So, as it turns out, the law requires your bike to have brakes when riding on the road:
UVC 12-706. Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake or brakes which will enable its driver to stop the vehicle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.
However, in June of last year, Ayla Holland, a Portland messenger, was cited for riding brakeless. During her trial she argued that the law doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t require Ã¢â‚¬Å“brakesÃ¢â‚¬Â to be a separate mechanism and exists in virtue of the fixed-gear-ness. She lost and was convicted. Then, in September another cyclist was arrested for the same reason and another Portland judge ruled in his favor. So, when subsequent brakeless fixed gear riders were cited later that year, the courts had two conflicted rulings (without appellate ruling or common law, each trial court ruling has no bearing on another, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up to the particular court that is trying the case to decide that particular outcome).
This is discussed by Bob Mionske J.D. at length. Legally speaking, it is an argument that you can make that the fixed-gear equals a brake, but it is by no means assured that you will win. In his book, he goes on to warn that if you are riding brakeless and you are in an accident and it goes to court, the jury will have to decide if the fixed gear constitutes a brake. If they find that it is, then the cyclist is not negligent on that particular issue and the case goes on. If they find that it is not a Ã¢â‚¬Å“brakeÃ¢â‚¬Â (which could very well happen) then the cyclist is negligent for riding in violation of the law. And you will no doubt loose the case (I’ve been reading a ton of legal cases lately which I hope to share with the board soon, the results of most of them are completely counter-intuitive to what we think and assume as cyclists, they would shock and enrage you!)
Washington D.C. however is the first government body to make a special acknowledgement for fixed gears: 1204.1 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fixed gear bicycle is not required to have a separate brake.Ã¢â‚¬Â While there are obviously 50 different states with 50 different codes, most still lack this provision. So, just as a legal note, know what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re getting yourself into should you get cited or taken to court.
On the note of bicycle lanes, I think Nate said it best about the illusion of separateness for cars and bikes, but which due to (and I can almost guarantee around here) poor planning and conditions, you are forced to still interact.
As it turns out, cyclists are cited for not riding in the bike lane (when there is one) all the time. The law says (pretty much across the country) that if you are going less fast than the speed of traffic, it is required for you to ride as close to the right hand side as is Practicable (which would be the bike lane). The point though, is that Ã¢â‚¬Å“practicableÃ¢â‚¬Â does not mean Ã¢â‚¬Å“possibleÃ¢â‚¬Â or even Ã¢â‚¬Å“practicalÃ¢â‚¬Â. The law says Practicable. What this means is that you are under no legal obligation to ride through hazards like broken glass in order to obey the statute mentioned. And, paradoxically, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re riding through Squirrel Hill, riding more to the left to avoid door zones of a line of parked cars would actually preclude you from riding in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“bike laneÃ¢â‚¬Â at all. Again, it is subjective, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to get this across to cops, but safely practicable is not the same as Ã¢â‚¬Å“to the right as possibleÃ¢â‚¬Â.