Portland Century - August 18th

Fixed gear bill hits unexpected snag

Posted by on June 14th, 2007 at 5:52 pm

There’s been a surprising turn of events in the fixed-gear brake saga.

Last week I reported that the effort to clarify the bicycle brake requirement so that fixed-gear bicycles don’t need to have an additional brake was on its way to becoming Oregon law.

The bill (S.B. 729) has passed the Senate and the House and only had one step left before being signed into law by the Governor. In accordance to regular procedure, since the bill was amended in the House (to include some language about police bicycles) it was returned to the Senate for final approval of those amendments.

The fixed-gear brake language had already passed the Senate (22-6) and the House (41-15), and since there was zero opposition to the police bicycle equipment amendment, everyone thought the bill would have smooth sailing.

But for some unknown reason, during the Senate concurrence vote yesterday (which was technically only about the police equipment amendment), the bill was voted down. Senators held what is known as a “voice vote” where individual Senators are not identified or put on record individually, they merely say “aye” or “nay”.

Now the bill goes to a six-person conference committee, where three Senators and three House Reps. will decide its fate.

So far, assigned to the committee are Senators Burdick, Atkinson, and Beyer.

It’s still not clear to me why and how a bill that easily passed both chambers has now been held up. I am also not a big fan of “voice votes” because we have no way of knowing who voted up or down on the bill.

I expect more developments on this story in the coming days…

[For full coverage of this story, browse my archives.]

Please support BikePortland.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Avatar
    SKIDmark June 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    curiouser and curiouser.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Tbird June 14, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    By coincidence, I witnessed a fixie rider getting a ticket today at 3rd/Stark for \”not having a brake.\” I stopped and talked to one of the 2 officers involved about the law. He was polite and informative, and even seemed to be on the side of \”a fixie is a brake\” but as he said the law hasn\’t been changed yet.
    Hopefully it will pass.

    I took a couple pics w/ my phone. I\’ll email one to you, You have my permission to use it if you like.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Martha S. June 14, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    How bothersome… I too dislike the idea of who voted how not being recorded. I strongly believe that the job of any congressman is to accurately represent the opinions of those they represent, and any time their not held accountable for their vote I am… uncomfortable to say the least.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    N.I.K. June 14, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    I agree that it\’s irksome, but we\’re not talking about the whole of the state Congress, or even just 1/2: the six people who wind up in the committee. A mere *six*. Once we get the names of everybody, I say we deluge their respective offices with letters and phone calls and find out which way they vote(d, if it gets voted on in short order), and then it\’s no votes to the nay-sayers. And hey, if nobody wants to be held accountable, they *all* lose votes!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Coyote June 15, 2007 at 8:08 am

    Don\’t get annoyed. Get a hold of your legislators.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    jdg June 15, 2007 at 9:36 am


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Kristen June 15, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Six people might be easier to sway than the whole darn passel…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    VR June 15, 2007 at 10:53 am

    I say find out the legislators, and I will contact them and let them know that I oppose making Fixies legal.

    Sorry – I just agree with the current law that fixies should have a separate and dedicated brake to ride in public.

    Just my opinion though.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Martha R June 15, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Does anyone know how those six (or the three that you know of) committee members voted the first time around?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus / BikePortland June 15, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    \”Does anyone know how those six (or the three that you know of) committee members voted the first time around?\”

    Burdick – Yes (She chairs the Senate Committee it went through)
    Atkinson – Yes (He\’s the main sponsor of the bill)
    Beyer – No (In my experience, Beyer has voted repeatedly against bicycle-related bills.)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    The laws does not say anything about a fixed gear bike requiring a seperate brake. It says that a bike must have a brake that can cause the bike to skid on dry level pavement. Any experienced fixed rider can make their bike skid on dry level pavement. Any experienced fixed rider when asked to stop, can stop without dragging their feet on the ground, therefore a fixed hub is indeed a brake. You slow down the bike with it, and you can stop with it.

    VR go look up the law. Then while you\’re are doing your research go find out how a fixed gear bike works so you can understand that you can stop one without the assistance of a handbrake, fairly easily.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    VR June 15, 2007 at 1:22 pm


    Can you prove that all fixie riders are \”experienced\”, and that \”fairly easily\” applies in a panic situation where people\’s lives are at stake?

    And if you feel that your fixie meets the specs of the current law, then your are completely welcome to tell to the judge when your ticket comes to court.

