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  1. #1
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    Sacramento, CA USA
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    Sacramento fixed-gear bikes: braking the law

    Sacramento fixed-gear bikes: braking the law
    Sacramento police recently began targeting illegal fixed-gear bikes.
    But are the brake-free rides really dangerous, or are cops simply
    going after a counterculture scene?

    By Nick Miller

    This article was published on 10.22.09.

    Bicyclists stop their fixed-gear bikes by going against the crank’s
    rotation (pictured) instead of using a hand brake.

    John Cardiel dashed down Ninth Street on his fixed-gear bike, tearing
    southward in the right-hand lane, when he heard yelling, which grew
    louder and closer. He looked over his shoulder and saw two Sacramento
    police officers on bikes trailing him, hollering, “Stop!”

    Cardiel explains that he “skidded to an immediate stop.” Then, he
    describes that the cops applied their hand brakes and slid past him.
    “One guy almost fell over. I had more control than they did,” Cardiel

    A professional skateboarder and expert cyclist, Cardiel appears in
    Colin Arlen and Colby Elrick’s film Macaframa, a documentary
    showcasing precision tricks and maneuvers by skilled fixed-gear bikers
    that screened to a sold-out Crest Theatre crowd earlier this year.

    But mere blocks from the Crest, Sacramento bike police had pulled the
    accomplished rider over because he didn’t have a hand brake, which is
    in violation of California Vehicle Code 21201(a). Fixies, whose
    popularity has blown up in recent years, have no free wheel and cannot
    coast, so riders come to a stop by going against the crank’s rotation
    and skidding instead of using a hand brake.

    This year, however, the city began targeting bikes without hand
    brakes. And so Cardiel received a $25 fix-it ticket and would have to
    install a new brake.

    Other cyclists, though, have had it worse off: City police have
    confiscated and impounded fixed-gear bikes, costing cyclists hundreds
    of dollars in fines, repairs and court appearances—and in many cases,
    their only means of transportation.

    “It kind of harshed my summer. I really didn’t want to go downtown
    anymore. It put a fear of police on my back,” Cardiel says of the

    Sacramento’s lead bike cop, Sgt. David Valdez, however, says the city
    is just enforcing California law, which states: “No person shall
    operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake.”
    Valdez argues that fixed-gear bicyclists riding without hand brakes
    are breaking this law.

    “It seems to be a trend, not only here but across the nation,” says
    Valdez. “These bicycles are a danger and present a clear hazard not
    only for the cyclist but also pedestrians and people in vehicles.”

    The city says it has actively been enforcing this law for the past six

    Cardiel calls the rule “terrible.”
    SN&R art director David Jayne stopped and photographed Jacob Swift
    (left) and Brian Morrison (right) on 20th Street in Midtown. Both
    riders told Jayne that they’d been pulled over by Sacramento bike
    police in recent months.

    “I think it’s totally messed up. We’re a society trying to get people
    out of cars and promote cycling, but on the other hand you’re taking
    kids’ bikes,” Cardiel says.

    Other local cycling experts agree. Sage Bauers, a bike mechanic at
    south Sacramento’s Bicycle Business, calls the no-brake rule “pretty

    “There are a lot of people who can effectively control their bikes
    without brakes,” he argues.

    The city says that it doesn’t track data on fixed-gear bike
    violations, but Valdez estimates that he writes at least five
    citations a week. Both Valdez and Bicycle Business’ Bauers say that
    fix-it tickets, where the city demands that riders install a hand
    brake on their fixie, are “common.”

    Cardiel thinks all this is causing a “stink between the youth and
    police.” Of course, as a venerable local skater, he has witnessed this
    before: police regularly confiscating skateboards and targeting
    skaters in the ’80s and ’90s.

    “It’s such a cliché [and] easy thing to say—‘they’re targeting us!’—
    but I do feel this. They see these kids riding around [on fixed gears]
    and they jump on them,” Cardiel says.

    What’s more, authorities also have begun seizing and impounding fixed-
    gear bikes more frequently.

    This past July, a longstanding fixed-gear rider—he would prefer to
    remain anonymous, so we’ll call him “Evan”—was heading west on L
    Street, near 21st Street, when a Sacramento bike cop pulled him over.

    “I asked him why and he said, ‘No brakes,’” Evan says. Earlier that
    day, Evan’s car caught on fire; he mentioned this to the officer.

    “‘Well, your day’s about to get a lot worse, because you’re not
    leaving with your bicycle,’” the cop said, according to Evan, who
    pleaded for a fix-it ticket but was denied. Instead, the cop impounded
    Evan’s bike and sent it to the evidence department off of Richards
    Boulevard. Evan received a $168 fine, too.

