Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must the Fixie Have a Handbrake? Musings on "The 15/30 Rule".

I got a call from a newspaper reporter today asking about the proliferation of fixed gear bikes over the last few years. An interesting question came up during our discussion, about whether it is unlawful to ride a fixie without a front handbrake.

(The question is timely in light of Berlin, Germany's recent crackdown on fixed gear bikes):

Coming a bit closer to home, Massachusetts G.L. c. 85, sec. 11B(7) deals with the issue of "braking systems", and reads as follows:

"Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface." (Click the title link for the whole statute.)

So that clears that up, right? All the bike needs is a "braking system" that complies with the "15/30 rule". (I believe I just made that last term up by the way, so make sure to credit me if you use it.) But what constitutes a "braking system" under Massachusetts law? Presumably, a brake lever and caliper constitute a braking system. Also a disc brake such as those found on a mountain bike would seem to fit the bill as well.

So how about the drivetrain of a fixie? If someone riding a fixie can reverse pedal the bike to a stop as required by the statute, would this qualify the drivetrain as a "braking system"? Is the fact that the drivetrain is also used for propulsion significant in analyzing whether it is a "braking system"? What if only a few riders possess the skill and power to stop the bike as required under the law? Is it a "braking system" for them, but not for other less capable riders?

Sorry to go all Socratic by asking questions but not giving answers, but this is only a blog and I can't give legal advice over the "world wide web". The question is important, though, because there are lots of fixies out there now and there are many legal implications (especially if you get hit by ca car while riding a fixie with no brake), which I won't get into here. Gotta come see me for that.

But if you are riding a fixie right now, maybe it's worth heading out to a parking lot and seeing how you stack up on the "15/30 Rule".

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