    On the public streets I personally would prefer if everyone had a brake that operates without needing to be \”experienced\” and that is more simple and reliable than \”fairly easily\”.

    I personally view it as whiny fixie riders who do not want to put on one simple brake. One simple cable brake on your bike would resolve the entire debate.

    We require kids to wear helmets, we require lights at night, we require all sorts of equipment on cars. Why is requiring one simple dedicated brake such a bad thing?

    A fixie with a dedicated brake is still a fixie, it still is \”cool\” if you want to call it that. It just weighs maybe half a pound more.

    And I bet that 98% of society agrees with me.

    So you go do your own research and wonder why people keep advocating passing bike unfriendly laws – maybe because the three fixie riders are so selfish that they want to endanger everyone else so they can feel superior…

    And people wonder why there is so much animosity towards bikes.

    Just put a brake on your bike and call it a day. Or stay off public right-of-way.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Jonathan, I apologize for this waste of bandwidth…

    How can you guarantee that ANYONE knows how to stop their bike or whether or not their caliper brakes are in good working order and will actually stop them?

    If you put a front brake on a fixed gear bike it still does not satisfy the law because you have to be able to skid the wheel. Done any front wheel skids lately? That would require a higher level of skill than stopping a fixed gear bike that isn\’t equipped with a handbrake. A brake in the back would be redundant and unnecessary because you could create the same amount of braking power by simply resisting the forward motion of the pedals.

    Many rare and expensive track bikes don\’t have brake holes and I don\’t think the owner of such a bike should be required to compromise it\’s value and possibly it\’s stuctaral integrity by drilling a hole in the fork crown. You could put a different fork on it but that may effect the handling adversely, creating more danger instead of alleviating it.

    Ridng without a redundant handbrake on a fixed gear bike has nothing to do with feeling superior or showing off as anyone who is riding such a machine is also doing it while nodoby is looking, so there is nobody to impress.

    Yes, some people do not have the skill to stop a fixed gear bike, especially those who are learning, and they should have a brake. I had one for a year and then found it unnecessary as I never used it, even in panic situations. I don\’t really have panic situations anyways, as a former motorcyclist I tend to pay a little more attention to the road, and I am used to reacting to things at a much higher speed than I achieve on a track bike that has been geared down for the street to make climbing hills easier and to make stopping easier.

    This ticket has been beaten by explaining to a different Judge how a fixed gear bike works and how a fixed gear hub is indeed a brake. It\’s common sense really. You pedal to accelerate. You slow down your pedaling to slow down. When you stop pedaling you stop.

    The majority of the riders who have gotten this ticket are bike messengers, who definitely have a higher level of skill than the average rider as they ride while you are at work, and then they commute as well, and some even race in organized events. Usually they are pulled over when they are just riding along. They are asked to stop and they comply, and then they get a ticket for \”no brakes\”. It seems to me that the act of stopping indicates the presence of a braking device, if you can follow the simple logic. If they were being pulled over for say, running a red light then they would be getting a ticket for that as well, and that would make sense, as someone running a red light may not have brakes. But if you ask someone to stop and they can stop without dragging their feet, they are either a magician defying the laws of physics ( a body in motion stays in motion) or a fixed gear hub functions as a brake.

    People pass bike-unfriendly laws out of ignorance, and a refusal to open their mind and learn about something before they condemn it. You have gone a long way to proving that.

    And no, I will not put a brake on my track bike, as there are no holes for one, and I have other bikes with handbrakes and/or coasterbrakes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    josh m June 15, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    *sentence moderated (watch it Josh 😉 ). ***

    You obviously have not paid attention to anything for the past 6 months.
    However! There are plenty caused by those w/ secondary braking devices.
    There are plenty of unexperienced riders w/ two sets of handbrakes. I see them everyday on my commute. swerving back and forth in front of me. staggering off when the light turns green.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    VR June 15, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    josh: Why am I a troll? I disagree with SB 729 if it exclusively allows fixies to not have a dedicated brake, and I am in the majority of all people.

    It is only a small number of people who even know what a fixie is, let alone ride on.

    There is no reason why a fixie should be given special rights specifically in the law. The law should be written to apply to all bikes.

    If I did a poll right now on the streets of Portland, overwhelmingly would people say \”yes, bikes should have dedicated brakes\”.

