10 December 2010

Million Dollar Fines for Fixies

ADDENDUM: Here's a link to the bulletin about the dangerous fixies: Supplier bulletin: Fixed-gear bicycles. (thanks, Jody)

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is threatening bike shops with a million dollar fine for selling bicycles without brakes. You know, fixies. A million bucks. The kind of fine that companies get for environmental 'slip-ups', just as one example.

According to the Melbourne Age's ironically-titled article "Million-Dollar Fines to Put the Brakes on Bikes" The ACCC has already taken action against a wholesaler for distributing the ''Surly Steamroller'' without back brakes and is urging people to rat on others who do the same.

Ratting on people was a proud tradition in the DDR, but let's leave that for now.

The ACCC warned ''pedestrians and other bike riders are ... at risk of serious injury or death if someone riding a fixed-gear bike loses control and collides with them''.

Correct me if I'm wrong but this kind of unfortunate incident could happen if a motorist was talking on the mobile. Million-dollar fines for that offence? Or for picking your nose in a car?:

Melbourne bikers are more bemused than worried. ''It's like cracking down on people who pick their nose when driving,'' said Andy White, of cycling blog fyxomatosis.com.

Sasha Strickland of Pony Bike is quoted a few times in the article but her closing line is quite bizarre. I, for one, didn't know that fixie cyclists were so fragile: ''You take (fixies) away from them, they start doing graffiti, they start taking drugs ... At least they're doing something physical and healthy.'' But again, let's leave that one alone.

Anyway, this is another fantastic example of branding bicycles as bad. In a country that claims to be fighting to reverse that image. The signal that this story sends does nothing for improving the image of the bicycle, whether sub-culture or mainstream. And the logic of the move is non-existent.

Let's apply it to other products and help the ACCC, shall we? We propose million-dollar fines for the following:

- Car companies. Any car company that sells a souped-up car (basically any car that can exceed 30 km/h) to consumers.

- Knives. Any store that sells sharp knives or even knife sharpeners that can be used to soup-up existing knives. A citizen could, when transporting the knife home, trip and fall. The knife could fall out of the bag and stab innocent bystanders. Or a citizen could cut themselves with the knife, react by jerking suddenly and bumping a pot of boiling water onto a nearby child.

Pas på Trin(e)
"Watch the step! (with the added 'E' it becomes a girl's name, Trine...)"
- Stairs. Construction companies that construct stairs in any building or outdoor setting. Period.

Food Fear
- Raw food. Like this menu states, "consuming raw or uncooked food may increase your risk of food borne illness". Let's go after everyone who imports and wholesales raw or uncooked food.

- Pets. As previously reported on Copenhagenize.com, 87,000 Americans are hospitalised each year because of injuries caused by dogs or cats or other pets.

Et cetera.

It would be interesting to find out where this ACCC idea came from. Because it came from somewhere. I doubt that it was developed in the ACCC cafeteria one lunchtime. Did someone complain to the ACCC, causing them to act? Was it someone representing a company that could benefit directly from such actions or indirectly through the negative branding of the product?

When I was in Australia last summer I was surprised, daily, at the tone of the signage.
Melbourne Control Society
I've never seen such strict, nanny-like texts on warning signs. Sure, in the States there are warnings on everything but in most cases they are just "Coffee is extemely hot" kind of stuff. In Melbourne, the Authorities are keen to play headmaster, it seems.

Melbourne Overkill
But thank god they have signs explaining in detail how to operate a pedestrian crossings. Because people are too stupid to figure that out for themselves. Classic Ignoring the Bull this.

Melbourne Overkill 02
I got a kick out of all these warning signs in restaurants and bars. Penalty: Intoxication! $13,000!
Melbourne Overkill 04
And others. Although wouldn't it just be easier to round all these penalities up to $1 million?

Oh bother, as Winnie the Pooh said.


Steven Vance said...

