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I'm unaware of any hard data either way on the safety of fixies. But I'm also unaware of any data on the safety of SUVs with their brakes disabled. The only downside that I can see to putting brakes on fixies is that it somehow interferes with with the fixie "statement" (sort of like putting an appropriate noise-control device on the tailpipe of your Harley-Davidson).

As for fixed-gear riders getting killed, just type "fixed-gear death" into Google (without quotes). Whether you've heard about or not, it happens, and I find it odd that someone who is normally so aware of the dangers that cyclists encounter would use such a weak argument.

I think WP's slowness is a bit more than just a fashion lag btwn NY and Washington.

In December 2007 BSNYC was already making fun of the nearly identical fixie articles appearing all over the place:
http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2007/12/genuine-article-reporting-on-fixed-gear.html

Maybe WP got their story "idea" from ESPN's story last week:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/thelife/news/story?id=4500821

Especially odd since the Post ran an article on the increase in popularity of fixies back in June of '06:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/15/AR2006061501749.html

I just typed fixed-gear death" into Google (without quotes). Mostly what I find is the phrase "fixed gear death trap" by fixed gear cyclists talking about their bikes. Or the death of the fixed gear fad. There is one article about two cyclists in Seattle who were hit and killed by a dump truck, but since one was riding a fixed gear and the other was not, I'm going to eliminate the fixed gear as a cause. And there are references to a live cycling performance called Death Pedal. So what is your point?

The difference between an SUV without brakes and a fixed gear without brakes is that one has no way of stopping and the other does.

it is quite interesting that not a single person can come up with a cyclist death where the bike had no brakes. The term "risk compensation" whereby individual people may tend to adjust their behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk. Other studies have shown that alertness vs. distracted driving (or cycling) has a greater effect on safety than any other factor. The other largest effect on cycling safety is safety in numbers... it is also possible that trendy fixies are phenomenon of higher-bicycle mode-share locations, where a greater safety in numbers effect is already taking place.

My point is that the claim that you "[ha]ve never read a story about a cyclist on a fixie getting killed" is silly (though probably true at the time). It is one of those throw-away lines that characterize knee-jerk bike advocacy. I've never read a story about someone on a blue bike getting killed, but it doesn't really mean anything. Let's face it: neither of us know how safe fixies are.

Lee Watkins IV,

Not sure it really proves much of anything, but here you go:

http://www.bike123.com/fixedgear.htm

It took me about 30 seconds to find on google.

guez, I've read this same basic article four or five times and among the many similarities they have (comically pointed out in the bikesnob link above) are that they (1) straight out call riding a fixed-gear without a brake "dangerous" (2) never actually cite an incident where the lack of a brake caused or contributed to a collision or fatality (3) never cite a study of any sort that determines it's dangerous. That sounds knee-jerk to me.

You're right I don't know how safe fixed-gear bikes are, but then I don't write articles saying they're safe or dangerous.
David Montgomery, OTOH is content to say that fixies are dangerous. In fact he leads with that.

Which leads readers to a "Cyclists are crazy and have a death wish and I can feel OK about killing one" attitude. Montgomery could have, y'know, done some actual research. It's not my job to do their research. It took you 30 seconds to find a story where a brakeless fixed gear bike may have contributed to a fatality. It would have been nice if Montgomery had done that much.

My point was, I've read a lot about bike safety over the last five years. I've probably read about 100 bike fatalities. And I've never read anything that said that John Doe died because he didn't have a front brake on his bike. Unlike your blue bike analogy, that does mean something.

If you're going to call my writing silly and knee-jerk and other unflattering things you better back it up with more than some awful analogy like "I've never read a story about someone on a blue bike getting killed" or else you're being silly and knee-jerk.

Washcycle,

I don't know how to respond. Obviously you've never "read anything that said that John Doe died because he didn't have a front brake on his bike" since you yourself acknowledge that you're never heard of ANYONE being killed on fixie. So your data can't tell us anything about whether brakes prevent accidents or not.

Or am I missing something.

You're missing something.

I was restating my point with greater detail (I thought that would be clear when I said "My point was...") and you focused on the wrong part. Let me restate it again: I've never read about anyone being killed on a fixie and so, by extension, I've never read anything about anyone dying because they didn't have a front brake. That data DOES tell you something about whether brakes prevent accidents or not.

Let's use your example.

Let's say I know the color of every single bicycle that was involved in bicycle crash or accident. And I know that none of those bicycles is blue. And I also know that half of all bicycles used are blue. That tells you a lot about the relationship between bicycle color and accidents. It doesn't mean that the color made the bike safe, but it certainly indicates a strong correlation. And while correlation does not always mean causation, correlation OFTEN means causation. [In this case the connection is weak, because we wouldn't expect bicycle color to have such a strong effect on safety].

Now I didn't make as strong a case as the one in the paragraph above. I said I know about a lot of (but not all) bicycle crashes. And of the ones I know about, none involve fixies (or, by extension brake-less bikes). But I do know that some bikes are fixies (and, by extension brake-less bikes). You see how that means SOMETHING, right? In fact the more bicycle crashes I know about (and the higher the percentage of fixies in use), the more that means.

