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Is my Fixie legal?

By Christopher Ashley

When the fixie revival went international during the late 2000s, legal-authorities worldwide acted quickly to ensure that bicycles remained safe when on the road.

What is a fixed-gear bike?

A fixed-gear bicycle has a drivetrain with no freewheel mechanism. That means no derailleur and only one speed at your disposal. It’s simple but it also means that if the rear wheel is turning, the pedals turn in the same direction. Read more about fixies in our article.

Fixed gear bicycle cog
Photo: Profimedia.cz

You always have to pedal and if you want to break, you have to use your bodyweight to resist the rotation of the cranks. Authorities usually don’t like people riding around without independent braking systems. In 2009, Spiegel Online described how fixies were confiscated by Berlin police and their owners were fined. You can see the life of Berlin fixed gear enthusiast in our new movie In the Fix!

watch In the Fix Part 1

When you can ride it, but you can’t buy it

In 2010 Australia announced that bicycle manufacturers could face fines of up to $1.1 million or £630,000 for selling fixies without front brakes. Yet you were free to remove that front brake once you’d bought the bicycle.

Fixed gear bicycle in shop display window
Photo: Profimedia.cz

The search for ‘Adequate’ braking system

Most countries opt for the vague requirement that bicycles have “adequate” braking systems, and this includes Spain and the Netherlands. In Poland a bicycle must have at least one functional brake. This puts you at the mercy and discretion of whichever policeman happens to pull you over.

Fixed gear bicycle
Photo: Profimedia.cz

The law in America can vary from state to state but it’s safe to assume that using a bicycle anywhere without front and back brakes is illegal. Most states follow the same UK Consumer Product Safety Commission rules that the retail sale of bicycles without brakes is banned.

Toronto is a fixie heaven for some

When I visited Toronto in Canada a couple of years ago, I was delighted by the sheer number of restored late 80s and early 90s Peugeot road bicycles I saw, and reminded me of my first road bicycle. However, it was the first time I’d seen so many fixies in one place at a time.

Bike commuter on fixed gear bicycle
Photo: Profimedia.cz

Braking on fixed bike takes a skill

It takes a great deal of skill to brake with a fixed wheel and only some people can do that. The CTC’s (UK’s national cyclists organisation) technical expert says, “A skilled rider with a front brake will stop in half the distance [of someone with only a rear brake]. You need a front brake to be safe.”

This month we are talking about fixies. Discover what our In the Fix movie is all about!