Goodbye to My Fixed-Gear

The University’s unreasonable and overbearing bicycle policies need to be updated; redirecting that attention towards fighting bicycle theft would be a step in the right direction.

Dear Readers,

I write to say goodbye to my good friend, my fixed-gear bicycle.  I’m sure some of you have seen me zipping around campus on it.  It is a sleek, lugged, steel bike with a loud green and white paint job.  This is a sad day for me, as I spent a good chunk of last winter building it from an old 60’s frame; my fixie and I have had a lot of fun since then.

Why would I ever be selling it, you ask?  The main reasons are that Stanford bike laws do not get along with fixies, and the threat of theft is too high.  So while I would love to continue eulogizing my bike, the real topic here is how bike enforcement is not working on multiple levels.

For those of you that aren’t as well versed in the Universe of bicycles, a fixed-gear model is notable because it only has one gear (that needs to serve for both getting up AND down mountains). Additionally, there are no traditional hand brakes; instead, the rider must pedal backwards to slow down, and the bike will stop when the pedals do.

A little-known yet ridiculous set of Stanford bike laws has made owning my fixie a pain in the butt.  My bike does not have traditional pad brakes —and I love it that way.  The laws requiring them really don’t make sense in their application.  Any fixed-gear rider (who is almost assuredly experienced) is less of a hazard with no hand brakes than a wobbly, brand-new rider is with both sets of brakes.

There is also a lack of consistency on this point as well – why is it that brakes are not required for skateboards or unicycles, which have the same stopping mechanism as fixies (i.e. your legs)?

Have you noticed how popular unicycles are becoming on campus?  I like to pretend that it’s probably all of the fixie riders who are sick of being hounded by the law.  Seriously, though, while it seems silly to invoke unicycles as an example for how inconsistent and unfair the rules are regarding how we get around, it is frustrating to have to dodge cops in order to ride the kind of bike you want to.

Quite frankly, bike theft on campus is a much bigger problem than the occasional bike aficionado taking his fixed-gear for a joyride, yet it seemingly doesn’t get treated half as seriously by campus officials (both police and administration).

On the university administration side, it seems as if our school officials are much more concerned with wasting paper on bikes that are parked on rails or around the quad than stopping bike theft. The main reason so many people (myself especially) often find ourselves the victim of this egregious waste of paper is that Stanford does not have enough of the new style bike racks on campus. The whole interior of the Quad lacks them and it is practically impossible to lock your frame without turning to a handrail.

If Stanford cares to improve the quality and safety of the average bike they need more and better bike racks across campus and they need to create an environment where it feels safe to keep a nice bike locked outside at night.  Until then, I will be riding my old-school, bought-on-Craigslist bike.

What is even worse than the prevention side of bike theft is the numbness our police and the general public feel towards thefts that have occurred; all too often, thefts are accepted as a “given,” an inescapable result of a concentration of prime targets.  While it may be true that bike thefts are not violent, nor perhaps as brazen as a dorm break-in, they should nonetheless be treated as seriously. Consider, criminals are routinely prowling our campus and removing private property from outside of our residences and classrooms; not treating this seriously is a grave mistake.

Numerous friends of mine have had their bikes stolen – not to mention their laptops – only to meet seemingly lackadaisical efforts by our police force to track them down. If our force is indeed taking the offenses seriously, then at the very least a more communicative approach needs to be taken.

If Stanford applied the fervor it currently exhibits when hunting down petty bike parking violations to bike thefts, whether that took the form of “sting operations” or more actively tracking down engraved bicycle identification numbers in bay area bike shops, the community would benefit greatly. This is low-tech, low-smarts theft and we should be able to stop it more effecitevly.

To conclude, these are sad times for fixed-gear riders (and bike owners in general) at Stanford. Reducing theft and developing a set of consistent and safe bike laws are something that we all can get behind, and would greatly improve the Stanford biker’s experience.


Joel Sandler

Joel Sandler, an avid cyclist, is a senior majoring in Energy Resources Engineering. He will miss his fixed-gear bike, “Fixie,” dearly.

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