    It gets worse.

    A cyclist either has to pay the no-brake fine or wait up to 60 days to
    contest the citation in Sacramento County’s Carol Miller Justice
    Center. Evan went without transportation for a few weeks, but
    eventually coughed up the fee and installed a brake on his fixie.
    If this fixie bike had a brake, it probably would go here, on the
    handlebar. Many fixed-gear riders, however, mount their brakes in
    unconventional locations so as to disguise them.

    Of the new brake, he says he’s “never touched it.”

    “[I’m] pretty confident that the police don’t understand these bikes,”
    says Evan, who argues that fixies “fall within the law” because they
    are “capable of coming to a one-wheeled skid stop.”

    The city police and district attorney’s office both contend, on the
    other hand, that legs don’t count as a braking mechanism. But Evan
    points out that there’s no brake in existence that operates without
    human muscle, whether hands or legs. “I wouldn’t get on a bike without
    brakes and go down the street. That’s not what [a fixie] is,” he

    The district attorney’s office says they’ve seized 18 bikes for
    “evidence” and 19 for “safekeeping” in 2009.

    To get around the police hand-brake-enforcement campaign, Bicycle
    Business’ Bauers says that fixie riders are installing hand brakes on
    their bikes in unconventional—and even dangerous—ways.

    Typically, hand brakes are fixed on handlebars so that bikers have
    quick access to them. But because most fixed-gear riders don’t even
    use hand brakes—and because a fixie’s design aesthetic strives for a
    minimalist look—Bauers says he’s seen brakes mounted on seat tubes,
    fork blades (the part of a bike that holds the front wheel) and in
    places where “it’s totally legal by technicality [but] not useful at

    He notes that riding your bike but having to reach down below your
    seat or between your legs to stop can be awkward, or dangerous, even
    at slow speeds. But Bauers also says he doesn’t think anyone is using
    these unconventional brakes anyway.

    Both Cardiel and Bauers suggest that police target out-of-control and
    unsafe bicyclists instead of focusing on a particular model.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s an issue of the bike, I would say it’s more an
    issue with the rider,” Bauers argues. He says some kids will jump onto
    a brake-free fixed-gear bike and tear around downtown in something
    “they can’t really control,” and that’s a cause for alarm.

    Cardiel agrees. “Some of these kids are going kind of nuts,” he says,
    but concedes that evaluating whether a rider has control of his bike
    is “a hard thing to gauge.”

    Ultimately, most fixed-gear riders feel this fixie goose chase needs
    to come to a halt.

    Cardiel would like to see more support from the city, like increasing
    the number of urban bike lanes and more enforcement against red-light
    violators and sidewalk riders.

    “I think it’s really hypocritical, because [the city] wants people to
    be more conscientious, more eco-friendly and support bike riding,” he
    says. “But in turn, they’re taking kids’ bikes and trying to make
    money off of it.”
    -- Ron
    1. 2008 Giant FCR3 [hybrid; main bike]
    2. Schwinn World Sport 4130 [mixte road bike; red]
    3. year ?? Specialized RockHopper Comp (18-spd mtn bike; all Shimano Deore parts)

  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2007
    Central CA
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    Fuji SST, Cotic Roadrat, Bianchi SASS, a bunch of others
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  3. #3
    a.k.a. QUADZILLA LoRoK's Avatar
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    May 2007
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    Braking the law, clever.

    Wouldn't it be great if cops had a clue, especially when it came to bicycles? I got pulled over once by a cop (actually I've been pulled over several times) who said I was "riding on the right side of the road" and she wrote me a ticket for that. Then, while I was waiting for her to write the ticket a guy riding on the sidewalk against traffic rode through a red light right in front of us. I said, "aren't you going to ticket that guy, he's actually breaking the law?" and she said, "why, I already caught you." Cops.
    Quote Originally Posted by Scrodzilla View Post
    I'm somewhat of a diva.

  4. #4
    Elitest Murray Owner Mos6502's Avatar
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    gotta fill those ticket quotas somehow ya know.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Oct 2004
    Toronto, Ontario
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    Miele Azsora, Kuwahara Cascade
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    jesus, just put brakes on your ****ing bikes.

    i don't care how "skilled" you are at stopping without a brake. just because fred flintstone can stop his car with his heels doesn't mean brakeless cars made from wood and stone should become legal.
    1988 Miele Azsora (sports car)
    1986 Kuwahara Cascade (apocalypse-ready expedition ATV)

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Sep 2006
    Van BC
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    Now where in the heck did I put my nano-violin?

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