    I agree that the current law is written poorly, as skidding is bad – and should not be a measure of breaking performance. In fact – it is a measure of loss of control!

    But I am not a troll when I comment on an article about SB 729 saying that I am glad it hit a roadblock.

    A troll would say something like \”fixies suck\” or something inflamatory. I think no such thing.

    If you read bikeportland and all of the fixie drama lately, it is really just a small number of people who are quite vocal. (that is if we can believe people put in the same name every time they comment) Skidmark in particular, who simply doesn\’t want to put a brake on his race bike because he appreciates it\’s brakeless design.

    I say good for him. Just don\’t ride it on my streets. Keep it on the track where it belongs. It might possibly be a wonderful bike – but I suggest using his other bikes he has brakes on when riding on streets with other people.

    (Yes, I have followed most of the stories and comments on this issue)

    The issue is simple. My 5 year old can operate and understand both a coaster brake and a hand brake. They are simple and work well. However if you look at fixie resources you find comments like this (from people who are PRO FIXIE!):

    A rider can also lock the rear wheel and skid to slow down or completely stop on a fixed-gear bicycle, […] The technique requires a little practice and using it while cornering is generally considered dangerous.

    Some fixed-gear riders ride on the road without brakes. This is a bad idea. I know, I\’ve tried it. […] You really should have a front brake. A front brake, all by itself, will stop a bicycle as fast as it is possible to stop. This is true because when you are applying the front brake to the maximum, there is no weight on the rear wheel, so it has no traction. […] Brakeless riders generally need to master a technique called the \”skip stop.\” This is a way that you can actually lock up the rear wheel using your legs alone. […] Despite what some folks will tell you, you can not stop nearly as short this way as you can by using a good front brake.

    Josh, I have paid attention. I have paid much attention. Which is why I chose to be involved in the discussion.

    I contend that the reason there have been no accidents in the last six months caused by fixes without breaks – is simply because of the tiny numbers of fixies without brakes. The reason there *have* been accidents caused by bikes with secondary braking devices is simply because that makes up almost every bike out there!

    On public streets with the public on those streets we are not \”free\” to do whatever the hell we want.

    Having a brake does not guarantee one will always stop – but it does guarantee that one will have the best possible chance of stopping. Much like seat belts or airbags do not guarantee safety – just the best possible chance of safety.

    I agree that the law needs to be \”tuned\” – just not explicitly favoring fixies.

    In my personal opinion, fixies belong on the track, not on my streets and sidewalks.

    We are all free to our own opinions. And if you look around BP, you will see that I am actively commenting on all sorts of topics. Not trolling.

    (and why is my \”preview comment\” button not working? I hope the block quotes I made come out OK, sorry if they get mucked up).

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    I can back up my arguement with snippets from teh internet too. From oldskooltrack.com:

    \”Brakes are not needed for safety, if you know how to control your bike, slow and stop.\”

    From Fixed Gear 101:

    \”Backpedaling is the classic fixed gear braking technique…you resist the forward motion of the pedals. One leg pushes back and down on the rear pedal as it rises up and forward, while the other leg pulls up on the front pedal as it rotates forward and down.\”

    Most of the people that this effects directly, just aren\’t the kind of people who blog or read message boards. That is why you don\’t see more opposition, especially for thos it is effecting directly. I have talked to a few the people who have gotten a \”no brakes\” ticket and they don\’t feel it is worth their time to argue with people who don\’t even know how a fixed gear bike works and are just reacting to the mistaken perception that there is no way to stop them because they do not have a handbrake.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Also I have not seen as many fixed gear bikes anywhere as I have seen in Portland, OR.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    ange June 15, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    vr, your streets? can i play in them? just checking.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    VR June 15, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    I have stated my position, we agree to disagree.

    I just didn\’t want the world to go on revolving thinking that everyone was in support of this bill. Because that is not the case…


    No need to keep going back and forth.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 3:16 pm


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Bjorn June 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    This wouldn\’t be such an issue if it weren\’t for the fact that we have 2 portland cops who are attempting to make their quota for tickets solely by ticketing people who are working on bikes downtown. This week they were sitting out enforcing no other traffic laws looking only to ticket people riding track bikes. I know of one person who got ticketed by one of the cops only to get ticketed by the other a short time later even though he had not committed a moving violation and the first ticket with him and showed it to the officer.

