Fatal fall of girl on fixed-gear bicycle ruled a misadventure

Coroner calls it a cautionary tale; report from review of use of such bikes expected this year

The death of a 13-year-old girl who fell from height after crashing into a railing while riding a fixed-gear bicycle has been ruled a misadventure.

Delivering her findings yesterday, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam also said there is an ongoing review of the use of such bicycles, which some have said are not suitable for the young as strength and skill are needed to manoeuvre them.

Fixed-gear bicycles generally do not have hand-operated brakes, and rely on the rider's pedal resistance to come to a halt.

The report from the review is expected to be out by the year end.

The coroner said the girl's death is a "cautionary tale" that has raised concerns over the use of fixed-gear bicycles - also known as fixies.

The girl had been riding the fixed-gear bicycle, which did not have brakes, with her schoolmates at a multi-storey carpark in Pasir Ris on Jan 8 when the incident occurred.

She had learnt how to ride a conventional bicycle only about a year ago, and had wanted to try riding the fixed-gear bicycle.

Her friends lowered the seat of the bicycle, but the 1.53m-tall girl was still "too short" for the seat height of 1.03m after adjustment, said the coroner.

A friend originally accompanied her on foot as the girl started riding, and the girl said she was not confident about riding as it had been some time since she last rode a bicycle. But the friend could not keep up when the girl started cycling down a ramp from the seventh floor to the sixth floor.

The friend shouted for the girl to turn right, but the girl continued to move straight towards the metal railing and collided with it, said the coroner.

As a result of the impact, the girl was thrown over the railing, the court heard. The fixed-gear bicycle was stopped by the railing and fell to the ground.

The girl was pronounced dead on the scene by paramedics.

Following this incident, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it would look into the issue of fixed-gear bicycles. It had previously treated them as normal bicycles with no restrictions to their use, said the coroner.

The coroner noted that the LTA's view was that the bicycles are not inherently unsafe.

But she also cited Mr Zulkifli Awab, an avid cyclist and founder of popular cycling group HolyCrit, who has stated that fixed-gear bicycles are not for the young, inexperienced or unfit.

He has also said that riders of such bicycles need to be proficient in handling the bicycle, and must have "sufficient leg power" to employ the backpedalling method to bring the bicycle to a stop, noted the coroner.

The coroner said there should be public education efforts to highlight the dangers of riding such bicycles. This was among the recommendations that arose from the inquiry into the girl's death.

The coroner extended her condolences to the family of the girl.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Fatal fall of girl on fixed-gear bicycle ruled a misadventure'. Print Edition | Subscribe