Bicycle Accident Leads to the Question: How Safe Are “Fixies?”

At about 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Sherman Ming Shi was injured in a bike accident at the corner of Pereira and West Peltason near Mesa Court.

While two ambulances and a fire truck came to assist the freshman biological sciences major, the resident assistant of his hall in Mesa Court, Andrew Simmons, assured everyone on Wednesday that Shi was fine and would likely be out of the hospital soon.

The accident created a considerable slowdown. Traffic through West Peltason was stalled while student traffic directors diverted cars away from the scene. In the early evening students gathered around the Mesa stairs, hushed as they watched paramedics and police huddle over Shi.

Shi was lying down on the pavement, screaming as medical and police personnel held him down.

Ben Tardif, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said he heard Shi yelling, “It hurts” and “I can’t see.”

Shi, according to Nicholas Gaspar, a first-year criminal law major, was unable to respond to the paramedics when asked what hurt.

The accident was an unusual sight on the UCI campus, but the circumstances leading up to it were not.

“[Shi] was riding a rally bike down Pereira, going 25 miles per hour,” Sergeant Steve Monsanto of the UCI police department said. Shi was also biking with earphones and riding on the wrong side of the road without a helmet.

Shi swerved to avoid a bicyclist riding with the green directly in his path. The tire of Shi’s brakeless bike hit the curb, sending him over the handlebars and onto the pavement.

The police, on campus because of the protests earlier that day, were there in virtually 30 seconds, Monsanto said. Shi was loaded into an ambulance with a friend accompanying him to the Western Medical Santa Anna trauma center.

The ambulance pulled away, the scene cleared and the crowd broke up. As students departed, Gabriel Borjon, who had been at the scene, asked what many others might have been wondering: “Who would ride a bike without brakes?”

Many people, actually. Fixed gear bikes, the “rally” bikes Monsanto mentioned, are becoming increasingly popular on the UCI campus as well as other universities across the country.

Fast, gearless and lean, fixed gear bikes are trendy; their lack of brakes, however, poses a problem to those unfortunate enough as Shi to be confronted with an emergency.

“It’s a fashionable bike to have,” Gaspar said of fixed gear bikes. Gaspar shares an environmental analysis and design class with Shi, and often recognized him around campus by his bike.

Andrew Watt, a residential programmer at Shi’s hall, said Shi was known to ride his bike every day. Despite his experience and skill, an accident like Shi’s could not be avoided without a pair of brakes.

“I’ve had [a bicycling accident] happen before,” Tyler Kenney, a freshmen political science major, said of his experiences riding his own “fixie,” a shortened name for a fixed gear bike.

“Everybody at Newport Harbor has [a fixed gear bike]…it’s a whole culture. I love riding my fixie,” Kenney said.
Shi’s accident was upsetting to all those involved, and there is little assurance knowing that, as fixed gear bikes become more and more a feature at UCI, his injury could have happened to anyone on or in the path of the modified bicycles.

UPDATE 12/13: The information from paragraphs 8 and 9 regarding the details of the incident were provided by Sgt. Monsanto of UCIPD. “Brake” and “brakeless” refer to bicycle brake systems.