lock breaks in a car. The entire point of that technology is to prevent the wheels from locking up, allowing for a higher coeficient of friction and letting you maintain control as you break.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Curt Dewees March 27, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    I would agree with what Scott B. and Martha seem to be saying: Once you go into a skid, your vehicle is pretty much out of control.

    The ability to come to a complete stop very quickly–without skidding–is an excellent way of demonstrating that you are in complete control of your vehicle, be it a car or a bicycle.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bikieboy March 27, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Curt & Martha, i agree — skidding is not a desireable thing on a bike. But if my rear brake won’t induce a skid, I’m not comfortable with my brake adjustment. So what should the legal metric be for determining sufficient braking ability?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bill March 27, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I believe that the ability of a brake to be able to skid is a good test as to whether your brake has adequate power. You then know you can take the braking right up to the point of skidding which would give you the most potential for stopping power. However, I dont believe showing that you can skid shows that you have good control over your bike or braking. As Martha said, you do have a higher coefficient of friction before skidding, and you do lose control of the bike as you start to skid. There are people that have the ability to control their skidding, but its not a better option for braking and it wastes your tire.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • N.I.K. March 27, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    I’d guess something akin to actually *stopping* the bike within a reasonable distance proportional to the speed being traveled at…but you know, based on figures, and without the cyclist flying off. 🙂

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Martha March 27, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I good question bikie. I think stopping distance in controlled circumstances (say, dry and flat ground from a certain speed) would make the most sense. Ultimately though, I think a rider knows when they don’t have adequate stopping power.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • gabrielamadeus March 27, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    sure, it tests whether your REAR brake has adequate power. However, the large majority of a bicycle’s stopping ability comes from the front brake. And it is nearly impossible to make your front wheel skid, believe me, I’ve been trying with my front-brake-only MTB ever since I heard of this case!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • SKiDmark March 27, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    I will remember that I am “out of control” next time I am deliberately skidding around a corner just for the fun of it, holding a line about 18″ from the curb. Once again this is an issue of skill, and I honestly think that one should at least have some ability to control a skid, in case they are in an emergengy situation where they find themselves skidding.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Carl March 27, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    I, too, will remember that Skidmark is out of control when he deliberately skids around a corner just for the fun of it, holding a line about 18″ from the curb.

    He rides some heavy bikes. I’d hate to get hit by one.

    Just kiddin, bud.

    I’ll be kinda sad to see the whole skidding requirement gone. I just love the irony of people putting front brakes on their fixies so that they can be “legal…” They’re only legal if they can skid that wheel. Oops! Are there traffic cops reading this? Sorry front-brake riders. Guess I owe you all $75 now.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • nerf March 28, 2007 at 12:22 am

    front brakes now are not enough, recently someone went in with a front brake on his bike and was lectured by the judge and officer about it being unsafe and needing a back brake…
    next thing you know we’ll need front and back disc brakes and a parachute…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David Feldman March 28, 2007 at 7:06 am

    How do other countries (those where cycling is seen as a more mainstream transportation mode) regulate this? It should be common knowledge among cyclists that a fixed with a front brake has thoroughly effective braking; in places where more decision-makers are cyclists is this knowledge reflected in law?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Curt Dewees March 28, 2007 at 7:49 am

    OK, you riders who can skid around corners and maintain control of your bike are very skilled rides, and I admire your mad skills. (Two-wheel drift, anyone? Rad!)

    For most cyclists, however, if you need to make a “panic stop” because a car or small child or whatever suddenly darted out in front of you, jamming on the brakes so your wheel(s) lock up and you start skidding isn’t a good thing. Once your wheels are locked up and you’re skidding, you have to really use some body English and keep a cool head to maintain your balance, not go down, or not let the bike slide out from under you.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John Boyd March 28, 2007 at 7:53 am

    In the UK, law requires two brakes, and a fixed gear counts as one. Seems reasonable in that the gear brake is recognized as a brake.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Carl March 28, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Electra Amsterdam: illegal in the UK.

    The curious thing about this issue is its murky origin. It seems like we don’t usually hear about a law until someone is hurt or negatively affected by someone else breaking that law. I’d be surprised if the bike community in England (or the Netherlands, China, Denmark, or Chile) have any idea what the rules in their country relating to bicycle brakes, if any, are.

    The stop sign law discussion? That’s legit and needs to be addressed. Semantic debates over brakes? A total waste of time for our police, courts, and now state legislature. At the very least, we’ll hopefully get Sen. Atkinson as an active Republican supporter of cyclist issues.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • SKiDmark March 28, 2007 at 10:10 am

    It’s not a waste of time for our state legislature if the outcome is that fixed riders will stop being harassed by Barnum and Balzer.

    I would have no problem with these Police issuing a ticket to someone for running a red light, but when you roll up on someone just riding down the street ask them to stop and THEY DO STOP and then give them a ticket for “no brakes” that is straight up harassment.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tankagnolo Bob March 28, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    I guess the bottom line is police reports. If there are no reports of accedents with fixies, I would have to change my previous “gotta have brakes” stance. No better proof than past history on this.