You're really painting Melbourne as a place I don't want to visit. I could do the same for you about the Phoenix valley in Arizona. 14 lane highways, 6 lane neighborhood roads, and hunting down immigrants here illegally.

Paul said...

What is it with Australia and bicycles

Edward Scoble said...

Don't forget about what happen in Germany whom required a fixed wheel bicycle to have two brakes? and take away any that only have a front one?


Steve L (A Bristol Traffic team member) said...

UK requires "road legal" bikes to have two independent brakes, but a fixed wheel counts as one. So fixed + front brake is legal, and -frankly- safer.

In the UK a bicycle has other requirements (reflectors), but if you sell an incomplete bicycle -i.e. one without pedals- those things don't apply.

I bet in Australia, you could do the same thing: sell an incomplete bicycle and let people choose pedals separately. Then, provided the customer didn't try cycling home without a helmet, the shop would be safe.

Robert, Dublin said...

A ridiculous, over-the-top approach- fully agreed.

But this comment - 'Ratting on people was a proud tradition in the DDR, but let's leave that for now.' - makes you look at best like a petulant teenager.

My local city council has recently launched an initiative whereby people can 'rat on' their fellow citizens for such behaviour as illegal dumping of refuse, dangerous overtaking (yes- of *cyclists* too), etc., as well as less, um, 'perfidious' issues such as potholes, footpath defects, etc. To be honest, I'm all for it. But then again, I'd call it Active Citizenship rather than ratting, and I've long believed that part of the reason our poor, g_d-forsaken rock is up to its neck in the shit these days is due to a lack of social solidarity. I'm not calling for a widespread adoption of Rechthaberei- just a measure of common purpose. I guess Your Mileage May Vary.

As I say, I do agree that the original story is excessively nannyish - laughably so - but how about keeping things in perspective? Jumping to illogical extremes undermines the validity of your point.

mikey2gorgeous said...

Robert, I agree with schemes where people can report issue directly to councils but what's being satirised here is the totally over-the-top response to cyclists we get in anti-bike countries.

My local paper ran a full page with a front page leader reading "Police clamp down on dangerous cyclists". Inside it says "PC Rob Hammond warned riders that they were putting lives at risk – and endangering the traffic around them." It then states 87% of riders were "breaking the highway code by not wearing helmets and brightly coloured or high visibility clothing" even though this isn't a legal requirement in the UK.

I was informed by a pro-cycling Police Inspector recently that most cases of driving cars without care were let off with a verbal warning. The contrast to the 'crackdown' on 'dangerous' cyclists disgusts me.

Citizens of UK - 0
Culture of Fear - 1

mikey2gorgeous said...

To explain - the clampdown is on cyclists with no lights.


You HAVE to read some of the comments - the anti-bike feeling is hideous here. Pathetic sometimes. Cyclists are the new n!&&3rs.

echo-anomie said...

As an Australian with a great love of cycling this worries me as well -- though it is consistent with our stupid amounts of laws which increasingly restrict freedom.

I'd like to seek political refuge in a more enlightenment country please.

Etienne de Briquenell said...

I laughed and cried at the same time. Laughed because I come across these ridiculous signs on a daily basis, and cried because this is the sad reality of my city. I truly think we're trying to outdo Singapore in terms of our excessive and repressive paternalism.

Paul, Australia exists as an example to the world of how not to do bike culture.

Etienne de Briquenell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garryw said...

Mikael, Your tongue-in-cheek example of knives is also in fact reality here in Australia along with all the other ludicrousnesses. It is illegal to sell knives or blades of any kind to anyone under 16, and it is illegal for anyone to carry a knife in public...in theory you cannot but a new kitchen knife and ride home with it in case you are suddenly overcome by the urge to murder someone along the way apparently. Similar arrangement for cans of spray paint - they are found in hardware shops locked in special cages, although it is ok for them to be carried in public..oddly graffiti is still everywhere.

Steinar Þór said...

