Berlin Bans Brakeless Bikes

Not long ago, cycling enthusiasts took fixed-gear racing bikes out of velodromes and onto the streets, where they were a hit among bike messengers and hardcore urban cyclists. The appeal had to do with the stripped-down simplicity of the bikes. A skillful rider could bring a “fixie” to a stop just by resisting the forward rotation of the pedals, which eliminated the need for hand brakes. In some circles, fixie became a byword for hipness in modern urban life. Then the bikes edged into the mainstream, and that’s when the trouble started — in Berlin, at least. Police, citing safety concerns, have started a crackdown on fixies. Considering, as Jonah Berger writes, that “cultural groups abandon a taste when outsiders adopt them,” will the fixie crackdown, by stunting the growth of the trend, only reinforce the bikes’ street cred among the faithful? [%comments]


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  1. Andrew says:

    Riding brakeless bikes on city streets is liking driving a drag racer on city streets. Stupid, pointless, and dangerous.

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  2. econobiker says:

    Note: the linked NYT article was from 22 years ago- 1987.

    One reason I could see the messengers would want the bicycles is to keep the regular bicycle riding thieves from grabbing the bicycle. It also benefits for removing extra weight for carrying the bicycle into buildings and taking out the extra complexity of brakes from the maintenance requirements for the bicycle…

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  3. Mike says:

    BSNYC wrote a great piece on this yesterday, highly suggest reading it. I commute on a fixed-gear, albeit one with brakes. I couldn’t imagine only being able to skid to a stop down a steep hill or in an emergency situation when I was worn out from a long ride.

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  4. DrS says:

    1 thing I’ve noticed, hanging out with a lot of “cultural outsiders” who ride fixed gear bikes, is that using the term “fixie” is already an automatic label that you are a hipster and a poser.

    So I guess writing about them by media outlets as popular as the NYTimes is more likely to kill the movement than police crackdown.

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  5. JohnO says:

    Who cares about fixies’ street cred? People riding fixies DON’T stop — and they make it work for people in cars and for cyclists like myself, who do.

    Brake hardware is cheap and effective. It should be mandatory. Berlin is doing it right. I wish Portland would too.

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  6. tim says:

    I find it amusing about all the ‘hate’ toward fixies’ bike users and actually believe banning the bikes will magically make bikers not do idiotic things on the bike.

    Both drivers and cyclists (both which violate traffic laws on a daily basis) need to grow up and show basic respect toward each other and the laws of the road. But my guess is that is never going to happen.

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  7. Lambert says:

    It’s real simple. Whether it’s a ‘fixie’ or a regular rear wheel with a brake, you only get about 20% or the braking power of a front wheel brake.

    You need two brakes, the front to stop fast and the rear to provide stability.

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    • Alex says:

      I’m sorry, but your wrong. You only need a front brake…and where do you get your numbers from anyways? 20% only from front? So you mean that all those times I thought I was stopped at the light, I actually went through it but I just didn’t realize it?

      Before you mention what I know your going to mention, let me take the time to say, YOU WONT FLY OVER THE HAND RAILS WITH ONE BRAKE. Hydraulic brakes can be a different story. But you don’t need hydraulic brakes unless your doing heavy duty biking such as offroad, mountain etc. So therefore, your normal caliper pad brakes will do fine.

      Two brakes does not afford stability anymore than one does. Stability is learning HOW to brake. Remember when you first learned how to drive? What happens when you brake too fast? EXACTLY THE SAME THING. And just like driving a car, it all comes down to FORESEEABILITY. You look ahead at where you want to stop, and adjust your speed accordingly. Slamming brakes is unstable, and will inevitably wear your tires down quicker.

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  8. Stephan A. Davidson says:

    The “brakeless” bike is not brakeless and hardly new. My first bicycle had no hand brakes. This was in 1948 at the tender age of six. Most kids had them. They were called “American bikes.” A few of the rich kids had “English bikes” with three gears and hand brakes. I suspect that the real problem is not the braking system, but the fact that they are ridden at high speed. In fact, hand brakes are probably more likely to fail. (And if only the rear hand brake fails, guess where the rider goes.)

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