Actually, I don’t think that the wording of this law causes a problem for brakeless fixie riders. In fact, when compared to similar statutes in other states, the Massachusetts version law is far more accommodating of bikes without lever brakes.
For example, in Oregon, ORS §815.280 requires all bicycles to be “equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.” [emphasis mine] I would argue that it’s much easier to interpret this as requiring a mechanical lever brake than the MA version, which requires the slightly more broad “braking system.”
In fact, a judge in Portland
interpreted it that way a few years ago. While I believe his reasoning was flawed, I can see where he’s coming from. However, I think it would be more difficult for a MA judge to reach the same conclusion—a brake is a well defined and commonly accepted term, but a “braking system” has a bit more room, and can conceivably include a fixed gear and a pair of legs.
Don’t get me wrong, I think riding fixed without a front brake is stupid and unsafe, and I’ve made no secret of it
. That being said, legally speaking, I still don’t think that brakeless fixies should be outlawed. Though it is quite severe, the main risk that they present (i.e., a broken chain on the way into an intersection) is not that much more likely than the other types of catastrophic equipment failures that can befall any other cyclist. Also, the risk to the public is relatively low, as the fixie rider will probably only end up hurting himself. I would much rather see the police pulling over bikers who ignore traffic signals, or ride without lights after dark than have them going after the poor dummies who think they are allergic to brake levers.