Recent Rider Death Puts Spotlight On The Fixie Bike

Fixie bike accident in San Francisco highlights danger of going brakeless

By: Andrea Koskey | 02/18/11 5:00 AM

Source: SF Examiner

A 25-year-old bicyclist weaving through traffic on a fixed-gear bike with no brakes sent a 61-year-old woman to the hospital in critical condition after colliding with her last week in a Mission Terrace intersection.

The incident highlights the danger of some fixed-gear bikes, commonly known as “fixies” because one gear is affixed to the rear wheel. Such bikes cannot coast, which means the pedals are constantly moving and can be used for braking.

The bikes have long been popular with bike messengers because of their simplicity, maneuverability and aesthetics. But growing numbers of young hipsters are riding them without handlebar-mounted brakes, which is both illegal and dangerous.

In Friday’s accident, the female San Francisco pedestrian was crossing a Silver Avenue crosswalk at Mission Street amid traffic, according to police Sgt. Michael Andraychak.

Although the cars waiting to cross Mission had a green light, the pedestrian had not yet made it across, and the cars were apparently waiting for her to complete the journey, Andraychak said.

But when the pedestrian was roughly 10 feet from the sidewalk, she was hit by a fixie rider and sent to the hospital with critical injuries.

“I don’t think he saw her, to be quite frank,” Andraychak said. “He didn’t stop or slow down.”

The bicyclist, described as a 25-year-old white man from San Bruno, phoned the police after the accident and was not charged or cited. Andraychak said police are investigating the incident.

His bike, however, was impounded because it didn’t have brakes, which is a traffic infraction, according to Andraychak.

The surging popularity of fixed-gear bikes among newbies prompted one longtime rider to express caution Thursday.

“You go out in the Mission and there are people there who think it’s cool to ride, and they don’t know how to do it,” bike messenger Rob Borders said. “That’s when people get hurt.”

Borders notes that such bikes are easier to slow down in wet weather, when conventional bike brakes have less friction than normal. But Borders said he’s been riding fixies for six years and knows how to handle them. The bikes are harder to stop for inexperienced riders, he cautioned.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of the pedestrian-advocacy group Walk San Francisco, said accidents between bicyclists and pedestrians are not “hugely common,” but noted that pedestrians ultimately have the right of way.

“We’re all pedestrians at some point,” she said. “All bikes and cars need to yield to pedestrians.”

The accident victim’s condition was upgraded to non-life-threatening on Wednesday, Andraychak said.

Biker riding without brakes injures San Francisco pedestrian | San Francisco Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog

On behalf of Dolan Law Firm posted in Pedestrian Accidents on Monday, February 21, 2011

As part of this blog, we have highlighted the many dangers facing bicycle riders on San Francisco streets. Recent studies have proven that San Francisco’s steep hills and narrow streets make our city one of the most dangerous in the nation for cyclists. However, a recent news story reminds us that bicycle riders can pose a serious danger to other travelers as well, especially pedestrians.

A 61-year-old woman crossing Mission Terrace last week was struck by a bicyclist who was quickly moving his way through traffic. Although oncoming traffic had a green light at the time of the pedestrian accident, the rider sped past other drivers who were waiting for the woman to clear the crosswalk and collided with the victim 10 feet from the sidewalk.

The woman was admitted to a local hospital in critical condition, although her injuries have since improved to non-life-threatening.

The cyclist has yet to receive any charges from police investigators but officers did impound his bicycle. The cyclist was riding a type of bike sometimes called “fixies,” which are very difficult to stop. Fixie riders can use their pedals for braking, but some experienced bicycle messengers believe it can be a hard skill to learn. Traffic laws state that fixie bikes must be outfitted with additional handlebar brakes, which the rider in last week’s accident did not have. Investigators believe it may have been his inability to stop the bike which caused the accident.

Some San Francisco bike enthusiasts say that fixies are becoming increasingly popular among a certain crowd of inexperienced riders who like the bikes for their cool factor as opposed to their safety functions. In congested cities like San Francisco where cars, trucks, bikes, and pedestrian traffic vie for space, this trend may cause the number pedestrian accidents to spike in the future.

Source: San Francisco Examiner. “Fixie bike accident in San Francisco highlights danger of going brakeless.” Andrea Koskey, 18 February 2011.

Fixed-Gear Bicycles Look Cool, But Can Be Dangerous

The number of sleek looking fixed-gear bikes on our roads is on the rise, potentially putting riders, pedestrians, and drivers at risk. These bicycles were originally developed for speed racing in the 1800′s. In fact, New York City’s original Madison Square Garden was built as a velodrome for the popular sport. In our century, the bikes had a resurgence among bike messengers in New York and other big cities. Fixed-gear bikes are fast and light, both traits desired by messengers constantly on the go.

However, these bikes were not designed for cruising on the roads in traffic. Regardless, they are growing more popular as a mode of transportation. Maybe you’re planning on purchasing a bike and like the hip look of the fixed-gears, or perhaps you’re are a driver in a college town – it’s important to understand the danger these bicycles can pose in an urban environment.

A fixed-gear bicycle, also referred to as “fixed-wheel” or “fixie,” can’t coast; the pedals are constantly moving whenever the bicycle is in motion. Many of these bikes don’t have brakes. Riders come to a stop by skidding, back pedaling, or braking with their feet. Though it’s possible to install hand brakes, many say that it disrupts the clean look the fixies are known for. Obviously, riding brakeless in traffic is dangerous. It’s also illegal in California, where the law states: “No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake.”

Some aficionados will install brakes in discreet places, such as under the bike seat, simply to make their rides technically legal. But since these brakes are hard to access, they aren’t actually effective.

Of course skilled riders who have put in a lot of hours on their fixed-gear bikes can navigate the roads and obstacles with confidence. New riders accustomed to the common free-wheel bikes, however, will not feel immediately comfortable – even with brakes. The fixie’s inability to coast can lead to pedals scraping the road in a turn that would have been easily manageable on a free-wheel bicycle. This poses a great risk to the rider, pedestrians, drivers, as well as other bikers.

If you ride a fixed-gear bike, we hope you do so safely and respecting the rules of the road. If you operate one on the streets without a brake, be aware that it is against the law. Fixies are being targeted by many local police departments; you will be subject to fines and may have your bicycle impounded if an officer catches you riding brakeless.

For people who frequently ride in traffic, we strongly recommend the use of a free-wheel bicycle. Dual hand brakes enable a rider to respond quickly to unexpected changes in the roadways, and the free-wheel allows sharper turns to avoid obstacles.

We urge all drivers to be aware that this fall there will inevitably be a slew of college students on the streets on these fixed-gear bikes. Learn to identify them, and treat them with even more caution then you would a road cyclist. (We assume that all of our readers already share the road responsibly).

At Bergener & Associates, we take road safety seriously. We have represented thousands of cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and drivers over the years. It is important that all of us share our streets safely and respectfully. If you’ve been injured in an accident, call us for a free consultation today at 1.800.881.2021. One of our skilled personal injury attorneys can help determine whether you have a claim and advise you on how to proceed.

Newport Beach Personal Injury Attorney
4675 MacArthur Court, Suite 1400
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Another Example of Cyclists Killing Pedestrians In Crosswalks

© IsolateCyclist

For the second time in less than a year, a pedestrian has been killed by a cyclist in San Francisco. On July 15, 2011, a cyclist ran a red light and stuck a 68-year-old woman at the intersection of Mission Street and The Embarcadero. The cyclist, Randolph Ang, was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

After pleading guilty last month, Ang was sentenced to three years of probation, as well as 500 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the pedestrian’s family.

Last week, another bicyclist-pedestrian crash occurred in San Francisco’s Castro District. The cyclist, Chris Bucchere, was riding downhill into an intersection, possibly against a red light (the cyclist says it was yellow). He plowed into a crowd of pedestrians, striking a 71-year-old man who later died.

What’s particularly disturbing about the second accident, is that immediately afterwards, the cyclist chose to discuss the accident on an online forum, the Mission Cycling AM Riders Google group. In this post (which is no longer viewable) he spoke about his helmet, and how it had saved his life:

“[my helmet] died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac…. May she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live on and ride on. Can I get an amen? Amen.”

Although the pedestrian had not died at the time of his post, his emphasis on the helmet, rather than the people involved in the accident, shows a lack of understanding of the severity of the situation. It may also reflect a certain common trait among careless cyclists of focusing on themselves, rather than other road users.

Supposedly, the post read: “I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.”

His inability to stop could have been due to either riding a brakeless fixie or traveling at excessive speed. In either case, he was not prepared to yield to pedestrians, as he was required to do, by law.

When riding in a city, no cyclist should be riding so fast that he or she can’t stop in time to avoid hitting something directly in front of the bicycle. The steep San Francisco hills are no excuse. The cyclist should have been in control of his bike.

As if the first faux pas weren’t enough, it was reported that the cyclist included the following in his comments:

“I remember seeing a RIVER of blood on the asphalt, but it wasn’t mine. I really hope he ends up OK.”

It really is strange to see this cyclist constantly referring to himself. Reporting an observation of a “river” of blood on the asphalt should not be followed by a comment expressing relief that it wasn’t his blood. Someone with compassion, or at least a recognition of the rights and value of others, would have noted the blood as belonging to the accident victim. But, this cyclist only saw the accident in terms of himself, and how he was affected. Only in the last sentence does he express any concern for the man he injured.

Among the puzzling aspects of this accident, which might have been avoided with proper bike handling and adherence to traffic laws, was the identity of the cyclist. He was not a kid, as one might have imagined, based on his conduct.

Chris Bucchere is in his mid-thirties. He is an entrepreneur, software developer and founder of the company Social Collective, Inc. Sometime after news of this accident became public, his  blog, website, and a number of his social networking accounts were deleted. This calculated move is difficult to interpret.

