Oregon Law—The Basics:
- Bicycles must be equipped with brakes.1
Oregon Law—Going Deeper:
Oregon law requires that bicycles be equipped with a brake. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? After all, if you can’t stop your bike, you could cause a collision.
But what is a “brake”? Oregon law is silent on this point.
What the law does say is that “a bicycle must be equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.”2 This requirement is identical to both the UVC CPSC regulations on bicycle brakes.3
That speaks to the requirement to have a brake, and the minimum performance standard required for brakes. But it says nothing at all about what a “brake” is, and the Vehicle Code definitions section is also silent.
In 2006, the law’s silence became a legal issue at the heart of a series of traffic tickets issued to Portland cyclists who were ticketed for riding “brakeless fixies.” The clean, elegant simplicity of a fixed-gear bicycle stripped down to its most basic elements appealed to a growing number of cyclists across the country. And while some riders equipped their fixies with a front caliper brake, some did not, considering the front brake to be superfluous, and therefore not in line with the aesthetic of a bicycle stripped down to its most basic elements. Imagine a car with two brake pedals—pointless, right? That’s how some fixie riders saw the front brake.
But Portland traffic police didn’t see things the same way, and went on a fixie-ticket spree. In the eyes of the traffic officer at the center of the ticket-writing blitz, a brake is “a lever, a caliper, or a coaster brake hub,” but not a fixed gear.
The thing is, there is nothing in Oregon law or in the CPSC regulations to support that interpretation. And if we look to a dictionary for guidance, we see that a brake is typically defined as a device for slowing motion—exactly what happens when you put backward pressure on the fixed gear hub. And exactly what the fixed gear riders were saying—the hub itself is the brake.
For the most part, this argument fell on deaf ears. The first judge to hear a fixie ticket case said that he hadn’t been convinced “to broaden the definition of a brake”—a strange trial decision to say the least, given that there is no definition of a “brake” in the law, or the UVC, or the CPSC, either then, or now. There were differing opinions in different trial courts, but the legal issue itself was never settled, and the Legislature declined to shed any light on the subject. Suffice it to say that your bike is required to be equipped with a brake that meets a specific performance test, but the law still remains silent about what a “brake” is.
Eventually, the furor died down on its own. Portland police quietly moved on, the Legislature quietly ducked the issue, and Portland’s fixie craze was replaced in the spotlight with newer trends. My guess, everybody involved was happy to have the controversy die down and quietly go away. The bottom line, if your bike is equipped with a mechanism that enables you to stop within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement, your bicycle meets the performance standard required of a brake, regardless of what mechanism your bike is equipped with.
If You’ve Been Injured in a Crash
Do not communicate with the driver’s insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Most cyclists want to be fair and reasonable with the insurance company. Unfortunately, when you communicate with the insurance company, they are gathering information to be used against you later. What you see as an effort on your part to communicate a fair and honest account of the accident will be seen by the insurance company as an opportunity to gather evidence in support of their argument that your negligence caused the accident.
Contact bicyclelaw.com or another personal injury attorney who understands bicycling. While many attorneys are competent to handle general injury cases, make sure your attorney has experience and is familiar with:
- Bicycle traffic laws
- Negotiating bicycle accident cases with insurance companies
- Trying bicycle accident cases in court
- The prevailing prejudice against cyclists by motorists and juries
- The names and functions of all bicycle components
- The speed bikes travel as well as braking and cornering
- Bicycle handling skills, techniques, and customs
- How to get the full replacement value property damage estimates for your bicycle
- Establishing the value of lost riding time
- Leading bicycle accident reconstruction experts
- Licensed forensic bicycle engineers
- Establishing the value of permanent diminished riding ability