If I had said, "By choice I only read articles about non-fixie riding cyclist fatalities and none of those crashes involve cyclists without a front brake" that would mean nothing. But I didn't say that. That's what you missed.

Empirical evidence may not provide the best data. But it is evidence and in the absence of any other evidence, it is the best you have. Montgomery gave no evidence.

You say empirical. I say anecdotal. It only means something if...

1) ...your sample size is large enough (given that fixies are a relatively small percentage of all bikes and brakeless fixies an even smaller smaller percentage)

2) ...you actually know for a fact that every single bike in the sample size is not a fixie. (This was my point about the blue bike: the color of the bike is usually not included in accident reports.)

Let's try this:
1) I've read about some accidents.
2) I've never heard of anyone being killed on a Rivendell Rambouillet.
3) Some bikes are Rivendell Rambouillet.

Well that must mean something, right? Nope.

No guez, that does mean something. It doesn't mean much maybe, but it does mean something. It IS data.

Montgomery states that fixies are dangerous, but gives no evidence to back it up. That leaves you with a combination of your empirical/anecdotal evidence and your faith in him. My empirical/anecdotal evidence does not not back up his assertion and I have no reason to trust his opinion.

Actually you're right. There is one possible inference that you can draw from your data: not riding a fixie will not protect you from death. But that's about it.

Data doesn't necessarily mean anything. Sometimes it just IS.

Not only that, Fixies have a brake. The legs control the speed of the pedals. or did I miss something.

Even a German court has accepted theat reasoning in voiding a fine for riding without a rear brake. Although the bicyclist still had to pay for lack of front brake and reflector. ;-)

I can see how riding a fixie is dangerous. Just as riding a regular bike is dangerous (or riding a car or motorcycle is dangerous). If you are new to it and have not thought about what awaits you, if you take stupid risks or are careless, then the Fixie is dangerous (as are the other things I mentioned above).

Guez, if you were going camping and you asked a local "Are there bears around here" and they said "I've never seen one." Would that mean anything to you? How is that different from what I wrote?

And let's say you're right, and that my statement has zero value. So what? It isn't used to draw any conclusions. I've left people free to draw there own conclusions. That isn't knee-jerk advocacy because I don't advocate any position.

I've given a fact, of a value you are free to assign, and conclusions you are free to draw. Montgomery gave a conclusion without any facts. But, you think I'm the one who's being silly?
Remind me, who's being knee-jerk?

Fixies are more dangerous. I don't have any data but I have some sense.

Every hipster cruising on a fixie will tell you that to be able to ride a fixie safely you need to be a "skilled rider".

My bike (not a fixie) only requires an average rider.

Thus, it follows that a fixie would be more dangerous for an average rider than my bike.

Fixies are more dangerous.

QED

WC,

Regarding your bear question, it would depend upon a number of things:

1) is the local blind?
2) is he intelligent enough to know a bear when he sees one?
3) does he ever leave his trailer home?
5) does the local run a blog devoted to convincing everyone that camping is the best thing EVER...
6) etc.

The problem with your anecdotal observation is that it could be used to support any number of (often incompatible) conclusions:

1) Fixies are magical. You can't die if you're riding one.
2) Fixies are safer than other bikes.
3) Fixies are just no less safe than other bikes.
4) Fixies are relatively rare.
5) Reports on crashes often fail to mention whether the bike is a fixie.

So I suppose you can say that it tells us something, but certainly not what you were clearly implying in your original post.

BTW, I don't buy the WaPo's non-arguments or Tom's reasoning either. (A vehicle that requires more skill is only more dangerous if those riding it lack that skill.)

The bottom line, for me, is that we shouldn't respond to stupid talking points with more stupid talking points. The echo chamber phenomenon of blogs ("we're all cyclists so we agree that blah blah blah blah") doesn't help cyclists. In fact, it harms them, because motorists are a majority and they're busy writing silly comments on their own blogs, or on the WaPo comments section.

"More dangerous" (on a range scale) is not the same as "dangerous" (on a binary scale).

Swimming is more dangerous than sitting by the pool, but would you call swimming "dangerous". Before you answer I'd remind you that we teach kids how to swim.

I'm not saying that fixies are just as safe as freewheels or that there is no need for a front brake on a fixie. Nor am I saying the opposite. I'm just saying that this Post article seems awfully quick to call them "dangerous" (as in not safe) without a lick of proof and that this does little to make cyclists as a whole look good. "Bunch of cyclists out there riding dangerous bicycles - they deserve what they get..." is sort of the common theme. If instead they had called the bikes "challenging" and for advanced riders, comparing them to a difficult ski run, that would have been more accurate and wouldn't have created animosity among non-cyclists.

guez, So the value of the information depends on how much you trust the person giving it to you. But you don't trust me at all, so it means nothing to you.

I'd like to think that isn't true of everyone.

WC,

I more or less do trust you not to be deceptive, but I also know that you have an advocacy agenda so I take what you say with a grain of salt. And I would hope that EVERYONE would.

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