    Regardless of your opinion of the law the targeting of couriers is detrimental to our cities livability. The cops have discretion on enforement and they should be enforcing this law either not at all or only in conjunction with moving violations. Sitting around downtown with binoculars trackspotting isn\’t making any of us safer.


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Donald June 15, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    I\’ve got zero hours on a track bike.

    But the fellow in Mt. Tabor last Wednesday who almost took out my 3 year old while trying to skip stop as he flew downhill against \”traffic\” to catch a prime finish pretty much cemented my attitude about bikes without \”additional\” brakes.

    As we crossed, in the crosswalk (right by a playground, mind you), my wee lad holding my hand, the image that I remember is that this hipster was pumping his left hand as if some phantom brake lever lived there on his sleek unadorned drops.

    When I\’m not biking, I sometimes indulge my lifelong passion for motorsports. I have a car that I can drive on the road. It\’s simple and legal. And I have a car that I can drive on the track. It\’s very simple and you really wouldn\’t want to share a public road with it, driver or rider.

    I don\’t feel there is anything wrong with a community deciding what vehicles share the public right of way. Or what equipment they should share in common.

    Count me with VR as being dubious about the rationales forwarded by those who would like to ride their fixies without an additional anchor of some type.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    I would never bomb Mt. Tabor on a bike without a brake on both wheels. The rider is obviously irresponsible. Thanks for painting all of us with the same brush.

    My mom taught me to look both ways before I cross the street. Having the right of way does not shield you from irresponsible assholes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 15, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Race cars have brakes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Donald June 15, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    SKD, you\’re right, the rider was being irresponsible, but he wasn\’t bombing. He was just trying to get from the spectator position there by the jungle gym down to the stop finish.

    Congrats on your mother. She must be very proud. But my son and I were focused to our left to avoid any oncoming racing riders who might have been dropped. You\’re right, we missed the irresponsible rider coming from where he shouldn\’t have been. Our bad.

    Yes, both my cars have brakes. But the racer doesn\’t have brake lights or turn signals or fenders or a plethora of other \”safety\” gear that are required on the street.

    My opinion is valid. Whether you see that or not is on you.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    pdxcommuter June 16, 2007 at 1:50 am

    The current law in the Oregon Revised Statutes specifies a performance standard for bicycle brakes. That performance standard says that a brake, whatever form it takes, be able to skid the bike.

    The argument that skidding is dangerous, and therefore an invalid method of stopping, is irrelevent. The argument that front brakes provide extra safety is also irrelevent. Existing fixed gear bikes meet the law if they can be skidded, as the law specifies.

    In my opinion, the judge who made the decision, which set off this whole discussion, read more into the law than is there. The judge overstepped his bounds, in my opinion. Rather than interpreting the existing law, he attempted to create new law from the bench. That\’s not his job. That\’s the legislature\’s job.

    VR, You think that all bikes should have a front brake? And you think that the police and judges should enforce that? Fine. Then change the law. And change it through legislation.

    Don\’t fall into the trap of agreeing with the judge\’s opinion because you think front brakes on a fixed gear bike are a good idea. Because next time, the judge will read something else into the law that\’s not there, which you will strongly disagree with.

    For example, suppose that instead of requiring a front brake of some sort, in the next decision, the judge requires that all bikes have disk brakes. Disk brakes are safer than caliper brakes operating on rims, the judge will say, and therefore that\’s the law on Portland streets. Or, the judge could say, lights should be on bicycles at all hours of the day or night, because it makes them more visible and that\’s safer. And not just any lights, but HID lights that cost $100 and up.

    SB729 corrects the original incorrect decision. SB729 should not be necessary, but it\’s probably the fastest way to fix the existing mis-interpretation of the law. If SB729 does not pass, then the existing law still applies and fixed gear bikes are still legal, according to what the law actually says. Another judge (as pointed by SKiDmark in #13) agrees that fixed gear bikes are legal.

    By the way, I\’m not arguing this position because I have a track bike. I do not. My bikes have front and rear disk brakes.

    (Jonathan: \”preview comment\” is broken for me, too, in both Mozilla on Linux and Internet Explorer on Windows.)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    will June 16, 2007 at 3:26 pm


    have you ever ridden a fixed gear?

    Thats all I ask before anyone goes too crazy.

