Fixie bike accident in San Francisco highlights danger of going brakeless 

A 25-year-old bicyclist weaving through traffic on a fixed-gear bike with no brakes sent a 61-year-old woman to the hospital in critical condition after colliding with her last week in a Mission Terrace intersection.

The incident highlights the danger of some fixed-gear bikes, commonly known as “fixies” because one gear is affixed to the rear wheel. Such bikes cannot coast, which means the pedals are constantly moving and can be used for braking.

The bikes have long been popular with bike messengers because of their simplicity, maneuverability and aesthetics. But growing numbers of young hipsters are riding them without handlebar-mounted brakes, which is both illegal and dangerous.

In Friday’s accident, the female San Francisco pedestrian was crossing a Silver Avenue crosswalk at Mission Street amid traffic, according to police Sgt. Michael Andraychak.

Although the cars waiting to cross Mission had a green light, the pedestrian had not yet made it across, and the cars were apparently waiting for her to complete the journey, Andraychak said.

But when the pedestrian was roughly 10 feet from the sidewalk, she was hit by a fixie rider and sent to the hospital with critical injuries.

“I don’t think he saw her, to be quite frank,” Andraychak said. “He didn’t stop or slow down.”

The bicyclist, described as a 25-year-old white man from San Bruno, phoned the police after the accident and was not charged or cited. Andraychak said police are investigating the incident.

His bike, however, was impounded because it didn’t have brakes, which is a traffic infraction, according to Andraychak.

The surging popularity of fixed-gear bikes among newbies prompted one longtime rider to express caution Thursday.

“You go out in the Mission and there are people there who think it’s cool to ride, and they don’t know how to do it,” bike messenger Rob Borders said. “That’s when people get hurt.”

Borders notes that such bikes are easier to slow down in wet weather, when conventional bike brakes have less friction than normal. But Borders said he’s been riding fixies for six years and knows how to handle them. The bikes are harder to stop for inexperienced riders, he cautioned.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of the pedestrian-advocacy group Walk San Francisco, said accidents between bicyclists and pedestrians are not “hugely common,” but noted that pedestrians ultimately have the right of way.

“We’re all pedestrians at some point,” she said. “All bikes and cars need to yield to pedestrians.”

The accident victim’s condition was upgraded to non-life-threatening on Wednesday, Andraychak said.

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