SF fixies still ride ‘naked’
The concept of cycling through the thick of downtown traffic – it’s mix of streetcar tracks, rabid taxis and bridge-and-tunnel drivers – on a cycle with no brakes seems a little crazy to me. But then I’m a dedicated wandering pedestrian, with two clodden feet.
The use of ‘fixies’ – track bikes with a single fixed gear attached to the rear wheel and no caliper-styled brake attachments at either front or rear wheels – has long been popular with dedicated biking enthusiasts, be they tattoo-adorned bike messengers or affectionados of velodrome track racing. Fixies abound at a popular cyclist resting spot on Market Street, where on a sunny afternoon messenger Shawn Bone rolled himself a cigarette while I checked out his bike.
“The frames aren’t drilled for tire brakes,” he pointed out. “They aren’t made for them. Your feet and legs are your brakes.” Stopping requires the rider to backpedal and skid to a stop – just like you did on your banana-seater when you were a kid. Fixie enthusiasts are quick to point out that riding a fixie requires more attention and rider skill, and I’m hardly one to argue. I pedal my multi-geared hybrid mountain bike through the outer neighborhoods only a few times a month, and would never give up the security of my handbrakes, which may be just the point fixie riders are trying to make.
I mentioned that cycling friends of mine up in Portland were feeling legal pressure to install handbrakes to their ‘naked’ fixies. Fixie riders – messengers and commuters alike – were being aggressively ticketed for riding a vehicle with no applied braking system. Some Portland riders have taken to carrying sticks of wood with the word ‘BRAKE’ written on them – a thumbed nose to the ‘secondary brake’ mandate.
Would SF fixie riders feel the pressure?
“They tried (to mandate brakes) here, a while back, but it didn’t go anywhere.” Bone recalls. I guess in a town where supporters of the SF Bicycle Coalition and Critical Mass carry a lot of clout, the right of fixie owners to maintain their bikes unencumbered is not being actively challenged.
For now, it seems, the fixie cycling scene in San Francisco seems unthreatened, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on proceedings up north. And maybe start carrying that stick.