    I have lived in New York, San Francisco and was raised in Portland. All of those places I have ridden fixed and never once have I wished that I had a front brake. A friend of mine died in NY last year. After riding for 6 years without a brake, he got into a close call and decided to install a brake, 5 days later using that brake in an \”emergency\” situation and was shot over the front of his bicycle into a taxi and was killed.

    d\’ont try to tell me or anyone that having a front brake on a fixed gear will solve any problems.

    Please just ride one yourself and see for yourself that a break doesnt solve any problems.


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    VR June 16, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    VR, You think that all bikes should have a front brake?

    No. I said a \”dedicated brake\”. Meaning a device in which it\’s only function is to provide braking. A hand brake, or a coaster brake would meet that criteria to me since they only provide braking. And I have no idea how to word it, but said device should be operable with minimal skill or effort, and meet certain performance benchmarks.

    Which is the part that makes fixies not fit the requirement to me. Everyone including skid says that any \”experienced\” or \”skilled\” rider can stop fine on a fixie. That doesn\’t cut it for me. I want all riders to be able to stop, not just veteran skilled riders.

    And you think that the police and judges should enforce that? Fine. Then change the law. And change it through legislation.

    Isn\’t that what we are talking about here? A legislative bill, which I voiced my opposition to by contacting my legislators?

    Don\’t fall into the trap of agreeing with the judge\’s opinion because you think front brakes on a fixed gear bike are a good idea. Because next time, the judge will read something else into the law that\’s not there, which you will strongly disagree with.

    I am not talking about the judges decision at all. We are referring to the current law and how to rewrite it to make more sense and be less ambiguous. And I believe that the current proposed bill is not a good way to rewrite it.

    I do not like the bill specifically mentioning fixed gear bikes, and singling them out.

    have you ever ridden a fixed gear?

    Yes. For half a block.

    I did not like it, I do not like them, and I chose not to ride one. I have a lot of money invested in two other bikes that suit my purposes just fine.

    But I could care less if others like them and chose to ride them. I only desire that if they are on my streets with me and my pets and my children and my property, then they should have a dedicated brake. That is all. The drive gear can remain fixed.

    It is no different than requiring lights at night.

    Will, I am not sure if your comments help or hurt the cause. It makes it look almost like fixies are too dangerous to be on the roads to begin with.

    How many times do I have to say it? I am not anti fixed gear bike.

    I merely believe that the law should not single them out. The law should have two pieces:

    1. An equipment requirement of a dedicated braking device.

    2. A performance requirement for the required device which does NOT include skidding.

    Any mention of specific types or technologies just set us up for issues like this in the future.

    I also think that the cops are being ridiculous about this issue, but that is another topic all together.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    will June 16, 2007 at 5:42 pm


    My point was that for 6 years working 5 days a week as a messenger in New York City, he never had one accident and that after 5 days with a brake he ended up dead.

    This does not mean that fixies are too dangerous to be on the road, it means that having this brake that you soo desire all of us ride with ended up killing him. He never had an accident prior to this. Yes he was lucky for 6 years given his profession, but come on, he rode more than you ride in a week (possibly month) everyday for over 1500 days.

    New York is also much worse when it comes to drivers and all of the other stuff you have to deal with there.

    Don\’t turn my words into saying or even hinting that riding a track bike is too dangerous for the city. That is plain and silmply not true.

    On another note, the first time I rode a track bike i made it about 10 feet thinking, \”damn that thing is insane.\” but if you never had driven a stick and all of a sudden was told to drive on it would be a little bumpy too.

    People are smart enough to know what their abilities are when it comes to riding a bike. A fixed gear follows the law as it currently is written,
    so trying to not let the bill pass is helping nothing except for trying to clear up how something is written.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    will June 16, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    on a side note, are you aware that the judge that has been ruling on the loosing fixed gear cases is a Protem Judge.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    SKiDmark June 16, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    A coasterbrake is NOT a dedicated braking mechanism. The DRIVE cone (which carries the cog) acts on the clutch cone, and that engages the brake shoes and pushes them against the inside of the hub.

    A fixed hub is a little more direct as the cog is screwed to the hub. It is as much a drive as it is a brake.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    r. February 22, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    I have a fixed gear with a dedicated front brake, and I have a geared road bike with front and rear hand brakes, and (a) stopping distance on either is about the same, but (b) it is difficult to make either of them \”skid on dry pavement,\” as it really is not the design of a caliper brake to lock up the wheel.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar