Many city cyclists enjoy riding a fixed gear bike over other bikes. However, a concern can be whether or not fixed gear or ‘fixie’ bikes are illegal. The answer is a little bit more complicated than you would think.
In some cities it is illegal to ride a brakeless fixed gear bike. In the United States and most European countries, riders are required to keep a front brake to remain legal. Riding a fixie brakeless is an advanced skill and much more dangerous, which is why many cities make it illegal.
Interested in staying legal on a fixed gear bike? We will walk through what it takes to stay legal and what the consequences are for breaking the law.
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Fixed Gear Laws by Country
There are definitely reasons why people would find a fixed gear bike appealing, but it’s important to keep in mind whether or not it’s legal.
The simple answer is that riding a fixed gear bike is not illegal anywhere in the world. However, what is illegal in many countries is to ride a fixed gear bike without brakes. This can be a problem because a lot of people who like fixed gear bikes think that they look better without brakes and that it gives them a better sense of awareness when it comes to their surroundings.
The United States
In the United States, the law can be different in every state. However, in the majority of locations, you will need to have brakes fitted that make it possible for you to skid on dry pavement. In most situations, as long as the rider can figure out how to skid, the fixed wheel itself would be enough for this.
However, there are states in the US that require these bikes to have at least one caliper brake. The majority of jurisdictions in this country do not specifically refer to fixed gear bikes. Instead, they incorporate general legislation about bicycles and brakes that people have to interpret and apply to fixed gear bikes.
The District of Columbia is the exception, stating that fixed gear bikes without caliper brakes are legal. There are many states that will allow fixed gear bikes, as long as they have one brake. These include Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Texas, and New York.
Additionally, there are many cities, including Chicago, Illinois, which have included bicycle laws that require a brake on this type of bike.
England and The United Kingdom
In the UK, people who ride fixed-gear bikes without brakes are breaking the law. The Pedal Cycle Construction and Use Regulations 1983 is a piece of legislation that says that anyone on a bike needs to have two brakes.
They need one brake on the front wheel and one on the rear. The fixed wheel will count as a rear brake, but you will still need to have a caliper on the front.
In Germany, the authorities will confiscate any bike that they see that does not have two brakes.
In Australia, manufacturers can have to pay fines that go up to 1.1 million dollars for supplying fixed gear bikes without brakes.
Illegal Fixed Gear Bike Consequences
Whether or not the law will be enforced regarding fixed gear bikes in your area depends on your local law enforcement and circumstances. Some countries or states are more likely to enforce the law than others, and the punishments vary as well.
However, if you happen to run into a mishap on your fixed gear bike, the fact that you didn’t follow the law could end up counting against you. When you contest a traffic citation or pursue a claim for injuries in an accident, a judge, jury, or insurance official may employ their own bias and see you as reckless for being on a fixed brake bike without brakes.
Whether or not you were actually being reckless, this could result in a negative outcome. If you have at least one traditional mechanical brake on your fixed gear bike, this will significantly improve your odds of a positive outcome.
What Is a Fixed Gear Bike?
A fixed gear bike is a bike where the cog is directly connected to the motion of the pedals. In case you didn’t know, the cog is basically the gear that is attached to the back wheel of your bike. It has teeth on the outside, and your bike chain rotates around it.
However, on a fixed-gear bike, this piece does not contain a bearing and is attached to the back wheel. On most bikes, these cogs have ball bearing systems, so that the wheel can turn independently of the cog; this is not the case on a fixed gear bike.
What does this mean for you? Basically, on a fixed gear bike, if you pedal forward, the bike will move forward as well. You can also pedal backward, and the bike will move backward.
Advantages of a Fixed Gear Bike
The fixed gear also means that the bike is significantly lighter because there are fewer parts. The fewer parts make the fixed gear bikes lower maintenance as well since they have fewer parts that can malfunction or be stolen. They have more of a simple and clean look, and they are also generally cheaper. Additionally, they are relatively easy to customize.
Fixed gear bikes are significantly easier to maneuver as well because your movements are more directly tied to the bike’s movements.
Another advantage is the efficiency of the fixed gear bike. The drivetrains on fixed gear bikes are more mechanically efficient than those on other bikes since power is directly transferred from you to the wheels of the bike. Generally, this will mean that you need to put in less energy to ride the bike.
Fixed gear bikes are good for racing on flat roads since they can quickly pick up speed on flat surfaces.
Disadvantages of Fixed Gear Bikes
Even though fixed gear bikes are great on flat roads, they are not efficient on steep ones. This can end up being very tiring to the person who is riding the bike, making the bike somewhat unfavorable on anything other than fair road surfaces.
Additionally, most fixed gear bikes don’t have hand brakes, which can be very dangerous for you. This is particularly true when you are riding down steep hills because it can be very hard to control the motion of the bicycle.
It can also be dangerous to ride on slippery or muddy surfaces because the opposing force that you deal with when you hit the brakes might cause the bike to slide, which can lead to an injury for you.
Many people will take the brakes off of their fixed gear bikes since they think it looks better. However, you should keep in mind that this will compromise your safety while riding the bike.
There are many reasons why one would want to ride a fixed gear bike. It can provide very enjoyable biking experiences. However, the problem lies in the fact that many people want to ride these bikes without brakes. Even though a skilled biker might be able to do this safely, it is illegal in many cases.
If you want to ride a fixed brake bike, in most cases, you will have to do so with at least one front brake, even if you don’t think it’s necessary. This may be for the best since safety should always come first.
Additional Reading and Sources
- Pure Cycles: About Fixed Gear Bicycles
- ApexBikes: What is and Why Ride a Fixed Gear Bike?
- The Guardian: Cycling without brakes? You’re breaking the law
- Wikipedia: Bicycle brake (Rim brakes)
- Unknown Bikes Europe: Are Fixed Gear Bikes Illegal?
- Christopher G. Burns, ESQ.: Are Fixed Gear Bikes Legal?
I am Steven Johnson. All my life I have been riding bikes, even working as a bicycle messenger in Australia. I love riding road, mountain, single speeds, bmx, and everything else. As a web designer, creating this site was a natural fit. If you have any questions please let me know. Enjoy the site and Keep on Pedaling!!!