Berlin says "Nein" to fixed gear bikes

Fixed fashion faces an official backlash on the streets of Berlin

by Tony Farrelly   July 3, 2009  

berlin.jpg

Germany is a stronghold of fixed gear bike culture and nowhere in Germany more so than Berlin. Just as in Britain, fixed has become fashionable and spread well beyond its courier and track cycling roots. So far, in fact, that in Berlin it now faces an official backlash.

Traffic cops in Berlin have been taking a keen interest in the urban hipsters and bike couriers who are devoted to the fixie, confiscating the bikes they say are a menace to traffic.

 

As in Britain, German law requires all bikes to have two brakes (and a bell, but that's another story) Berlin police have been on the lookout for riders with out the required number of brakes it's not a witch hunt they say, more an attempt to "undercut the trend". So far 18 fixie riders have had their bikes taken away by the police since April.

And those that do have their bike confiscated will face a struggle to get them back:

"You will need a lawyer to get it back from them. That's crazy. Whether the police have the right to retain the bike by law isn't even resolved yet", Holger Patzelt of German bike company Fixie Inc told road.cc.

“Interest in fixies has exploded in the past two years,” said Dustin Nordhus, owner of the Cicli Berlinetta bike shop in central Berlin speaking to German English language news site, The Local. “Everyone sitting in an office all day thinks they’re cool these days.”

Everyone except the police, that is. “Fixies have become a real problem,” Rainer Paetsch, a Berlin police official for traffic issues, said. “It wasn’t a hunt, but we decided to do something to undercut this trend.

“For all I care they can ride them in their backyards. We just want people to realise it’s too risky to ride them around the city. Then we’ll be content that we’ve helped improve traffic safety.”

One cycle courier, 30-year-old Stefan, said he believed the crackdown was excessive. “I was stopped by eight or nine cops who looked totally bored. I tried to tell them they were taking away how I make my living, but they didn’t seem to care.”

He was hit with an €80 fine and three points on his driver’s licence for traffic violations. He admitted many people are now buying fixies just because they’ve become cool. “It’s the trendiness that’s the real problem,” he said.

However, at least the Berlin police aren’t crushing the bikes or flogging them off in auctions. To get them back, cyclists have to pay a fine and convince the authorities they won’t ride them on the street anymore – or at least show an inclination to install brakes on them.

Here in the UK, the police could have a field day with brake-free riders if they so desired.

The law as it stands under the ‘Pedal Cycles Construction and Use Regulations 1983’ says that pedal cycles "with a saddle height over 635 mm to have two independent braking systems, with one acting on the front wheel(s) and one on the rear".

A common interpretation of this is that a front brake and a fixed rear wheel satisfies this requirement.

11 user comments

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Quote:
I tried to tell them they were taking away how I make my living, but they didn’t seem to care

just like you didn't seem to care you were breaking the law. my heart bleeds. put some frickin' stoppers on your bike. the 'trendiness' is only the problem because it means there's more of the stupid things around. the actual problem is the fact that you're riding around on a machine you've deliberately made hard to control.

Barry Fry-up's picture

posted by Barry Fry-up [186 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 13:04

1 Like

Glad to hear that as long as I make sure the seat on my BMX is below 635mm high, I can ride it on the road with just one brake - it'd be intersting trying to explain that to a cop if I ever do get stopped. I only ride it as far as the skate park anyway - not exactly a long or regular commute.
I don't get all this no brakes nonsense on fixies myself - saw someone on one the other day threading his way through traffic. I've had close calls commuting in twon when I've used every bit of braking ability from the two good brakes on my mountain bike(s). How someone thinks they can get away with none is something I don't understand.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 13:13

2 Likes

when i bought my orbea ora tt bike they stuck a bell on the aero extensions. it was very sweet...for 5 minutes

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 13:38

0 Likes

As a fixed rider i struggle to feel too much sympathy for people who ride brakeless. As far as I can see it's stupid, illegal & dangerous, sometimes I struggle to stop in time when some idiot pulls out on me. I'd imagine if I rode brakeless I'd bee going over bonnet of a car at least once a month. Oh and I quite like still having knees that can turn a pedal without hurting like hell due to increased eccentric load placed on then by having to use them to slow me down....God I'm getting far too sensible in my old age

Carpe Diem ab absentis: seize the day off

Coodsta's picture

posted by Coodsta [99 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 14:07

1 Like

Agree with all above. If these people wish to risk their own lives due to some stupid fad, so be it. If they take liberties with other people's lives then they are just as selfish as drunk drivers and want locking up.

michophull's picture

posted by michophull [106 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 21:58

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michophull wrote:
Agree with all above. If these people wish to risk their own lives due to some stupid fad, so be it. If they take liberties with other people's lives then they are just as selfish as drunk drivers and want locking up.

with you up to a point there, except that drunk drivers are in charge of a two ton metal box which is going to do a lot more damage than a guy on of fixed pushing 25lb of metal at a relatively low speed + most of fixed riders in this country run at least a front brake anyway… maybe they do thing differently in Germany.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4160 posts]
3rd July 2009 - 23:33

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tony_farrelly wrote:
michophull wrote:
Agree with all above. If these people wish to risk their own lives due to some stupid fad, so be it. If they take liberties with other people's lives then they are just as selfish as drunk drivers and want locking up.

with you up to a point there, except that drunk drivers are in charge of a two ton metal box which is going to do a lot more damage than a guy on of fixed pushing 25lb of metal at a relatively low speed + most of fixed riders in this country run at least a front brake anyway… maybe they do thing differently in Germany.


I agree with Tony - whilst its undoubtedly irresponsible to ride a bike that can't stop quickly in an emergency its not in the same league for danger as driving drunk or even driving too fast. If you have a finite resource for policing I'd rather it was spent concentrating on the driving offences that have been proven to kill time and again than stopping cyclist who are mainly risking their own necks.

TheHatter's picture

posted by TheHatter [811 posts]
5th July 2009 - 14:53

1 Like

Hmm, if people caught not wearing seatbelts while driving cars had their vehicles confiscated too then perhaps the angle taken by the Berlin cops would be about right.
Some people do stupid stuff that endangers their own life and need to be made to do things differently.
I can imagine the Berlin cops are none too keen on scraping squashed brakeless fixie riders off the road. But the law should be used in the same token to ALL road users.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
6th July 2009 - 13:33

1 Like

@coodsta;
thats because you need more practice. you should try using your body to control your speed, the way one would ride a pump track.

be careful with the sensibility, it seems to be pushing you toward tunnel vision

posted by philly courier [3 posts]
16th November 2010 - 5:29

1 Like

@ barry fry-up
yes there are retards that ride brakeless 'cuz they think its cool, coincidentally there are retards that make rules about things they've made no effort to understand wink wink nudge nudge.

posted by philly courier [3 posts]
16th November 2010 - 5:43

1 Like

Hello

i putting back the subject from the grave sorry but the police just took my fix and send me some letter to say they will destruct it soon. How is the real way to pay something ang getting him back.

I'm french in berlin i'm lost sorry even here (in berlin) no one can explain how really to do ! and you seems have good knowledge with that

danke danke danke

i don't want loos my cannondale capo

posted by neimad [1 posts]
23rd February 2011 - 10:30

1 Like