Fixed-gear bicycles, which are popular among younger riders, have contributed to an increase of bicycle-related crashes in Oxnard, authorities said.
Oxnard police said they have seen a large increase in bicycle crashes this year — 49 in the first six months, compared with 25 during the same period of 2011.
Of the 49 crashes, 45 have resulted in injuries, authorities said.
The single-speed bicycles, also known as "fixies," often lack rim or disc brakes, and officials said fixie riders are more likely to ignore stop signs and traffic signals because of the lack of modern brakes on their bikes. Fixies have no freewheel and can't coast because the pedals are always moving when the bike is in motion. When the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn in the same direction, allowing a cyclist to stop by resisting the rotation of the cranks, or by riding in reverse.
Oxnard patrol and traffic officers are conducting bicycle enforcements that include educating the public on bicycle safety, officials said in a news release Wednesday.
Police said crashes are mostly a result of wrong-way riding and stop-sign violations. Officers are enforcing these violations and bicycle equipment violations. Riders under age 18 must wear a bicycle helmet and all bicycles must be equipped with functioning brakes, authorities said.
Senior Officer Maria Peña with the Oxnard police traffic unit said fixie bikes don't have a good stopping mechanism to make quick stops when necessary.
She said that aside from the bikes themselves being dangerous, younger riders often don't use helmets while on the road.
"At times, they follow the rules, but not on a constant basis," Peña said.
She added that the bikes are popular among youths in the 12-16 age range because they can add a color scheme and decorate them with various features.
"They're actually kind of cool, but they are not safe," Peña said.
Patty Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said while fixie bikes are OK to sell, officials recommend that consumers buy bikes with brakes for recreational riding.
Fixies should only be used in a velodrome, a track designed for cycling, she added.
"Operating a fixed-gear bicycle without brakes is dangerous to ride on streets and paths because the only way to slow down the bicycle is with back pedaling," Davis wrote in an email. "Expert fixed-gear riders can also slow bikes without brakes by skidding, which is done by stopping the spinning of the pedals with your legs very quickly. This type of riding takes practice."
The commission requires most bicycles to have brakes, but there are exemptions that seem to cover fixies. Among those exempted are bikes intended for tracks and competitions, bikes that lack a freewheel and bikes that are individually crafted instead of factory-made.
In addition, the California vehicle code states that "no person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on a dry level (or) clean pavement."
Brandon O'Kelly, an apprentice mechanic at The Bicycle Shop in Oxnard, said fixie bikes are popular among teens for a variety of reasons.
They don't require much maintenance or upkeep and don't have a lot of intricate parts, he said. He said the shop has seen a steady increase in the sales of fixie bikes in the last year.
Mike Cicchi, owner of the Newbury Park Bicycle Shop, said fixie bikes are not a recent trend because there are a lot of hills in the area and riders must constantly pedal on fixed-gear bikes. The shop hasn't sold as many single-speed bikes as it did six to eight years ago, but the bikes are popular among college-age people who don't have time to maintain their rides, he said.
"The only thing you have to do is air-pressure the tires and change the oil every once in a while," Cicchi said.
He said some people request to have the brakes taken off, but he doesn't think that's safe.
"If they don't want to use them, don't use them, but don't take them off," Cicchi said. "Campuses are known for accidents because there are so many bikes."
He said bicyclists, no matter what age, must be safe.
"All of the rules of the road for a bicyclist are the same as driving a car," he said.
Oxnard Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez, who is on the transportation policy committee, said she is glad Oxnard police are cracking down on both bicyclists and motorists.
"I think a lot of people don't know the rules of the road," said Ramirez, an avid bike rider.
She said Oxnard is very bike-friendly because it has flatter terrain than other cities in the county. She promotes bicycling for health and fitness and hopes increased enforcement and education will lead to safer roads.
Ramirez's husband, Roy Prince, organizes monthly bike rides for members of the community and said fixie bikes aren't more or less dangerous than other bikes.
He said that while some bicycles don't have a front break, riders backpedal to slow down and eventually stop.
"As a bike person, I think fixies are as safe as the brain that's doing the pedaling," he said "which is true of every bicycle."