He may not have wanted people to associate the cyclist in this accident with his professional identity. Even so, deleting his online presence will hardly erase traces of him, especially since everything online is archived, and can be retrieved.

Unlike Ang, who was only 23 years old, Bucchere was more established, and people would expect a more mature individual to act responsibly. For this reason, he may be judged more harshly — unless he can convince people that the pedestrian’s death was an unavoidable accident.

He has already claimed not to have broken any traffic laws. Still, this won’t relieve him of the responsibility of yielding to pedestrians. And, it’s difficult to believe that a crowd of pedestrians would be in the crosswalk if Bucchere had the right-of-way.

For cyclists, seeing another incident of this type is frustrating. Cyclists tend to see cycling as a safer form of transportation, at least in terms of causing harm to others.

Compared to a vehicle weighing over a ton, a bicycle seems relatively harmless. And, ordinarily it is. But, the most benign object can become a lethal weapon when handled irresponsibly and unskillfully.

One point worth noting is that both pedestrians were older people. In the 2011 accident, the pedestrian who died was 68 years old, and in the 2012 accident, the pedestrian was 71 years old.

Perhaps cyclists should take extra care when riding around older pedestrians. Their lack of flexibility and slower reflexes may make them more susceptible to injury when startled by a bicycle trying to maneuver around them. This vulnerability is all the more reason for cyclists to stop and let pedestrians pass, rather than trying to steer around them.

More investigation into this incident is warranted. It’s important for cyclists and pedestrians alike to understand what happened in this case. Otherwise, it will be difficult to avoid similar tragedies in the future, and the image of cyclists will be further tarnished by a public who paints them as reckless pedestrian killers.


Background Reading: Bicyclist, lawyer killed in traffic remembered at candlelight vigil

Copy photo of Neill Townsend, a bicyclist who was struck and killed by a truck when he tried to avoid an open car door on the near North Side Friday October 5, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The death of a cyclist here in Chicago has brought additional focus on the problems of riding fixies in traffic. Chicago is a bit backwards when it comes to following trends outside its borders. The hipster community here has welcomed the fixies with open arms.

But the average non-fixed gear rider is probably clueless regarding the general dangers of riding these sorts of bikes. They have no brakes and can only stop by skidding. That seems a recipe for disaster in situations where you must either “stop on a dime” or “bail out” of the bike lane to avoid injury.

In this sad situation it may come to be understand that what might have been entirely avoidable on a rim-braked bike was not possible here. We cannot overlook the fact that the general response by the cycling community at the ChainLink Forum has been two-fold:

  • First, a vigil is being prepared and handouts are being printed. Ghost bikes for Neill and another recent fatality Isai Medina are being prepared. It is very nice to see that the community is coming together in remembrance of a fallen comrade.
  • Second, there is an effort being mounted to alert drivers of parked automobiles about the dangers of opening doors onto bike lanes where riders might be surprised and injured as a result. And indeed injury is the least of the problems given the two deaths that have occurred of late.

But I would argue that a third effort should be mounted. It should also be an educational effort but this one should be aimed at the cycling community itself. It is not enough for us to point the finger a motorists and ask that they be more responsible. We need to own up to the fact that riding dangerous bikes is itself a safety issue. Pedestrians should most certainly be made aware of the dangers of crossing sidewalks when brakeless riders are approaching.

Perhaps signs telling fixie riders to slow down would also be appropriate. I can of course hear the groans from the ChainLinkers who while rolling their eyes are seething over the very thought that anyone would question the rights of cyclists to do what they damn well please. But if you think about it for a moment this is an issue which if addressed could help save the lives of cyclists as well.

Take for instance the death of a Critical Mass Rider this year. Once again the brakeless fixie he was riding was thought to have played a part in his death at the age of 18. Again I know that this sort of self-examination is hardly part of the ChainLink mentality but with time and urging I think the “adults” in that crowd could be made to understand that their gravitas is sorely needed to avert additional tragedies.

It is more than “high time” that we stop playing the role of high schoolers. You know the sort of things that go on at high school drinking parties and suddenly someone dies. Immediately everyone wants to plant teddy bears and candles and nice cards on the lawn outside the main cafeteria in honor of the dead student. But frankly it would be far more useful to in addition to the memorials have fellow students stand up and admit that their behavior was the single biggest contributing factor to the death of their friend.

We need prophetic types to “preach” to those who will listen. Riding a fixie bike is a bit like trying to use a Formula 1 racer in city traffic. They are both fast and cool looking. But the one big exception is that you cannot do a “panic stop” on a fixie without being very creative in your technique.

I have seen the hockey stop that some fixie riders do. It relies on the pavement providing traction. Any sand or oil would result in a massive fail. And frankly that is not a recipe for safety.

If riders cannot bring themselves to be critical of their own, then ask what the ramifications of having brakeless cars traveling through the same intersections where they run red lights and blow through stop signs would be? That alone should make it clear that we need to find a better way.