Thought the biking community would like this. Not related to the article but good video.


These are few guys that cycled to the volcano eruption that made Europe frostbound earlier this year.

It's fun to cycle in Iceland ;)

philippe said...

Just to let you know the link to The Age piece is not working.
It's not very clear to me. What's the issue ? Brakeless bikes or rear brakeless bikes ?
A fixie doesn't need a rear brake (it needs a freewheel, if you ask me...) but it definitely needs a front brake, IMO. Where I live (France) a bike must have an independant braking system (ie unrelated to the drive train) and that looks perfectly reasonable to me. Of course parisian hipsters will ride brakeless and no one will really care (or sue retailers for 1M€...), but it's clearly against the law.

Mikael said...

The "ratting" comment was one aimed at the Danish readers, but I'll explain it here. German tv station ZDF did a piece on Denmark recently, painting a picture of the country as a "ratting state" and comparing it with brutal clarity to the DDR.

I'm not keen on ratting. Nor the development of it. If you understand German the ZDF clip is here

Mikael said...

the link is fixed. thanks for letting me know.

dr2chase said...

I assume, such specificity about prohibitions and fines, makes it clear that what is not prohibited, must be allowed. So walking along the tracks (not crossing), that must be ok.

Fixes do need some sort of a brake, you can drop a chain, you can break a chain. I've done both, I've known other people who broke chains, and sooner or later everyone drops a chain.

One alternative I'm surprised not to see mentioned is that, if you are wearing a glove (or even if you are not), you can use your hand, especially if you have a close-built frame. I did this myself once by accident "cleaning" my rear tire on a road bike. It just jammed right in there between tire and seat tube, and I skidded to a stop, in a bit of an awkward posture -- but nonetheless I retained control of the bike, and my hand came loose easily once I was stopped, and was not badly bruised.

If you wanted to make plans for this, you would find some way to pad the backside of the seat tube, so that your hand would be jammed a little bit more gently. Keep in mind, this is not some hypothetical craziness, I did it (accidentally), it worked.

kfg said...

I have two fixed gear bikes with front and rear rim acting caliper brakes.

That means these bikes have three brakes. A fixed gear has a rear brake by fucking definition.

One may reasonably argue about the efficacy of that brake (I do so myself), or perhaps its lack of redundancy (not a legal issue in most places), but not about its existence.

Australia has obviously launched a war against the bicycle, but this goes beyond that to idiotic incompetency in law making.

Green Idea Factory said...

Boiling water, indeed! But you neglected to mention the part where the water freezes and someone slips on it, and then where it evaporates and later reforms in the form of snow crystals, and becomes part of an avalanche. Ban water! It is dangerous.

Bicycles are road vehicles and fixies need a front brake. For people who don't have them let them off easy with a fix-it ticket and if they continue their insolence make them fix kids bikes as a community service.

kfg said...

GIF - Ironically if a front brake were required to be legal where I am, it isn't my fixies that would land me in trouble, it would be my granny bike, which is perfectly safe to ride at granny speeds.

I believe most of the bikes in the world are still of this type.

"make them fix kids bikes. . ."

Is that sort of an ironic sadistic punishment? Have you looked at a kid's bike lately?

Green Idea Factory said...

Bikes with only rear coaster brakes are fine of course.

brumpl said...

Of course "of course" is not an argument and has no more place here than it does in "of course" helmets make you safer.

In, fact, if you examine the actual argument you made it is that foot operated, rear only brakes are "fine."

I intuit (and of course may be wrong) that you have made an assumption that children's bikes are like granny bikes. You need to go look at more children's bikes.

kfg said...

"brumpl" argues, "I need more coffee."

Green Idea Factory said...

Of course of course of course of course. I have heard of fixies dropping chains but not coaster-braked bikes doing similar or whatever to of course of course of course make them difficult to de-accelerate of course.

Anonymous said...