    I wonder what the laws are regarding how fast a car has to stop. The industry must have some standard based on distance at a given speed.

    If fixies are not running over babys and causing car loads of cub scouts to veer over cliffs, I would think they should be legal. My previous bias was based on the fact that I would run over babies and into cars, thus my judgement has been faulty. Like the person quoted, learn in the parking lot, as no one likes to crash.

    Now I hope the fixies get the go ahead.

    Tankagnolo Bob

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • SKIDmark March 28, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Barnum just gave a friend of mine ANOTHER ticket for “no brakes”.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • N.I.K. March 28, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    In that case, SKIDmark, one more reason to hope this thing passes: one less instance where such a turd out there who can pretend to be doing their job and take home a paycheck for 90% bullshit.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • N.I.K. March 28, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Say, as a quick addendum: since *certain people* are so clearly adamant about their own ability to interpret the law…anyone consider asking them for an interview on the subject of the break issue? No doubt it’d make 2/3 of us nauseous, but damn, if I ain’t curious to know just what the hell a couple of these officers’ reasoning is…do they outwardly claim to hate those scoundrel cyclists, is it just too easy to write a citation related to a law composed of vague language, is it a holy mission, or what?

    And, yeah, that’s very over-the-top in how I’m saying it. But really: anyone ever ask these guys a more elaborate question bearing the general gist of “what gives?” Doesn’t seem like it’s *every* police officer, just a select handful…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • N.I.K. March 28, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Break=brake. And if it wasn’t clear enough, no, not all police officers are scum.

    Time for bed. 12 hour work days do not facilitate eloquence or subtlety. 🙁

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jay March 28, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    remember skidmark, it’s not just barnum and balzer alone giving out citations anymore. you can chalk officer thoresen up on the list now.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • nerf March 28, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    so since i got my 4th no brake ticket today (they are very aware that the bill is going forward btw) i was wondering, what are they going to come after us with next?
    thread showing on tires (gotten a ticket for that too), maybe unsafe skidding? trackstands maybe not being a legal way to stop?
    my point is these two (or more) are going to harass us more, you can count on it.
    what can we do?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dabby March 29, 2007 at 10:28 am


    Start a revolution in your head……..

    I’ll start a revolution from my bed…..

    What we do is start to hold them accountable for their actions.

    Actions which in reality are a violation of the contract that these officers sign when they accept their positions.

    Which also puts at question the management abilities of those above these two or three officers….

    This also puts you, Nerf, in the unique position to be the poster child for bicycle harrasment in the City Of Portland…..(can you say get a haircut?)

    All kidding aside, this barrage of tickets is exactly what has given you the power to take this beyond the officers, and start to try to get something done about it……..

    There must be someone here, reading this, who knows exactly what I am talking about, and exactly how we should go about doing it….

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jonathan Maus March 29, 2007 at 10:42 am

    perhaps a good place to start is the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee.

    this committee was set up to:
    “review projects of interest to cyclists and discuss bike issues. The committee advises City Council and bureaus on all bicycle-related matters.”

    You can contact Roger Geller at PDOT (who heads the committee) and ask to get on the agenda.

    Show up and tell them why you are there and what action you think they can help you with.

    Maybe they can write a letter to Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams stating that the conduct of police officers towards cyclists is of great concern to the bike community (because of X,Y,and Z reasons)and you would like for this to be brought to the attention of the Mayor and/or you would like the PBAC’s advice on how to move forward in a positive, cooperative way.

    The PBAC meets on the second Tuesday of each month.

    Here is the website

    We/you/us have the power to make our voices heard. if you have a beef about something, get organized and make your case known to the powers that be.

    they may read this website, but this website alone (unfortunately) will not force them to take action.

    you must show up and work the system like everyone else does.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • tomas May 6, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Hey Carl,

    Here in Chile the laws are probably non-existent regarding brake usage, etc…

    But, as the urban cycling population increases, something happening rapidly here, the cries for laws regulating behavior increase.

    Im seeing more complaints from pedestrians complaining about bicycles on sidewalks, etc…
    This occurs principally because there has been no integrated transportation planning that includes bicycles…

    The tension will only be increasing. That said cyclists here are quite organized and vociferous..so we shall see how the thing develops.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • tomas May 6, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Hey Carl,

    Here in Chile the laws are probably non-existent regarding brake usage, etc…

    But, as the urban cycling population increases, something happening rapidly here, the cries for laws regulating behavior increase.

    Im seeing more complaints from pedestrians complaining about bicycles on sidewalks, etc…
    This occurs principally because there has been no integrated transportation planning that includes bicycles…

    The tension will only be increasing. That said cyclists here are quite organized and vociferous..so we shall see how the thing develops.

    Recommended Thumb up 0