U students ride brake-less bikes

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

The lack of brakes on fast bikes spark controversy around the country, but U students are still riding the new trend.

Fixed gear bicycles, old-fashioned racing bikes built to gather and maintain speed easily, are now common around campus and the Salt Lake City area, although they are illegal in some cities. These bikes, known as fixies, have one gear selection, but unlike a standard single-speed, the rear cog is anchored to the wheel. When fixed gear riders slow down or stop, they resist the forward motion on the pedals and pedal backward.

Fixie riders commonly ride without separate brakes. Braking is no longer a simple squeeze of a lever. Instead, fixed gears require strong legs and heightened awareness from their cyclists.

Fixie riders need to pay attention to avoid collisions, because they can only stop as fast as their legs will let them, said Max Taggart, an undeclared freshman and fixed gear owner.

Taggart started commuting by bicycle two years ago. He converted his road bike last summer after trying out a fixed gear on a trip to the West Coast.

“I was attracted to the idea of being connected to the ground, being in complete control and not dependent on this machinery that I may not understand most of the time,” Taggart said.

On the U campus hills, Taggart has adapted his pedaling.

“I almost never pedal forward,” he said. “I’m almost always pedaling back to check my speed.”

On the hills around campus, fixed gears gather speed effortlessly, said Phillip Mates, a freshman in computer science who has a fixed gear with a front brake.

“If you go down First Avenue from the dorms without a brake, that would be pretty terrifying, because of all the stoplights,” he said. “I get going faster than the cars sometimes.”

The U’s hills are not too steep, Mates said.

“If you are a good biker, riding around the U without a brake wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Cities and states nationwide disagree whether fixies without brakes are safe to ride in traffic. Several court cases brought by Portland, Ore., against brakeless fixed gear riders ended in mixed rulings. Following these cases, the Oregon State Legislature refused to amend the traffic code to make fixed gears exempt from the brake equipment requirement.

In Portland, brakeless fixed gears are illegal to ride, but many people still do, said Peter Boss, a Portland resident who attended the U.

However, Washington, D.C., adapted its traffic code to the new trend and said if the rider has the ability to stop the bike with leg power, then the fixed gear bike is not required to have a separate brake.

The Salt Lake City Council last updated the bicycle laws in 2005 before the cycling trend hit. The law states every bicycle must be equipped with a functional brake.

Since the semester began, Taggart has thought about making an addition to his fixie, a front brake.

“(The front brake would be) not so much for safety, but for convenience,” Taggart said. “To be able to go faster than my legs will allow me and stop.”

Mates has his front brake as a safeguard against cars that pull out too quickly and the steep hills.

“I have a front brake,” Mates said. “I’ve heard stories of people’s chains falling off in San Francisco and my chain fell off a little while ago, so I’m pretty happy I have a front brake.”

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Jillien Dahlen

Fixed gear bikes have become more common around campus and the city, but the fixed gear bikes have been meet with controversy because most don?t have brakes.