Portland's fixed gear bicycle riders were feeling deflated this week after a Multnomah County traffic court judge ruled against them en masse at a hearing on Monday, November 6.
Bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg was not happy that Judge Gregg Lowe's verdict that fixie bikes—bikes with a single, fixed gear—are unsafe without a separate hand brake (riders typically use their own leg muscle power to stop the gear's rotation, which stops the bike). Lowe's verdict is a repeat of his earlier decision against fixie rider Ayla Holland, on July 28.
Meanwhile, another Multnomah County judge, Christopher Larsen, is thought to believe fixies are safe without additional brakes. Larsen was due to try two of yesterday's cases, but a traffic cop asked that he be replaced before the hearings started. "All this tells us is that two judges in Portland disagree over fixies," Ginsberg says.
Ginsberg was visibly disappointed when Judge Lowe emerged from the doorway behind the bench to hear his four clients' fixie cases (plus three other cases involving cyclists). Outside the courthouse, other bikers offered free doughnuts and coffee to passing cyclists in support of their friends—two bicycle cops passing on the sidewalk turned them down.
"It was pretty unfortunate we got [Lowe]," says one defendant, a bike messenger who goes by the name Nerf. "Because he had his mind set the whole way through. Mark had an excellent defense going but the judge didn't want to hear any of it."
Nerf has vowed never to attach a brake to his bike, despite being given $516 in fines on Monday. "It's just not necessary to attach a brake," he says. "It's like jogging—when you're going down a hill, you're not going to go faster than you know you can stop."
Another fixie rider, Arienne McCabe, says he feels two motorcycle cops—Officer William Balzer and his traffic division partner, Officer Bret Barnum—have been victimizing bike messengers. The officers would not talk to the Mercury on Monday.
"Officer Balzer, who was headed west on the Hawthorne Bridge, drove all the way across the bridge and back to cite me for riding without brakes," says McCabe. "We're like fish in the barrel to them, but I don't think this is why we pay taxes."