Coaster brakes can over-heat and fail on steep inclines. If you cycle downhill much, you should have a front brake as well, IMHO and ITHO of Sheldon Brown too, I see.


But if you want to take that risk, you should be allowed to. Why does every sensible (or apparently sensible) idea have to be a subject of compulsion these days? Whatever happened to persuasion?

kfg said...

I can assure you that there is nothing in particular about the gear being fixed which makes it more prone to dropping a chain and I have had to reset the chain of a good many coaster brake and SS freewheel bikes.

There are, however, a good many people who do not understand or care for their machinery, and a good many fixies are assembled out of odd (and perhaps inappropriate) bits by people who have never so much as assembled a store bought bike before and who subsequently ride them like maniacs.

That can indeed be a problem, but it isn't the fault of the drive train.

Green Idea Factory said...

Anonymous: Sheldon Brown is Da Man! Anyway, I said nothing about going down or going up hills, but I think most people would want a front brake in hillier places, no matter their rear de-acceleration device.

Do you argue against having lights, too? If you consider that these help pedestrians see cyclists it makes sense to require their use, but as with fixies to use a gentle approach to show official displeasure.

Regarding risk, not having brakes or good ones or knowing how to use them etc. can affect others, unlike helmets (which you mentioned earlier).

kfg: Perhaps there are more inherent problems where trendy people meet fixies, and definitely a lot of people new to cycling have poor cycling skills and no clue about fixing a bike, or know if it even needs fixing.

kfg said...

Anon - Rim brakes can overheat the air in a tire to the point that it explodes. They also wear away the rim surface and if the rims are not replaced in time the rim may explode.

Fixed gears and coaster brakes don't have these problems, but I don't think we should ban rims brakes because of their weaknesses; they are otherwise very good brakes which millions of people use safely every day.

All systems have their strengths and weaknesses. A "brakeless" fixed gear, for instance, is superior to everything else in treacherously slick conditions. Does that mean that everything but fixed should be banned as soon as the freeze is on? "Of course" not. :)

There are already laws against things such as running red lights and a fistful of perfectly ordinary traffic violation tickets may "persuade" that riding habits and/or bike equipment might need altering.

No matter how many bans and warning stickers you plaster over everything it is always going to come down the user understanding his tools and using them appropriately. Anything can injury either accidentally or intentionally.

I don't need a knife to kill you, if I can get the drop on you I can do it with a handful of yogurt.

Does that mean yogurt should be banned?

OK, bad example.

Corey said...

My track bike is still my around-town ride because it encourages me to be slow and cautious. If I feel like I'm going too fast to stop, I slow down. When I'm on the geared bike, I'm passing cars and skidding wheels.

Zweiradler said...

I can’t believe this stupidity. Good thing that the snow is melting this weekend. So I can hop onto my bike again and don’t have to go back to graffiti and drugs, you know. *shaking head in disbelief*


philippe said...

Ok, the official pdf is clear : A bike must have 2 hand brakes in Australia. Which is redundant for a fixie. And an australian kid's bike must have a coaster brake (my kids would hate that). Which makes no sense.
While I agree that the 1 million $ fine is absurd and that the commission may pursue more usefull goals, I also fail to understand why australian retailers can't sell bikes with proper (I mean legal) brakes. What's so difficult to sell street legal bikes ? And let the hipsters themselves remove the calipers for added streecred ? It's not like we're talking complex and expensive hi tech gear here.
(Yes, I understand that some track specific frames can't be fitted with brakes. Big deal. Get another frame)

Both sides on this issue looks pretty stupid. Almost as ridiculous as this pedestrian crossing how-to...

Paul Hanson said...

The million dollar fine is the maximum penalty for not complying with a mandatory standard, not something that is specific to bicycles and would definitely not be applied to a store selling bicycles without brakes.

Similar laws requiring bicycles to have independent front and rear brakes, bells etc. also apply in Denmark: https://www.retsinformation.dk/Forms/R0710.aspx?id=21839